How to paint a house: everything you need to know, inside and out

Painting a house – both inside and out – is one of those lovely jobs that feels like the finishing line of most renovation projects

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Transforming the exterior of your home? Good exterior paintwork shows off all the elbow grease that has gone into making your home what it is and can significantly increase its kerb appeal. Internally, a good paint job can work wonders in creating the illusion of more space and height within rooms, highlight architectural features of note and even create separate zones within open plan spaces. 

As with so many home decoration jobs, preparation is key. Armed with the right tools, materials and a certain degree of knowledge, there is no reason why most homeowners can’t tackle the job of painting a house. 

Read on for our comprehensive guide to painting your entire house, starting from the outside (including windows and doors), to painting the rooms inside.

How to paint the exterior of a house

While many people are happy to take on the interior painting of a house, a much smaller number feel confident tackling the exterior paintwork.

Using a professional decorator

Aim to hire a decorator who has prior experience of the type of painting you are after (rough pebbledash, for example) and ideally use recommendations from trusted sources.

In terms of decorators’ fees, work on a day rate of from around £125–£200. Of course the area you live in, the job in question and the demand for decorators in your area will all affect this price. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of materials and scaffold hire if required.

You could expect an average three bedroom semi-detached house to be painted externally (walls only) in around 2–4 days depending on the condition of the walls and providing the decorators don’t get rained off.

It is true that it is a slightly more labour intensive job. The nature of the job means you will be at the mercy of the elements and you will have to ensure you have proper, safe means to reach the upper storeys of the house before you begin. The tools and types of paint you use will differ from an interior paint job too. 

In short, painting the exterior of a house requires more effort and time than painting the interior — which is why many people leave it up to a professional decorator. However, the extra effort aside, this is a simple job well within the capabilities of most DIYers.

Don’t forget that the exterior of your house encompasses painting windows, painting doors and any other woodwork and metalwork too. These elements will require different types of paint and preparation work than the walls. 

How to paint external walls

Exterior paint not only has the job of making your house look good, it also needs to offer a level of protection and waterproofing to the substrate of the walls. The type of paint you choose will depend on how exposed to the elements your walls are and the surface you are painting; render, cladding and other exterior finishes will each require different finishes, for example. 

Choosing the right paint for external walls

In general, a good quality masonry paint will be required for your exterior walls. This type of paint is suitable for pebbledash, stucco, cement renders, stone and brick. 

Masonry paint comes in smooth and textured finishes and is available in a whole host of colours. A textured paint will help cover cracks and very uneven surfaces, while smooth finishes are easier to apply to large areas. 

In the case of timber cladding, a weatherproof wood paint or stain will be required. Check on the tin for its suitability to your particular project. You will also need to prime the wood (unless the paint you have chosen combines a primer or states otherwise).

You will also need the right tools. Find the best paint brushes and rollers in our buying guide.

Man painting render outside a house

(Image: © Getty)

You will need:

Ladder safety

Safety is paramount when it comes to painting the exterior of your house. You will need a good sturdy ladder, long enough to reach the highest point you will be painting. The ladder should be placed so that the bottom quarter of its total height is away from the base of the house. 

A ladder should only be placed on firm, level ground and when using an extendable ladder, at least three of the rungs should be overlapping. Ideally, you should have someone with you on the job to hold the ladder. You should also aim to never have to reach more than arm’s length away. Where any of these measures are not possible, scaffolding should be considered instead.

Preparing render and pebbledash walls for painting

Render, pebbledash and brickwork should also be properly prepared before work begins. A stiff brush should be used to remove flaking paint, loose stones and dirt and debris.

Downpipes and other rainwater goods, along with windows and doors, should be covered and masked off.

Exterior ready-mixed wall fillers are a good way to fill in any cracks or small missing sections in rendered surfaces. Any moss growth, dried lumps of old render and loose nails or screws should be removed.

The whole surface should then be lightly sanded to ensure there is no leftover loose material and to check that the wall is as even as it can be. 

