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Painting a Victorian

If your home was built between the end of 19th and the beginning of 20th centuries, chances are that you live in one or another form of Victorian architecture.

San Francisco is well known for its Victorian architecture. Neighborhoods like the Alamo Square, Haight-Ashbury, Lower Haight, Cole Valley, Noe Valley, Castro, Nob Hill, and Pacific Heights are full of these majestic structures.

Indeed, the “Painted Ladies” of San Francisco are known, world around, for their vibrant and sometimes even psychedelic tones. In Victorian times, more natural earth-tone colors like shades of brown, red, mustard and green, would have been mostly used. But, whatever the color scheme you may choose to for your Victorian , a lot of TLC will most likely be required before even a single gallon of paint is opened.

Whether you own a fanciful Queen Anne Victorian or a more restrained Edwardian, you may already know that these types of buildings require considerable effort to keep and maintain.

This is not only because of the age of these structures, but also because the very thing that made this type of architecture so beautiful has also made it more fragile and susceptible to the elements. All of the fine wood detailing, extensive trim-work, brackets and bays to preserve; all those angles and corners for water to get into and for the rain and the sun to beat on.

So, you are thinking of painting your Victorian! You simply can’t wait to see that beauty shimmering in the sun with a brand new and beautiful paint job, of just the right color!

It is very common for people to put most emphasis on the paint finish. Yes, the importance of a skillfully applied paint film can’t be over stated and, after all, this is what you will be looking at after the paint has dried. But, if this look of a freshly painted home is to last, one must not underestimate the importance of proper surface preparation.

I am sure that you have heard before that surface preparation is important. Well, this is even more true and requires even more skillful workmanship in the painting of a Victorian.

OK, so you are a believer! But how do you make sure that it is done right?

Here is a brief summary of steps that may be required:

  • Before any painting work is begun, check for leaks and any moisture getting into the substrate. You may need to repair any roof leaks, gutters, windows, and leaky plumbing. Unless the water is prevented from entering the substrate, the quality of your paint job will be compromised.
  • Check for and replace all rotted or missing wood. This can be an expensive step because some of these trim pieces may be difficult to replicate. But, if not too badly damaged, some of those could be salvaged by injecting loose wood fibers with epoxy sealer, in order to solidify softened wood, and then replacing all missing wood sections with the two part epoxy filler.
  • Replace all badly rusted window and water table flashing. When this is not done, the rust will promptly come back or, even worse, the flashing may rust through completely and will allow water into the substrate.
  • Re-nail or screw-in to reattach all loose siding, trim boards and brackets.
  • All rusting through nails should be punched in, to set the nail heads slightly below the surface then spot primed with a rust-inhibitive primer, and then nail holes should be properly filled. Once more, with this not done, the rust will come back and spoil the look of your new paint job.
  • All exterior surfaces will need to be washed to remove mildew, dirt and excessive chalking.
  • All loose and cracking paint should be thoroughly scraped off and sanded. Consider complete stripping if more then 25% of the coating is cracked or peeling.
  • Any open joints around windows, doors and all open vertical seams will need to be caulked. As this may be your last defense to water entering your home, insure that this step is done thoroughly and that only a good quality caulk is used.
  • Your Victorian should be fully primed with a good quality primer that is appropriate to the type of surface being painted. Essentially, the primer serves as a foundation that supports the finish coat. Understanding this should help you understand the full importance of primer. In short, the best primer available is going to be the best choice for your job.

Now, all this may seem like a lot of work just to get ready to paint. Well, it is a lot of work! But, if you are like me, your heart beats just a little bit faster when you see a beautiful building.

I feel like this every time I come home.

Yefim Skomorovsky
Painting Contractor in San Francisco Bay Area

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