Getting Better with Time: Painting Tips for Older and Historic Home Restoration Projects 2

Clyde and his younger sister Ellie grew up in Taylor, Texas. The town had changed a lot in the last fifty years, but one constant was the ante-bellum mansion just off the main street in town. The lady that lived in the house since the early sixties had passed away and the house was put up for sale. The city discussed purchasing the house and making it a museum celebrating the county’s history but ultimately couldn’t find the money in their budget. The home sat vacant for months with a for sale sign in the yard.

One evening while Ellie was over for dinner, Clyde had a wild idea. “Let’s do it. Let’s buy the place and fix it up. Why not? It’s part of our history and the price is right. I’m sure it will be a lot of work, but can you imagine the pride we would feel, the pride the whole town would feel for the house to be restored?” Ellie didn’t take much convincing: “That’s a great idea.”

The next morning Clyde made a call to the bank, the county courthouse, and the realtor on the sign. Three weeks later, he and Ellie owned the place and they were ready to start the work of restoring the home to its previous condition. But restoring a historic home is far from an easy task…

old mansion in need of paint

A new coat of paint can breathe life into an old home.
Image courtesy of Flickr’s Creative Commons, user Digitizedchaos

Restoring older or historic buildings and structures is far more complicated than painting a brand new house. Not only do you have to be safe when handling potentially dangerous materials, but you have to use a gentle hand so as to preserve delicate details. Here are five tips for repainting historic structures in a way that delivers exceptional appearance and protection.

  1. Strip it down.  A majority of buildings and homes that are decades old include toxic or dangerous paint, namely lead-based paints. Structures with paint from before 1978 almost assuredly include lead-based paint. The first order of business in repainting one of these buildings is to safely and completely remove any layers of paint that are flaking or bubbling. Stripping the paint down to an intact layer is your best option, since fully removing lead based paint can be more dangerous then leaving it in place (provided it is fully intact and adhering to the surface).
  2. Take great care.  Many older homes and buildings have plaster or fragile wood paneling. Using a pressure washer or harsh chemicals to clean the paint surface can further degrade and erode the substrate in a way that requires structural repair. If at all possible, gently sand off any paint that needs to be removed instead of using more abrasive techniques. Yes, hand sanding takes more time but will still be more efficient and less expensive then repairing or replacing a wall entirely.
  3. Prime for success.  The chances are good that the surface you are painting will be a mix of new materials and old. For example, new wood paneling is used to replace damaged areas but not entire walls. As a result, it is imperative that the substrate is properly prepared to receive paint. Aside from any fillers or sealants required, utilizing the right primer will increase the chance that the entire paint job will look uniform and – more importantly – keep the paint adhered to the surface for many years to come.
  4. Match it up.  While matching the paint color is important, matching the paint type is much more significant. For example, oil-based paint won’t adhere to latex since it is less flexible and won’t expand and contract as the latex underneath it does. Latex on top of an older oil-based paint won’t adhere either. The oil-based paint will likely be degraded enough that it won’t offer a consistent surface, so any paint application will be uneven and prone to flaking. Experience and research should help you determine how to matchup paint types. Just be careful not to repaint an entire house without being sure the paint you are using will adhere now and in the future.
  5. Account for the unexpected.  Proper surface preparation may not discover all of the issues lurking underneath. From termites and wood rot to excess moisture as the result of the home being occupied, older construction is a different animal than new home construction. New materials have been engineered and treated in different ways and, frankly, older buildings and homes have a much larger range of things that may go awry. If the job is big enough, you will no doubt encounter an unexpected challenge while painting. Factoring the unexpected into both your cost analysis and time estimate is key to making sure a paint restoration job is profitable for your paint business.

A great deal of an area’s history can be found in its architecture. From gazebos and barns to mansions and event centers, the structures in a community tell a story. These structures should be taken care of and preserved. As such, professional painters have an opportunity not just to work on interesting projects but also to contribute to maintaining and protecting the heritage of a community. The work is challenging, it is interesting, and it may be complicated…but it is most certainly worth doing. Click here to learn more about the protective properties of paint!


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