For an old house that’s covered in exterior wood instead of a material like vinyl siding, it’s not unusual to find areas that are a bit worn. In extreme cases, the entire outbuilding may show signs of dry rot or have a gray tinge to it. This is common in unpainted wood exteriors, but weathered wood can happen to exteriors that haven’t received a fresh coat of paint in a few years.
This doesn’t just apply to an old barn or house. Even new construction — a recent addition, for example — can become “weathered” after only a few weeks if unpainted wood is left exposed to the elements. Painting your weathered wood doesn’t take the work of a professional, but know that this DIY project is not for the faint of heart.
Luckily we’ve got the tips that can make this makeover a little less daunting!
Start with surface preparation
The success or failure of any paint project comes down to this: the paint has to stick. Paint won’t stick to a loose or dirty surface, so an essential part of your prep work is cleaning up the weathered wood. Between air pollution, mold, mildew and the deteriorating effects of the sun, there’s a fair amount of work that must be done to get the surface ready to paint.
Getting this right can be tedious and time-consuming. But it means the difference between a job that’s smooth, long-lasting, and professional-looking versus one that may quickly peel away!
For exteriors, using a power washer is a great first step to remove residue and clean dirty or weathered wood surfaces. With a combination of high-pressure water and a bleach cleaning solution, you’ll knock days off doing the job by hand.
If you are working inside, use liquid sandpaper to remove oil, dirt and grime from trim and wash walls down with a TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) solution which is available at most home centers and hardware stores.
Assuming that the weathered wood has been painted before, the next step is to use a scraper or wire brush to remove any loose or flaking paint. For interior surfaces, a light hand-sanding is often helpful to making sure the new coat of paint adheres properly.
Sanding surfaces that have any degraded wood fiber is also an important step. If you are painting cedar shakes or another type of wood that is uneven, use a wire brush rather than sandpaper for this work, then brush off the surface.
Next, wash off any remaining dust with a power washer, or scrub the surface with soapy water using a long-handled brush. Start at the top of the wall and work down toward the bottom. Be sure to rinse off the soap residue.
If any mildew remains, remove it by applying a solution of one part bleach to three parts water, letting it sit on the surface for 20 minutes, then scrubbing it away. Again, rinse the area clean. Peeling paint is relatively harmless, but the use of a mask is always recommended. The risk ramps up considerably though if your home has lead paint.
What to do about lead paint
If your home was built before 1978 and you suspect the presence of lead-based paint, paint removal becomes enormously more complicated. Exposure to lead paint, especially in children, can cause serious neurological damage.
The first step is to test the paint for lead. If confirmed, you’ll need to hire a contractor certified by the EPA in lead-safe practices to take over the painting project.
The EPA provides a super helpful lead paint website for help keep everyone safe from lead paint. Check out
Paint Stripper Safety
You may need to use a paint stripper to assist in removing stubborn paint but choosing the wrong type of paint strippers can be dangerous. If you are in the market for paint removal products, be sure to avoid those containing methylene chloride and NMP. There are plenty of safer alternatives available for DIY paint stripping.
Now that you can see the wood surface underneath the old paint, you should check for rot, warping and insect damage. Replace any damaged boards around windows and doors, and have your local pest control company inspect any damage you think is insect-related.
Getting rid of rot on weathered wood
Dry rot (dry, crumbly sections of wood) and wet rot (soggy, soft spots) are caused by microorganisms that thrive in damp conditions. Rot can destroy the bare wood so severely that your finger can be pushed right through it. To test for rot, poke suspicious-looking boards with a screwdriver — if it goes in easily, the wood has rotted.
One you’ve treated the area with a bleach solution, the next step is to remove all of the damaged rotted wood you find. Next, use a wood hardener (applied with a paint brush), then use a putty knife to apply polyester wood filler to repair small problem areas. Shape the repair, and use sandpaper to smooth it out.
You’ll have to totally replace any wood that is damaged beyond repair. If the damaged wood is structural — as in roof support posts, or railing posts on elevated decks — consider hiring a professional to make the repairs.
Since wood can rot wherever there is excess moisture, be sure to caulk and use a sealer on inner and outer corners, seams, and other gaps in the exterior wood where rain or other moisture could penetrate the surface. For the best performance, use a paintable siliconized acrylic caulk.
For surfaces that have any degraded wood fiber, a light sanding to remove the loose fiber. If you are painting cedar shakes or another type of wood that is uneven, use a wire brush rather than sandpaper for this work, then brush off the surface. Paint on cedar shakes has the potential to bubble, so make sure that the first step of any cedar painting project is applying an oil-based primer.
Picking the best painting tools
Getting the right equipment before you start the job means you won’t have to stop in the middle of your painting project to run back to the hardware store. You’ll need ladders, drop cloths to protect sidewalks and shrubbery, long handled paint brushes and rollers, a paint sprayer and masking tape for trim and detail areas.
When selecting paint brushes, get the best brush you can afford. Better quality paint brushes deliver a smoother finish and the difference really shows.
Keep in mind that paint brushes are available in both synthetic and natural bristles, also known as china bristles. For best results, use synthetic brushes for latex paint and natural bristles for oil based paint and clear finishes.
To defeat wood rot, you must destroy it’s source. Wood rot is the result of a fungus, which must be eliminated before any repair can be made. A homemade solution of 10% bleach and water will do the trick nicely. Apply the solution generously and let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing. This solution kills the wood rot causing fungus that causes wood rot and prevents it from spreading to adjacent wood.
Primers that make paint stick
Primers are critical paint coatings that must be applied to provide a firm bond between the substrate and finish coat, and are especially important when working with old, weathered wood. Although most do-it-yourself painters look forward to getting to the color coat as soon as possible, skipping the primer step is shortsighted.
Primer is the glue that makes the top coat stick. Skip it and you’ll find that the hours of preparation and painting work you put into your projects might have to be repeated long before the paint surface wears out.
Primers are available in both oil and water base formulas. For weathered wood surfaces that are badly stained, or that have had a water leak, oil primers work the best. The trick for using oil based primers is to prime the entire surface you are painting and not just the stained areas. Since oil primers do such a good job of sealing the surface, spot priming may result in an uneven finished coat.
Paint on cedar shakes has the potential to bubble, so make especially sure that the first step of any cedar painting project is applying an oil-based primer.
Best paint to cover weathered wood
Understanding the qualities and selecting the right paint for your weathered wood project is important. Exterior paint is different from interior paint, and many homeowners make the mistake of not choosing the right paint for their home.
When it comes to buying paint, always invest in the best quality paint. You get what you pay for when it comes to paint and the lower the cost, the shorter life it will have. Since paint is 90% hard work and 10% material, always buy quality paint from a name brand company.
Exterior paint is formulated for color retention, flexibility to withstand expansion and contraction due to weather, resistance to tannin bleed and resistance to mildew. Exterior flat acrylic latex paint is the easiest for do-it-yourselfers to work with when coating weathered wood.
For trim, consider a durable alkyd/oil paint that offers high gloss with good adhesion and stain resistance. One coat of paint might look alright, but a second coat will provide better protection from the elements and make your new paint job last longer.
There’s an immense amount of satisfaction when you take on a weathered exterior and breathe new life into it! Now it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy your new paint job.