Painting Eichler siding takes forever. It’s probably the most tedious thing I’ve ever done (and I worked as a file clerk filing service reports at a car dealership all through high school)… but after 8 months all of the siding is painted! (granted I took a break for about 3 months due to cold weather) Those tiny grooves that make Eichler siding so unique also make it such a pain to paint! I hope that nobody ever has to paint Eichler siding, but if you do, here is my advice:
Storage– we purchased the Thinline Breckenridge 5/8 siding from Jeff at eichlersiding.com. We purchased in about 4 increments of about 10 sheets each- that seems about as much as the Ford Ranger can hold. When we got it home we kept it in the garage in a stack on top of some 2×4’s (so that air could circulate underneath and they weren’t directly on the floor). During the winter months we noticed that the sheets started to twist after a couple weeks (we weren’t always quick with our installation…) so we weighed down the stack on each corner with some heavy things (tool boxes etc) found in the garage.
Preparation– Before priming, we would lightly sand each sheet by hand with medium grit sandpaper to remove any rough patches and then sweep with a regular broom to remove the dust. At points we got lazy and would skip one or both steps. It turns out the sweeping is the most critical step, the light sanding can probably be skipped all together. If you skip the sweeping, be prepared to see large particles in the finished product- I ended up sanding these once they were primed and hung, but it would have been much less work to just sweep in the first place.
Priming– According to Jeff from eichlersiding.com, you should prime the siding prior to installation. We did one coat of Zinsser 1-2-3 primer, purchased in 2-gallon buckets from Home Depot. It comes in 1-, 2- and 5-gallon buckets, but the 2-gallon is the most economical and the empty buckets are super handy (see below). After a lot of trial and error with different methods and supplies, this is what I finally settled on: First, I would insert a metal 2-gallon paint grid directly into the 2-gallon bucket (like this but the 2-gallon size). If the bucket was more than half full, I would pour 1 gallon into another empty primer bucket so I was never working with more than 1 gallon of primer at a time. Then I would dip my 6″ mini roller with Purdy 1/2″ nap roller cover attached to a 4′ wood extension pole into the bucket to fully submerge the roller cover. With the siding on the floor still in the stack (note we didn’t protector the floor at all since we don’t really care about getting paint on it- we just cleaned up major drips), I would stand on the sheet I was about to prime and use the roller to smear the primer onto the siding. The smearing action is key- you don’t want the roller to actually roll, otherwise it won’t get paint all the way into the grooves… you need to put a bit of pressure on it to get it to smear properly, which is why it’s best to stand over it and use the extension pole.
Once there was paint smeared on the whole sheet, I would go over the whole sheet again with a 2.5″ or 3″ angled brush to get rid of any areas with too much paint and to make sure paint got into all the grooves (the ends are especially tricky). I would also make sure I got the edges primed, especially the underlap edge.
Tip: Screw a cup hook into the wooden part near the base of the brush (between the metal and the handle) so that you can hang the brush on the edge of the paint bucket without it getting too much paint on it. It’s pretty important to keep a relatively dry brush in order to be able to properly get rid of too much paint build up.
After the top was dry (usually overnight) I would put it onto a table next to the stack of siding on the floor with the back of the siding facing up (painted groove side down). Then I would use a roller to paint the edges and the outside 12″ or so of the back. Since the back is pretty smooth, you can actually let the roller roll for this step (enjoy it while it lasts!). Once the back was dry, the sheet was finished and we would stack them on their side until we needed to install them.
The preparation+priming steps take about 30 minutes per sheet once you get good at it. I would typically do the front (groove side) of one sheet and the back (non-groove side) of another sheet on the same day (usually after work). It’s hard to do more than that because you definitely want the sheets to dry flat (at least the tops) to avoid any drips. On days when the demand from Andy (the husband/ siding installer) for primed siding was high, I would drag some sheets out to the driveway to dry.
