Today's tough house paints are designed to stand test of time

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

What's a few years' hiatus from house painting worth to most homeowners? Plenty. Just the thought of weekends saved is enough for homeowners to applaud the paint industry for a job well done.

"New generation house paints last much longer than what was available five years ago," said Rick Jess, vice president of exterior paint for Lowe's. "It's common to see a warranty of 15 to 25 years, and there are some lifetime warranties out there."

Even today's medium-price paints outperform and outlast so-called premium paints of a few years back.

The reason: Paint makers have turned to higher-quality acrylics or acrylic blends. The tougher acrylics replace yesterday's lesser vinyl binders or resins. The result, according to Jess, is house paints formulated to last a long, long time.

The improved acrylics are part of a move by manufacturers to infuse higher amounts of solids mixed into exterior paints. These solids -- including combinations of resins and pigments -- give paint the muscle it needs to outlast weather and sun.

Modern mixtures include mildecides to prevent mold and mildew growth on the dried paint, ultraviolet protection from harmful rays of the sun and cohesives and adhesives. Cohesives keep the mixture together through application; adhesives ensure the paint sticks to whatever surface it is applied to.

According to paint maker Valspar, a gallon of better quality paint contains at least 50 percent solids. The thickness of higher-end paints after drying should be about 4 millimeters, or roughly the thickness of four sheets of newspaper. Valspar retails its top-of-the-line American Traditions brand in the $20 to $25 range for a gallon vs. $12 to $15 for second echelon paint.

The popularity of oil-base paints has waned as limits are placed on ozone-damaging volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by these old standby coatings. The headache of cleanup didn't endear these paints to homeowners, either. Latex is a clear winner with its soap-and-water cleanup.

Alas, even the most pedigreed of paint won't adhere to soggy, blistered or crumbly surfaces. Jess says every moment spent on surface preparation saves hours or days later on repainting and touchups.

His five key steps to surface preparation:

1. Scrape the surface. Chip away at bubbles and blisters. Take care to avoid gouging the wood or particleboard.

2. Clean. Pressure washers blast away filth and grime. Electric washers cost less than $100; gas models start at $239. The higher the PSI (pounds per square inch) rating, the better the cleaning.

3. Repair. The granddaddy of all problems. Replace rotted siding or spongy particleboard. If you remove entire sections of siding, it wouldn't hurt to add a little more exterior insulation board.

4. Caulk. Do not skimp on caulk. Caulks have improved, too. For a couple of bucks more a tube, you can apply caulk that is more elastic, lasts longer and withstands the elements.

5. Apply primer. Primer is another layer of insurance against moisture and provides uniform adherence for paint.

The other big push in painting is the power sprayer. Gas-powered models range from $300 to $600. Big sprayers spread a gallon of paint quicker and have more accessories.

As for color, Jess isn't so promising about a shift to bolder, livelier palettes. "There are more dark colors available these days, but when it comes to choosing exterior paint, consumers gravitate toward the more conservative, lighter shades. If they change, it will be slow but sure."

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