Airless Sprayers for Home Exteriors?

Scott Gibson

My neighbor has an airless paint sprayer he swears is far easier to use than a brush. My house needs repainting and I'm wondering whether this is the way to go. I've never used one before, but anything I can do to speed up this process would be worth it. I don't like to paint.

I don't like to paint, either, and I've seen the ads showing a homeowner dressed in casual clothes painting the outside of his house with a big grin on his face. Not a paint drip or drop cloth in sight. The walls are a handsome blue and the trim a spotless white.

It's tempting.

But the reality is spraying paint, or any other finish, is a skill that takes time to master. We weekend warriors who expect perfect results in the space of a morning may end up with more paint on the family SUV than we do on the side of the house.

Airless sprayers are very good at getting paint or stain from the can onto the wall. A pump forces the finish at very high pressure through a tiny orifice, breaking it up into tiny droplets in the process. You don't need an air compressor. Basically, you plug in the tool, put one end of the hose in a can of paint and start spraying.

This is where it can get complicated.

A lot of paint comes out of the gun in a hurry. In order to get an even paint film, you must keep the gun a certain distance from the side of the house and in constant motion as long as the trigger is depressed. Wave the gun in a wide arc and you can get a thicker coat in the middle of the swing than at the ends. Forget what you're doing, even briefly, and paint can puddle on the wall.

That's why many pros use a sprayer to apply paint or stain but then use a brush or roller to even it out. It's a two-step process.

Overspray is something else you won't see in the ads. Overspray is atomized paint that never makes it to the intended target. Your wife's prized perennial garden, nearby trim, outside lights, roofing, doors, and windows all are convenient repositories for overspray.

Professional painters who want to keep their customers happy cover these sensitive areas with drop cloths, sheet plastic, or paper, or use a hand-held guard to keep paint where it's supposed to be. And that's what you should do, too. And, you should take the time to cover everything up. Pros have special tape and paper dispensers that make this a little easier. You can invest in one, too, but even then it could take you several hours to get one side of the house ready for painting.

When you're finished, you also need to take the time to clean the equipment thoroughly. An airless sprayer isn't something you can chuck in the back of the garage and expect to work the next time you need it.

This is not to say that airless sprayers are a bad idea. They aren't. It's just that you should adjust your expectations to your skill and experience level. Your neighbor may have had lots of practice but that's not going to help you.

If you have lots of things to paint, consider the investment. But start on the back side of the tool shed or some other spot your neighbors won't see. And don't forget the prep work. That's one thing that doesn't change, no matter how you choose to apply the paint.




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