Tip: Store the roller cover in the bucket of primer when you’re done (assuming there’s at least 1.5″ of primer left in the bucket)… it will never dry out this way and you won’t have to wash it. If you know you’ll be primering again in the next day or 2, store your brush in a gallon size zip loc bag (remove any air before making sure it’s completely sealed). If you do this, you will get some build up on your brush over time. If you want your brush to remain as clean as possible, wash it when you’re finished. I found washing things in the back yard (the paint grid, roller frame and brush) with a hose that has a spray nozzel to be easier than washing in the kitchen sink… but then again our back yard is mostly weeds and dirt- if you care about your grass/landscaping, you may want to do your cleanup elsewhere.
Prepping for Painting– Once the siding is primed and installed (see more on installation in this post– that was Andy’s job), it needs to be prepped again. The first step is caulking where the siding meets the eave or any trim. This step could probably be avoided if you were to install trim at the top of the siding (like the Eichlers originally have), but we decided to skip the trim in most places (the exception being the back of the house- for some reason the gaps were HUGE there… too much for caulk to cover up). For caulk, we used big stretch in white, which has been amazing (we scored 8 tubes from our neighbor in exchange for Andy letting him borrow the Ford Ranger!). It says it can fill up to a 2″ gap! When applying it, be careful not to get any in the siding grooves. Also, if the gap to be filled is 1/4″ or wider, it’s best to use backer rod to fill the gap prior to caulking (it will save you lots of money in caulk!).
The next step is to fill any gashes left by the guy installing the siding (Andy). I did NOT fill in over nail holes (though I guess you could if you were super meticulous!), just if he missed a nail or otherwise mauled the siding.
Finally, you’ll notice that you will see some tiny holes inside the groves, usually in a straight line across 5-6 groves. This is because the siding is made of ply wood and while the top ply is solid, the ones underneath (which the grooves cut into) are made of multiple pieces that often have gaps between them. It’s rare to get a whole sheet of siding without these “groove holes”. Filling them is a bit tricky because you don’t want to fill in the groove, just the hole in the back of the groove. I did this by pressing some plain wood filler into the hole with my finger, then using a putty knife to scrape any excess off the surface of the siding. Then, I would use my specially designed groove tool to run down the groove and remove any excess. This takes a bit of practice to make sure you leave enough to fill the hole but not so much that it will cause a drip in your paint.
Tip: Design yourself a groove tool. I used a wood shim trimmed at the right spot so the narrow end is slightly thinner than the groove- I started using a paint scraper, but that’s too thin to do the trick. Be sure to write something on your groove tool so that your husband doesn’t mistake it for a wood scrap and throw it away (I went through about 3 groove tools this way).
Over time, wood filler will build up on your groove tool and you may have to fashion yourself a new one (the one pictured above is at about the end of its life- eventually it will get too fat to fit in the groove).
Painting– Finally, you are ready for your first coat of paint! We used flat exterior Behr Ultra paint in “Amazon Stone”. My painting setup consisted of the following:
1. A 2-gallon bucket (we used empty primer buckets left over from the priming- don’t worry, you’ll have plenty- 2 gallons covers about 8 sheets of siding, so prime 8 sheets before you get started painting). This is your “working” paint bucket. I like to fill the bucket with about 1/2 to 1 gallon of paint, enough so that I never have less than 1.5″ or so of paint in the bucket. Also, label the bucket so that if you have any helpers or curious husbands they know that it’s not primer.
2. A paint stirrer- it’s important to stir your paint before you start. The can says to stir it while you work as well, but I never seemed to need to (if I took a break longer than 10 minutes I would seal the bucket so it wouldn’t dry out). These are free wherever you buy your paint. I don’t advise leaving it in your working paint bucket- it’ll get grimy and in the way- just wash it right away.