Occasionally, newly rendered or pebbledashed surfaces can develop a powdery or ‘friable’ surface. If, after cleaning, the surface seems dusty or sandy it can be a good idea to apply an exterior masonry wall primer or stabilising solution. In many cases, however, experts recommend simply using a thinned down mixture of the masonry paint you will be using in order to seal the surface before subsequent coats. 

Refer to your particular paint manufacturer’s instructions — some combine a primer.

Rendered old home with bi-fold doors

(Image: © Simon Maxwell)

How to paint render

Painting render tends to be a less labour intensive job than pebbledash. The preparation work is much the same. Once cracks and missing areas of render have been dealt with, in the case of old walls, the wall can be painted. 

Fresh render benefits from an initial mist coat — a diluted solution of masonry paint and water. You should refer to the tin for the correct ratios.

Use a small masonry brush to cut in around the eaves, windows, doors and behind downpipes, before filling in with a medium to long pile roller. If the surface is heavily textured, it might be worth considering a sturdy masonry paintbrush instead to reach every crevice. Some people find a paint sprayer preferable as it is quicker, but it can be messier and may not be suited to all types of paint, so check first.

Each coat of paint must be left to dry out fully before the next is applied. This can be as little as four hours between coats. 

How to paint pebbledash

Perhaps the most time consuming of all exterior painting jobs there is. Pebbledash, or roughcast, consists of a cement-based render into which pebbles or small stones are thrown, resulting in a rough, uneven surface.

Sometimes this is left as it is, but more frequently these days, homeowners are choosing to paint it in order to brighten up its appearance. Painting pebbledash is also required if patch-ups have been carried out to the surface in order to get the new and old sections to blend with one another. 

Using a high quality masonry brush in a dabbing or stippling motion is the method most often employed by DIYers to paint pebbledash. Certainly a paintbrush will be required for cutting in around windows and doors — a job which should be done before the larger areas are painted.

Alternatively, use a long pile roller in an upwards motion. Several coats will be required to get a good coverage.

With both methods, start at the top of the section you are painting to avoid splashing paint on the newly painted surface.

The other option is to spray the exterior paint on to the pebbledash. This is a technique often used by professionals over large areas. If you plan on carrying out this method, bear in mind that you will need to hire specialist equipment and learn how to use it to get a good finish. 

Blue painted brickwork around a front door

(Image: © Getty)

How to paint exterior brickwork

The trend for painted brickwork has been on the rise lately. Whether you are painting directly on to bare brickwork or repainting tired painted brickwork, the surface should first be cleaned and checked for damage.

You will need:

Choosing the right paint for brickwork

As bricks are very porous, an alkaline-resistant primer is often recommended in order to seal the surface. Some exterior masonry paint will contain a primer.

It is worth bearing in mind that paint and some primers can seal moisture in (as well as keeping it out). Bricks can hold a fair amount of moisture and if this moisture can no longer evaporate through the masonry joints, damp can present itself on internal walls or cause paint to peel.

If you can find a primer or stabiliser and that allows the masonry to continue to ‘breathe’ then this is ideal, as is microporous masonry paint.

A pressure washer will make fast work of cleaning brickwork of dirt, efflorescence and mildew as well as loose old paint.

Do take care when pressure washing old brickwork and don’t set it to anything above 1500 to 2000 pounds per square inch. If you are concerned about using a pressure washer, you might want to use a sponge and hose pipe, although this will take longer in general. 

Once the brickwork is clean, allow it to dry out fully — this will probably take a couple of days. 

Next, use a hand scraper to remove all remaining loose paint and mortar, before sanding the face of the brickwork smooth. You can then fill in gaps in the mortar where necessary, using a suitable mix. A premixed mortar will dry out quicker than a powder mortar. Once the mortar is dry, vacuum the entire surface to remove dust.

Finally, you can begin painting — or priming if you have decided to use a primer. 

Use a masonry paintbrush to cut in around windows and doors and beneath roof details — in the same way as you would cut in when painting interior walls. A medium to long pile roller (¾ inch or thicker) can then be used in combination with a brush where required. You will need a couple of coats. Allow each to dry out for the time stated on the tin before applying the next.

