How cold is too cold to paint?

Years ago when my father and uncle painted homes in Boulder winter time painting was fairly simple. As long as it wasn’t snowing or raining, and wasn’t about to, you could paint outside. The rule was bundle up and get to work. We had to work with a short day so once we did get started we didn’t stop until it was dark.  All the paint was oil based and therefore much less affected by lower temperatures.

Along came easy-to-use water based paint. First used for interior painting it was soon developed for painting outside. Water based paint had many advantages. It was more flexible, held its color in Colorado’s bright sun longer and was less likely to peel. And of course it was easier to clean up after the day’s work. Water based paint was taking the country by storm.

Some problems became evident soon after water based paint’s use eclipsed that of oil base. Bonding to oil based paint could present problems if the surface wasn’t properly prepared by cleaning and sanding. Higher humidity caused some paints to dry too slowly and often with odd color patterns in the finish coats. Painting in hot weather made the paint dry too fast. Lap marks, brush marks, ropey finishes and dull and shiny spots became more and more common. Each of these issues was recognized and minor adjustments in methods of applications solved the problems.

But one big issue plagued Colorado painters for years. Water based paint couldn’t be, or least shouldn’t have been, applied when the air temperature was below 55 degrees. That rule of thumb pretty well shut down exterior painting from Thanksgiving until Easter. The main problem was that the paint wouldn’t coalesce properly. The paint job would look ok for awhile but cold weather created some hidden problems. The coating life was  shortened, colors would fade quickly, and odd looking peeling would start within a year or so. It was much better to be safe rather than sorry, so we just never painted outside in the cooler winter weather.

In the late 1980’s paint companies started to manufacture paint that could be used in what we called the “shoulder season”. Now the magic temperature became  35 degrees and above. We could safely paint many days in November and even some in December. Spring painting could now start in late February. The painting season was successfully extended to almost ten months of the year.

In the last twenty years paint technology has advanced to the point where low temperature paint performs every bit as well as “normal” paint. You can be assured that a job done during cooler weather will hold up just fine. In fact, at Jacobsen Brothers Painting, we now extend our industry leading three year warranty to all our exterior work, no matter when the work is done.

The days haven’t gotten any longer and we still have to bundle up and get to work just as when my dad and uncle were leading their crews, but nowadays  you can have all the advantages of high quality acrylic water based coatings just about any time of the year.