Tag Archives: Paint & Stain

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.


Multi-Hued Windows

I’ve been putting off the big task of scraping and painting my windows since last summer. Though I’ve replaced many of my windows, especially those in highly used rooms, the enclosed porch still includes 11 old windows, and the two in the back hall are also due for some fresh paint.

I decided I would do it right, and scrape off the old peeling white paint before I put on fresh coats of primer and paint. My dad cautioned me to take my time and just do a few at a time. I bought the paint a couple weeks ago, but it’s been raining or humid each weekend, so today was my first chance.

I pulled down the window screens on either side of the front door, since I could easily reach them without a ladder. I set up my scraping area on the driveway, shaded by the garage, and set to work.

I quickly discovered a layer of black paint beneath the white paint. Apparently these windows had been black at one point, like much of the trim on my white house. But as I scraped (and scraped, and scraped), I discovered a layer of rust-red paint beneath the black. And more scraping revealed a bright blue paint.

So many layers of paint...

Finally, I realized that I could spend months scraping 13 windows all the way down to bare wood. Once I had scraped everything I could, I sanded things thoroughly, and then applied a coat of primer.

I sanded and primed two windows today. I’ll paint tomorrow, and then repeat the process next week. If I bump it up to three windows at a time, I’ll be done by mid-September.

But it’s kind of interesting to envision what my house would have looked like with blue or orangey-red trim. I have old black and white photos, but nothing in color.

Rain on My Parade

I had my weekend timeline carefully planned to finally finish the door! After staining the backsides of all the trim, I planned to do a first coat of stain on the front side on Friday evening, a second coat Saturday morning, install it all Saturday afternoon, then paint the door and the back stairs Sunday.

Until it started raining Friday afternoon. When I got home from work, it was really coming down. “Meh, too humid to effectively stain,” I thought, planning instead to stain Saturday morning and again mid-day.

But Saturday was so oppressively humid that the saturated air wouldn’t absorb any more moisture. I waited until the overnight rain dried up (ha!), then applied my first coat late Saturday morning, around 11. I figured it should be dry by mid-afternoon, plenty of time to apply a second coat, and then install first thing Sunday morning.

Every time I checked on my little staining set up – a couple old sheets on the garage floor – things were still wet. The mid-afternoon shower didn’t help, either. I kept the garage door open while I was home, hoping that some non-existent breeze would help the process. And since I was working on the outsides of the boards – the pieces I’ll have to look at every time I come or go – I wanted to make sure things were good and dry before applying a second coat to guard against smudges.

The last time I checked on my litany of lumber, about 10:30 PM, nearly twelve hours post-application, everything was still tacky. Sunday morning, first thing, before I even read made coffee (too hot for it, anyway), I went out to apply a second coat. Things were even more humid than Saturday, so I wrote off any chance of weekend installation.

And when I went to bed about 11 PM, some of the boards were still damp.

It’s been a year since I started this project; what’s another week?

Now excuse me while I go move the boards out of the garage. There’s more rain forecast tonight.


It’s been a busy few weeks!

I’ve been painting a ton. It started with the paint around the back door. But then, since I had the brushes, tarp and other fun tools out, I took on other painting projects.

Then, flipping through the pile of paint cans in the garage I tackled other projects. I also discovered that freeze/thaw cycles are not kind to paint. The previous owner had left a dozen or so paint cans in the garage, all labeled with the room they coated. Great, I thought when I found then can labeled, “Back hall.” By its weight, it felt about a quarter full – more than enough to touch up around the new back door where we had removed the trim. I patched everything, sanded it down, changed into painting clothes, set up my tarp and ladder, pried off the lid – and discovered jell-o. The paint had congealed into a layer of gelatinous goo, topped by clear liquid. Interesting stuff.

Luckily, since the Ace Hardware label was still intact with the color name and pigment ratios, I took the can over to my local store. First, I asked them if they could shake it up and see if it was salvageable. It wasn’t. Next, I asked for a quart, assuming I have enough unused paint hanging around the house, and wondering how many of the other cans were worthless. However, in the five years since the paint had been originally mixed, they had discontinued selling the base in quart-sized containers, so I was stuck with a gallon if I wanted the color. That was fine until I discovered that my gallon of premium paint was a whopping $43! Eegads! I’ve never paid more than $22 or $23 for a gallon of paint, and often buy it when it’s on sale. The cashier saw the look of shock on my face and threw in a couple extra stir sticks, but sheesh. Had I know, I would have found a “close enough” color or just resolved to repaint the entire back hallway, complete with 16 foot ceilings where the basement opens up to the rest of the house. Instead, since it’s a nice neutral color, I’ll be repainting some other room – maybe the dining room or office? Either way, since I had plenty, I ended up painting two nice coats around the door and also freshening a lot of the space.

Moving along, I finally (after two years!) painted the second coat in the downstairs bathroom, bringing out the true color I had imagined – a subtle lilac that contrasts nicely against bright white trim and the light green kitchen. I also applied a second coat to the trim and touched up a couple places that had chipped on the kitchen trim.