Timber weatherboarded barn-style home

(Image: © Simon Maxwell)

Painting timber weatherboarding

Whilst timber cladding tends to be left to weather naturally in most cases these days – particularly cedar, oak and larch – there are still occasions when it is painted, varnished or stained. 

In the case of weatherboarding that is already painted but requires updating, you should begin by sanding the surface and ensuring it is clear of flaking paint. The surface should then be thoroughly cleaned of dust and debris.

Most exterior undercoats also contain a primer, eliminating the need to apply a primer and undercoat separately. If you are painting softwood cladding that has not been previously painted, you may need to use a knotting solution. This will prevent sap and stains from seeping through into your new paint finish. Certain primers contain this, but do check first.

When it comes to choosing a paint for timber cladding, there are many options. Ensure the one you choose has a good repaint time (this indicates how long it will be until you will need to carry out the job again) and is suitable for exterior use.

Use a paintbrush as opposed to a roller. You will need to paint using long strokes, getting in and under each board and not missing the ends of each board, before concentrating on the face of each.

Try not to paint wood on a blisteringly hot day as this can cause the paint to peel and be sure to let each coat dry out thoroughly before beginning on the next. 

How to paint exterior woodwork

There is nothing like freshly painted windows and doors to smarten up the exterior of your home. Remember that the preparation of the woodwork is just as important as the painting itself.

You will need:

Choosing window and door paint

You will need to prime or undercoat exterior timber before painting. Use a primer suitable for exterior use, such as Zinsser Cover Stain.

Most exterior wood paint will take longer to dry than regular emulsion so think ahead in terms of securing your house overnight and aim to carry out the work on a warm (not hot) day and begin early in the day . Products such as Sandtex Rapid Dry Plus Soft Satin are water-based rather than oil based, making them touch dry in as little as two hours. 

Some experts recommend rubbing a little talcum powder along the frames to prevent sticking if you need to close the windows before the paint is fully dry. 

Painting an external window frame

(Image: © Getty)

How to prepare windows and doors for painting

Begin by stripping back old, flaking paint — a good sandpaper should do the job. You should then clean all the woodwork using a sugar soap solution.

Fill any damaged areas or holes with a wood filler that is suitable for exterior use. Once dry, sand and clean again until you have a surface that is as smooth as possible. 

Use masking tape or a product such as Frogtape to carefully cover the glass between the frames and remove any window hardware that could get in the way of your painting.

How to paint windows and doors

Bear in mind that timber windows and doors are made up of pieces of wood that run in different directions. Unlike flat matt emulsions, gloss and satin paints tend to more readily show up drips and brush marks so work from top to bottom and take care around the corners of the window frame. Paint in the direction of the wood grain, using light strokes and take care not to overload the brush with paint, spreading each coat thinly. Use a small half-inch brush (or a cutting-in brush) for awkward areas and then switch to a slightly wider (around 2”) brush for other areas. 

In the case of casement windows, begin by painting the transoms. Then move on to the top and bottom cross rails and then the vertical mullions and jambs. Finally, paint the edges, frame and the sill last. Throughout the painting, keep checking for paint runs — once set they are hard to put right. 

Sash windows can be trickier and as they are not normally too difficult to remove from their frames, it often pays to take them out to paint. This will depend on the style of sash window you have. 

If painting in situ, you will need to raise and lower the sashes in various sequences in order to reach all the elements to be paint. Leave the runners until last and take care not to get paint on the sash cords. 

Finally, carefully check that the sashes are still running before the paint has dried. Remove the masking tape when the paint is touch dry. 

You will need to leave the door or windows open while the paint dries and will probably need a couple of days to carry out two coats. 

Brushes that have been used to paint satin or gloss paints will need to be cleaned with a solvent such as white spirits.

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Painting the interior of your home

There is nothing quite like a fresh coat of paint to liven up your interior scheme. Whether you are painting directly on to fresh plaster or updating an existing room scheme, a new lick of paint can have a dramatic effect on the look and feel of a space — and the great news is that this is a job well within the capabilities of most DIYers.

