Prepping the Site

Getting the site ready involves removing or covering anything you don't want to put paint on and clearing a path for you and your equipment.

Preparing the exterior of a house for painting starts with the site itself, not the surface -- that comes later. The goal is to remove or cover anything you don't want to put paint on, and to clear away as many things as possible that might impede or interrupt your progress. This is relatively easy, but you might find yourself surprised at how much stuff is in your yard.

Here are some of the objects you might need to move out of your work area: potted plants on the deck or patio, hanging plants, barbecue grill, patio furniture, birdbaths, statues and other yard decorations, doormats, garden hoses, and lawn tools.

Tour your yard and move such items far enough away that they won't get spattered or hit by overspray and won't be in your way as you work along a wall.

Then go around with screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches and remove items that are fastened to the house -- outdoor light fixtures and electric outlets (shut off the power first, put wire nuts on the bare wire ends, and push the wires back into the outlet box), window boxes (even if you're going to paint them), decorative accents, address numbers or plates, flagpole holder, doorknobs, hooks, brackets, and hangers.

Lastly, mask or tape anything you don't want to or can't remove -- door handles and hinges, locksets, the porch, deck, or patio surface, and all window and door trim. You can mask door hardware and other small objects with the careful application of tape. Don't leave plastic sheets or tarps loose on the deck or patio surface; tape them down to keep them from moving or tripping you.

If you're painting the siding or foundation to ground level, dig a 3- or 4-inch-deep trench around the house to expose the surface below the soil. This will ensure you won't leave any spots unpainted.

When you're going about these tasks, do one thing at a time and follow an order.

  • Remove the portable items.
  • Remove all attached items.
  • Cover what you can't remove.

Being orderly reduces your chances of missing something and having to interrupt your painting to take care of it.

Every last little thing

Painting the outside of your house is much easier if you don't have to paint around light switches, outdoor lighting fixtures, doorbell plates, address signs, hinges, locks and handles, and other obstructions.

You can mask these things carefully to keep them from being painted, but the easiest thing to do is to remove them before you start painting. A common problem, however, is that the mounting screws and other necessary hardware become separated from the fixture. Then when you're done painting, you spend an inordinate amount of time searching for them, perhaps having to buy new hardware that may not quite fit the style of the original.

Avoid this hunt for hardware by taping the screws and any other removable parts to the assembly itself. Use blue painter's tape -- as much as you need to keep the whole collection firmly together. If there's a lot, put it all in a plastic bag and tape that to the fixture. Then store all the handles, hinges, and fixtures you removed in one place so you can find them quickly and reinstall them all at the same time.

Cover plants

Paint and plants don't mix. Many paints can be toxic to plants, and spatters, even of those that aren't, deface the plants. Protect the plants by draping a lightweight, light-color tarp (an old sheet will do perfectly) over them. Do not use dark plastic sheets and do not apply the covering until you're ready to start working directly above the plants -- heat trapped by the tarp or sheet will harm them. Mist the plants before protecting them and remove the covering immediately after you're done painting.

Masking windows

Mask anything you don't want to put paint on. Use blue painter's tape (it comes off easily). Seal down the edge by running a putty knife or plastic spatula along the edge you're masking so paint doesn't seep under it. When masking long sections, unroll a length of tape that will span the section and anchor it tightly at one end. Keep tension on the tape with one hand and position it tight to the corner with the other, working in lengths of about 1 foot. Press it in place as you go. Remove the tape while the paint is still wet so it won't pull dried paint up with it.

Staging area

Protect your air conditioner, electric and gas meters, and other fixtures by wrapping and taping them with plastic. When you have completed all the site preparation, spread a drop cloth or plastic sheeting close to the project to create a staging area for tools and supplies. Always return tools to this area so you don't have to hunt for them. Remove the sheeting as soon as you're done with this side -- and at night -- so it doesn't kill the grass.


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