The Exterior Painting Expert – The Key to Quality Prep Work

With the weather turning warmer daily, homeowners are beginning to search ardently for painters in Wayne and in the surrounding Main Line communities. Now is that lovely time when homes in Devon, Berwyn, and Malvern start to blossom with new Spring flowers and begin to sparkle with newly painted surfaces on the exterior of houses.

As many homeowners begin their search for an exterior painter, there are quite a few questions the homeowner should ask the prospective painter. None of which is more important than asking the painting company’s rep to explain their prep process for exterior paint jobs.

Below are five questions to ask the painter, along with explanations that follow –

  1. Will you be power washing? If so, which surfaces will be power washed?
  2. How the prep work be sequenced?
  3. How will the different substrates, such as stucco or wood, be prepped?
  4. What products will you use to prep the different substrates?
  5. How long will the repairs last, aside of the paint coating itself? Or, will the repaired areas last as long as the areas that do not need to be repaired?

In approaching each question in more detail, there is one disclaimer for this blog – This is theoretical in the sense that I cannot duplicate actual substrate types and conditions in a blog. Though the process I discuss in this blog is thorough in itself, this article is short of having actual conditions which usually differ from project to project.

Here we go – 

1 – Power Washing

One of the biggest mistakes professional painters make is that they power wash everything. Why? Well, it’s simple. They want to power wash every surface because it is faster than hand-tool prep work. 

The issue with power washing all surfaces is primarily related to wood. As a painting contractor with an extensive background in woodworking, it is common knowledge to know that wood is porous. Meaning, power washing wood can make it very wet throughout the interior of the board, beyond the surface. 

As result, the surface may dry-out overnight, but the inside of the boards may be damp or have a high-level of moisture. Herein, if the painter begins to prime and prep over wet wood or trapped moisture that is inside the wood, as the board dries-out it can cause lifting of the new primer and/or new prep compounds.

2 – Sequencing the Prep Work

This is a very important step and a common error by a lot of painters, as many professional contractors improperly sequence the process on exterior painting projects. 

The mistake they make is this – they begin the prep process before priming. In short, they start making substrate repairs with patch compounds and/or caulks, before the substrate is properly sealed. 

Herein, the only way to properly seal the substrate is to apply a generous coat (or two coats) of primer. On bare wood or wood with paint crackle or a worn coating, we typically apply two coats of high-adhesion, deep-penetrating, blocking primer.

And even further, the primer must be the correct primer for the application. There are many options for exterior primers with only a few that have a standard of performance to hold-up in the right conditions.

3 – How Will Surfaces Be Prepped? And –

4 – Products for Prep That Work!

For conversation sake, we will focus on only two types of surface materials – stucco and wood.

As an exterior painting contractor, TJ’s only performs basic stucco repairs in preparation for new stucco coating applications. As a result, this information is limited to basic stucco repairs only – such as, minor cracks, small holes, compromised adhesion in small areas less than one square foot. 

For cracks, the best products are mortar-based caulks or caulks with polymers. Our go-to brand for stucco repair caulks is Flexx. We have found this brand to have high-adhesion and the mortar is granular enough to give the caulk a true mortar look. 

For other minor repairs, we may use a stucco patch that is pre-mixed or go with a hydraulic cement if adhesion is in question. By using the hydraulic cement as an undercoat, we feel adhesion is more likely to hold-up as opposed to using a water-based patch in problem areas.

For wood, there are only two restoration patch products that we use. One is M&H Ready Patch, which is a very dense, resin based compound with great adhesion. It works well out of the can and forms rather easily with some sanding. 

The only drawback with Ready Patch is that it recedes, and as a result it needs to be fully cured before forming (or before sanding). Usually a full cure is 24-hours. Since it will “pull-in” after it cures, Ready Patch also needs multiple coats.

If there is a presence of rot wood, or concerns about Ready Patch not holding-up or adhering well enough, we then go with a two-part epoxy. The brand we have traditionally used was Flex-Tec Wood Epoxy, which is a two-part epoxy that comes with a dual barrel caulk tube, meaning you will need a dual barrel caulk gun. 

Last Summer we tried out-of-the-can epoxies that worked much faster, smoother, and were less costly than the Flex-Tec Wood Epoxy. Though, we need more experience with the two new brands we used last Summer before I would recommend them. 

Our primary reason for searching for a new wood restoration epoxy, other the Flex-Tec Wood Epoxy, is due to workability – namely in speed. Cost is another factor, as the Flex-Tec is approximately $50 a tube. Though, since I am an eco-conscious contractor, I was also on the search for an epoxy with minimal toxicity. The Flex-Tec also sands extremely slowly, as it sets-up very hard. 

5 – How Long Will The Repairs Last?

The durability of repairs is directly related to three factors – existing substrate conditions, proper sealing of the substrate with the correct primers and the right amount of primer, and which exterior repair patch compounds and caulks were chose to make the repairs.

You can also add proper curing times being followed to these factors. Knowing the conditions and the appropriate curing times is critical, for all products – oil primers, latex primers, hybrid primers, patch compounds, caulks, finish coatings, etc. 

Most painters simply want to “get to check as fast as possible.” Meaning, they do not care about long-term results as their primary goal – they care about making money as fast as possible. 

Not only does this lead to not following curing times, it also leads to painting contractors utilizing fast-dry products – fast-dry primers, fast-dry patch compounds, fast-dry caulks, and the like. The issue with fast-dry primers and restoration products is they do not penetrate. They dry more topically, with minimal penetration into the substrate. As a result, the fast-dry products lead to adhesion failure much faster – within months if not within weeks. Trust me, as a 30-year experienced exterior painter, I have witnessed this far too often. 

Though this is a limited conversation, the bottom line is making field decisions applicable to the project’s conditions. That is, after choosing the best products and best procedures for ensuring adhesion. 

Therein lies the bottom line – adhesion. On exterior painting projects, adhesion is everything!

In a typical or traditional painter, adhesion is left up to the paint product manufacturer.

With a craftsman or a higher-level painter, adhesion is part of the entire process. The more conscientious and more studied painting contractor will consider adhesion during each phase of the project – from the power washing, into the prep work, and definitively through their choices for primers and paints.

This is where two painters and the results of their work can be so different in how long the quality holds-up. I have seen many paint jobs where customers supposedly had exterior painting work done within the prior year, and there were cracks and adhesion failures in many spots. 

Such poor results are not necessarily professional neglect, usually. Instead, it is simply a result of a typical or less educated painter doing what they have done for years – blaming poor results on either the existing conditions and/or on the products they used. 

Whereas, a more educated or more conscientious and studied painting contractor will assume it is their responsibility to fully grasp why results failed on prior jobs. Then they will research, study, and test products and processes on a continual basis. 

The result is having standards of performance for all processes and all products they use on your exterior painting project, with the end goal of having long-term, quality finish results. 

How long? The goal is to achieve a seven-year, maintenance free finish. However, this is subject to various factors that even the best of contractors cannot control.

Happy painting!