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Here’s how to tell if an exterior paint job is bad

In a perfect world, every contractor would be reliable and trustworthy. You’d be able to hire exterior painters with confidence, and without worrying about the potential for a poor outcome or an unprofessional exterior paint job.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that perfect world. The reality is that there are a number of unprofessional painters out there. They water down paint, charge obscene fees upfront, and—overall—don’t do a great job. But, the problem is that their work can look okay at first. Many homeowners don’t realize the extent of the problem until a few years down the road when the paint starts to prematurely peel and fail.

In this article, we’ll review just a few of the telltale signs of an unprofessional paint job, and what you need to watch out for when looking for an exterior painting company.

A Crash of Rhinos painter applies paint to the outside of this stucco home here in Phoenix, Arizona.

How can you tell if a paint job is bad?

As mentioned earlier, you’re not always going to be able to tell that there’s something wrong with the paint right away. You may only notice problems weeks, months, or years down the road. Still, here are a few things you should inspect your home’s exterior for prior to signing off on the project.

1. Air holes

Tiny air holes that appear on the wall are a clear sign of an unprofessional paint work. The holes generally appear when too few coats of the paint are applied. The tiny air holes will pop and expose the bare walls. To avoid this situation, make sure that the painter applies more than one coat of paint and doesn’t cut corners with the work.

2. Cracking or peeling

Cracked or fading paint is another sign of a poor paint job. This usually occurs when the painter mixes the paint with 25 to 50 percent water. This is a little hard to catch as the paint will start to peel after a month or more of application of the paint. However, ask what kind of paint your painter is using. Is it the right paint for your home’s exterior? Our team, for instance, uses 100% genuine Dunn-Edwards paint built for stucco homes and to stand up to the intense sunshine here in Arizona.

3. Blisters on the walls

Blisters can appear after immediately or the next day of application of a fresh coat of paint. These blisters can dry and crack exposing the bare wall. Mostly blisters appear because the paint was contaminated with oil or dust. Also, old paint results in the appearance of blisters on the walls.

What causes issues with an exterior paint job?

There are a few factors that can lead to poor painting outcomes:

Watered-Down Paint

Even purchased in bulk, high-quality exterior paint is expensive, and your home’s exterior needs a lot of it. To cut down on overhead and save a buck or two, some painters buy cheap, low-grade paint, and then compound the problem by adding far too much water to it in order to “stretch” their supply even further.

As Mike explains in the video below, “watering down” and “thinning” paint are not the same thing. All painters strategically thin paint, but a reputable painter will never water down paint in order to save money.

Upfront Payment

Any painter—or home contractor in general—who asks for the full payment upfront probably shouldn’t be fully trusted. If they were reputable, they’d have enough work and cash on hand to pay for most of the supplies, and then collect the full payment when the work is complete. Don’t pay your painter 100% upfront. Ideally, exterior painters should really only be paid once the work is completed to your satisfaction.

Insufficient Prep Work

All types of home exteriors need to be appropriately prepped prior to painting. For stucco, this goes double. Stucco needs to be repaired and prepped prior to any paint being applied. It needs to be pressure-washed, and then given time to completely dry before the next step.

Too often, painters book back-to-back projects, which gives them the motive to rush through their work and skip essential prep and repair steps. This often leads to trouble. A home that does not dry correctly prior to painting, for instance, will likely have issues with the paint adhering to the stucco surface.

What do you do if you have a bad paint job?

If you haven’t yet paid the contractors the full amount, make sure your concerns are addressed and the paint is fixed prior to paying them in full. If they offered any kind of quality or satisfaction guarantee, call their bluff: ask to speak to a manager or owner who you can hold accountable for their team’s shoddy work. There’s truth to the time-honed saying “A squeaky wheel gets the grease.” If you’re persistent, you should be either able to get a refund or get them to fix the problems.

Short of that, you may need to just accept your paint for what it is, or have another painting contractor come in and try to fix things. How you proceed will probably depend on just how bad the job was done: just like an awful haircut, if your home is an eyesore, you might need to get it fixed sooner than later.

What should you look for in an exterior painter?

So far, we’ve described what can go wrong when hiring a painting company. Let’s reverse it. Here’s what you need to look for if you’re searching for the right exterior painters:

Great paint, great process

A high-quality painter should have no issues with telling you every step of their painting process and the exact paint they’ll be using on your home. In fact—more than that—they should take pride in their paint and their work. If they don’t, that’s your first sign you might have a problem on your hands.

No payment upfront

If the work is good—and the painter knows it will be—they should have no problem accepting all payment for the project after the job’s done. Again: if a painter asks you for all the money upfront, that’s your opportunity to decline and walk away. Find a contractor who will show you the finished product before asking you for your hard-earned money.

Satisfaction guarantee

Finally, in the rare event there are problems with the exterior paint job, a professional painter should be ready and willing to stand by their work and their craftsmanship. If needed, they’ll redo the job from the beginning. That’s because they know mistakes are an outlier: their superior process and paint makes major problems a rare occurrence.