Tip # 7 - Paint It.

Doolitle Barn in Shoreham, VTA good paint job provides both decoration and protection. Unless you have an early barn with rough vertical board siding that was never meant to be painted, painting is one of the best ways to preserve the exterior of your barn by protecting it from moisture penetration. If you prepare the surfaces thoroughly and use a good quality paint, you will be rewarded with a paint job that will last ten years or more.

The traditional red and ochre paints found on many barns became widely available in Vermont by about 1850. Made with locally produced iron oxide earth pigments and linseed oil, the paints were relatively inexpensive, and it became fashionable on farms throughout the region to have a red barn contrasting with the white farmhouse. At the end of the century, shingled barns stained dark green or brown became fashionable on gentlemen's farms. In the twentieth century, red, white, and yellow have been the colors of choice of most farmers, often with the trim in a different color.

Before you paint make sure to inspect where the old paint has failed to see if there are indications of other problems. Paint that is peeling in large flakes down to bare wood usually indicates a moisture problem that should be fixed before repainting. Roof and flashing leaks or unprotected openings that let water into the walls are the likely causes. If the problem is near the base of walls, it may indicate sill decay or contact with the ground that wicks water into the wall. If only the top layer of paint is peeling away, the surface was probably not properly prepared before the last painting. It is normal for paint to wear away in small flakes, especially on the sunny south and west sides of the building.

Preparing the surface for painting is almost as important as painting itself. Remove loose paint chips and dust from all surfaces. A sharp hand scraper works best with loose paint. Do not use torches to remove paint because they may cause a fire. Gentle power washing may be effective if surfaces are allowed to dry several days before painting. Avoid abrasive paint removal methods such as sanding or sandblasting, which will damage the wood and may create dust hazards.

Many older paints contain lead pigments, which are a potential health hazard. As you remove paint by washing or scraping, make sure no living creature will ingest or inhale lead dust. Children and pregnant women should not risk any exposure. Catch paint chips in a drop cloth and dispose of them properly.

Paint after all repairs are complete and the surface is properly prepared, clean and dry. New paint should be high quality, guaranteed to last ten years or longer. (Cheap paint is no bargain when you consider the effort it takes to prepare your barn for painting.) To reduce costs you can order your paint from manufacturers in five-gallon containers. Applying paint with a hand brush gives the most durable results. Labor can be reduced by applying paint with a sprayer, but windows, roofing and other unpainted areas should be carefully masked to prevent damage from overspray. A good compromise for large barns is applying the paint with a sprayer in sections and brushing it into the wood by hand. Plan to cover 300 to 400 square feet per gallon of paint. Paint doors, windows, and trim with a durable trim enamel.

© 1995 Vermont Division for Historic Preservation and Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. All rights reserved.

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