3. A 6″ mini roller frame (the same one you use for priming is fine since you should wash it after every paint/primer session) with Purdy 1/2″ nap roller cover. Get a separate roller cover devoted specifically to your paint color- unless you primed all of your siding ahead of time which I did NOT do- so I was constantly switching between priming and painting and it was super nice not to ever have to wash the roller covers!
4. A 2.5″ or 3″ angled brush. Again, having one just for your paint color is ideal (a separate one for the primer). Also, see the cup hook tip above, this is very important!
5. A swiveling paint can hook. This makes it super easy when you’re standing on the ladder or even next to the ladder.
6. A sturdy ladder. I like our little giant (we got it at Costco a couple years ago). Unless you’re really tall, you’ll need a ladder to reach the top of the siding. Something sturdy is also important- our 5′ aluminum ladder is too wobbly for me!
7. A pair of gloves. These latex work gloves are my favorite- I found mine in the garden section of home depot- I think they’re kids-sized. I tried disposables but they tear frequently, don’t fit as nicely and I hate throwing them away.
8. An old rag or paper towels to wipe up major spills or drips onto something painted a different color.
Now for my painting method. I like to start at the top in a 2′-3′ square section and work downward. It’s very important to work in small sections at a time (start with a 2′ square then work up to a 3′ square once you get the hang of it). Just like the primer, you need to smear the paint onto the surface- if you roll it like you’re painting your bedroom wall, it won’t get into the grooves. The problem is that because you’re working vertically instead of horizontally (and you may be standing on a ladder), it’s hard to get as much pressure on the roller to do a good smear- so you need to load the roller up with more paint. Once you get the paint smeared on your square, put the roller into the bucket and switch to your brush. You will have drips! Use the brush to go over each groove (I hold the brush parallel to the groove) making sure to get rid of any drips and fill in any areas that were missed with the roller (you should have had so much paint on the roller that you didn’t miss much). This is why it’s important to work in small sections… so you can get the drips with the brush before they dry. After going over the grooves once, I like to go over them again just to be safe. Your goal is to get the excess paint out of the grooves, so it’s best to keep a relatively dry brush (another reason you may want to wash and dry your brush when you’re finished each day rather than keeping it in a zip loc bag). You’ll also notice that you can elongate your square a bit as you work the paint downward with the brush. Once you’re happy with the section you just painted, move on to the one underneath it until you’ve completed a 2′ to 3′ wide section of siding. Now, look up… did you miss any drips? This is pretty much your last chance to get them before they dry, so do a final check now. Congratulations, only about 80 more of these to go (on the first coat).
Tip: When you get to the bottom, don’t forget to paint the bottom edge of the siding near the foundation. This is probably the most important part of the siding to protect and the easiest to overlook!
Tip: After a while your roller cover will get pretty matted down and be less effective… splurge on a new one, you deserve it- after all, you’re painting your whole house by yourself! However, don’t be tempted by the giant 3/4″ wool rollers (thinking they’re SURE to get into those pesky grooves)… they’re a waste of money and don’t get the paint in the groove- stick to 1/2″ nap, those seemed to work the best.
Tip: Do NOT try to paint in cold weather (if it’s going to drop below 50 degrees in 3-4 hours after the paint is applied, and especially if it drops below freezing). I learned this the hard way! The paint doesn’t dry and in the morning mixes with the dew/frost (and slides completely off the metal flashing at the top of the siding) and makes a giant drippy mess!
I (and Jeff the Eichler siding guy) HIGHLY recommend doing a second full coat of paint using the same method as above, but it will go a little faster this time. Contrary to what your helpers will tell you, it doesn’t count as 2 coats already just because you used a roller and a brush! Siding is an expensive investment (ours was about $4000 before the primer/ paint… and we didn’t pay for installation…) and you definitely want to protect it! Also, if you do a better job now, your paint job should last longer (and by that time you will have saved up enough money to hire a professional to paint your house).
