Talking To House Painters

(Photo by Dorothea Lange)

I had never managed to conquer getting to the top of the peak of the front gable. I had scaffolding set up – loaned – for FAR too long, and got 1/3 of the area painted a few years ago. The person who lent the scaffolding was not a house painter, and was only available late in the fall. There are negative issues with paint curing at below optimal temperatures. I wasn’t capable of reconfiguring the scaffolding, and the whole situation just became a real drag, a frustrating one. The last time it got slightly re-oriented was on Halloween, during a rainstorm, just before the onset of a January-like blustery November. Very little got done under these circumstances.

After the scaffolding was gone, I contemplated buying a tall ladder, but I wasn’t super confident about my abilities to even position it, let alone climb 2 1/2 stories with a paint can and brush. A 32′ extension ladder weighs more than 50 lbs, and I didn’t think I had the upper body strength to wrangle this, even if I had the guts to climb to the top of the peak. I didn’t have any house painter pals or anyone that could be a ladder mentor.

There were also issues with accessing the peaks at the back of the house. This was a complicated challenge for a professional.

After having several years to contemplate these issues – and my inabilities – I admitted defeat. I was just going to have to pay a professional painting company to do this properly.

There was one company that had been recommended to me, with many local old house exteriors on their site. I searched online for others. One had a name that emphasized historical, with a couple of short videos about working on an older structure. The other had a generic name, and a few old house exterior photos.

The historical sounding company got back to me first. A dude came, and we walked around the house. I was trying to be open minded, and asked open ended questions about what sort of products they would use, and how they would remedy the severe paint loss and damaged wood on the front of the house. This dude was dismissive of my painting efforts to date, claiming that I was using paint with the “wrong sheen” (I had used Benjamin Moore Low Lustre). He also told me how I had been painting it all wrong(I had started from the bottom up – which really isn’t the way it should be done, I admit), and how there was “no point” in having done the heat stripping that I spent many hours on. (I know of no other remedy for loose flaking paint. It is pointless to paint OVER it – and any exposed wood that has silvered needs to get sanded back to the brown wood level or no paint will properly adhere.) This dude’s solution was to paint over everything with this thick goop – “elastomeric” paint – to somehow adhere the loose paint and smooth out the surface. He had dried samples of this and some kind of super caulk. He pulled on the dried paint samples and stretched it to show me these magical properties, and told me it was extremely expensive. He pointed to trivial cracks on the surface that was already painted and talked about how this goop could fill in those cracks. The gables have a LOT of decorative details, including incised lines and embossing. I wasn’t sure how this was compatible with this ultra thick goop as it would obliterate these details. He talked a lot about how many positive Yelp, Google and Houzz reviews his painting business had – operating under numerous names, one with a trendy buzzword. Hundreds of 5 star reviews ! He gave me several fridge magnets with his business name, went in his vehicle and fiddled around a bit, then came back out. He had a verbal quote for me. To paint my two decorative gables in a multicolor paint scheme, and the two plain gables at the back would cost $ 7300, plus tax, and I had to supply the paint. Hmmm. That seemed like a LOT to me, but what did I know ? I asked him if he could email me that quote, with the specifics, and if he could email me photos of similar historical exteriors that his company had painted ? I also asked for him to send the material data sheet for this magic goop*, as I had NEVER heard of this product being used, let alone on exposed raw, damaged wood. He said he would and drove off.

Predictably – NO quote was ever emailed, with NO portfolio of old house paint jobs, and certainly no information on the appropriateness of this product.

The second painting company showed up for a quote. The guy seemed perhaps a little overwhelmed. He did not mention any super-expensive goop. I showed him the pieces of wood which had fallen off the front, including the odd “log” type pieces. I showed him the wood from the closet with a 100% identical profile, to replace the piece that was missing, that needed to get cut to fit. The dude was dismissive about repairing the wood that had fallen off – and suggested I should just buy new wood instead of repairing the original. I asked him where to buy this uncommon profile – and he didn’t really know where to go – and suggested a local place that sells prefinished oak and cherry trim for new McMansions. Sure – they would certainly have this ! (I had already experienced a great deal of consternation when I attempted to get trim milled for what was missing in the kitchen from a place that actually does this – but not with my profile on record, and also not trim of the width I needed. I needed over 100 linear feet for that – and that was just too small potatoes for that company to bother with. I’m sure my requirement for 20 or less linear feet of an uncommon profile would be treated with even greater derision).

This company did get back to me with a comprehensive quote, but it also seemed quite high. There were some small sections of decorative trim that had rotted off, but I had wood milled to the exact size, that just needed to get cut to size, and nailed into place. I was quoted $ 60.00/hr for their carpenter. I got the feeling from this guy that while their company was technically ABLE to paint the exterior of an old house, that there was no deep understanding of the basic restoration and repair aspects.

The place that seemed to like old houses the most never got back to me. I was puzzled. Their operating address was not far from here, and this job seemed like it was what they did ? I finally sent an email to the address posted. They phoned me within half an hour of my email. Their contact form seemed to be malfunctioning as my inquiry never arrived. I met with the guy I spoke with on the phone a week later. He seemed enthusiastic about my house and the many complicated details, and didn’t treat the access challenges as insurmountable. The approach he suggested sounded reasonable and sensible. BUT – they were booked into next year ! Could I wait that long ?

This was unexpected. I said I thought so. Then he said it looked like I had done a good job with what I had painted already. They didn’t work on the weekends and could rent their boom lift to me if I wanted to paint the rest myself ? I said it was really high – he said – well – it’s really only about 6 or 8 more feet higher than you’ve already painted. This was true…

I had never contemplated this as a possible solution. My brain felt like it was going to implode.

  • That elastomeric goop ? I searched online and I am pretty sure this is a product that is only recommended for newer STUCCO. I read a few reviews and watched a video where a guy had happily painted his wood soffits with it. He was careful with the application but couldn’t avoid a few pinholes here and there. Water seeped into the pinholes, and rot worked its way down the inside of the miracle waterproof product which trapped the moisture like plastic wrap, and was frankly a disaster. I could not find any infomation on the use of this on raw wood.

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