Pick the right paint
Stumped by the wide
variety of paints on the
store shelf? You’re not
alone. Whether you’re
out to paint your whole
house or simply touch
up the back fence,
selecting the best paint
or stain for the job can
be confusing. No one
type of paint or stain is
best for all surfaces,
especially on the
exterior where it
takes a beating
from the weather.
In the following
pages, we’ll list the
painting tasks and
the best finish for
the job. But keep in
mind that certain
may warrant different
coatings. Talk to
the staff at a local
store for additional
Primers fill the pores in
wood and form a good
adhesion base for topcoats.
They’re lightly pigmented
to help the topcoats
primers are the old
favorite, but high-quality
acrylic latex primers are
now available and a popular
choice of many pros.
Both work well. In either
case, be sure to buy a
quality product and
spread it to the proper
thickness. Better primers are more expensive.
Read the directions on the
label to determine the
ideal application thickness.
A common mistake
is applying it too thinly,
like a wash, rather than as
a regular coat.
When priming cedar or
redwood, use an alkyd
primer or a stain-blocking
acrylic latex primer. Cedar
and redwood have water-soluble tannins in their
heartwood that, when
moist, will leach out and
“bleed” through the topcoats,
leaving dark, ugly
stains. Alkyds and stainblocking
acrylics bind the
tannins and hold them in
the primer. Buy a brand
from a dealer who will
guarantee the product’s
Knots can also bleed
through the topcoats. To
prevent this problem,
double-prime them. First
prime just the knots with
the alkyd or stain-blocking
acrylic primer or pigmented
shellac (such as
BIN). Let the primer dry,
and then prime the entire
TIP: Choose your paint
first, then read the label
and buy the primer recommended
by the manufacturer.
Some paints perform
best when used with the
same brand of primer.
In this category, we’re including any
smooth or rough surface wood that’s
fully exposed to the weather, like
exterior railings, gazebos and arbors.
The trade-offs between paints and
stains are the same for fences as for
decks (see “Decks,” below). Film-forming
finishes like paint and solid
stains last longer and have stronger
colors, but will inevitably peel and
require more effort to renew. Semi-transparent
oil stains won’t last as
long. However, if you apply them
properly, they don’t form a film, so
they won’t peel and they’re easier to
recoat when they weather and fade.
Acrylic latex resists the corrosive
effects of sunlight better than oil-based
paint. It lasts longer too.
The labels on latex paints can be
confusing. Top grades will say
100 percent acrylic latex to distinguish
them from other types like
acrylic latex or vinyl acrylic latex,
which usually cost less and don’t
perform as well.
Siding paint has a flat, non-reflective
finish, so your house
won’t shine like a brand new
automobile. In addition, flat paint
hides chips, dents and other siding
paints highlight them. “Eggshell”
paint has also become popular.
It has a flat appearance too, but
also a smoother, easy-to-clean
The few extra dollars spent for
high-quality paint will pay off.
High-quality paints have a higher
volume of better pigments for
more thorough coverage and better
resins for superior adhesion.
They also contain additives that make
the paint brush out smoother without
dripping or sagging. All these factors
save time and money in the long run.
Latex paints are more temperature
sensitive than oil-based paints. Unless
the label says otherwise, avoid using
latex paints in temperatures below 50
degrees F or in direct sunlight, which
can cause them to dry too fast.
Painting trim involves a lot of time-consuming prep work and
brush work, so choose a premium paint for the longest-lasting
protection—gloss or semigloss 100 percent acrylic latex. They’re
more durable than flat latex because they have a higher resin content. The additional resin also delivers that glossy sheen, but because the trim covers a
relatively small area, the shine isn’t prominent.
Some painters prefer oil-based trim paints because they have
slightly higher initial gloss and brush out smoother. However,
they’ll dull and fade within a few years if the sun hits them.
Glossy paints highlight surface flaws, so if your trim is worn, stick
to the semigloss or even a satin sheen in highly visible areas.
TIP: If the old coat is oil-based, you can paint latex over it. However,
you must sand the old surface to ensure good adhesion.