Also, after experiencing first-hand how tedious it is to paint your eichler siding, your helpers will recommend that you get a paint sprayer. In Jeff’s words: “spraying is quicker, but in our estimation, spraying does not apply nearly enough paint to afford good protection. Using a brush to get the primer/sealer and topcoat in the grooves seems to be the best approach. Then follow with a good roller to smooth out the paint. Always keep in mind that your goal is to give the porous wood the best protection against the elements”. Note that I didn’t “follow with a good roller to smooth out the paint”- I did it for the first 5-10 sheets, but then realized it was causing more drips so I stopped after brushing and everything looked fine (IF you do 2 coats… the first one doesn’t look great- you can see brush marks).
The last issue that I had to resolve is the gap between sheets of siding:
Because this gap is a bit deeper than the other grooves, it’s difficult to get paint to fill it in properly. On smaller gaps this isn’t an issue, but on larger gaps you can even see some of the white Tyvek under the siding. I decided to address this with my good friend Big Stretch caulk. Since caulk expands and contracts with the wood (and Big Stretch does an amazing job at this without cracking), I prefer to use that over wood filler (which does not expand and contract- it just cracks) to fill in the gap. After applying the caulk, I ran my index finger down the length of the gap to make sure the caulk got into all of the crevices and to remove any excess. Because I didn’t address this issue until after painting, I had to wait for the caulk to dry and then paint over the caulked groove. I highly recommend doing this in the post-installation pre-painting prep step. When you’re finished, it should look like this:
Overall, the siding looks pretty good and you can’t see the drips and caulked gaps from a distance. Here’s the painted east side of our house (notice we still have to hang the trim and paint the foundation):
Tip/Warning: Get some helpers. At best they will speed the job up, at worst you’ll have more fun working with other people/animals (even if it’s your dog or the dog you’re dog-sitting). If you do manage to convince someone to help you (thanks Diane, Val, Nancy, Honey, Beau and Sandy!), you’ll need some extra materials. I recommend getting a full second setup as described above.
I do NOT recommend having one person roll and one person brush. As described above- the paint will dry before the brusher gets to it and you’ll have a lot of drips. They’re not the worst thing in the world, but if you’re OCD like Andy and me, they WILL bother you and there’s pretty much nothing you can do about them once they’re dry:
I also recommend doing the prep work and second coat and letting your helper do the first coat of paint- it’s the most rewarding and the hardest to mess up (assuming you’ve assigned them to memorize all the instructions on this page before they are allowed to start).
If you don’t want to get a full second painting set-up, you could get a second brush (or hijack your primer brush for the day) and ladder and have one person ‘cut-in’ at the top of the siding where it meets the eave. This is a tricky and time consuming part, so make sure your helper has a steady hand and a little OCD. You could also have your helper work on painting the foundation (assuming you’ve prepped for them- more details on that here), be on drip-patrol, prime the siding, keep your beer/lemonade glass full or just keep you company.
Here’s our cost break down for JUST the painting and priming (not including the siding itself, siding installation, trim nor the foundation paint). If your siding is already installed and painted, you can probably skip the priming step/cost:
Primer: 5 buckets (2 gallons each) @$30/bucket: $150
Paint: 9 gallons of siding paint @ $35/gallon: $315 (note that we got the 5-gallon price for the first 5 gallons- they couldn’t get the formula to work for a 5-gallon bucket though, so it came in 5 1-gallon cans… which was fine with me- we just had to make sure there was a bit of intermixing)
Supplies: 2 Brushes, 2 Roller Frames, 6 roller covers, 2 paint hooks, 2 pairs of gloves, wood filler, 5 tubes of caulk (before we got the free caulk from our neighbor), Caulk backer rod: About $150.
Ladders (already owned and will be re-used many times, so not fair to count them here)
Pedicures for the lead painter because she paints in flip flops (2 @ $30 each): $60
Total: $675 (this does not include paint for the trim and foundation, though you’ll probably have enough leftover siding paint to use on the trim that will be the same color as the siding)