Painting cedar-shingle siding

Q.  I need a lot of painting tips: I’m preparing to paint the exterior of my 95 year old cedar-shingle house and am not sure if the best way to go is with latex paint or stain for the best adherence and durability, and if the entire surface should be washed first before scraping.

Since its been twenty five years since the last paint job, but still good on north and east sides, should the entire house be primed or just where bare spots?

Also, to eliminate air migration, should I caulk the vertical spaces between the shingles and window trim or let it stay clear for drying?
Is there any additive that could be added to an exterior latex paint that would increase its gloss quality? Thanks.

A.  If the north and east sides are still good, and you know whether paint or stain was used, you should use the same coating to make sure everything matches.

It is best to powerwash the entire siding to remove all pollutants; this would also remove any poorly adhering coating. Some scraping may be needed.

If you decide on staining, there is no need to prime any of the surfaces. But if you choose to paint, you should apply an alkyd primer to the bare areas before applying a latex final coat.  Apply a new coat to the cleaned shingles over the good north and east sides so everything will match.

Choose a high gloss exterior latex to achieve the shiny look you want.

Do not caulk the spaces between the shingles; let the shingles breathe and expand and contract with the seasons.

Repainting a house that lacks vapor retarder

Q.   In an earlier post, you commented on a house with wood siding that paint would not adhere to, peeling off within two years, probably because it lacked a proper vapor barrier on the warm side of the walls. This is an issue we are aware of in our home. We are about to repaint our home and I wondered if you could offer any suggestions as to how we may best deal with this.

In my search for useful suggestions on this subject (my thought process hoping for some sort of advanced product to use in our painting) I ran across a product “permanent coatings,” but they were in Vancouver. I didn’t know if that could be an answer or if it is even sold in the states. Nevertheless it made me even more curious as to whether or not there may indeed be a technologically advanced product out there that could bring us salvation!

A.  I do not know anything about the product you mention, but I am very wary of the hoopla about some products that claim miracle solutions. Moreover, this coating is for exterior application in lieu of regular paint. It does not solve the convection and diffusion of moisture into the exterior wall cavities, which are the cause of the problem.

A vapor barrier is needed on the warm side of the exterior wall to prevent moisture from migrating into the wall cavities and causing major paint peeling, and potentially worse problems.

The most important thing to do, to provide an effective barrier to moisture convection into the wall cavities, is to check for cracks and minor openings on walls and ceilings; where different materials meet, such as window and door trim and baseboard; around electrical ceiling fixtures, switch and receptacle boxes. These openings, however minor, should be caulked.

Hardware stores sell closed-cell gaskets that are installed under the cover of switches and receptacles.
The walls can be painted with B-I-N, followed by your choice of finish paint or two coats of a low-perm paint.

Windows painted shut

Q.   Help! We had a painter paint the outside wooden frames of our windows. Now we find that the windows are painted shut. What can we do to correct this? We need a solution, if we are to take care of this ourselves (we are in our 80s).

A.   You should insist that the painter come back and free the windows for you. He or she does not seem very professional or experienced to leave you with this problem. People your age should not have to climb ladders and unstick windows!

However, if you can’t get the careless painter to take care of freeing the windows, you can buy a special tool for the purpose in hardware stores; it has a handle and a thin serrated blade with sharp teeth and two sharp points.

Window Zipper
Tool to open windows that were painted shut

The blade is worked between the window frame and the sash and is either drawn and/or wiggled (whichever is appropriate) down the length of the sash. This cuts the paint bond out.

If you are not physically able to do the job, hire some local high school or college youngster to do it for you; it’s quite strenuous.

Painting a radiator

Q.    We have cast-iron radiators that are 45 years old. We have never painted them and they all look fine except for the one in the kitchen. We replaced our humidifier a few years ago and the new one which sets in front of the kitchen radiator must vent onto the radiator because we have a 2-foot area in the front of the radiator that is rusted and it looks terrible.

