What To Know About Painting Exteriors In Cold Weather

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In a country as vast as the United States, weather patterns vary wildly. As we write this, chilly Chicago is buckling down for a chilly winter, and the mercury has already dropped below freezing. Yet, down in the Sunshine State, Florida is still basking in the pleasant high seventies. There’s even a significant difference in temperature between some of Sharper Impressions’ numerous locations. But if you’re facing a cold spell this holiday season and are considering getting some exterior painting done, know that the weather outside can have a big effect on the end result.

The optimum temperature for outdoor painting is anywhere between 50 and 85 degrees but, while the recommended minimum and maximum temperatures vary depending on the type and even on the specific brand of paint you’re using, you don’t want to be painting at much below 40 degrees. Oil-based paints tend to leave you with a little more wriggle room than water- or latex-based paints but, as things cool down past 50 degrees, you’re likely to find that your paint begins to thicken and becomes more difficult to apply. Be sure to consult the directions on the paint tin in order to be sure how well you can expect it to perform in the temperatures in which you are working.

The real issue when painting outside is that the colder it gets, the longer the paint takes to dry. This in turn leaves the wet paint more susceptible to contamination from dirt, insects and pollen, which has the potential to spoil your perfect finish. Aside from the fact that you’ll get cold yourself while you’re perched up a ladder in the bitter winter weather, you’ll also find that actually applying your paint to the surface is more difficult when it’s cold.

A word of warning, too, when considering the optimum temperature at which to paint your exterior surfaces. Don’t forget that just because the air temperature outside your home is up in the mid forties, the wall you’re painting isn’t necessarily as warm. Just as the ground is several degrees cooler than the air during a ground frost, it’s possible for your walls to be colder than the air – and those couple of degrees could make the difference between your fresh new coat of paint adhering and not. It’s not unknown, even, for the temperature of different areas of the same surface to vary a little. There are electronic non-contact infrared thermometers you can use to accurately gauge the temperature of your wall, and which will allow you to judge whether it’s worth going ahead with the paint job or holding off for a warmer spell.

Remember that temperatures change through the course of the day, too. It’s important to keep a close eye on the weather forecast before getting started and while you’re painting – to be safe, you should ensure that the air temperature is predicted to remain above your paint’s recommended minimum for at least 36 hours. This will give you plenty of time both for the paint to dry and for you to do any necessary touch-ups to the finished job, as well as to accommodate for any unforeseen weather changes that might bring on a cold snap sooner than expected.

Of course, paint isn’t the only thing you’ll be using for your exterior decoration job. Doing things properly will likely involve a variety of materials in addition to the paint itself – and products like fillers, primers and caulking may not be suitable for use in lower temperatures, even if you’ve managed to track down one of the magic paint brands now on the market that can be used at temperatures as low as 35 degrees. Be sure to check the recommended minimum temperature for applying each component involved in the painting process, in addition to verifying that you are using types of brushes, rollers and other tools that are suited to the temperature and the resulting thickness of your paint, which may be different than it would be on a warmer day.

It’s a good idea to start as early in the day as you can, giving yourself plenty of time in the morning for preparation and beginning the actual painting from around 10am. This way, the surfaces you are painting will have had a chance to warm up from the previous evening’s chill. Ideally you want to be finished by mid-afternoon at the latest, so that your paint is at least well on the way to being dry by the time night falls, temperatures drop, and dew begins to accumulate and cause trouble for the paint’s adhesion.

As always, we recommend that you apply at least two coats of paint, so be sure to allow enough time for this – the winter weather makes for the perfect conditions to be caught out by bubbling and blistering between coats of paint applied too quickly after one another (don’t forget that, in cooler weather, the second coat will dry more slowly than usual, just as the first one does – expect four hours of drying time at 75 degrees to become six hours at 50 degrees).

When you’re painting, ignore the advice you’re given for summertime painting, which is to avoid direct sunlight and instead paint in the shade. In the winter, you want as much of the sun’s warmth as you can get, since it will help the paint to dry more quickly – so paint in direct light where you can, following the sun across your surfaces as it moves through the sky. Likewise, pay attention to what the wind is doing – this can have a heavy influence on the temperature of the surface you are painting and, if the wind is particularly strong, it can even swing things in the opposite direction and cause your paint to dry more quickly than is desirable.

It’s understandable that you want to keep your home looking fantastic both inside and out over the winter and, if you’re undertaking it at short notice, performing a paint job in cold weather might be unavoidable. But there’s plenty to keep in mind to ensure that it’s a success. If you would rather take it easy and curl up inside on those crisp winter mornings, talk to the Sharper Impressions Painting team, and we’ll take care of it all for you instead.