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Do It Yourself: In the end, you might consider new siding

Q. Our 1920s house has painted cedar shingles. We have problems with mildew, peeling and so forth. Paint lasts about six to seven years, using oil primer and top-brand latex paint. Our current painter suggests removing all the paint with nontoxic remover, which would be very expensive. Can you give me some suggestions on stripping the old paint? Should I use stain instead of paint?

A. It’s unusual to strip the paint from an entire house unless this is a historic house or there is some urgent reason to save the old siding.

If you do strip, I would certainly choose stain over paint, but you will still have maintenance and refinishing problems. There are options that can relieve you of refinishing worries for good.

However, to get back to stripping, there is a good possibility that some of the old paint contains lead, a health hazard. The makers of a tool called the Paintshaver Pro ( claim the tool can quickly and safely removes paint from virtually any type of wood siding and meets lead paint removal safety guidelines.

Some experts recommend power washing to remove paint, using water pressures of 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per square inch. This will generally remove paint but might damage these old cedar shingles. Water might also get behind the shingles and cause damage inside the walls.

As for mildew, it can occur on paint or stain anywhere but is most common in warm, humid climates and in shady areas of a house where air circulation might be poor. Some oil-based paints and primers are more prone to get mildew than acrylic latex primers and paint; flat paint is also more likely to get mildew.

New paint should never be applied over mildew – the mildew will grow right through it. Mildew can be removed with house washes like Jomax and Mildew Check, sold at many home centers and paint stores.

If there are not already so many coats of paint on the siding that more paint is impractical, I would follow conventional repainting practices – scrape off peeling paint, priming bare areas with an acrylic latex primer, remove all traces of mildew and clean the surface, and repaint with a semi-gloss acrylic latex paint.

If you have a compelling reason to stay with the old siding and want to strip off the old paint, I would investigate the Paintshaver Pro method and make sure lead-paint safety guidelines are met.

But I think the best bet is to install new siding. If you like the cedar-shingles, you can buy polymer shingles that look just like cedar and eliminate most of the maintenance. Or you could switch to vinyl or composite clapboard-style siding and give your house a fresh appearance.

Q. I want to paint 300 feet of chain-link fence, using aluminum paint. What are your recommendations?

A. I’d go over the fence first with a stiff brush to remove loose dirt and bits of rust, then I’d use a long-napped roller to apply the paint, working on one side of the fence and then the other.

You should also have a brush handy to smooth out runs and paint tight areas where the roller won’t reach. It would be best to paint one or two sections of fence at a time.

You could also use an airless sprayer for this job and get the paint on faster, but you’d waste a lot of paint and the overspray might cause some damage to anything near the fence.

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