5 Steps for Exterior Painting, from Surface Preparation to Ongoing Maintenance 3

That the rig was still working was a miracle in itself. The rust, corrosion, and dirt had long since discolored and disfigured the massive steel structure over the years. The owners didn’t properly appreciate that the wear and tear on the pump was affecting the daily yield of the entire system. Maintenance costs were creeping up as more nuts and bolts and cables and panels needed to be replaced. Thankfully, a colleague in the business suggested that rather than continue replacing parts and pieces of the rig over and over, they try a different track and try to protect the rig in the first place. After finding a reputable painter, they job began. It took some time to do it right, but in the end the humble oil rig in South Texas looked as good as new. More importantly, the rig was ready to withstand the heat and dirt and sun for the coming years.

exterior paint flaking

Flaking and chipping is inevitable with exterior paint.
Image courtesy of Painting America Inc.

Paint surface preparation for interior jobs is often a clear and straightforward process. Most often a coat of primer and some light cleaning is all that’s required when painting the inside of a home or office. But what about proper paint surface preparation for exterior jobs? What about painting surfaces weathered and worn by exposure to sun, wind, and rain? What about surfaces that have rusted or flaked or have inconsistent texture due to corrosion? Preparing for exterior painting is a different matter entirely and includes substantially more work than preparing for an interior job. These five tips for surface preparation before the job begins will help ensure that your exterior paint job ends up looking great!

  1. Evaluate the substrate.  While most interior paint jobs are limited to a handful of known substrates like sheetrock or wooden cabinets, exterior paint work can take place on any number of surfaces. From iron and steel to brick and other masonry, exterior paint surfaces can (and do) vary widely. Complicating the job even further is the fact that many exterior paint jobs combine different surfaces into the same job. For example, an office building made of concrete blocks may also have steel door-frames and wooden window jambs. Taking a quick look won’t do you any favors; make sure you spend some time not only noting what type of surface(s) you are painting, but also any old paint that will need to be removed and any damage that needs to be addressed.
  2. Note any damage and fix it first.  Many exterior surfaces are damaged over time. Any surface you intend to paint that is cracked, corroded, or weakened in any way should be repaired before you begin your work. For the paint to properly protect the substrate as designed, the surface should be in good condition prior to painting. Preexisting imperfections and damage will increase over time if not addressed before the new coat of paint is applied.
  3. Clean completely.  The biggest mistake that professional painters make when working outside is not cleaning the substrate well enough before beginning to work. From stripping old paint to sanding the rust off of metal structures, any remaining dirt or debris will eventually flake off the surface, giving an uneven and unprofessional appearance to your work. Even worse, once paint has flaked off to even the smallest degree, protection of the entire substrate is at risk.

    Scraping off old paint

    Removing as much of the old paint as possible is key.
    Image courtesy of Home Repair Tutor

  4. Use a Primer or Basecoat.  You’re right to be paranoid that the top-coat of your paint is not going to be enough protection for the exterior surface you’re painting. Long-term exposure to wind, rain, heat, and various other elements unique to the outdoors will inevitably erode or degrade your paint work. A high quality primer or basecoat is an extra layer of protection for the substrate that has the added benefit of filling in any lurking microscopic cracks, crevices, or vulnerabilities that might be too small for the eye to see.
  5. Maintain your work.  In most cases the client will pay you for the job when it is finished and send you on your way. That said, it is imperative that the client understands how to properly clean and maintain the coating over time to extend the life of the paint work. Different structures and materials may be cleaned with water or solvents and doing so will keep the coating looking great and the surface protected for years to come.

Exterior painting is often rife with challenges not found on interior jobs. Managing the entire life cycle of the project begins with excellent substrate preparation. In the end, the quality of your actual painting will be inconsequential if the surface is not clean, repaired, and primed to take the coating you apply. When it comes to exterior paint work, planning and preparation are as important as the painting itself. Click here to learn more about substrate preparation for professional painters!


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