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Painting Your House…Sustainably & Economically

This past week I painted our house, going once again for the deep blue that I apparently can’t live without wherever we reside! As I told my husband, it gives me a feeling of continuity, of longevity, of feeling we’ve always lived in the same home all these years, even though our adventures have taken us from the city to the farm to the city and now in a semi-rural community.

And yes, in all four houses I’ve owned, never once has a house painter been employed to do the work. We have saved tens of thousands of dollars doing this, while also employing far more sustainable methods that most of today’s commercial housepainters refuse to use brushes and rollers. Why? They’d rather get the job done quickly than sustainably…and they pass along the prices to you.

While there are always some mega-homes that have seriously steep angles or other considerations that some DIYers don’t want to mess with, for the most part, you can paint your own house. People have been doing it for years, y’all. And the environmental, health, cost and other savings can be tremendous.

Here are my Top 5 reasons for painting by brush/roller...

  • Waste Reduction: Paint sprayers use on average THREE TIMES the amount of paint as a brush and roller. As The Spruce describes doing it by hand, "The paint goes on thicker when brushing, yet it uses less paint. Unlike paint sprayer, no paint is lost to the air...In general, you will use up to three times more paint by spraying than by brushing–plus, you risk getting a thinner coat...Also, any paint left in the hose must be blown out. Some of the paint can be saved, but much of it goes to waste."

  • Cost Savings: I paid a grand total (including sales tax) of $325 to paint our home. That’s a 5 gallon bucket of exterior paint and a 4” roller with tray. As we take good care of our paint brushes and have reused the same washable drop-cloths for a decade, we did not need to buy anything else. The average bids these days here in the Pacific Northwest for a small home (<1300 s.f.) to be prepped & sprayed? $7-9K. Insane. (FYI, to rent a sprayer for a week from a big box store? $300–600, y’all…far more than I paid for the paint!).

  • Plant Protection: Not spraying (nor paying someone who doesn’t live there and therefore won’t take the care you yourself will) is particularly helpful for your landscaping that surrounds your home. From large shrubbery to fragile flowers to espaliered fruit trees and other edibles, I’ve seen a LOT of damage happen due to contractors not taking the same level of care as it it’s their own home (the job of replacing the roof on my first home, a 5-layer tear off, resulted in the loss of half of my veggie garden - over 20’ from the house). Plants get stepped on. Toxic paint spray gets on the leaves and ultimately damages if not kills plants (no matter what they say, overspray is not highly controllable…it travels) - and you don’t want to eat anything that droplets may have landed on.

  • Health Preservation: My husband and I have an agreement - don’t buy/use any products that require respirators, masks, etc. to stay safe. When using a paint sprayer, a respirator is essential to keep the chemicals from the overspray from getting into your lungs. With a paintbrush and/or roller? A non-issue. Slap on a pair of gloves and you’re good to go.

  • DIY Pride: There is nothing cooler than saying you did it your damn self, y’all. I cannot imagine paying someone to do something this easy. Depending on the house, scraping is the nightmare and your dominant arm/shoulder can get tired, but by DIY’ing it you can control when and how long you paint for, you can stop when the weather is uncooperative, etc. The new paints now can be applied in temperatures as low as 35F, and so my biggest focus was just wearing my warmer garden gloves and a good hat while getting the paint on, and ensuring the dog was nowhere nearby with his long wagging tail LOL...

Here’s a look back at how our homes have been painted…

In our first home in the City of Roses, my sweetheart had literally just immigrated to the US and so while waiting for his employment authorization to come in, took on the brunt of the project, from prepping/scraping to painting, with myself and a friend playing supporting roles with the detail work. It was a dream for to go from pasty yellow to blue, and boy did it look sharp afterwards!

When we lived on our coastal farm on 5 1/2 acres, the cedar shingles were a friggin’ nightmare. The past owner had painted them (a big no-no with shingles, as they can’t be sanded, and are literally meant to weather naturally) and they were installed with the wrong kind of nails, meaning in our crazy windy Novembers, we’d get up in the morning to find - no joke - shingles on the lawn we’d have to manually nail back up. She’d also grown highly destructive climbing plants up against the sides of the house, without trellises, creating a mess o' rot on the wood (hint to gardeners: trellises are essential - they allow climbing without messing with your siding!). So new siding was an essential part of how we rebuilt the farmhouse from the outside in and inside out!

To prep for siding replacement (and save at least a full day’s worth of contractor labor costs), I tore off 90% of the shingles myself (I let my husband do the highest heights as I can do ladders, but not with a lot of joy, LOL…) then hired our favorite contractor to install LP engineered wood siding, which we loved (and I could paint). He delivered it a week in advance, and therefore with the help of sawhorses and our huge barn, I was able to paint every crazy-long piece of siding BEFORE they went up, so only the most minor of touch-ups were needed once it was up (exceptionally awesome with a 2-story home, y’all).

When we sold the farm and downsized to a cottage up north in the Emerald City (while heartbreaking in many ways to leave the land, we just were not keen on the terrifying dysfunction of that area of my home state and the profits were such that we were able to downsize in cash…zero mortgage? yes please!), it visually was a multitude of yawns when it came to the exterior. Furthermore - and this was a trip - the front, north and rear sides were original wood siding, while the south side was engineered wood and the 20 year-old primary suite addition in back was fiber cement! I knew right away painting was on the agenda, so as soon as we had the roof replaced, that first winter, I was tackling the mess. Scraping peeling paint off the original wood sides was a nightmare, as the past paint job was done over peeling paint. We did our best, and then painted, and saw the house transform into the familiar deep royal blue that helped us exhale during this time of immense transition.

This time around was by far the easiest. Originally I wasn’t planning to paint it, but seven months in, I knew that blue just reflected us and also has a lovely history of showing off our flowers in the gardens so richly…and therefore must be done before everything on the trellises (espalier Asian pear, grapes, roses) and near the house (camellias!) made it a much tougher task. As I learned that our house was actually painted during the 7 years our seller lived here (thank you, Google StreetView, where you can click on past years to see the history of your ‘hood), and in exceptionally good condition for a Mid-Century Modern, so…no scraping required!

The interesting thing this time around? Our home has a brick facade in front, vertical tongue & groove siding on the lower 2/3 of the other sides, with board & batten on the top 1/3. So with that, the combo of brush & roller did the majority of the work, with straight up brushing on the B&B portion. While I painted 95% myself, kudos to my husband for deconstructing a portion of the galvanized roof of our duck house to gain access to the 3 foot segment of siding I couldn’t reach in any other way, and his support with fine detail work as my arms began to tire!

We’ve thus far decided to leave the existing dark gray trim, but that may change in the future. Right now, I need to get back into the garden for the stuff I really dig...

Hopefully this proves a bit inspiring to not only those who think they can’t paint their own house, but also to those thinking that spraying is the easy way out. Physically? Maybe. But quality and cost? Heck no.

“If you can't have a seat at the table, build your own table.” ~ Anonymous


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