Step 7a: Painting the House with a Brush and Roller

Go to Step 8: Painting the Trim→

Time required:

10 to 25 hours for an average size house; does not include painting the trim or staining the deck.

Equipment list:


  • High quality exterior latex paint.

Finally it’s time to actually paint the house! And my first piece of advice about painting the house is just paint it. If you’ve been doing the prep weekends and evenings, now is the time to shift gears, take a few days off work, get physical, and get it done.


Take comfort in the fact that the dirty work is behind you: the pressure-washing, the scraping, the priming and the caulking. Now comes the payoff as you apply a smooth, protective coat of high quality latex paint to the house’s dehydrated and grateful exterior. It’s a satisfying feeling when you paint a house right.

Know this: The most time-consuming aspect of actually painting the house is the transference of paint from the can to the house—in other words, the amount of time the paint spends making that trip. Obviously spraying helps greatly to reduce that time because it offers a direct, high speed line from the bucket to the surface, but a house can also be painted quickly and efficiently using a nice, thick roller to carry the paint to its ultimate destination and a brush to cut in the corners. So if for some reason you can’t or don’t want to spray paint your house, take heart that you’re not that far behind the sprayers time-wise.

Here’s the roller/brush outfit I recommend for maximum speed and efficiency: A 5-gallon bucket with a metal roller ramp in it; a professional-grade roller handle with a roller cover on it (sizes include 3/8-inch, 1/2-inch3/4-inch, 1-inch, or 1 1/4-inch roller cover on it (the thickness of the roller cover “nap” will depend on the porosity of the siding and how much paint it will take); a sturdy professional-grade roller pole that will extend from two to four feet; and a one-gallon “cutting pot” and a top quality 3-inch angled-tip nylon paint brush to go with it. Loop a damp rag through a belt loop, and stick your multipurpose painter’s tool in your pocket in case you come across a bit of peeling paint that you missed. And finally, you’ll want to buy a couple of bucket hooks to secure your 5-gallon roller bucket and 1-gallon cutting pot to the rungs on your extension ladder or the top of your step ladder (there are usually holes cut in the top to hang things off). Bucket hooks are important because you want your arms to be focused on painting and holding onto the ladder, not clutching buckets.

Pop open three fresh cans of paint (or, better, a 5-gallon bucket of it) and enjoy the clean, creamy vision for a moment. Stir the paint if needed (if it’s a custom color, you should “box” all the paint by mixing it all together to ensure  color uniformity–this can be done in a 5-gallon bucket, then poured back into the 1-gallon cans). Then fill a 5-gallon bucket half full. Fill the cutting pot a third full. Carry both buckets (two trips) to the top of the ladder and hook them on. (One way to simplify things is to NOT bring the 1-gallon cutting pot with you all the time, just bring the brush. Store the brush up high by sticking the handle inside one of the hollow ladder rungs. Then when you need a dip of paint just reach down into the 5-gallon bucket with the brush. This works fine for many situations, although if you need to do a lot of cutting, you’re better off working out of a 1-gallon cutting pot.)

Okay, you’ve got your paint outfit together—now where do you go to actually paint? I usually pick a side of the house based on the sun and the season. If it’s mid-summer, I want to avoid painting in the sun during the heat of the day, so I’ll start out on the sunny side and move into the shade in the afternoon. But if it’s late fall, I want to concentrate on shady sides in the morning because they will need all day to dry in the cool air. I’ll then focus on sunny sides in the afternoon because the sun isn’t that hot and the paint will need that sun to dry before nighttime temperatures dip.

After you pick a side to start on—and assuming you’ve done all your masking (taping) the house and arranging drop cloths—it’s time to focus on the upper leftmost point of that side. If the house has eaves and fascia (and possibly painted gutters), you’ll need to paint them first. Brush out the fascia (and possibly the gutter) first. (Note: If the fascia is going to be a different color than the eaves, skip it for now and do it when you paint the trim.) Then attack the underside of the eaves. Cut in the corners with the brush and roll the large, flat areas. Usually there are joints between the sections of the eaves; do one section at a time to reduce the chance of “flashing.” You will soon discover that painting eaves with a brush and roller makes your neck ache. But take solace in the fact that once the eaves are done, standing up straight to paint the siding will seem like a treat. Paint all the eaves on one side–or even the whole house–before you tackle the siding.

When it’s time for the siding, your technique will depend on whether your house has 1) natural wood siding (clapboard or shakes), and whether it has natural grain or is smooth; 2) engineered-wood or cement-composite siding like Hardiplank; or 3) masonry (stucco or brick). Regardless of the type of siding, the paint will need to be rolled and/or brushed onto all surfaces. But the best techniques differ somewhat for each surface. I’m going to start with the basic technique for wood clapboard siding and then move on to explain the others.

To paint clapboard wood siding, once again focus on the upper-left section of the side you’re painting. If the eaves are a different color than the siding, obviously you will need to set up a second roller/brush combination in the new color. You will need to cut a straight line (aka “edging”) against the eaves with the brush. Cut that in, then brush the undersides of the siding boards in the section you’re going to paint. You’ll also need to brush out all the corners and crannies where the roller can’t get.

Get your roller good and wet, then roll out an area of siding in front of you, maybe six feet wide by six feet high, depending on what you can reach. Roll in the same direction as the orientation of the siding—if it’s horizontal, you want to roll horizontally, if it’s vertical, you want to roll vertically.

