Some part of your house's exterior is probably wood - maybe the siding, maybe the trim. And that wood needs to be painted or stained regularly or it will start decaying.
This is a job for a pro: A good, professional painter will do it right, and that, in turn, will mean a longer-lasting surface.
Make sure a paint contractor has the experience to back up his sales pitch, and has referrals from happy customers. I'd look for a referral from a reputable paint dealer as well, since he can weed out the fly-by-nighters for you in a hurry. A paint store isn't going to refer someone who will make the store look bad.
If a professional painter shows up in a beat-up car and ratty clothes, don't answer the door. If a guy is not looking clean in his painter whites and driving a neat van, it tells you a lot about the quality of his work: If he looks sloppy, he will work sloppy.
It's not just a matter of your showing him some paint chips and letting him go to work. He should explain to you the whole process: how he'll prep the job, what he notices about the condition of your wood, and how he'll protect your landscaping and other parts of your home. If he doesn't - or if you don't ask - chances are he's going to try to cut some corners, and I don't mean with a paint brush.
A quality paint contractor will explain why it's wise to use the top-of-the-line materials he has recommended. His quote may be higher than the next guy, but you'll understand the reason. Most important, he'll use a moisture meter before he starts to work.
A moisture meter costs about $30 but it will save a painter thousands of dollars and a lot of customer unhappiness. As a rule of thumb, wood that has more than 16 per cent moisture in it shouldn't be painted. I've seen a smart painter wait for damp window sills or a whole side of a house to dry. He even took a hair dryer to the sill to get the water out. That's the way to make sure the paint adheres properly. Yes, it takes more time, but it always pays to do the job right the first time.
In order to paint wood properly, you first need to scrape it, sand it and prime it. Priming is hugely important - that is what seals your wood against moisture. Don't let a painter tell you the old coat of paint is good enough.
Oil or latex?
Exterior wood can be painted with oil or latex paint, but these days, oil paint has fallen from fashion. Few people use it because it's much less flexible than latex. Oil paint becomes brittle and "alligators," leaving a pattern of shattered paint and cracks, which then has to be burned off.
I don't like to use oil-based paints - for environmental reasons and because they don't allow wood to breathe. If moisture gets trapped behind this kind of paint, it will cause it to pull away from the wood.
Latex paint allows water vapour to pass through - it breathes. It won't peel off and is less likely to crack.
It is critical that wood breathes, especially when your house has areas that stay damp. Moisture builds up on exterior surfaces where bushes, fences or other items stop air flow.
Paint or stain?
Since stain penetrates deep into the wood, it is the best choice for most exterior wood. Oil stain is superior to latex stain - it is coloured with dyes in an oil suspension, which penetrates into the wood, as compared to tints in pigments in latex that stay more on the surface. But moisture under any stain is a disaster - it will go cloudy and the stain will simply pop off as the moisture migrates to the surface.
One of the major factors in painting exteriors is the weather. Ideally, a painter needs a week of dry weather to get a job done: a few days of warm weather to dry the surfaces and a few more days after the job is done to allow the paint to bond to the surface before it rains.
The best periods in which to paint outdoors are spring to early summer and in the early fall. The peak of summer is almost as bad as winter.
You need dry, warm days, with temperatures around 20 to 27. High humidity is a problem - once it goes past 40 per cent, paint begins to rebel. Paint or stain simply will not dry in high humidity. And in extreme heat, paint will dry too fast and the wood can warp because of uneven drying.
A good painter will tell you that there are at most 40 days of prime painting weather each year. That's why you'll have a hard time finding one who isn't booked up. Start looking now, and ask the right questions.