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5 biggest painting and staining goofs

Plan your project for a stretch of cool dry days

Published: May 12, 2014 12:30 PM
Photo: Aaron Dyer

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You can save about $800 by staining an average-sized 350-square-foot deck yourself, and about $4,000 if you’re refinishing a typical 2,300-square-foot house. But think twice: “Never again!” was the most common response from our Facebook fans who took on the project. Contractor gripes, though, included poor prep and painting in the rain. Here’s what to watch for, whether you pay a pro or do the job yourself:

Rushed prep. Power-washing dirt and mildew and sanding a cracked or flaking finish are essential for new paint or stain to stick. Also be sure to sand glossy paint surfaces and replace crumbled caulking.

Skipping the primer. Many of our top paints now have a built-in primer and might be your best choice. But some, including the Ace Royal Exteriors and Behr Premium Plus, require an initial prime coat—something we recommend for new wood or siding that’s especially weathered. Our advice: If in doubt, prime the surface first.

Laying it on too thick. Paint and stain are more likely to fail if you apply too much at once. Paint can run and, after drying, might crack soon. And too much stain tends to sit on the surface without soaking in, forming a film that often peels prematurely.

Working over wet wood. Most stains are meant for dry wood. Paint can blister when trapped moisture leaches out beneath it. And while we wish all stains could be applied and work well over wet wood, Behr and most manufacturers still recommend waiting for the wood to dry.

Ignoring the weather. Many paint and stain manufacturers claim that their products can be applied in temperatures as low as 35° F. But for the best chance of success, you still might want to wait until the temperature is around 50° F—then check that it won’t dip for about 48 to 72 hours during the project. Telltale signs of a rush job are cracking, flaking, and blotches.

Benjamin Moore Arborcoat

The top wood stains from our tests
Solid stains form a paintlike film that shows only the texture of wood grain.
Our pick:
Benjamin Moore Arborcoat Solid Deck & Siding, $46.

Semitransparent stains soak into wood adding color, but grain is visible.
Our pick: Behr Premium Semi-Transparent Weatherproofing Wood Stain, $37.

Clear sealers soak into wood, showing grain but allow the wood to age naturally.
Our pick: Thompson's WaterSeal Advanced Waterproofer, $23.

—Ed Perratore

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