Porch floors and stair treads
Exterior wood floors that are exposed to
rain and sun always take a beating. Foot
traffic wears away the finish. And the simple
fact that paint slows the drying process
once the wood gets wet will compound the
problem by encouraging rot. No protective
coating will be low-maintenance.
A specially formulated exterior floor
paint usually works best. Floor paints usually
contain harder resins to withstand
abrasion. (Some manufacturers also call
this paint an enamel, which simply means
that it has a high resin content for maximum
adhesion.) Still, expect to scrape and
renew peeling areas every few years. TIP:
One way to extend paint life is to prime all
sides of the flooring before laying it.
These paints will be glossy, and sometimes
slippery when wet. Gritty additives
can provide good traction in the short run
but may soon wear off in high-traffic areas.
We’re applying a non-skid surface coat that
contains grit. Look for anti-slip paint at
full-service paint stores.
New hardboard or cementboard
Hardboard has a factory-applied
finish, and each
brand has specific painting
methods vary, so read those
instructions. Usually a
primer and two coats of 100
percent acrylic latex will do
TIP: Prime well any cut
ends and nailheads driven
through the surface. Hardboard
where the raw fiber is
Semi-transparent oil stains work best.
They soak into the rough fiber and protect
the wood from weathering, but they
don’t form a surface film and therefore
won’t peel. They contain enough pigment
to color the wood and partially shield it
from the sun, but not so much as to hide
the texture and grain. Weathering, especially
sunlight, causes stains to break
down, erode and fade. They typically last
only three to six years on the sunny side of
the house. But renewal requires only a
thorough cleaning and recoating.
Solid stains contain more pigment and
deliver stronger colors. They’ll often last a
year or two longer than semi-transparent
oil stains. However, they tend to form a
thin film and often peel, requiring more
time-consuming prep work before you
can apply a new coat. This is especially
true of solid acrylic latex stains.
Semi-transparent stains that
contain a combination of oil-based resins
in a water solution also perform well.
Paint usually doesn’t adhere well to
rough wood, and it’s tough to scrape and
sand off loose paint once peeling begins.
So avoid using film-forming finishes like
paint and varnish.
To slow rot and other deterioration and keep the deck in
good condition with the least effort, simply apply a water
repellent preservative every year or two. If the deck wood is
damp much of the year, clean it and kill the mildew every
few years with a deck cleaner (sold at home centers).
For a more attractive appearance, apply a semi-transparent
oil stain. Use lighter stains for deck boards; heavier
pigmented types show wear faster and are more difficult to
renew. You’ll have to strip the deck and renew the stain
every two to four years.
Clear exterior finishes, intended to preserve the natural
color of the wood, will last only a year or two before they
peel and the wood begins to turn gray.
Concrete, concrete block, stucco and brick walls
Sound and clean concrete,
stucco and masonry accept
paint well. But beware. Moisture
that gets under the surface
will eventually cause the paint
to peel, especially on horizontal
surfaces. And you’ll have a
tough job scraping and prepping
the rough surfaces.
For best results on vertical
exterior surfaces, select 100
percent acrylics. They breathe,
meaning water vapor can
move through them, which
allows any low level of moisture
that gets inside to evaporate
without lifting the paint.
Avoid oil-based paint because
surfaces that contain cement
typically are strongly alkaline
and can soon shed the paint.
If the wall has a lot of small
cracks, a better option is often
an acrylic elastomeric paint,
which is a thicker, more flexible
version of regular acrylic
paint. But always discuss
options and warranties with an
experienced paint dealer
before trying an elastomeric. It
costs about 15 percent more
per gallon but has a lower coverage
rate. In the end, it’ll cost
two to three times as much as
standard acrylic paint.
Concrete stain is a better
choice for sprucing up horizontal
surfaces. It wears more slowly
than paint and is easier to
Back to Top
Galvanized steel and aluminum
Let new galvanized
steel and aluminum
weather for six
months, or wash the
bare surfaces with an
cleaner or TSP to
remove oily residues.
Then apply 100 percent
acrylic latex. You
won’t need a primer.
However, if galvanized
steel has rust spots,
sand off the rust and
apply a rust-inhibiting
metal primer to those