Here’s How to Paint Siding So It Looks Like a Million Bucks

how to paint vinyl siding

I think I might be paint’s number-one fan. That may sound odd, but in years of remodeling hundreds and hundreds of homes, I've noticed that
a good paint job is always the thing that really gets the oohs and aahs. Paint can make most anything look great, but people don’t always know what can be painted or exactly what the process is to paint a particular type of surface.

Exterior siding is one of those surfaces that often makes homeowners feel like they have more questions than answers. Can I paint vinyl siding? How do you paint metal siding? Does it make sense to paint siding that wasn’t painted to begin with because it came from the factory in a finished color? When it comes to painting siding, the questions abound.

Can You Paint Your Siding?

I’m not able to sit here and pretend that I know the correct answer for every home in the world, but I can say that, for the most part, the answer is yes. Almost any surface that is suitable for an exterior wall application is also paintable. It’s usually not a question of “can you?” but more of a question of “should you paint it?” or “how do I properly paint this siding?”

The answers to those latter two questions, of course, depend on a few factors.

Painting Metal Siding

Most metal siding is made of aluminum, but there are some older materials out there made of other types of metal. In any case, metal siding always came from the factory with a few coats of paint applied. The benefit was that the more controlled painting environment allowed for a much more durable finish that would last longer than paint applied in the field.

It’s been quite a while since metal siding was commonly used so, for the most part, if you have metal siding chances are it has already been repainted. If not, you’re probably due for a refresh. The good news is that most metal siding lasts a long time and repainting is not usually a problem.

Painting Vinyl Siding

Vinyl siding often came from the factory infused with color. The product was presented as a potential permanent alternative to paint. “Never paint again” was a major selling point of vinyl siding. However it didn’t really work out that way in most cases. The colors of vinyl would fade over time and start to look dull and old, or people would simply want the house to be a different color. If you could go to the store and buy some clothes that would never wear out, but you had to pick one color combo for life, would you? Of course not. People like to change colors.

So vinyl siding does end up getting painted quite frequently, but it can be a challenge. Paints don’t easily bond to the surface of vinyl siding and it’s not unheard of for a new paint job to just start peeling off. That’s a mess you don’t want!

Good surface preparation and the use of the right primer as a bonding agent is usually the ticket. Taking a small piece of your siding to a paint store and getting expert advice is advised.

Painting Wood Siding

Wood siding is almost always painted on site after it’s installed. I do think I’ve seen a few prefinished wood siding products over the years, but that’s not the norm. The longevity of a paint job on wood siding has very much to do with the painter who paints it and the materials he or she uses.

If wood siding is properly prepped and primed and is painted when the conditions are right (versus while it’s raining or snowing, for example), the paint can last a very long time, and proper maintenance and care can make repainting a very simple procedure.

Unfortunately that proper maintenance part often gets neglected and the paint can begin to fail. Wood siding is known for peeling, cracking at the seams and allowing water infiltration, which leads to wood rot. Rotten siding brings the whole thing to a new level for obvious reasons.

The good news is that wood is very forgiving. It’s easy to repair, and finding professionals who know how to do it right isn’t hard. So a house clad in wood siding can certainly be repainted to look like new.

Surface Prep is Key

The real key to painting all types of siding is surface preparation. Old paint on metal is often very chalky. If it’s been repainted in the past, it’s hard to know how well the previous painter prepared the surface. Paint on wood siding might be peeling off like the house has a bad sunburn. For vinyl siding, getting a really clean surface and a good bond with the paint is key.

Here’s a few questions to ask yourself that might help you get a feel for how much prep work you need to do prior to painting your siding.

  1. Is the surface chalky? If you run your hands over the surface, does some of the finish come off on your hands?
  2. Do you have any paint just simply flaking off or peeling?
  3. Does the material underneath the paint seem sound, or does it appear to be damaged or loose?
  4. What’s the condition of the caulking or sealer around windows and doors?

These questions will help you determine next steps. Often that next step is pressure washing, but if the surface underneath is damaged or if you feel like there’s a strong chance of water intrusion around windows and doors, pressure washing should be done very carefully.

The objective of good surface prep is create a clean, smooth and structurally sound surface on which to paint. From there it’s a matter of choosing the right primer and the right paint for the job. Both of which are questions for a paint store expert, who will offer suggestions based on both the materials (bring them a sample) and your local climate.

The fun part, of course, is picking your new colors. A new house was just built a few blocks from me that has a color scheme I can’t get out of my head! I love it! Find the colors you love and go for it. You’ll be done before you know it and well-applied paint looks great for many years. Have fun!