D I Y house painting

George Martin, who will turn 64 next month, has been painting houses in the Charleston area for 35 years. While many contractors have gone to spraying, Martin says the best way to apply paint is still by brush.

In the world of home repair, exterior house painting doesn’t require the skills and training of plumbing or electrical work but painting jobs can cost thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars.

But for those who want to save money with some sweat and ladder equity, there are some tricks of the trade to know.

Longtime local house painter George Martin knows those tricks. After all, the 63-year-old Mount Pleasant resident has been painting houses, inside and out, for 35 years.

“I’ve learned them first-hand from the school of hard knocks,” says Martin, who bears the physical scars of his labor, namely an arthritic ankle busted up in a fall 26 years ago and two sore knees from years of standing on ladders in a locked position.

Despite his achy joints, Martin continues to paint five days a week (not to mention teach spinning classes twice a week) and was willing to share some basic trade secrets with people brave enough to attempt an DIY exterior paint job.

Q: First of all, is painting the exterior of your house do-able for the average, able person? And, who should not consider not attempting it?

A: If you’re a fit person and have the time, you can do it. Anybody can do it. You just need to know the tricks of the trade. I tell people all the time different ways of doing it. Still there are reasons to hire a painting contractor: if the house is too tall, or the job is super complicated, if they are too old. All of that.

Q: Is this a good time of year to paint outside?

A: I paint year-round. I’m used to working in the heat. But now through December is a great time primarily for the painter’s personal comfort level. I think March through June is good, too. But it doesn’t matter with the paint. Today’s paints have a bit more acrylic in them so they dry faster. Still, you definitely don’t want to paint when it’s raining.

Q: So where would you suggest a do-it-yourselfer start?

A: Before even going to the paint store, I’d check to see if any existing paint needs to be scraped and sanded. A lot of people don’t know if the surface needs that until they test it. If any paint comes off or is loose, you’ve got some work to do.

A lot of people will power-wash the surface to take the paint off and will use a bullet or zero tip (on the spray washer) to do it, but that’s just going to tear the wood up. So if you wash first, be sure to use a fan tip.

I scrape and sand (no particular order) first because you have to wash off the (sanding) dust before painting it, anyway.

Q: Any suggestions on a sander?

A: I have a disc sander, but those things are outlawed downtown because if you turn ’em the wrong way, they eat a board. If you’re not experienced with disc sander, don’t use one. It’s 5,000 rpms a minute and you can do a lot of damage. I’d suggest an orbital sander. It’s not as heavy.

Q: Should you rent or buy a power washer?

A: It depends on what you want. The bigger ones (3,000+ PSI), you better know how to use them because you could eat a hole in your house with them. You don’t want to do that. Most people can deal with 2,000 PSI and it will do the job.

Besides, the whole deal with cleaning the surface is putting the bleach and water on it first.

I put bleach in water, half and half, put it in a bug sprayer, spray it on and let it sit there for 10 or 15 minutes, then rinse it off with power washer. You can spray it through the machine, too, but on a lower (power) setting.

Q: If someone has issues with using bleach, which is not good for the environment, what alternatives would you use?

A: Strong vinegar and water solution, but it’s still not going to kill the mildew. There’s all sorts of stuff you can buy. I believe bleach is the best, but you can’t use it downtown (due to regulations).

Q: After spray washing, how long do you let it dry?

A: Overnight, unless it’s raining. By the way, you can always spray wash in the rain.

Q: How long does a thorough cleaning last for painting?

A: Up to three or four months. I wouldn’t go much longer than that.

That still gives you plenty of time to paint.

Q: Then what?

A: Next thing you do is caulk around windows and butt joints. Do not caulk lap boards (horizontally) because your house needs to breathe.

Back in the day, before central heating and air, people in old houses downtown would caulk ’em up, tight as a tick, so the air wouldn’t go in there and freeze them to death. People used to put rolled-up newspaper in the walls. You can see or hear houses pop sometime. But houses have got to breathe.

Q: Finally, the paint. What kind of paint do you suggest people buy?

A: Top of the line.

Look, it’s hard enough to paint. Why put something on there that’s thin and crappy? Put on something that’s good and has body to it that’s going to hold on there and last.

When they took lead out of oil paint, it went to hell in a hand basket. Now they’re trying to get out of oil paint. They don’t even sell oil paint in some states. The price of it has gone out of the roof.

Latex paints have gotten better with better adherents. It’s a lot different now. I use latex.

Q: To prime or not?

A: You see all these paints with primer in them. Primer and paint in one. But primer is a primer and is needed for bare wood. If you have a good coat on there, just go with paint. However, if you have a oil-based paint on it now and you want to change it to latex or you have a dark color and want to go light, you gotta prime it.

Q: You’re a big fan of the brush. Why apply paint with a brush?

A: When you use a brush, you get better flow and work the paint into the wood.

A lot of people spray (paint). I’d say 85 to 95 percent of paint contractors are spraying today. It’s quick and easy and they get stuff done, especially if you’re getting beat up (price-wise) by the (building) contractor. Labor is the hard, expensive part of painting.

A lot people say they will spray and then back brush, but they don’t. They spray it and then spray it again and then (say), “Let’s go.”

But I use a 4-inch brush. That’s old school and I’m a minority now. I won’t use rollers except on doors and pickets and then brush it.

Q: Does using a brush mean you can get away with one coat?

A: No, I usually do two coats. I don’t suggest one coat period unless you have the same color and you’re just doing a touch up.

Q: For many, working on ladders is a deal breaker. It’s too risky or scary. Would you suggest using scaffolding?

A: Setting up scaffolding can be tough. That’s why they hire people to put scaffolding up. Lifts are an alternative but are expensive. I’m old school. I just use a ladder unless it’s too high. Then, I’m climbing. But I do most of my work by ladder.

That’s why my knees are shot, but it’s not from going up and down ladder but from locking them.

Q: What’s the parting advice for a do-it-yourself exterior paint job?

A: Prep (preparing the surface for painting) is the whole thing with exterior jobs. Most want to go straight to painting and get it over with, but if you want it to last a long time, prep is crucial. Even some house painters skip it. But prepping is the big thing.