Paint Failure

Paint failure caused by moisture in the siding. Intercoat adhesion failure. Blistering and Peeling Paint

Blistering and peeling paint is a serious and prevalent problem. Older home and buildings are the most common places where blistering and peeling paint become an issue. If you own a home that was built prior to the 1960’s, you are more likely to be experiencing this problem.

Paint failure is both unsightly and potentially damaging, and it’s important to have enough information to make informed decisions about how to address the problem. While there are many different types of and reasons for paint failure to occur, including weather, neglect or abuse, in today’s post I will describe the symptoms of the problem and address a common paint failure issue that can even occur immediately following a fresh application of paint.

Here’s how to know you’ve got a paint failure problem:

If you see bubbles or “blistering,” which can vary in size and may appear as tiny blisters or large bubbles which appear intact or are breaking through the paint, you definitely have a paint failure issue. You may also see moisture seeping through the bubbles, or water stains which would be a sign of previous moisture. These symptoms can easily lead to peeling paint, which can lead to an unsightly and damaging mess.

Here’s why:

If you see signs of moisture, as described above, you can be certain that any blistering and/or peeling is being caused by moisture. Moisture can build up in siding for many different reasons, most commonly:

  1. Heat transference
  2. Lack of moisture barrier
  3. Siding which has not been properly primed or protected on the underside
  4. Paint layer film build
  5. Pipes that form condensation in the walls.
  6. Improper construction so the house is not breathing properly
  7. Water leaks

Of all the reasons listed above, the most common problem is heat transference.  Have you ever seen your windows steam up on a cold winter day?  That condensation is not only building up on your windows, it’s also building up inside your walls.  The science behind this can be explained by the temperature variance between the inside and outside of the house.  The space between the wallboard and the siding is the perfect place for the cold air and the warm air to collide and form moisture.

This condensation is what builds up in the siding and causes moisture. Under ideal circumstances, the condensation will evaporate and dry out and you would be none the wiser. Unfortunately, ideal circumstances don’t allow for extremes in temperature, and it can be difficult to protect your house, especially if you live in an older house, from the elements and keep temperatures steady.

Turning up the heat increases inside temperatures, and increases condensation. When the sun comes out and warms up outside temperatures, any condensation in the wall is converted to steam and, voila! This can create a perfect scenario for exterior paint failure. This problem is most commonly seen on the south side of the home; I see it often on some of the most beautiful old Portland Craftsman style homes. When I go out to inspect a property, checking the south side for paint failure is the first clue to discovering a moisture issue.

Here’s what can be done:

Unfortunately, this is a problem that cannot be simply addressed with a good paint job. However, there are some remedies I can suggest.

SIDING REPLACEMENT: If your house has severe blistering and peeling, siding replacement may be the only viable solution. No amount of prepping, painting, priming, sanding or stripping will resolve this issue. The siding needs to come off and a moisture barrier needs to be installed. There may be other structural defects that need to be repaired. This is the best option if you never want to be bothered with this issue again.

SIDING REMOVAL AND RE-INSTALL OF ORIGINAL SIDING: If you have a historical home and you wish to preserve the siding, you could remove the siding, install the moisture barrier, prime the undersides of the siding, repair defects in construction, then re-install the old siding. This option may work best for cedar lap siding. Other sidings might not hold up to this kind of process. Additionally, if there is a buildup of film (many layers of paint), stripping off the old layers of paint may be necessary. This can be a very extensive and expensive process and you will definitely want to hire the right professional for the job.

STRIPPING: Another option is stripping the siding. Your house needs to breathe properly in order for the condensation to evaporate. Multiple layers of paint could be preventing proper ventilation. Stripping will work in some cases; however, it does not address the lack of moisture barrier or the fact that the siding is not primed on the back side. So, stripping the paint, while helpful, does not guarantee that you won’t have future paint failure issues.
Recently, I was called out to look at a house where the customers paid over thirty thousand dollars to strip and paint, yet it was failing within a few years because the stripping process did not resolve the moisture issue. This is a heart breaking situation. After seeing this, I’ve become wary about recommending stripping as a solution to blistering and peeling caused by moisture.

THE MAINTENANCE PLAN: After reading all this information, you might be panicked at the thought that you can’t possibly afford any of these solutions.   Fortunately, there is good news and another option to consider: The Maintenance Plan.

The maintenance portion comes AFTER the paint job is completed.  As long as you are prepared, you won’t be shocked to see bubbles appearing, especially after a good cold, wet period.  Spring time is a great time for bubbles to make their appearance.  Our warranty does not cover paint failure due to moisture, but we do offer maintenance painting as a service.

