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Do It Yourself: Wash, then paint aluminum siding

Sun., Feb. 27, 2011

Q. My 25-year-old house has the original aluminum siding, which is in good condition but has faded and chalked paint.

Can the siding be painted and if so, what kind of preparation is needed? What paint? Is a sprayer or brush best? I have priced new sidings and they are very expensive.

A. Aluminum siding can definitely be painted, and removing the chalk (deteriorated paint) will be the most important part of the preparation.

Pressure washing is the best way to remove chalked paint, and unless you have some experience with these machines it is best to have this part of the job, at least, done by a professional.

Pressure washer guns and hoses are difficult to handle from a ladder, and the washing gun can kick back when started, sometimes with enough force to create a hazard. If you want to pressure wash it yourself and don’t own or want to buy a washer, you can rent one at a tool-rental agency.

The alternative to pressure washing is hand scrubbing with a strong cleaner such as TSP (trisodium phosphate) and rinsing with clear water.

Even after cleaning, some chalk might remain on the siding; to prevent it from causing problems with the new paint, prime the entire surface of the siding.

Some experts recommend an oil-based primer for chalked surfaces. Have the primer tinted to a color close to that of your finish paint – you’ll need fewer coats of finish paint to get good coverage.

An airless sprayer will do a fast, smooth job of painting, but again these are tricky tools to use for the inexperienced. Priming and painting should be done on a calm day if a sprayer is used, and you should tape plastic sheeting over windows to keep drifting paint off the glass.

You can also use a roller to apply the paint, but my personal choice for do-it-yourself painting of siding is a fairly smooth painting pad about six inches wide, along with a high-quality brush for tight spots.

Use a top-quality acrylic paint for the finish coats. A satin or low-luster paint usually looks best on siding.

Q. We have a closet under the steps in our split-level house, and it has a constant bad odor that I have been unable to eliminate. The closet has a solid door and a small vent in one side.

I insulated the closet walls, installed new drywall, put in a ceramic-tile floor, added heat and a small dehumidifier, and still I get a musty smell. What next?

A. Moisture and poor ventilation are generally the causes of musty odors in confined spaces, but odors can have many other sources.

Have you checked the contents of the closet for possible odor sources? Old shoes are a common cause, and if wet clothing was hung in the closet it can quickly develop a bad odor.

You seem to have taken a number of good steps to solve any moisture problems, but there can still be hidden moisture, possibly from an unseen plumbing leak or an overflowing rain gutter that lets water seep into a wall, and so forth.

I think your best bet at this point is to try more ventilation. If the odor is bearable, prop the door open a foot or so for a few weeks. If the odor improves, you can replace that solid door with a louvered door that will let more air circulate into the closet.

You don’t say what finish, if any, you put on the new drywall, but it could also help if you gave the walls a coat of shellac-based primer (B-I-N, sold at many home centers and paint stores), followed by a couple of coats of mildew-resistant paint.

An odor absorbent such as Nilodor might also help. Nilodor has been used for many years as an antidote for pet odors, but some products can be used for other odors as well. It is sold online.

Q. Are residential rain gutters really necessary? Would it be OK to just grade the earth around the house so it slopes away from the foundation, or even install a sloping concrete apron around the house? Rain gutters are too difficult to keep clean.

A. The best bet is to have both rain gutters and the sloping landscaping you describe. Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to slope the earth around an entire house because of impediments like shrubbery, basement windows and doors, porches and so forth.

Concrete might also not be practical because it could make it difficult to get at underground wiring, sewer and water pipes, and the like.

Keeping rain gutters clean can be a nuisance, but I think gutters are one of the best defenses against basement water if they are kept clean, properly sloped and have downspout extensions to carry water well away from the foundation.

Gutter covers and screens are also available to help keep out leaves and debris.

Questions and comments should be e-mailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.

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