Many homeowners aren't aware that stucco can be painted  just like other home exteriors, either for maintenance or simply to change the color. But there's a lot to know about painting this surface.
According to Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute, every exterior painting project should begin with good surface preparation , and that’s especially true when painting stucco.
“Start by making sure that the surface of your stucco is sound. It should be free of dirt and powdery dust, and rough enough so that your primer and paint will adhere well,” says Zimmer.
Clean and roughen the surface with a stiff bristle brush, wire brush, or – if your stucco has been long-neglected – a sandblaster. Follow up with a thorough rinsing.
The next step depends upon the age and condition of your stucco.
Unpainted stucco that is very new or aged less than a year presents some special challenges. It may still contain moisture from the original mixing and it may have a high degree of alkalinity. If you plan to apply an oil-based or vinyl water-based paint, you must first apply an alkaline-resistant sealer or risk having the paint fail prematurely.
But you might be able to skip this step, according to Zimmer: “If you are going to use top quality 100% acrylic latex paint, you can often apply it directly to the stucco, since these paints resist the alkaline nature of fresh masonry.” The only exception: When painting stucco  that is less than a month old, you should still apply an alkaline-resistant primer or sealer. (Tip: You can eliminate this step by simply postponing your painting for a few weeks.)
Weathered stucco  that is unpainted or previously painted involves other considerations. If you see efflorescence -- white, crusty salt deposits -- on your stucco, you must remove it during surface preparation by scraping, wire-brushing, or sandblasting. Even if your stucco shows a slight tendency to produce efflorescence – or if it is very porous or "chalky" – you should apply a sealer or latex block filler before painting.
When applying any type of latex coating to your stucco -- sealer, block filler, or paint -- you should dampen the surface immediately beforehand. This will allow the coating to dry more slowly, which will enable it to form a more durable protective film.
Following these procedures will beautifully restore most stucco surfaces. But what if the stucco is badly cracked ? In that case, the best option is to call in a painting contractor with experience applying “elastomeric wall coatings” -- very thick, highly flexible paints that are designed to bridge and seal cracks  to keep moisture out of the home. Like other paints, elastomeric coatings come in a wide range of colors, but it takes special training to apply them properly.
Whether you do the work yourself or call in a contractor, the knowledge that you can use paint to change the color and condition of your stucco should be liberating. So, if your stucco is tired-looking, drab or damaged, exercise your new-found freedom and paint!
For more information on exterior painting, visit blog.paintquality.com or www.paintquality.com .