Don’t be afraid to keep dipping the roller and putting a good amount of paint on the house. In my experience, the #1 cause of poor paint jobs is people not using enough paint, trying to stretch every dip until the roller is dry. Keep the roller wet, dip again, dip again. Use 20 percent more paint than you think you should—as long as you are not leaving drips and runs, it will not hurt the house. Lay the paint on liberally, then, as your last step, go over it all smoothly to even it out (lay it off). See the video for more tips on how to roll.

Some people like to do all the cutting-in after the rolling. Sometimes I do it that way. But in general, when painting wood siding, I prefer to do the cutting first, then the rolling. This allows me to roll over a lot of the brush strokes so they won’t stand out later.

Caveat: The amount of brushing you need to do beyond cutting-in will vary depending on the surface of the wood siding. If it’s rough enough to hide the roller stipple, you’re done. However, if it’s smooth wood–or if the clapboard siding is 3-inch or 4-inch, too small to roll effectively with a 9-inch roller–then you might want to roll the paint on and then put a brush stroke in all of it, because otherwise the roller stipple might show in clear contrast to the brushing you did when cutting in; look down the board sideways and you will see the difference, especially with darker colors. Going for the brush-stroke look on siding takes a lot of extra effort, and a lot of people won’t notice the difference, but it does look really good on smooth clapboard wood siding. Using this technique basically turns the roller into just an efficient way to get the paint from the bucket to the siding–then you brush it out. Remember to always do your final brush strokes back into your “wet edge” (the direction you are coming from) to avoid “start marks.”

Now, here’s the crux of the whole thing: After painting your first 6-foot-by-6-foot (or whatever size) section, do not lower your ladder and start painting the section below. Rather, keep the ladder at the same height and move it horizontally to the right a few feet (assuming you are painting horizontal clapboard siding). Then climb up and paint the section to the right of the first one, making sure to lay off all final brush and roller strokes back into the “wet edge” of the first section you painted. Keep going all the way to the corner of the house like this; then lower your ladder a few rungs and do the same thing going back the other direction.

Following the natural track of the siding like this and keeping a wet edge ensures you’ll get an even coat that won’t “flash.” A lot of homeowners and even housepainters neglect this simple concept, instead doing a six-foot-wide section from top to bottom, then moving the ladder over a few feet and doing that whole section top to bottom. In the meantime the first section has had time to start the drying process, so all overlapping areas essentially get a double coat, while the non-overlapping areas don’t. This creates an irregular aesthetic that is very obvious when viewed at an angle, especially if you’re cursed with the inclination to scrutinize paint jobs.

Brushing and rolling cement-composite siding

There are a few additional things to keep in mind when brushing and rolling cement-composite siding (and this same advice applies to wood-composite siding—also known as “engineered wood”—which, like the cement-composite, lacks any natural, porous grain). Materials like Hardiplank siding have changed the game a bit as far as painting goes. For the most part it has improved things because it is so quick and easy to spray (see the video on spray painting the house). But if you don’t want to spray—and I don’t blame you a bit—you can still paint composite siding relatively quickly using a brush/roller.

You can use a regular 9-inch roller—I’d suggest a 1/2 or 3/4 inch nap. Keep your roller wet with frequent dips in a 5-gallon bucket/roller ramp setup, and always check the areas you roll to make sure you’re not leaving behind any light spots where the faux grain dips. When you’re cutting in, make sure to get the undersides of the siding boards really well—keep dipping that brush. When brushing and rolling composite siding, I usually cut in a section first, then roll it out. Just seems to work better for me.

A “mini-roller” can also be used to paint cement-composite siding. This amazing little contraption is lightweight and easy to use with a 6-inch mini-roller cover. You want to have a thick, shaggy cover for rolling composite siding—and you’ll want to buy a “contractor’s pack” of 12 of these things at the paint store because they wear out fast when employed to cover serious ground). A weenie roller is much lighter and more compact than a regular 9-inch roller, and using it in conjunction with a brush allows you to quickly dispatch large areas of composite siding.

Painting wood shakes siding

I’m talking about the shakes with the deep, uniform grooves running up and down. These can be rolled with a thick roller, but I’ve found that sometimes the paint actually “bridges” the gap between the grooves and dries that way, not adhering to the deep, inner part of the groove like you want. One way to deal with this is to roll the paint on the shakes with a thick-nap roller, then go over the shakes with a 9-inch paint pad on a pole. I don’t have much use for paint pads in general, but this is one instance where they actually help. By running the pad down the siding with a bit of force, you can work that paint into those narrow, deep grooves, and it looks very nice. You’ll need to buy a few replacement pads because this tears them up pretty quickly.

Painting stucco and brick houses

Stucco and brick houses are the most forgiving type to paint. It hardly even matters what direction you run your roller or whether you feather out your brush strokes. Just make sure you use a thick-nap roller (probably 1 1/4 inch) and put on a good amount of paint because stucco will really soak it up. As long as you don’t leave any obvious thick lines when rolling, it should come out looking fine.

Note: My experience has been that stucco is conducive to producing “chalking” in the previous coat of paint, so make sure you’ve addressed this issue if it exists. To test, wipe your finger against the stucco and look for a heavy, chalky residue on the finger (you’ll almost always at least see a light residue). Usually the pressure-washing has taken care of heavy chalking, but sometimes chalking is persistent and might even require priming. If you notice a lot of chalking, talk to the manager at your paint store and discuss solutions. The manager might even be able to come out and take a look at the problem—don’t hesitate to ask, especially if you’re spending a thousand dollars on paint.

Go back to Exterior Painting Videos Go on to Step 8: Painting the Trim