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In this world of high tech solutions, it would seem that the simplest thing you could do would be to paint a house. But times have conspired to make even this, most simple of tasks, completely confusing. New products assail the senses with major promises and dubious guarantees and modern weatherization techniques, chemical incompatibilities, and new EPA lead regulations must now be added into the mix. This site is a short primer in how to paint and what to watch out for. Also visit other helpful sites identified throughout.

New house

The main purpose of exterior paint is to protect a structure from moisture. A good paint job should last at least 5-8 years, if it doesn't, then what you have is paint failure and there is probably an underlying reason for it.

For more complete information:

Preservation Brief 10 Exterior Paint problems on Historic Woodwork




· Cheap Paint -Why bother if the paint you select insures failure?

· Poor Preparation- Taking the time always pays off: scrape, sand and wash. If the surface is dirty, wet, greasy or has loose and flaky paint, the paint will not adhere.

· Removing Old Finishes -Many products used by contractors, like power wash and power sanders save time but cause problems with finishes down the road.paint blue

· Power washers- Should be used only at the lowest setting, for loose paint and dirt removal, never in place of scraping. High pressure washing drives moisture into the wood and elongates the drying time. It frequently weakens the bond between the wood and the paint with good adherence.

· Wall Insulation - Some treatments that are acceptable for new construction projects are not appropriate for buildings with old plaster and historic wood siding. And Bloomington's climate is a difficult one to manage. Known as 'mixed humid,' it is both very hot, wet and very cold. The Secretary of the Interior prioritizes the retention of historic interior finishes so plaster walls are important to retain in a preservation project. Modern blown-in insulation and batting introduces another issue. It can get wet and trap moisture against the siding. This is a major cause of exterior paint failure. When installing new patches of siding, painting on both sides of the clapboard is required to prevent moisture from soaking the board (from the inside) and popping off the exterior paint. That is why both the National Park Service and the National Trust now say that attic and basement insulation, sealing windows, sockets and doors are more important activities than wall insulation treatments. Correcting the "stack effect" -escape of heat from the basement through the body of the house to the roof -has much more to do with energy savings than wall insulation.paint yellow

For more information:

· Applying Paint in Poor Weather- If, because of continuous high humidity or rain, the wood is not adequately dry, it may not accept the paint. These conditions trap moisture that will eventually pop off the hard shell of the paint. Unfinished siding can degrade if left weeks in sunlight (that layer needs to be sanded again). Temperature may be too cold (below 50 °) during application or too hot (above 90°). Conditions should remain optimum for 24 hours to warrant starting a job.

· Interior Moisture Conditions- Another little known cause for paint failure is high interior humidity. This is literally caused by people living in a house. Cooking vapors, bathing, clothes dryers, even breathing contribute to interior moisture. If there is no vapor barrier in the walls, or it is improperly installed, then as the house warms from winter to summer, moisture condenses and the water soaks through to the siding causing paint blisters. This tends to occur around kitchens, laundry rooms and bathrooms, where additional venting is needed. Attention: where old plaster and historic finishes have been preserved, removal is not warranted. These finishes fit within the construction of the day, the prevailing system worked. The walls are naturally ventilated and drying was assured.


Not every situation requires the most intense treatment. Here are groups of conditions that escalate in seriousness:

Class I: Dirt, Mildew, or Excessive Chalking can be corrected just by different methods of cleaning.

Class II: Crazing, Intercoat Peeling and Solvent Blistering- Sand, wash and repaint

Class III: Peeling to bare wood, Cracking or Alligatoring- Usually indicates a broader problem so paint removal is necessary.


Prepare the surface by the gentlest method possible: clean, light scrape, and hand sanding. Remove paint only to the next sound layer. Do not remove paint completely unless cracked and peeling to bare wood. The existing paint, if adhered tightly and uniformly to the wood can be just as effective a surface to repaint. Feather the surface coat with sanding so that it blends onto the wood substrate. Don't substitute speed for safety.

Paint application:

Condition is an issue. On older homes, incompatible paint application takes several forms. If oil paint is applied over latex, the oil layer is less flexible and will pop off as the latex expands and contracts beneath it. Latex over an oil coat that has become chalky, will also fail to adhere. In this case the existing paint should be carefully scraped, sanded and washed before the new oil primer is applied.

For Conditions described in Class I or II, Oil based paints are still considered best for primer coats particularly with the assumption that the historic house has been previously painted with oil-based paint. Oil adheres better than latex to chalky surfaces. Oil as a finish or top coat, although expensive, is optimum. Latex may be used, when the oil is sufficiently dry at least one day.

For Class II conditions, where bare wood is visible either through pealing or cracking, an oil primer and oil top coat may be used or an oil primer and a latex top coat taking care to use the same brand of paint.


For more complete information

If your house was painted prior to 1978, chances are there are remnants of lead paint that may be harmful to the health of young children. A new federal law (April 2010) attempts to moderate the impact of lead paint on areas most often used by children, including housing, schools and childcare facilities. The greatest concern is for chipping and flaking paint and lead dust. If there is a problem, friction and use points throughout the house are usually the culprits. Paint maintained in good condition is usually not hazardous. Good cleaning habits and HEPA filter vacuums can assist with dust mitigation. But the new laws are meant to insure that, whenever possible, lead paint is addressed in a rigorous and orderly fashion.

The Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule applies to paid contractors working in pre-1978 housing, childcare facilities, and schools with lead-based paint. Contractors include home improvement contractors, maintenance workers in multi-family housing, painters, and other specialty trades.

The covered facilities include residential (including single-family, owner-occupied homes), public or commercial buildings where children under the age six are present on a regular basis, and all rental housing. The rule applies to renovation, repair, or painting activities. It does not apply to minor maintenance or repair activities affecting less than six square feet of lead-based paint in a room or less than 20 square feet of lead-based paint on the exterior.

Generally, Lead Safe Practices require:

The EPA publishes a handbook that outlines expected practices.

For more information;

In general, unless an owner is working on his own residence, these practices are expected:

Certain dangerous work practices are prohibited for every renovation, including minor maintenance or repair jobs. These prohibited practices include open flame burning or torching; sanding, grinding, needle gunning, or blasting with power tools and equipment not equipped with a shroud and high efficiency particulate air vacuum attachment; and using a heat gun at temperatures greater than 1100° F.


Paint color choice is an important decision for any historic property owner. It is your public statement and your gift to the streetscape. A historic house maybe enhanced by appropriate use of colors that highlight framing details and carpentry decoration. For history enthusiasts, there are many web sites that speak to the use of historically appropriate hues and colors. morgan before 1

If you are interested in authenticity, then analyze the existing paint on your particular house. Techniques of analysis are available on-line.Morgan House 2

The Bloomington Historic Preservation Commission has been very flexible in their reviews of local paint color choices. Although much information is now available on line, please feel free to come into the office of HAND to look at our collection of references and swatches.

On-line Bibliography and Reference Library for the enthusiast:

Energy Conservation

Conserving Energy in Historic Buildings, Preservation Brief 3 (under revision)


The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings

Assessing Cleaning and Water-Repellent Treatments for Historic Masonry Buildings, Preservation Brief 1

Exterior Paint Problems on Historic Woodwork, Preservation Brief 10

Exterior Woodwork No. 1 Proper Painting and Surface Preparation, Preservation Tech Note P (not currently available on the web)

Exterior Woodwork No. 2: Paint Removal from Wood Siding, Preservation Tech Note

Removing Graffiti from Historic Masonry, Preservation Brief 38