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Ask the Expert Question-and-Answer Archive

by Ron Joseph

October, 2009

Cold Weather Exterior Painting

Q. It's mid-October, and I live in Massachusetts.

Late last summer I (finally!) realized how horrible the paint job on my garden shed was. Paint on the east, west, and south sides of the shed was cracking, peeling, flaking, the whole nine yards.

I realized I needed to do something, but I also needed to keep the cost down. So I started scraping. I spent many hours scraping (whenever it wasn't raining, which wasn't often), only to realize that it would take many, many more hours in order to properly prepare the shed's surface. Fall snuck up on me, and I didn't get a lot done (thanks to all the rain we had this year).

I really don't enjoy scraping, and the thought of spending hours and hours more was pretty daunting. So I hired someone to power sand the whole shed. He just did so yesterday, and he left me with what I think is a very nice, proper surface to re-paint (instead of a poorly prepared surface where the new paint job wouldn't last because of poor preparation of hand scraping a surface that was just too messed up).

In August (when I was more optomistic about my ability to hand scrape the shed in a reasonable amount of time), I bought Benjamin Moore's oil-based primer, and Benjamin Moore's exterior latex paint (I forget which exact type of BM exterior paint, but I do remember it is one that is held out to be applicable in lower temperatures).

It's mid-Octber, not the best time to paint I realize. Temperatures are in the 50's during the day, and in the high 30's and low 40's at night. It's also been a pretty wet fall.

My questions to you: should I go ahead and prime/paint when I find a few sunny, warm-ish days? Or would it be better to defer painting until next spring, and let the sanded (and now unfinished) shed sit, as-is, over the winter? Will a wet, snowy winter cause significant amounts of damage to unfinished wood?

Thanks so much for your advice.

A. Thanks for your delightful email. I get tens of emails with poor grammar, no punctuation, and the worst of the English language, and here comes your email that leads me to believe you must be a professional writer.

Actually, the last word in your email was the most important; "wood". Until I got to the end, I thought you had scraped your knuckles to the bone on a steel shed. So now to an answer. If you leave the wood unfinished, the rain will soak in and you will need to wait until almost all the moisture has evaporated from the wood before repainting. The maximum moisture content of wood should not exceed 12% (as measured with a moisture meter). Is it possible for you to cover the shed with sheets of plastic until the spring comes around? Perhaps you can leave the door uncovered so you can have access during the winter months. In any case you will need to do some light resanding before you start the painting job.

There is no point painting now, since it is likely the paint will start peeling again within the next few years. Again, the best you can do now is to protect the wood from the elements as best you can.

Good luck,

Ron Joseph

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