Is Acrylic Paint the Best Choice for Wood Siding?

Jane Smith, a resident of Maplewood New Jersey called our office to inquire about acrylic paint for the exterior of her house. We could have guessed the siding was wood since nearly all of the houses built in that town had that type of siding. She in fact replied that it was indeed wood siding. All sidings come with their own unique challenges. Wood siding is particularly vulnerable to the weather. Depending on the season the wood will often expand or contract.

Electric Blue Wood Siding

Image via Wikipedia

It’s important to choose the right kind of paint for a wood finish exterior job. Every paint company regardless of how popular sells a spectrum of quality grades and you want to pick the best exterior paint for wood. Wood siding needs a paint that will expand and contract without cracking. Mrs. Smith was willing to meet with us to review the differences between high quality and low grade paints.

We generally recommend two types of paints where the exterior job is wood siding. A high quality 100% acrylic paint will easily last 10 years. The main ingredient of acrylic paint is water. The other elements in the mix are pigment, binding agents, and additives. Once the water evaporates the binder adheres to the surface. The more percentage of binder in the acrylic paint indicates the higher quality. Lower quality acrylic paint has less binder causing it to age faster.

Best Exterior Paint for Wood Siding

The other type we recommended to Mrs. Smith is elastomeric paint. This paint was first used on masonry because of its durable elasticity. Once dry it creates a waterproof coating on nearly any surface. It is so durable that it outlasts even the best quality acrylic paint two to one with nearly complete resistance to any form of weather. However, the cost of this product is a major factor. It is nearly 50% more expensive than any other paint and because if its thickness a regular gallon gets much less than a hundred square feet.

Mrs. Smith is a smart woman and did her homework before calling us. She wanted to know if she should be concerned with peeling or blistering once the job was finished. Peeling can occur when water gets under the paint. Homes in Maplewood are particularly susceptible to peeling because many of them weren’t built with a plastic vapor barrier between the exterior and the drywall or plaster. Many times peeling will start to show on the exterior wall of a bathroom because of the high humidity from the shower. There are also painters who try to cut corners and simply slap a fresh coat of paint on top of preexisting work. The owner will start to see peeling if the painter puts an acrylic over an oil base without using a primer. Blistering is similar to peeling but more often occurs due to a lack of adhesion and not because of condensation or incompatible layering.

Orange peeling acrylic paint

Best Exterior Paint for Wood Siding

Acrylic Paint

We suggested to Mrs. Smith that the best way to avoid either of these problems was to remove all previous layers of paint. These houses in Maplewood New Jersey are so old they can have twenty layers one on top of the other. The best way to extend the life of an exterior paint job with a house that old is to scrape everything down to the wood and start from scratch. Of course Mrs. Smith was concerned that some of the layers might have lead paint. We explained the precautions taken during the job and pointed her to our article on How to Remove Lead Paint from New Jersey Houses.

She was very pleased with all the information we provided and had one final question about why it seemed her current paint job had a chalky film. We told her this is a normal occurrence with older exterior paint jobs. It has a lot to do with the natural wear and tear on the paint and was mostly caused by exposure to ultra violet rays from sunlight. However, this chalky residue tends to occur quicker in lower grade paints because of the lack of binder.

Mrs. Smith was very excited to have finally received such a clear understanding of the best exterior paints for her wood siding project. She just had a couple of questions on choosing the right exterior primer.


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  • Bill G. says:

    this was the perfect article for me to understand what may be needed to repaint my house as I have Cedar siding that is starting to get chalky and separate on the boards. Very informative

  • Tom G. says:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to document every aspect of painting over wood siding. I too, live in an old home built in 1862 and now am finding the wood no longer wants to hold paint. We have scraped all the old paint off (18 layers)and easily attest it to be a very time consuming endeavor. My question is this: Would it be best to use a semi-gloss, satin or flat paint on the siding? I know the trim is going to be different, but was wondering which would actually serve longer. Thanks so much for your time.
    Have a great day!

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