The top 10 tips for exterior decorating

Decorating the exterior of your home is a DIY task that can range considerably in size, depending on your circumstances. You may literally have  a few small details that require painting if you live in a uPVC double-glazed unpainted brick home, or alternatively, re-decoration will be on a much larger scale if your house is rendered with wooden windows, for example. My list below can be applied to all outside decorating, but it is probably of most interest to those people with lots of wood, and lots of walls to paint! My guides – ‘Painting exterior walls’ and ‘Painting exterior wood’ are therefore also worth reading before embarking on your project, but the assembled points below provide my top 10 tips for exterior decorating.

1. Safety

Safety is of paramount concern with any DIY project, but outside, where it is likely you will be working at height, take an even closer look at your health and safety plan. Scaffolding is often cheaper to hire than you may think, or even hiring a cherry picker can be the best option for working at height. Both options cut down decorating time by at least a half, plus you have the extra safety.

2. Gutters

Gutter sealant

Always repair any leaky gutters when re-decorating the outside of your home.

Always clean out and prepare (if they are to be painted) your gutters before you start paintwork below them. This is really a simple example of the “working from the top down” principle as you clearly don’t want to be unclipping, or disassembling the guttering once surfaces below it have been painted – otherwise they just get covered in dirt and debris. Also carry out any gutter repairs such as fixing leaking joints with new rubber gaskets, and/or some gutter silicone. Remember that plastic guttering will brighten up a treat if you just wash it down with hot water and detergent, followed by a rinse – if it’s completely faded and needing a new lease of life, either replace with new, or apply two coats of gloss (no primer or undercoat needed).

3. Weather

Everybody knows that paint and rain doesn’t mix, but you also need to think about temperature and humidity. In particular, when temperatures are approaching freezing (depending on paint type, and manufacturer), and definitely when they are below freezing – do not paint outside. At the other end of the scale, painting in direct sunlight causes the paint to coagulate on your brush, making it extremely difficult to apply evenly, and so try to “follow” the shade around your home when painting. Humidity or excess moisture in the air is another problem, and difficult to judge, but basically if surfaces feel in the slightest bit damp, you really shouldn’t apply any paint.

4. Fungicide

If you are painting the masonry or rendered wall surfaces, it is only on very rare occasions that I would NOT apply a fungicidal wash to the walls before painting. In fact probably the only occasions I don’t treat the walls with fungicide is with a new render that has been allowed to dry out thoroughly, but has not had the chance to be the base for any sort of algal or fungal growth. In my view, too many people skip this vital stage, paint straight over algal growth and two years later the paint system flakes and fails. If you always fungicide and pressure wash off, most exterior masonry systems will last for 10, if not 15 years.

5. Quality paint

Make no mistake, quality exterior paint is expensive, but it is a true false economy to use cheap options. If you use cheap paint inside, you just get a cheap, nasty finish – but if you use cheap paint outside, as well as getting a nasty finish, you are not protecting surfaces from the elements, and therefore you increase the chances of structural damage to wood, masonry, and metal aspects of your home. I’ve used the Dulux Weathershield Exterior Paint systems pretty much exclusively over the last 25 years and am yet to be disappointed. Even with the problems that oil-based paints have had since the tighter regulations on VOC levels were introduced in 2010, because exterior white gloss is clearly exposed to a lot of sunlight, you do not get the yellowing problems associated with using white oil-based glosses inside.

6. The right tools

Aside from having a good selection of quality brushes, you need to think carefully about the most suitable painting tools, if you have a large amount of wall surface to paint. I tend to champion the 12 in (30cm) medium pile roller (see my guide – ‘Buying a paint roller’) for most wall surfaces inside and out, but there are occasions when this tool of choice is no longer suitable. For example, it’s fine for any smooth render or relatively fine tyrolean surfaces, but for rougher texture tyrolean, you will need a long pile roller. Also, for those poor soles who have rough cast render, you need to forget the roller completely, and accept that a good 4-5 inch (10-12.5cm) brush is your only option.

7. Drying times

Most exterior paints dry very quickly, even the oil-based options, but it is still best to paint opening windows as early as possible in the day, so that they can dry out sufficiently before closing at night. However, this is not the end of the story, as although the paint is “dry”, it will not fully harden for a number of days, and generally weeks. Therefore reopen and close windows as often as possible over the weeks immediately after painting. This will certainly help solve any potential long-term “sticking” issues.

8. Window edges

Edges are the key area when painting windows as this is where they either “stick”, or where the rot begins – normally both. Therefore if your window is “sticking” before you paint it, you can guarantee it will be even “stickier” after a couple of coats of paint. Therefore ease any sticking windows first with a plane, and because this will reveal bare wood, make sure you prime these edges, before applying your undercoat and gloss. Also don’t forget the top edges of opening sections as well as the underside, or bottom edges of opening windows – this is where the damp gets “in”, and so this is where all sorts of problems start.

9. Window sills

Window scraper

A window scraper is the perfect tool for helping clean your windows.

The other area for the rot to set in, is on the window sill. Therefore always give them at least one extra coat of paint than the standard manufacturer recommendation for your paint system. For example, when re-painting windows, my typical procedure would be:- a) Prepare window surfaces. b) Patch-prime bare wood. c) Apply one, if not two undercoats. d) Apply gloss. e) Apply second coat of gloss to window sills. Also, don’t forget the underside of window sills and make sure the drip guard (groove that runs along the length of the window underside) is clear of paint build up and/or algal growth.

10. Clean windows

It never ceases to amaze me when I see a newly painted exterior of a house, and whoever has done it, hasn’t bothered to clean the windows. You see putty smears and paint overspray all over the glass. Any sort of proprietary window cleaner is all that is needed to clean up the glass, and also use a window scraper to remove all the specks and bits of paint that have somehow found their way onto the glass surface.

As with any DIY project, plan meticulously, try working to a budget and be realistic on estimating paint quantities. Crucially, bear in mind that a standard 2.5 litre tin of paint for your woodwork goes a long, long way, but a standard 5 litre tin or 10 litre tub of masonry paint doesn’t go very far at all, especially on new render or any sort of textured render. Therefore, be guided by the manufacturer’s estimations on paint coverage, and remember that the first coat of masonry paint will always use much more paint than the second.



  1. Andy Crichton says:

    Lots to think about there!

    Exteriors are usually a lot of hard work, especially where ladderwork is involved, so I would add “timing” to the list – allow more than you might think.

    On very rough cast, a soft nylon sweeping brush working out of a skuttle always served me well. The original “bannister brush” was even displayed on Sandtex pamphlets at one time, I seem to remember.

    With the weather being so unpredictable, scaffolding and tarpaulins is a serious consideration / default position on large properties. If you can get 2 or 3 pairs of hands to work, it isn’t necessarily that expensive, and the work will be done right, and quickly and ultimately, a much safer approach than monkeying around on ladders.

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