Tips to ensure a better paint job

Tim Small is a retired paint and coatings salesman and consultant with Sylvia Small Communications & Marketing,

If you’re considering painting your house yourself, here’s a key tip. One of the most important steps in the process is surface preparation and priming. Unfortunately it’s the step that people often leave out or don’t do properly.

Proper surface preparation not only makes the finished job look better, it also makes the paint job last longer. That’s especially true with exterior paint projects.

Interior surface preparation

If you’re repainting a house that was built in the late 1950s or earlier, there is a very strong chance there could be lead-based paint on the walls. Don’t attempt to scrape or remove the paint.

If you suspect lead-based paint, call the Environmental Protection Agency hotline for information: 1-800-424-LEAD. You also can visit for more information.

If you see mold or mildew, you must kill it before you go any further. You can find mold/mildew removers at paint or hardware stores. Carefully follow the label directions.

Prime any bare wood or new sheetrock before proceeding to the finish coat. A latex primer works well on sheetrock, and an oil-based or alcohol-based primer works well on wood and trim. Use a stain-blocking primer on any water spots.

There are two schools of thought regarding painting wallpaper. You might strip the wallpaper and glue backing before priming the wall and finishing it with a top coat. If the wallpaper is adhered to the wall really well, just prime and paint it. If you choose to go this route, you may see some texture in your final coat, depending on the texture of the wallpaper.

Exterior surface preparation

Exterior surface preparation is similar, but there are a few more things to consider. Don’t forget about the lead paint issue.

Exterior paint is more likely to crack and peel than interior paint. Remove the old, damaged paint with a scraper. Spot prime any bare spots. The major paint companies make a bonding primer that is perfect for exterior priming on siding and trim. It isn’t really a latex, but it does clean up with soap and water. Again, kill any mold or mildew with one of several products that are readily available in the retail market. Caulk around windows and doors if needed. Don’t caulk over the old caulk but rather dig it out with a screwdriver or putty knife. If there are concrete, brick or block surfaces involved, scrape them down and then apply the appropriate primer.

Here’s a time-saving tip about primers. Most primers are white or off-white. Have your paint store tint the primer with half-formula of your top coat. This will help the top coat hide better. By using a half-formula, you’ll see a slight difference in the color and be better able to keep up with your painting progress.

Proper surface preparation can make or break a good paint job so don’t cut corners on this important step.