Exterior decorating: could you DIY?

Grubby, green, flaky and in need of attention. If that describes the outside of your home, it's time to take action…

The easy way to get your home painted is to pay a reputable professional decorator (labour costs start at around £100 per tradesperson per day), steer clear of the chaos and provide unlimited tea and biscuits, then rejoice once the scaffolding’s gone and every splash of paint has been scraped from the windows. The hard way is to do it yourself.

Three good reasons to consider DIY

1 You’ll save money and could add value to your home.
2 (Hopefully) the preparation will be done properly, which means the paint will look good and last for years.
3 You’ll feel an intense sense of satisfaction the day you down tools and contemplate your freshly-painted home.

Three good reasons not to DIY

1 It’s gruelling work for amateurs, with no guarantee of great results, and could decrease the value of your home if you bodge it up. Unless you’re a pro, there will probably be times when you wish you’d never started/cry/wake up in the middle of the night worrying that you haven’t spent enough time prepping.
2 Your body will pay the price. Be under no illusion: exterior preparation and painting take their toll on fingernails, skin, hair, knees and arms. Not to mention sanity.
3 You’ll be at the mercy of the weather.

Decided to go for it? Before you start…

• Remember the three most important stages: preparation, preparation, preparation.
• Seek professional advice The steps below worked for Sally’s 19th-century cottage, which hadn’t been painted for at least 15 years, but it makes sense to ask an expert before attempting to give your most valuable asset a facelift. Many professional decorators will be happy to give you the benefit of their wisdom (and might even be persuaded to pick up a paintbrush).
• Organise scaffolding if necessary It can be expensive so it’s worth getting several quotes as some companies only charge for assembly and removal, so once it’s up you can take as long as you like. You'll be eternally grateful for this when the weather lets you down.
• Buy all the products (see below) and tools you’re likely to need Make sure you get the correct paint for your home.
• Set aside plenty of time However long you think it will take, double it. Even if the weather cooperates, preparation always takes longer than you expect.

What you will need for the walls:

• Stiff brush
• Paint scraper
• Power washer
• Spray gun
• Diluted bleach
• Rust killer, such as Kurust
• Exterior masonry filler to fill cracks and holes
• Filling knife
• Stabilising solution to treat walls before painting
• Exterior masonry paint
• Blunt-ended masonry brushes, ‘shag-pile’ rollers and paint trays
• Brush cleaner
• Decorators' razors
• Dust sheets to cover plants/patios
• Rubble sacks to dispose of any ancient render and paint
• Masks to protect your eyes and face
• Rubber gloves
• Protective clothing.

Extra kit you might need for the windowsills and skirting board:

• Exterior filler
• Exterior masonry paint
• Sandpaper
• More brushes.


• Check out your neighbours’ homes to see which paint finishes and colours work in your area and on similar properties.
• Take your time Be prepared to spend far more time and energy on preparation than painting. The longevity of exterior paint depends on how well the surface is prepared. Also be aware that you will need to allow time for the walls to dry between each stage (this can take anything from around 12 hours to several days depending on the weather).
• Keep an eye on the weather For painting, you need a clear spell of dry and, ideally, still weather. If it rains before the paint has dried, litres of carefully applied paint will run down the wall onto the ground, wasting your time and money and testing your patience.
• Protect plants Any precious plants growing up the walls must be roped away from the wall. Don’t be afraid to exert some force when roping off climbers such as wisteria: they're tougher than they look.
• Tidy up at the end of each day's work Clean brushes, seal rollers in air-proof plastic bags (stops them drying out) and use a decorator's razor to scrape dried-on paint off windows.

How to prepare and paint your home

1 Scrub off loose and peeling paint and plant growth with a paint scraper or stiff plastic brush. Avoid metal brushes, especially those with iron bristles, which can shed iron fibres that will rust.
2 Power-wash the walls very gently. If you’re too enthusiastic, you run the risk of removing more than the surface green and grime and may even make holes in the render, which will then need filling.
3 Spray the walls with diluted bleach. Use one part bleach to nine parts water.
4 Rinse off the bleach throughly. Don’t be tempted to skip this stage as, over time, bleach residue can turn paint pink (see photo).
5 Paint rust killer on any rusty metal bits (rust turns blue/black when the product is working).
6 Fill any cracks or holes with the appropriate filler. For walls with a ‘stippled’ or ‘nap’ finish, before the filler dries use either a blunt-ended brush or a natural sea sponge to create the same effect and feather in the edges for consistency.
7 Apply stabilising solution to any flaky sections of wall, using a large masonry brush. Stabiliser helps to make unsound surfaces paint-ready and will encourage the paint to stick. It's a horrible, watery product, which – if you're not careful – will run off the brush, down your sleeves and into your armpits. If you’re in any doubt about the necessity of this stage, consider these wise words from one painting pro: “Not using stabiliser on a flaky wall is like trying to paint a beach.”
8 Prepare the windowsills by raking out any loose paint, filling holes and sanding down.
9 Apply a coat of exterior masonry paint to the walls.
10 Apply a second coat of exterior masonry paint to the walls.
11 Apply undercoat to the windowsills.
12 Apply two coats of top coat to the windowsills.
13 Give the skirting board two coats of paint.
14 Pour yourself a drink and pat yourself on the back.

Read about one woman's house-painting experience.

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