Photo by Benjamin Moore & Co. Taken by Tim Lee
Home Renovation: Repainting Historic Houses
A sampling of contractors from across the country finds many similarities — and a few big differences — in preparation, materials and painting techniques.
by Liz Trauring
aren’t all Victorian Painted Ladies or buildings from colonial times. In some areas, 1950s homes are eagerly being restored, as are 1930s Craftsman and 1940s Sears catalog homes. You don’t need to be a restoration expert to tackle any of these. You just need to remember the basics and apply your professional craft to the job.
Every contractor we spoke with agreed that 90 percent of a job’s success lies in careful preparation and in figuring out why the last paint job failed.
Bruce Nelson, of San Francisco Local Color, San Francisco, Calif., stresses that it is essential to have a sound surface. “Sanding — and sometimes even paint stripping — is crucial. We do a lot of handwork to get the surface ready for priming by feathering the edges of the old paint, which is the minimum you can do. The maximum is either chemical removal or stripping it down using a heat gun.”
There is no hard-and-fast rule for whether or not coatings should be removed from old wood substrates, but full or partial removal may be necessary if the old paint film is deeply veined or “alligatored” or is extensively blistered, flaking, or peeling, according to Steve Revnew, director of marketing-residential segments at Sherwin-Williams.
Further advice from Sherwin-Williams is that it may be best to treat elaborately carved moldings with a chemical stripper, which will flow into crevices and crannies and make for more consistent removal. Flat horizontal or vertical surfaces that show flaking, cracking or blistering can be carefully scraped, wire-brushed or sanded down to bare wood. Though a heat gun can make for speedy removal, be careful to avoid igniting the paint or the wood beneath, especially if the old coating is alkyd-based.
Aaron Dhawan, marketing director for Insl-X Products Corp., agrees that preparation should be mechanically addressed, especially because water-based paints do not penetrate as well as alkyd products. Maxum Prep, Coronado’s line of weathered wood restorers and wood brighteners, helps solve this problem. “Once [the surface is] properly prepared, the acrylics work fine,” Dhawan says.
“It is true that water-based primers force contractors to better prepare their substrates,” says Scott Lewis, assistant brand manager, ICI Paints. But he assures contractors that water-based primers, like ICI’s Gripper, afford excellent coverage, are particularly good stain blockers and provide excellent adhesion.
The right caulking material can be the most important thing in the restoration painter’s toolbox.
Steve Munson, of Munson Painting in Bolton, Conn., uses DAP Dynaflex 230. “It’s expensive but worth it,” he says. “I like the 50-year guarantee and the fact that I can figure it out to get just the right degree of smoothness because it doesn’t set up too quickly.”
In the 9,000-plus-foot altitude of Crested Butte, Colo., Fitz Young of Mountain Colors Painting uses Benjamin Moore caulking because it dries quickly. “In this altitude,” Young says, “we can go from 80 degrees in the sun down to 36 degrees at night, which requires a fast-drying product. Not just for caulk, but for paint, too.”
At San Francisco Local Color, Nelson uses mildew-resistant vinyl-acrylic copolymer caulks, which he says have good elasticity, less shrinkage, good durability and good adhesion qualities. He also recommends more pricey urethane-acrylic-based caulks as well as Abatron’s wood consolidants or LiquidWood to be used prior to epoxies to strengthen the existing wood where failure previously occurred.