What can I use to remove the rust or should we just paint the radiator? What type of paint should we use? Someone told me metallic paints shouldn’t be used.  I hope you can help me soon, I want to take care of this eyesore before the holidays.

A.    Use a steel brush or steel wool to remove most of the rust (it only needs to be completely removed if you decide not to paint it). Paint the radiator with any good quality paint, the darker the better, although there is not too much difference in performance between any of the dark spectrum colors. Do not use metallic paints, as you were correctly advised. Very light colored paints will diminish the heat output of the radiator.

Painting old tile

Q.  My question is about a process I’ve recently seen advertised that seems to use a process of spraying on a coating, similar to the one used to re-finish old tubs, to paint old tile.

I live in a 1930s colonial with a pink and black tile bathroom that I hate. I can’t bring myself to justify tearing it out since the tile is otherwise in excellent shape and the cost of a full renovation is prohibitive. Are you familiar with this process? Do you know the effectiveness and cost?

A.    Painting ceramic tiles is always a somewhat risky business as their glaze is a challenge for any coating.

I am not familiar with the process you have seen advertised, and I think it would be quite expensive. An alternative that is bound to be a lot less costly is to prime the tiles with B-I-N and paint them with a gloss or semi-gloss alkyd top-quality paint. There are also some epoxy coatings that would be suitable.

But the success of any painting job, especially over glazed ceramic tiles, is in a thorough clean-up and preparation. Tiles that are over 70 years old have an accumulation of grime embedded by steam that has to be removed. It is also helpful to abrade the tiles slightly with medium sandpaper and an orbital sander. Be aware of the fact that any scratch in the final coating may start the process of peeling as steam gets behind the coating.

Determining the cause of peeling paint

Q.    How is the best way to tell if we have been ripped-off by having had latex paint applied over oil-base paint? Can you suggest any laboratories that can analyze the “peelings?”

A.    Latex paint over oil-based paint is not, in itself, a rip off. It’s a rip off if the oil-based paint was not thoroughly cleaned to remove any chalking which is an integral feature of oil-based paints. Applying latex paint over chalking paint is going to result in failure. Any experienced painting contractor should be able to tell if that is your problem.

Painting or staining a concrete floor

Q.    We are closing on a 2-year old house with a basement. We don’t plan to have it finished yet but would like to paint the concrete floor, the metal posts and the walls. What are the best paints to use and the best way to apply the paint?  Do we need to powerwash the floor?  The basement has French drains.

Additionally, the concrete floor has a lot of bumpy golf-ball-sized concrete nuggets. How can they be removed and still retain an even surface?

A.    To remove the bumpy nuggets, you will need to get a concrete contractor to look at them to determine if they can be removed and by what method. I do not recommend painting a concrete basement floor as it is seldom successful in the long-run. It is best to use a concrete stain after a thorough cleaning of the floor with a strong detergent. It may also be necessary to etch the concrete slightly for the stain to penetrate. The concrete contractor or an experienced painter can advise if this is necessary.

Painting a vanity sink top

Q.     I’ve written to you before, and your advice and your column, always, are very much appreciated. The problem this time is one which has become progressively worse. It involves a solid vanity sink top which was manufactured by Formica as a competitive product to Corian; it was 2000X …a very disappointing choice from the get go!

Anyway, the basin area cracked or crazed almost immediately, and has tiny spider type ridges in it — the counter is in beautiful shape which is why I’d like to repair the sink without replacing the whole top. Is there a paint or re-surfacing material you could recommend? Would a professional tub & sink resurfacing handyman be the one to consult? Thank you in advance for your advice.

A.    You can try an epoxy paint made for tub refinishing. Use a foam brush to apply it. Buy it in a hardware store or home center. If you wish to hire a professional, check your Yellow pages under “Bathtubs & Sinks–Repairing & Refinishing.”