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Painting and repairing exterior walls

Date posted: 17 August 2015

Flaky paint and damaged bricks can leave your property looking tired and unloved. A fresh lick of masonry paint and a little bit of repair work will not only make it look far better, but will also help to protect your home from further weather damage.

If you decide to do the painting yourself – which is well within the capabilities of most DIY enthusiasts – you will simply need to do a little preparation work; make sure you have good, secure access to the walls; and gather together all the necessary tools and materials.

Preparation

Cleaning the wall

Clean off surface dirt, loose paint and loose masonry: Use a medium- to stiff-bristled hand brush to get rid of remove dirt and flaky paint, and a scraper to shift any loose masonry. For very dirty walls wash down with a household detergent then rinse it with plain water. If there are specific problems such as algae, climbing plants or mould you will need to target these with the appropriate products.

Carrying out masonry repairs

Before you can apply fresh paint you will need to repair any minor masonry problems by filling small cracks and holes with an exterior filler or mortar using a knife, then smoothing it off with a wet filling knife. For cracks that are deeper than 1cm you will need to build up the filler gradually in layers – allowing each layer to dry before applying the next one. Once the filler has dried, rub it down using medium-grade sandpaper to level and smooth. You will also need to seal and prime any porous or powdery surfaces using a masonry primer. Apply with a small paint brush on the edges and difficult-to-reach areas. Apply with a medium- or long-pile roller for larger areas.

Older bricks can become damaged and start taking in rainwater to their inner face, in which case you could end up with an unsightly damp patch on your interior wall. You can seal out damp by using brick and masonry sealer, which creates a protective, water-repellent barrier while at the same time allowing the surface to breathe and moisture to escape. Before you apply it, clear away any loose mortar and remove moss or lichen using a stiff brush then let the surface dry thoroughly before you apply to sealer.

To replace a damaged brick, drill several 10mm holes into the mortar joints around the brick and then, using a cold chisel (or a bolster chisel and club hammer) cut into the joints until the brick loosens. Tap and wiggle the brick until you can pull it free, then scrape away any old mortar from the cavity using a bolster chisel or a trowel followed by a brush to get rid of any remaining dust. Next, rake out loose or flaking mortar from the surrounding joints using a jointing tool. Use a paint brush to dampen the surfaces of the cavity then spread mortar on the base and ends of the cavity using a trowel. Wet the surface of your new brick and spread mortar on all of its sides, then place it into the cavity, tapping it with a trowel handle until it is straight and level with the other bricks. Re-point the surrounding brickwork then, once the mortar begins to harden, use a soft brush to brush over the surface of the bricks.

Choosing a suitable paint

Textured paints are ideal if you are looking for a durable finish that also helps to hide any remaining flaws in your masonry. Smooth paint is easy to apply; gives an attractive, even finish; and will help to hide minor flaws.

Once you have decided which texture to opt for, you need to decide on a colour. Remember that colour will look different depending on the weather , the time of day, and which way the wall faces. Buy some small test pots and paint onto plasterboard or cardboard – looking at it in different positions to get an idea of how it will look.

Choosing your tools

Gather together your tools for the job, including paint brushes or a roller, and suitable access equipment. This could simply be a straightforward ladder, but bear in mind that scaffolding provides a far safer solution – and could help you to work more efficiently as the chances are you will feel more confident and secure whilst you work.

Consider buying a paint kettle, too, so that you can benefit from buying larger, economical pots of paint but use the more manageable paint kettle to take up and hang from the ladder or platform. A masonry roller brush with an extendable handle will enable you to cover larger areas more quickly and efficiently.

Timing

  • Check the weather forecast and go for a period where it looks like you will have several days of fair weather during which you can complete the entire job.
  • Visualise dividing each of the walls into manageable chunks that you can finish in a single session of painting, perhaps using obvious markers to remember where to paint up to in each block – such as using drainpipes or windows as your borders.
  • Protect nearby surfaces such as downpipes from unwanted paint drips by wrapping them in newspaper and taping it in place.  

Painting

  • Work from the top down, painting from the points closest to the roof and working your way downwards so that your freshly-painted surface doesn't get splashed.
  • Paint using short, horizontal or vertical strokes. If you are painting heavily textured walls, in order to get good coverage you may need to hold your brush at about 90 degrees and dab the bristles into the surface with a stippling action.
  • If you are using a roller, make sure you vary your stroke angle to get good coverage, and cut into the corners (and any obstacles) with a brush just as you would if you were painting interior walls.

Safety considerations

  • Whenever you are working at height it is vital to make sure you feel secure while you work. If you find you are struggling using a ladder – or whatever other access solution you have chosen – considering hiring an alternative such as scaffolding to make the job easier and much safer.
  • If you use a ladder, remember to place it on flat, firm ground at a safe angle – with the bottom quarter of its total height away from the base of the house. With extension ladders a minimum of three rungs should be overlapping for stability. You will need a second person to hold the ladder while you work. Never lean out or reach more than an arm's length away from the ladder.
  • Remember to dispose of any leftover paint according to the instructions given on the tin – never pour it down the drain.

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