8 Things to Do Before Having Your House Painted

Last summer my house got a major facelift via two fresh coats of stain. The sun and rain had been beating away at the cedar siding for decades, but a few dozen gallons of stain made it like new.

OK, it took a few dozen gallons of stain PLUS months of work leading up to the application. Here’s the checklist Eric and I used to get our house ready for exterior paint and stain.

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1. Hire Your Painters Early

If you’re hiring house painters, book early. This is especially true if you live somewhere with a long rainy season like the Pacific NW.

Portland only has two or three dry-ish months, so the exterior house painters book up far in advance. Try to book your painters by February.

Eric and I weren’t able to book on time on our first attempt, but we got in line that following winter. Booking early also gives you time to complete the rest of this list before it’s time to paint.

2. Replace House Siding as Needed

A house that hasn’t been painted in a while might have some siding damage.

The cedar siding on the north and east sides of my house were mostly in good shape. The south and west sides, however, had cedar boards that were dried out, cracked and peeling.

Note: Old house paint and stain may have lead in it. You might want to test the paint for lead before you agitate any old paint chips with prying, scraping or sanding.

Related: How to replace tongue and groove siding boards

3. Patch Up Holes and Other Damage

You might find additional damage beyond your siding. Look for holes caused by woodpeckers, drunken party guests or other animals.

Filling in garage door holes with wood filler
Eric patched and sanded the garage door.

My neighborhood is home to a large family of woodpeckers. They love my scrumptious cedar siding and have happily pounded many holes into it.

We also had dozens of little critter holes in the ceiling of our breezeway.

Check for holes and damage under your eaves and all along your siding, doors and garage. Grab some wood filler and patch any holes, spreading the filler flush with your house.

Insect damage control with wood filler

Also look for any mold or mildew spots and remove them with a cleaning solution. You may need to let the cleaning solution sit, then scrub it off and give it a rinse.

4. Prune Shrubs Away From House

Next you will need to use a lopper or tree saw to prune your trees, shrubs and plants. Cut everything back two or three feet from your house.

This will help the painters access your house for exterior painting. It’s also good practice to keep the foliage from brushing up against your house and holding in moisture. Plus all of your greenery will be looking Instagram-ready when you take the after pic of your fresh house paint or stain.

Another bonus: s’more fuel. I used some of the sticks and branches to build backyard campfires for all of my s’more-making needs. Score!

5. Remove or Tape Over Anything Else Near House

Walk around your house and look for anything else that needs removal. This could be toys, bikes, outdoor furniture, wall hangings or cars that you don’t want to change the color of.

Tape over any part of your utility boxes that you don’t want painted, like meters and warning labels.

Painting retro awnings

If you have awnings, now’s a good time to take them down. We primed and painted our awnings with our accent color so they’d match the new look.

6. Pick Exterior Paint or Stain Colors

Selecting your paint or stain color can be challenging. Let me make it worse. This is a big investment. You might be living with this color for decades!

OK now relax. Draw from the colors you’re already using inside your house. Think about the mood you want your house to create. And think about which colors will be consistent with the style of your house.

I’m going for a mid-century modern lodge. While I considered gray and even dark blue house paint colors, I kept coming back to brown because I want to feel like I’m camping 100% of the time.

Testing sample wood stain paint colors
We tried Miller Paint (Storm brand) Dark Oak, Grizzly Bear and Melted Chocolate, and Sherwin Williams Shagbark and Lodge Brown.

Head to the paint store and buy some paint or stain samples in a few different colors. If you’re hiring a company to paint your house, keep in mind that you will probably have to use a certain brand that they use. Check reviews on different brands of paint and make sure you can get the paint brand you want.

When you’re ready to test out your paint samples, you can use your siding scraps or other spare pieces of wood. Write each color name on the backs so you know which is which. Then paint the fronts with the paint samples.

Once your samples dry, it will probably be obvious to you which one is the one. Go with your gut. Or go get more paint samples.

Modern house paint color ideas

I chose Sherwin Williams Woodscapes Shagbark for my house color and Sherwin Williams Cooled Blue for my door color. No regrets.

Also, Eric wants you all to know that many new stains are water-based, so they don’t smell so bad anymore.

7. Cover Vegetable Garden Beds

Wow, it’s almost time to paint! If you are a food gardener, now’s the time to cover your vegetable beds and other edible plants with plastic. You don’t want weird paint spray or chips getting into your next meal.

8. Clean and Pressure Wash House Siding

Finally, pressure wash your house. Your painters will probably do this for you, but if you’re painting the house yourself make sure you don’t skip this step. Pressure washing gets your house clean and clear, so the paint has a nice surface to cling to.

Eric also cleaned the vents and plastic covers on top of our house. The painters will paint your home’s vents and covers, so you want them nice and clean.

Make sure you don’t have any peeling paint chips at this point. If you find chips, let your house dry and then scrape away the chips.

1960s house prepped for exterior stain
Here’s the house prepped for exterior stain.

Woohoo, You’re Ready for Exterior House Painting

It’s time to give your house a facelift.

While I wanted to stain at least the lower level of my house by myself to save money, Eric convinced me that 1) it would take forever since I don’t have the same tools and sprayers as the pros, and 2) it’s not good for me to be breathing in stain fumes in 90-degree weather on ladders that I’m likely to fall off of. OK fine.

We hired ESP Painting. They did a beautiful job and had it done in about a week. It’s starting to look like a modern lodge around here.


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