If you own an old house, you have paint problems…somewhere. It may be from a poor paint job at some point or a paint job that is just too old.
Keeping your house painted properly, especially the exterior, is imperative to the long term care of your house. Exterior elements deteriorate quickly without a protective layer of quality paint.
Here are the four most common paint problems that you may find around an old house and how to fix them.
The discovery may inspire puzzlement, surprise and even fear: cracked ceiling paint that may be flaking in spots, too. But fear not, because the eyesore truly looks worse than it is. Paint the glue on the back of the canvas behind the cracked areas of paint clearly visible as slightly darker than the rest of the canvas. Warm a dry iron to medium heat. Lay wax paper over the back of the canvas, and iron the glued areas to further flatten and attach the cracked paint to the surface. Turn off the iron. Peel off the wax paper. Cracking in an automotive paint job may occur in the clear coat over the paint or in the base color of the paint. Cracks form for many reasons. There may be a structural issue in the sheet metal below the paint that results in cracking. Peeling and cracking when a coating fails to properly adhere to the surface is a common problem. These articles from Sherwin-Williams can help!
This occurs when oil-based paints have gone beyond their usable lives. As oil-based paints age, they become harder and more brittle.
This makes for a great hard finish on trim, windows and doors, but eventually they become too brittle to keep up with the constant expansion and contraction of wood. Soon, the paint starts cracking in a way that looks like a subway map of Manhattan.
To fix this issue, you have a couple of options.
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Peeling paint is the bane of old house owners. It can happen without warning sometimes and without specific reasoning. There is one sure fire way to avoid peeling paint (most of the time!), and that is to strip everything down to bare wood and prime before painting.
The two major causes of peeling paint:
If you have peeling paint all the way down the bare wood, you have big problems and more often than not it is due to one of these two issues. The only way to fix peeling paint is to deal with the source of the problem.
If it is a moisture issue, find the source of the leak or moisture build up. This doesn’t have to be bulk water, it can be something as simple as too high humidity inside the house or as complex as vapor drive through the walls.
If your house simply has too many coats of paint built up, you may have had a catastrophic paint failure with huge sheets of paint peeling off. This is a unique issue that no one can really predict, but when it happens to you we all feel your pain. The only solution is to remove all the old layers of paint down to bare wood and start over again.
Blistering paint can be a real pain here in the hot and humid south. There are a few causes of blistering that can be easily avoided if you just prep properly. You must also know when to paint and, more importantly when not to paint. Here are some common causes:
The solutions are pretty self explanatory. Avoid painting under any of these conditions, and you’ll be sure to avoid blistering paint. For example, try to avoid painting in direct sunlight, especially in hot summer months, and avoid painting when it looks like it will rain.
If you have blistering paint, I’m afraid you’ll have to remove everything down to the layer that is blistering and start over.
Chalking paint is the one paint problem that isn’t due to something you did wrong. Chalking paint is old paint that has been exposed to sunlight for a long time and it is completely natural. All paint is made up of several elements. Two of the most important are the binder, or resin, and the pigment.
As paint ages, the binder slowly breaks down and the pigment starts to wash away. The paint looses most of its sheen and if you run your hand across it, you’ll get a powdery residue. The chalking paint on your hand is the old pigment coming off since the binder isn’t there to hold it all together anymore.
Chalking paint is part of the natural lifespan of modern paint systems. If your house’s paint is chalking, that means it’s about time for a new paint job. Here’s how to deal with chalking paint on your old house:
Paint problems usually arise from taking shortcuts or missing issues that need to resolved prior to painting. Good prep is the answer to most of these issues and good prep takes time and effort. Don’t shortcut it. In painting more than anything else, you get what you pay for.
The most expensive paint job is almost always cheaper in the long run.
Cracks are one of the many ways that coatings (film forming transparent finishes and paints) can fail. They occur in a variety of forms to include checking, crazing, cracking, alligatoring, and mud cracking. All of these forms are the result of stress.
Checking is a mild form of cracking and doesn’t go all the way through the finish. It often forms irregular, non-linear patterns called ‘crows feet.’ Crazing is similar to checking though the breaks are deeper and wider. As the finish ages, the checking will likely get deeper and go all the way through the finish.
Cracks come in many lengths and form various patterns of intersecting lines that predominately run in the direction of the wood grain, brush strokes, or spray patterns. They go all the way through the coating to the next layer or substrate below. Cracks allow water and water vapor to get in and the moisture causes the wood to swell which then causes the finish to start peeling. The cycle gets progressively worse (like the blue paint in the picture).