The maintenance plan consists of:

  1. Scraping off the loose paint (contractors must use EPA approved lead safe practices if the house contains lead paint)
  2. Apply a thick coat of XIM Peel Bond or similar water based high build primer that contains glue; back roll if applied by airless sprayer
  3. Apply two coats of paint specifically formulated for blistering and peeling
  4. Inspect the paint job regularly to watch for blistering and address the problem in a timely manner by scraping the bubbles and loose paint, spot prime with Peel Bond, then touch up paint to match.

Here’s how the maintenance process works:

  1. By scraping, any loose paint (only that which is currently failing) is removed. The paint that is intact may fail down the road and it’s even possible that it will bubble right after or during painting.  This happens because the old paint absorbs moisture from the wet paint which can loosen the old paint that was intact.  Additionally, the fresh layers of paint can add enough weight to pull even more paint off. If this happens during the painting process, the painters will address the problem.  Unfortunately, this can continue to be a recurring problem.  Moisture may blister off more paint as time goes by, but regular maintenance will maintain your property (and save you lots of money).
  2. After scraping, Peel Bond is applied.  Peel Bond is a water-based, high build bonding primer that contains glue.  During application it goes on opaque and dries clear. We use this product because of its incredible bonding properties and because it applies thicker than regular exterior primer.  The only way to get the look of brand new siding is to install brand new siding.  Peel Bond is limited in how much it will improve the appearance; however, it will fare better than regular primer. The high build properties can smooth out some of the roughness in the substrate, but it won’t make it look brand new or “fix” your siding.  We apply this with an airless sprayer, brush or roller.  When spot priming, we use brushes and rollers; when applications are over a large area, we use an airless sprayer and back roll when the product is applied.  The back rolling is a critical piece of the prep.  Using a roller to work the product into the substrate helps the product adhere and fills in minor cracks and raised grain, which improves appearance. Generally, only the areas that have paint failure need the Peel Bond, so spot priming these areas with brushes and rollers is recommended.  If the area is large, such as with massive paint failure, we recommend using an airless sprayer for application (the sprayer has to be powerful enough to push the thick product), and back rolling. Important Note:  Never use oil based primers on substrates where there are moisture issues.  You need the siding to breathe as much as possible so you will get better results with a water based product.  One concern is tannin bleed, but if the siding has aged long enough, this will not be an issue and a coat of Peel Bond with two coats of paint will suffice to block any tannins. If tannins are an issue, a water based solid color stain will work to block the bleed.
  3. Next, two coats of paint are applied, per manufacturer specifications.  It’s important to follow recommended drying times before coats, apply the recommended coats and back roll/brush between coats.  Benjamin Moore’s Ben and Sherwin William’s Resilience are both formulated for blistering and peeling substrates and therefore, recommended by Sisu Painting, Inc.

By putting a maintenance plan in place, you shouldn’t have to deal with massive paint failure again in the future.  Grab a scraper, remove the bubbles, apply a bit of Peel Bond and touch it up.  It’s really that simple.  Easier yet, hire a professional to do it for you.  The paint on the house can fade and the touch up may be slightly visible, but it will protect your house and your investment until you can replace the siding or move.

It’s important to be realistic about how your house is going to look after a paint job.  The process of painting does not smooth out the substrate sufficiently to make it look new and depending on the extent of damage, you may have to accept that your house is going to be less than perfect, although it will be protected.  If you are able to accept the imperfections, then you will appreciate the charm of owning and maintaining and older home, but it all depends upon your perspective.

Interior paint failure

Blistering and peeling paint on the interior of your home is also likely to be caused by moisture. This is a serious issue, especially if it’s accompanied by mold.  If you have a problem on the inside of your house, it would serve you best to call in a general contractor that deals with water intrusion.

While the problem of blistering and peeling paint is a serious issue, it does not have to ruin your life.  Accept the fact that your house needs a little TLC and turn it into the charmer that you always knew it would be.  As always, we are here to answer your questions and to help you take the next step in protecting your home and making it beautiful along the way.

Good luck with your project – and let us know how we can help!

1 Comment

  • Thank you for providing such detailed information and guidelines. Try to identify and eliminate the source of the moisture. Prepare the surface by removing all the loose paint with the scraper or stiff wire brush, sand rough edges, and apply the appropriate primer. Repaint with top-quality acrylic latex exterior paint for best adhesion and water resistance.

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