How To Paint the Exterior of Your Home

3-5 days or more, depending on the size of your home
How a Coat of Paint Adds Instant Curb Appeal

Paint is by far the easiest and fastest way to perk up a tired house. Nothing will please you or your neighbors more than a well-chosen (and well-applied) coat of fresh color. A full exterior paint job isn't exactly the easiest project, but just about anyone can do it, and the rewards are immediate and dramatic.


What color combinations do you like? You want your home to not only look good, but make you feel good as well. And you want it to harmoniously fit into the neighborhood. See how to select colors for your project.


View the animated tutorial.

Prerequisite Knowledge

Prior knowledge we needed for this phase: Paint 101, All About Brushes


Is your house fully prepped?

Working on your own, you'll need at least a full weekend to prepare your surfaces and make minor repairs (see Prepare to Paint Your Home's Exterior and Siding With Your House) If you have a multi-story house, an excessively large house, or a house on a hill, it might be considerably more work than a smaller home. Either way, you may want to consider enlisting some help to speed things up.

Step 1

How Much Paint Will You Need?

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Assuming your house has been fully prepared (see above), you're ready to shop for paint. But how much do you buy? This used to be a fairly tricky process, but now there are a number of great calculator tools available online to help you determine exactly what you need (or at least a very close estimate).

As a general rule, here's how to estimate paint needs:

  • Determine the average height of the house. For flat roof types, measure the distance from the foundation to the eaves. For pitched roofs, add two feet.
  • Measure the distance around the house - measure around the foundation.
  • Multiply the average height by the distance around the foundation. This total equals the surface area.
  • Divide the surface area by 500 (because most house paint covers 500 square feet per American gallon). Your result equals the number of gallons required for each coat.
  • For the trim - the average six to eight room house requires about 1 gallon of paint.
  • JANE TIP: Painting your home is an investment in protecting it, so don't be tempted to buy cheap paint, cheap rollers, brushes, or a cheap ladder. You'll inevitably regret anything that makes the job more difficult and run the risk of having to apply additional coats. Get the best tools you can get your hands on.

    Step 2

    Spray it On

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    Ever wonder how professional painters can finish a whole house in a couple of days? Most of the time they're using a power paint sprayer, a high-pressure gun than can cover hundreds of square feet in an hour. You can rent these units yourself. They definitely speed things up, but bear in mind that even in the hands of a pro, they're still the blunt instruments of painting. Also remember that you'll still need to spend time masking off anything you don't want spray painted, like hedges, walkways, windows, doors, eaves, and trim. Even with careful masking, you're still likely to have some overspray, so if your house has precious trees or delicate groundcover near its walls, spraying is probably not your best option. Another time-saving choice is a power roller, a device that feeds a steady flow of paint onto your roller, eliminating the need to keep refilling your paint tray. If you do a lot of painting (exterior or interior), consider purchasing this tool.

    Step 3

    Weather Check

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    Make sure to check the forecast to be sure there's no rain or excessively cold weather on the way. Paint dries best in temperate, dry conditions.

    SAFETY TIP!: Be careful if you're working in the heat. You're likely in for a long day, so keep yourself fed and hydrated. Get off the ladder immediately if you feel light-headed or woozy and take a break!

    Step 4

    Stir it Up

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    Because pigment additives can settle and become uneven in the can, give your paint a last minute remix before you use it. To help even out your color and avoid slight variances along the way, mix the cans of paint together into a large 5 gallon bucket. Use a mixing attachment for your power drill to help you stir.

    Step 5

    Plan your Painting, Paint to your Plan

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    Because painting your house is a major undertaking, make a plan on how you'll paint your masterpiece. Tackle the biggest areas first (like siding), then move on to more intricate zones. If you can, try to work away from your house's sunny side by painting the sunnier side in the morning and the dark side in the afternoon. You'll minimize the sun's withering effects on the wet paint and on you too.

    Step 6

    Steady She Goes

    Make sure you position your ladder securely and work from the tallest part of your project, moving side to side and then down. Try to work with a "wet edge," meaning always moving outward, expanding the painted area as you go, rather than painting a section here and another there and then joining them together. Aim to put a smooth, even layer of paint with each brush or roller stroke (or sprayer pass). Don't dip your brush much deeper than halfway into the bristles; too much paint on the brush leads to drips and runs.

    When you roll on paint, roll in an "A" type pattern, where you are rolling at a slight angle instead of straight up and down. This moves paint onto the surface and keeps the roller from taking paint from an area where it was just applied.

    Working on your home can be labor intensive if you don't have the proper equipment. Standard ladders are great, but you might want to consider a multi-functional ladder such as the Little Giant ladder.

    Step 7

    Before Rolling, Cut In

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    If you're using a roller, you won't be able to get the paint all the way to insides of your corners. Paint the inside of corners and edges with a 2" brush, "cutting in" a fat stripe of paint that you can then overlap when you approach it with the roller. It's usually easiest to cut in all the corners and other spots that your roller won't reach all at once, i.e. before you start rolling.

    Step 8

    Is 2 better than 1?

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    When you've made it once around the house, determine whether it'll need a second coat (probable if you're making a dramatic change in color—especially light over dark; maybe not if you're not straying too far from your original color and you're using premium paint). If needed, retrace your steps. The second coat is always much easier than the first, but be sure not to get sloppy when you get tired.

    If you are spraying, it is really easy to go around for a second coat and it makes the paint job look truly professional.

    Step 9

    Interest Lies in the Details

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    You'll now want to focus on the more delicate tasks of finishing the trim, doorways, eaves, and windows. Again, work from high to low, use a sash brush just large enough to cover the width of the area you're painting. Take your time, and keep a wet edge and a steady hand.

    With practice and a good sash brush most people can learn to paint a straight line. If you're less than sure-handed, then consider waiting until the paint on the body of the house is dry, mask the edges where the trim meets the house, and paint right up to the masking tape. Be sure to keep a wet rag handy to wipe up any goofs. Apply a second coat once the first coat has had time to dry.

    JANE TIP: When searching for color for your trim, remember, you'll want it to stand apart from the rest of the house. Rather than going with a flat sheen paint, look for a satin or semi-gloss exterior paint to help highlight your trim. Also, color is important so consider choosing a complementary or contrasting color when painting the trim. It will add extra punch your home!

    Step 10

    Check Your Work

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    When you're finished, take a final walk around to look for missed spots (AKA painter's holidays), nasty drips (sand them down as necessary), or crooked lines around the trim; use a brush and a small can of paint to touch up.

    Step 11

    Don't Forget to Clean

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    At the end of each day be sure to wash your brushes as indicated on the paint instructions, seal any open cans of paint tightly (use a mallet for a secure seal), and leave those spattered clothes in the garage. If you're using anything other than water-based latex paint, never store your old rags in a can or an enclosed space; it's a recipe for a fire.

    Image removed. Okay, so your legs and back will likely be sore, your hands will surely ache, and you'll find flecks of paint in the strangest places. But your house will now shine like a jewel in your neighborhood in its glorious new shade. (And you won't have to paint it again for another 5-7 years!)

    Related Links:
    Prepping for Exterior Painting
    Paint a Perfect Pergola
    Painting Iron Railings
    Bug Free Paint