Proper Painting

Old siding stripped and sanded in preparation for Linseed Oil Paint.

Old siding stripped and sanded in preparation for Linseed Oil Paint.

Lunenburg is famous for its brightly coloured buildings but they all have a nasty little secret - they must be repainted as often as every five years.  Maintaining a protective coating of paint on any old wooden structure is challenging, but perhaps nowhere more so than in Lunenburg, built as it is on a south-facing slope directly on the edge of the Atlantic.  Given this harsh regimen of salt spray and direct sunlight, it's fair to say that Lunenburg presents a stiff test of a painter's skill.  And herein lies the rub: the issue really isn't the painter's skill, but rather the amount of attention paid to all the steps that precede the actual painting.  A good paint job is 90% prep work and only 10% painting.  There's little sense applying new paint over a poorly-adhered substrate and it's quite likely that, after a century or more, much of the lowest layer of paint has begun to loosen its bonds to the wood.  The only remedy here is to fully remove any and all paint that isn't very firmly attached.  Nobody, however, enjoys scraping paint and so this step is often given short shrift - big mistake!  As unglamorous and down-right difficult as it is to scrape paint, it simply must be done or the paint job simply won't last. Luckily there are a few tools available to make paint removal easier.  The Paintshaver is essentially an angle-grinder with a planer-head affixed to it and it is ideal for stripping paint from flat expanses of wood like clapboards.  For more finely detailed woodwork a heat gun is most often employed, along with the Silent Stripper, which is essentially a large, stationary heat gun.  It should be noted that virtually all paint-removal jobs will involve lead paint and precautions must be taken to minimize exposure to it, particularly when it is pulverized into a fine dust by the Paintshaver.  After the woodwork has been stripped bare we have essentially reset the clock by 100 years or so and are ready to protect the wood for its next 100 years.  Sanding is often required as the paint-removal process can be a bit rough, and we like to add a coat of WRP (water-repellent preservative) before priming and painting.  Traditional linseed-oil paints are also an option here and require neither a WRP nor a primer.  

If all of that prep sounds like too much work, consider some of the benefits of thorough paint removal.  Firstly, if done correctly, you are ensuring you won't be painting again for 15 years or more. Secondly, you are eliminating the unsightly "alligator" effect created when thick previous layers of paint are left attached under a new coat of paint.  In addition, for any repainting to come in the decades ahead you are making prep work a snap - a light sanding will be all that's required as there won't be heavy layers of paint to remove.  Finally, by opting to preserve your exterior woodwork rather than replace it, you are not only doing the environmentally correct thing, you are also choosing a vastly superior product.  The old-growth timber that was milled to create the siding and trim on our century homes is clearer and more stable as well as more rot and weather-resistant.  And of course it just looks better!

A full paint-removal programme often goes hand-in-hand with a course of exterior siding, trim, and flashing renewal.  Without all those layers of paint and caulk obscuring the situation, it is much easier to repair and selectively replace siding and trim elements as well as firmly reattach them and hide the fasteners' heads.  Flashing above windows is also often revealed to be defective and even a source of leaks and this too is best repaired when the woodwork is rejuvenated.  

Instead of opting for siding replacement, we recommend you first consider whether a thorough exterior renewal is not your cheaper, greener, and more aesthetically pleasing solution.