Another type of breakage, called cold checking or cracking, is caused by exposing the finished item to freeze/thaw cycles. If the coating was not formulated to handle these extremes, it will crack. Don’t leave your guitar out in the car it the temperature is below freezing and then bring it in to play a song by the wood stove or you may get first hand experience with this type of cracking.
Alligatoring is similar to checking with fissures that are wide at the surface. On rare valuable antiques (emphasis on rare), crazing/alligatoring is considered part of the patina and is generally left untouched. Otherwise it’s considered a nuisance and distraction.
Mud Cracking looks a lot like alligatoring and often occurs immediately following application of a waterborne paint or finish. The wide cracks appear as the coating is drying and happens when it is applied too heavily or the solvents flash off too quickly. The cure for this type of cracking is to sand it back and re-coat as soon as it’s dry enough.
There’s a specialty finish called crackle lacquer that’s designed to produce cracks for the visual effect. It simulates the look of old paint, but a clear coat is used over the crackle layer to protect it and the substrate. The size of the fissures are controlled by how heavily it’s sprayed – heavy coats create larger cracks. Latex paint can also be crackled by applying it over hide glue or a similar base.
Where do the cracks come from? If the finish isn’t old and brittle, then there’s a good chance it was applied wrong. Some of the most common mistakes that lead to cracking include applying the finish too thick (common with conversion varnish), using a hard/brittle finish over a softer/flexible finish, or using the wrong finish for the job.
All coating failures, including cracking, fall under one of four broad categories, or a combination of them. The causes of cracking include the following;
Coatings are under constant internal stress and if anything is out of balance, the coating will crack (or delaminate) to relieve the pressure. When a coating is first applied, the liquid solvents start to evaporate and the coating shrinks. If the coating is catalyzed, it also starts to cross-linking during this period as it changes from a liquid to a solid film which increases the amount of shrinking. The coating quickly reaches a point where it can’t flow anymore because the solvents have evaporated and it’s adhered to the substrate (or previous coat of finish/primer/sealer). Until the coating is fully cured, it continues to shrink in thickness, but not in length and width (the two dimensional plane of the substrate). Because it’s stuck to the substrate, the coating pulls but doesn’t move. This constant tension is called internal stress (aka, tensional stress) and is permanent. The thicker the coating, the stronger the stress force will be (which is why coatings applied too thick crack easily).
If the stress is stronger than the cohesive strength of the coating, it will crack to relieve the pressure. On the other hand, if the stress is stronger than the adhesion, the coating will delaminate (peel). If everything is in proper balance, the coating will simply be under permanent internal stress. In some cases, the shrinkage stress of the topcoats can cause the sealer/primer layer to fail by cracking or delaminating if it’s weaker than the topcoat.
If additional external stress forces are applied to the coating and/or substrate (e.g., heat, humidity, expansion & contraction, bending/flexing, impact, etc.) the coating will fail. These external forces are often much larger than the internal forces and cause immediate failure (e.g., impact fractures or flexing cracks). Additionally, age and weathering reduce the cohesive strength and flexibility of coatings which can cause them to crack (which leads to peeling/delamination).
Faced with an object that has a coating with cracks, you have 3 options;
Should you fix it? If the item is a rare antique that is more valuable with its original finish, then you should leave it alone and keep it in a place that is climate controlled to minimize the external stresses. If it’s not a valuable antique (most aren’t), then you have the option to leave it the way it is or fix it. Consider that the cracked finish will allow moisture, water and dirt to get into the cracks which will swell and damage the wood which will cause the finish to start peeling. However, if you like the way it looks and there’s no concern about additional damage from water or moisture getting in the cracks, then leave it be. If you decide you want to give it a new look or protect the wood from damage caused by normal use, then go ahead and fix it. Usually you’ll have to remove the old finish and apply a new one.
In cases where the original finish is lacquer or shellac, it’s possible to save the finish through a repair technique called re-amalgamating. Because lacquer and shellac form a film through evaporation of the solvents, and no cross-linking takes place, they can be re-dissolved and flowed out using the proper solvents. Sam Allen’s book, “Classic Finishing Techniques” has a nice section on the process. This process doesn’t always work well and takes a fair amount of practice, so be prepared to completely refinish the piece if you decide to give this technique a try.