The jobs can be broken down into several elements — painting the walls and ceiling, painting internal woodwork, and painting stairs and floors. Each element has different requirements where painting is concerned — the paint you use on your walls, for example (an emulsion paint), will be different to that used on woodwork. 

Before you even consider touching your walls with a paintbrush, read our practical guide to painting your walls. Want colour inspiration instead? Check out our guide to choosing the perfect paint colours for every room in your home.

painting a room

(Image: © Getty)

How to paint interior woodwork

While painting the woodwork in your home might not have as dramatic an effect as painting the walls, it is amazing how a fresh coat of paint around mouldings such as skirting boards and architrave will smarten up your interiors. 

Before you begin, consider the finish you want to achieve — different paint types will result in different looks.

Choosing the right interior woodwork paint

Your choice of interior woodwork paint will probably come down on one of three types: 

  • Gloss paint: As the name suggest this is a high gloss paint for a shiny finish. It has fallen out of favour recently, with many preferring matt finishes as gloss can highlight brushstrokes and imperfections. It wipes down well making it practical for kitchens or bathrooms, but can take a long time to dry when you paint.
  • Satin paint: Somewhere between gloss and a matt finish, satin paint tends to be wore hardwearing and easier to wipe down than matt finishes. It offers a soft sheen finish.
  • Eggshell: Eggshell is nearly matt in finish, but more durable than a flat matt emulsion. It works well on cupboards and doors as it is easy to work with and keep clean.

How you approach the job of painting interior woodwork will very much depend on whether you are working with bare timber, or wood that has been previously painted. 

Whichever you are doing, you will first need to remove or cover furniture that is near or around the woodwork, and also your floors — a dustsheet is the easiest way to do this. It is also wise to use masking tape between the woodwork to be painted and the walls and floor it runs up to.

Preparing and painting bare woodwork

Begin by applying a knotting solution to softwood mouldings. This prevents sap from leaking out and into your paint finish. The wood can then be sanded and cleaned off.

Any screw holes and dents should be filled with wood filler, before the cracks between the wall and the woodwork are filled with caulk and allowed to dry. Another light sanding is then recommended. 

Use a wood primer, applying it use a high-quality paintbrush of a thickness that suits the wood you are painting. Depending on the product you use, you may not need to apply a separate undercoat.

With the primer/undercoats fully dry you can move on to the topcoat. Work with the grain of the wood and avoid temptation to overload your brush. Depending on how many coats of primer you used and whether or not you used an undercoat, you may only need to apply one coat.

painting woodwork with duck egg blue paint

(Image: © Getty)

Preparing and painting painted woodwork

Start by assessing the condition of the existing paint. If it is peeling very badly you might need to use a paint stripping solution or heat gun to remove what remains. Care should be taken with both methods in terms of protecting surrounding furniture and floors, as well as your skin. You will need to wear gloves and a mask and if there is a chance that the paint might be lead-based you should seek the advice of a professional. 

Otherwise, there should be no need to remove all of the existing paint, and a light sanding will be all that is required to provide a good key for the new paint. 

Clean the surface with sugar soap and when dry apply an undercoat — one application should be enough. Finally, finish with your chosen paint, following the same method as for bare wood. 

How to paint stairs and floors

Fresh paint might be all it takes to revive a tatty old staircase or old wooden floorboards.

Before painting, your floors or stairs should be free from dirt, grease and dust. Stairs can be sanded by hand or with an electric hand sander, while hiring a floor sander is a good idea for large areas of floor.

In addition, any nails or screws that are sitting proud of the floor should either be removed or knocked back down into the wood. 

Cracks and joins should be filled with a non-flexible wood filler, before the floor is sanded and cleaned again. 

A knotting solution should be used on freshly sanded bare wood — a product such as Farrow & Ball Wood Knot and Resin Blocking Primer is a good idea. 

Use a interior wood primer or a product specifically intended for priming floors and stairs. These are especially hard-wearing in order to withstand the heavy foot traffic they will be subjected to. Finally, use a dedicated floor and stair paint. There are many companies out there who offer these and they offer more protection that a regular wood paint. 

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