Next, I did a bit of concrete patching on the front steps before applying a fresh coat of paint. The front steps were tough only because of our continuing brown bug problem. After washing off all the bug carcasses before I started, they kept landing in the wet paint! I kept having to retouch the slightly tacky paint, trying to remove the bodies before they dried, like mosquitoes in amber. There are a couple that I didn’t manage to extract, but they’ll remain entombed as a memorial to their brothers – I’ve killed hundreds this summer.

Meanwhile, our driveway project taught us some valuable lessons – namely, that asphalt is nasty stuff that does NOT come off of concrete or aluminum side. We had been careful applying it, but some had inevitably splattered in the process. So I repainted the foundation facing the driveway (and think I’ll do the rest of the house soon, just to keep it even). However, despite trying two different products suggested by the Home Depot and Ace experts, we cannot figure out how to get the splatters of (black) tar off the (white) aluminum siding without also removing the coating (is it paint?). Especially since I redid the foundation, it looks especially bad. One product yellowed the siding, the other removed the paint-like coating, exposing bare metal. I think for now, our best bet is going to be touching up with white metal paint?

In the midst of asphalt cleanup, I also decided it was high time to repaint our white gate that closes across the driveway. It had a rough winter and a couple bare patches. Luckily, there was another paint can in the garage labeled “gate.” I opened it up and discovered more goo! Sigh. Then I opened an indoor/outdoor paint in another shade of white and discovered pure jelly. My last option – without buying more paint – was to use the same white paint I’ve used for the bathroom and kitchen trim. It’s labeled for interior, so I only did half the gate for now. I’ll let it get through a couple rain storms (it’s rained all day) to see how it holds up before doing the other half. Fence painting sucks – the slats take forever to coat evenly.

I think that’s all the painting for now. I rather enjoy it for the first couple hours, but it gets tedious – and leaves me with a clawed right hand for a day or so afterwards. But it’s one of the easiest and most cost-effective improvements – and you see the results right away.

Foiled by Gravity

I had a very productive weekend! I spent yesterday doing all kinds of door-related work. I applied the first coat of stain to the trim, finished caulking all the way around the outside and inside of the door, and played with the nastiest stuff I’ve ever worked with – asphalt/tar caulk, filling the gap between the driveway and the doorframe. (The driveway is, of course, unlevel.)

I did all this while eying the clouds as they built and waned. I did all my staining out in the driveway – avoiding the fumes that would build in the basement and the darkness of the garage –
but had everything on a sheet, ready to drag into the garage at the first raindrops. I got lucky, and the sun even came out.

Then I came inside and set off to fill the big, hollow void that I discovered last week. On Dad’s advice, I had bought some Great Stuff, and had happily picked the “Big Gap” variety. I donned my goggles and my one remaining rubber glove (the other having fallen victim to the gross tar gunk), climbed my step stool, and poised to start at the top and work my way down. I quickly realized that gravity had other ideas, as everything I filled plopped its way down the shaft to the bottom. Working quickly, I climbed down and started working from the bottom up, purposely only filling about half the gap, per the instructions.

My big can of Big Gap Great Stuff only filled about half the void, so resigned, I pushed the stuff into place and packed up for the afternoon.

Two hours later, I passed through the back hallway and stopped cold. The Great Stuff had settled down from where I had originally put it. Gravity had intervened, pulling the whole mass downwards into a big blob. I tried to push it back up, but it was still sticky and malleable and I was afraid of making it worse, so I left it to solidify, hoping I could carve it up and reuse the misplaced foam. (I had used Great Stuff before to fill in some (horizontal) gaps in the basement and found it easy to work with – and once it hardens, easy to carve off the excess with a knife. Gravity hadn’t been a factor when working horizontally.)

By morning, an entire digestive system of foam adorned my wall. After a busy day (laundry, weeding, more staining, and Elgin’s Greekfest), I decided to tackle the stomach-shaped mass. I set off with a razor blade, but found a screwdriver more useful. I hacked into the stomach, chiseling off small chunks – like packing peanuts, but without the candy colors. In a way, they worked out better than the original foam, since I could easily stuff them back around in the corners of the void, whereas working with aerosol, you just point and hope. I filled a pretty good portion of the hole with the leftovers, taking off a couple chunks of paint in the process. (Fortunately, in my garage diggings yesterday, I found a third of a gallon of paint labeled “Back Entry.” It perfectly matches the paint already on the walls, which we feared we would have to repaint entirely to compensate for the slightly-smaller trim and a bit of damage (i.e. the hole we made while prying off the old trim).

One small can of Great Stuff should fill the rest of the void – and no, I won’t be getting the “Big Gap” variety again! Plus, I’ve learned that when working in vertical spaces, it may help to prop up the fresh foam while it solidifies – I’m thinking a piece of cardboard may do the trick.

Regardless, I’m closer to finishing the door project once and for all! Then I move onto the fence…