Sprucing up your home for spring might include a little house painting this year.

But where does a homeowner start this enormous task?

Color is a primary concern for most people, said Tony Eckard, co-owner of Eckard's Wallpaper and Paint Store in Westminster.

"People should choose a color very carefully," he said. "If you bought a new car and the color was wrong, the whole car would be wrong."

Prospective painters should get as large a paint chip as possible to get a feel for the color, Eckard said. If consumers still have trouble deciding, they should paint a test sample on the wall while blocking out the surrounding color in their minds, he said.

"Once they make afinal decision on color, we work from there to get the right paint,"Eckard said.

For best results, homeowners should plan to paint when the weather is cool and the humidity is down, said Eckard.

"Thebest time is late spring or early fall," he said. "Temperatures of around 70 degrees are ideal."

Tim Stump, co-owner of Fulton, Stump and Wright Paint and Decorating Center in Hampstead, said he advises customers to paint in May.

Even when painting indoors, Eckard saidweather conditions may cause problems people don't realize are possible.

"If the paint hits a cold surface, it becomes thicker and mayleave brush marks or sags," he said. "Inside you don't have the temperature extremes, but when you have 98 percent humidity, even air conditioning cannot overcome that completely."

While high humidity would cause the paint to dry more slowly, painting in direct sunlight will make it dry too fast, Eckard said.

"Painting with the sun on the surface is bad because, in the case of latex, the paint never has an opportunity to grab hold of the surface the way the manufacturer designed," he said.

Choosing between a latex or oil-based paint often depends on consumer preference, the store owners said.

"The major thing to watch is that the surface is prepared properly," Stump said. "If not, the paint won't stick."

However, environmental concerns are leading some homeowners to use latex rather than oil-based paints, Eckard said.

"(Latex paints) aren't as hard on the environment because disposal is easier and there is no problem with the ozone layer," he said.

Other advantages for using latex are that it driesmore quickly and that clean-up can be done with soap and water rather than turpentine, Eckard said.

"A quality latex paint is fade resistant and wears very well," he said. "You're better off using latex whenever possible."

For some projects, an oil-based paint is stillpreferable, Eckard said.

"Many people prefer it for trim work because it can be a little shinier," he said. "Also, paints for porch floors have an oil-base or polyurethane and roof paints are still made with an oil-base rust preventative."

Homeowners should make sure the surface to be painted is clean and that it has been sanded before beginning the project, Stump said.

"You're sanding to rough up thesurface," Stump said. "You don't necessarily need to get all the paint off, but if it's a glossy surface you need to get the gloss off."

Customers also should make sure they use the type of paint that was used before to increase the bonding between the two layers, he said.

"Basically, if you take a piece (of the old paint) into your local paint store, they can tell you what it is," Stump said. "If you'rereally unsure, the best thing to do is to put a primer on before a finish coat."

The primer coat, which contains a lot of resin, will create a surface for the new coat to hold on to, he said.

Before they begin, homeowners should make sure the area where they'll be painting is well-ventilated, Eckard said.

"Nowadays, we are so much more aware of the chemicals people are using," he said. "You should useas many safeguards as you can to avoid the fumes. Everybody's systemis a little different, so don't assume you won't be affected (by thefumes)."

When deciding which brand to use, Consumer Reports magazine is often helpful, Stump said.

"They do testing on manufacturers for coverage, hideability and coverability," he said. "They're a good source to go by."

Quality latex paints are made with acrylic, said Eckard. Oil-based paints should contain linseed oil rather than substitutes like soy oil.

"A pure linseed oil base or acrylic base are signs of a good paint," he said.

Outside paint application is usually done with a brush, both men said.

"Normally you don't see someone using a roller outside, except on brick, concrete block or stucco surfaces," said Stump.

Eckard said that while paint pads are available for outside work, a brush is still the best tool for painting siding or trim areas.

When selecting your brush, natural bristles should be used for oil-base and synthetic for latex paints, they said.

"Nylon is a good quality material for a hair when using latexpaints and china bristles are very good for oil," Eckard said.

Rollers should be chosen so the nap matches the job, they said.

"If you are painting an inside door, you'd use a very short nap for a smooth job," said Eckard. "On walls, you'd use a heavier nap to carry more paint and for cement block or stucco surfaces you'd use 3/4- to 1-inch nap to reach down into the recesses."

Since paint creates its own thickness on the side of a house or wall, homeowners should useas little as possible, said Eckard. If coats applied in earlier years get old and flake off, the new paint comes with it, he said.

"Always when you can, inside or out, scrape off the old paint and try towork the new paint well into the sound paint so that when you put onthat next coat, it's good and solid," he said.

Individual homeowner concerns should be handled by a local paint dealer, they said.

"We ask them questions about what the situation is and make recommendations from that," Eckard said.

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