How to Paint Windows and Shutters

Painting windows and shutters can be tricky, but necessary. Proper painting technique isn't difficult to learn, and it will help your home look better longer.

Painting windows

The outer surface of a window is painted to provide weather protection. Some double-hung windows have removable sashes — the operable part of the window. If you're painting with a removable sash, remove the sash by following the same procedure that you use for cleaning the windows, or consult the owners' manual — if you can find it. Lay the sash flat on sawhorses or a workbench to paint it.

Begin in the center and work out. This approach ensures a wet edge on all the surfaces so that you have a smooth transition and no lap marks. The problem with painting the window trim and frame first is that those areas will be tacky by the time you finish painting the sash. Here's the sequence to follow:

  1. Begin painting the wood next to the glass, using an angled sash brush.

  2. Paint the stiles and rails of the sash.

  3. Paint the window frame and casing, or trim.

  4. Open the lower sash to paint the exterior windowsill.

Don't paint the edges of the sash. When these surfaces are painted, they tend to stick to the frame. This advice is especially important when you're painting a window with a sash that slides in vinyl channels. Even a little paint on the edge of the sash can make it stick shut. Instead, seal these areas with a clear penetrating wood sealer to prevent moisture from entering the sash.

If you're painting a window sash while it's in the frame, use a brush that has very little paint on it to coat the outside edge of the sash. The dry-brush method prevents paint from running into the crack between the sash and the exterior stops, where it may cause the window to stick. Also, move the window sash frequently as it dries to prevent the window from sticking. If the window does stick, try using a butter knife to cut through the paint that glues the sash to the exterior stop. Years of paint buildup may require a more aggressive tool, such as a serrated paint zipper.

To form a moisture shield between the glass and the sash, overlap the paint by about 1/16 inch onto the glass. If you have a steady hand and a quality angled sash brush, apply the paint freehand and wrap a clean cloth over the tip of a putty knife to clean off any mistakes. For the mere mortals, mask the glass before you paint or use reasonable care and plan to use a razor scraper after the paint has dried. If you decide not to mask, you can use a trim guard to protect the glass, but don't push too tightly against the glass or you won't get the desired overlap.

If you leave masking tape in place and it gets wet or the sun bakes it on, it's nearly impossible to remove. Apply painter's tape when you're ready to paint, not before, and remove the tape before you move on to the next window.

Painting shutters

If the weather is iffy and you don't want to risk painting the siding or trim, and if you've removed your shutters and put them in a garage or other protected area, now's the time to paint them. Before you do, however, make sure that you won't obscure any label or other identification. Hardware stores sell tack-like numbers, which you can apply to the shutter, that correspond to numbers on the window frames to help you put shutters back in the right place.

After you've made any necessary repairs, scrape off loose paint, feather-sand your shutters, and then prime any bare spots. If you have a paint sprayer, there's no better time to pull it out. Spray the louvers first at a slight upward angle so that you can paint the upper portion of each slat. Then spray the entire face, including the frame. Two or three light coats are better than a single heavy coat, which can drip and run. Do the back first. Check both sides frequently for drips and runs, both as you paint and as the shutters begin to dry. Brush out drips with a dry paintbrush.

If the shutters are held in place with metal hinges or other brackets, paint the fasteners, too.

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