108 Coats of Paint: Or, How I Spent My Autumn

Remember, way back in August, when I started the chore of scraping and painting the screens on the 11 windows that make up my enclosed front porch? I discovered that each window was caked with layers and layers of multi-colored paint that took major effort to remove.

When I removed the  screens, I discovered that the windows behind them were in terrible shape. After consulting with my dad, he agreed that the right thing to do was to scrape and paint the windows themselves. Upon further inspection, we also decided to reglaze all of the windows, as the ancient glazing (that holds the glass into the window) was dried out and crumbled to the touch.

Suddenly, my PITA project was a monstrous task. Fortunately, my wonderful, fantastic parents (with ample free time!) volunteered to help.

And help they did. Since August, if you follow me on Twitter, you’ve likely seen numerous references to painting and scraping, especially on sunny weekend days. I lost count of how many days they came down to Elgin to help, showing up early (for me on a weekend, anyway) and putting in a solid day of work. My dad and I would be working side by side on ladders in various stages of scraping, glazing and painting the windows themselves while my mom worked on the screens. She even mended some of the small rips and tears, using clear nail polish to further seal them.

Between their weekend help days, I did a ton of painting. Since we couldn’t get the screens down to bare wood, achieving a smooth, presentable final product required primer and three coats of paint – but at least they’re all the same color. Hence, I can’t even tally how many days I’d be outside, painting one coat at sun-up, then another coat over lunch, and another coat before sunset. (Multiply nine windows plus nine screens times (times two on the screens, for front and back) times four…. approximately 108 coats of paint? That doesn’t even factor in the paint trimming around the windows, the railings, or the front steps. I’ll take pictures when the sun is out.)

The front of the house now looks marvelous. Standing back from the street, the house looks crisp and clean and as new as a 120 year old house can. Even the freshly-painted house numbers look superb, and you can actually read them at night now.

I learned a few valuable lessons from this experience:

1) Start outdoor projects early. Since I work full time and go to school, my free time is limited. When you begin factoring in the need for a 24-hour rain-free period after each day of painting, it further complicates factors. (We were lucky to have a relatively dry fall, and I was able to stash the screens in the garage when rain threatened, which helped a lot.) In fall, suddenly you have to start worrying about temperature restrictions. For example, it has to remain at least 50 degrees and dry for 24 hours after glazing windows. The minimum for paint is 35 degrees. In October and November, this gets a lot tougher. Sunday morning, I watched the mercury climb for hours before I finally started on the final coat.

2) Stock beer. My parents rock, and really will work for beer. I always restocked my fridge before they came over (well, almost always) and it was appreciated.

3) Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Pick logical sections and prioritize them. Obviously, the front of the house was most important, so we did those first. When we finished the front 7, we moved on to the 2 windows facing the driveway – ie, the ones people actually see – and finished those this weekend. There are two left to do – on the least-visible side of the house. We ran out of good weather for the year, so we’ll tackle them in the spring, but from the street, the house looks great.

4) A Sharpie is just as useful as duct tape. Over the years, these screens have been painted many, many times, and it’s apparent that previous owners didn’t bother taping, so there are small splatters of multi-colored paint across the screens. When we re-installed the screens, the white splatters were especially noticeable, so my dad suggested we try a black Sharpie. It worked like a charm! I do wonder what they neighbors thought when I was out on a ladder coloring my screens with a marker…

5) Ask for help. It’s against my nature to ask for help, but I quickly realized the magnitude of this project and accepted my parents’ very generous offer of help. If I consider the total hours we spent working on this and then imagine doing it by myself… shudder. And it was good family time, too, as we usually had dinner together after finishing work for the day. I am so, so lucky that they were willing – and eager – to help. I couldn’t have done it otherwise.

That’s it for the outdoor projects this year – just in time for winter. Now I move indoors, with a focus on reorganization and gutting my bathroom. After Finals, of course.

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4 responses to “108 Coats of Paint: Or, How I Spent My Autumn

  1. 108 coats of paint – AMAZING. And what amazing parents you have! I spent a summer living in a retreat community as the head painter. I spent 6 months scraping the cedar shaking on one 3 story lodge, and when I left the community, I had just finished the scraping and priming. Tedious, grueling work. And the Sharpie trick does work like a charm!

    • I didn’t realize you had all the fun painting experience, too! The whole time I was working on my windows, I kept thanking my dad for talking me out of buying a gorgeous Painted Lady that would have needed full-fledged scraping/painting. If nine windows took me three months of free time, I can’t imagine what an entire lodge would take! Tedious and grueling are right, though at least I was outside.

  2. Pingback: Lesson Learned: One More Block | The Adventures of Elginista

  3. Pingback: Spring-ization | The Adventures of Elginista

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