Walk me through painting my balcony
March 8, 2014 5:29 PM   Subscribe

My balcony is gross and I want to paint it. I know nothing about painting. Tell me what materials I need and what procedures to follow. Pics inside.

I want to paint three things: the white wooden railing, the low wall beneath it, and the floor. My landlord is reimbursing me for the materials. I want to know (a) what paints I'll need and (b) how to prepare the surfaces. Complicating factor: these surfaces are pretty foul, especially the floor. It has lots of encrusted dirt which won't come off with a broom or mop, as well as large patches where the paint has peeled away. I'll presumably need to get it really clean before painting: what's a good way to do this that preferably doesn't involve getting down on my marrow-bones and scrubbing all of it with a hard brush? How much sanding or scraping to do? How many coats of paint am I likely to need, and what specific kinds? What else do I need to know that I'm not thinking of asking? Please assume you are dealing with an absolute painting ingenue. Thanks.
posted by zeri to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
Do not do this. Make your landlord hire a professional because that amount of scraping and prep for an outdoor surface, and for a novice, is never not in no way recommended.

It requires professionals with professional tools and experience.

Your landlord is using you for free labor on a professional grade job. FUCK THAT.

It's a $300 to $600 job, depending where you are because of the weathering and prep.

You will not get this right on the first shot, either.

I hope I convinced you not to do this.
posted by jbenben at 5:39 PM on March 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just doing the railing and the wall was actually my first thought, but then I figured I might as well go the whole hog. But maybe I'm biting off more than I can chew here. Just how much work am I looking at with the floor? More than a day or two?
posted by zeri at 6:34 PM on March 8, 2014

Outdoor paint is really difficult impossible to strip/sand if you don't have professional equipment, especially off textured concrete or stucco. If the wood railing is at all weathered, then it's ten times more work to get the paint off fine ridges and out of knotholes that you might not see from the top of the paint layer. None of these surfaces are perfectly flat, so that makes things difficult.

If this was the landlord's idea, say you've looked carefully at the type of work needed and tell him/her you do not have the equipment or skills to do it and they need to hire professionals.

If it's your idea, try to get landlord to pay for the needed work, and if not then bargain down for a power washer rental; start low pressure and then build up just enough that you're blasting dirt, not paint, off the walls and floor. This is assuming your balcony gets good drainage. It'll look tons better just for being clean, really.

For indoor painting projects, I'd say just go for it because the worst that can happen is you need to repaint. For this project though, 95% of the work is the old paint removal and surface preparation which you just don't have the resources or skill (or safety equipment) to do.
posted by variella at 7:01 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, not a lot of practical painters out there. You're a renter, you don't need it to look good forever, just a year or two. Whatever you do will look better than what you got.

First, accept that you won't be able to get all the old paint off. Now wipe it all down with a degreaser like simple green. Get any thing flaky off with a 5 in 1 tool (scraper and 4 other things in the paint section), then sand down anything that feels textured with your hand. Then wipe with a dry cloth. Wait a day, to make sure the part you cleaned is dry, then you can paint. I recommend an oil based paint, make sure it's for outdoor use. Also make sure you paint on a dry, not too humid day. Let it dry overnight, then put on a second coat. Using an oil based primer will help it stick a lot better. Oilbased is stinky and harder to clean up,but it stays better. Stick your brushes in ziplocks or grocery bags so you don't have to clean them out between uses.

Then chunk them when you're done, ha.

In my experience, the rails and wall will look really good and fresh for a while, the floor paint will start showing wear within the year, but it's kinda cool wear and better than ugly. I love deep rust floor paint!
posted by stormygrey at 7:31 PM on March 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow, not a lot of practical painters out there.
Very true. My answer definitely came from the 'there's no way I'm doing this again in the next 5-10 years' point of view. I think stormygrey has it for a best-for-you fix.
posted by variella at 7:37 PM on March 8, 2014

Oil based paint is illegal in California.

After getting the dirt up off the floor, OP, you might go with concrete stain, not paint, because it will wear much better.

If you are young and have infinite amount of time - knock yourself out.

Just know you are doing something the landlord should ideally be paying for. He's not doing you a huge favor here.
posted by jbenben at 7:58 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you might have a better workaround if you just buy x-amount of yards of some sort of outdoor reed/bamboo/whatever screening (comes in a roll), and staple-gun it in a fence-like fashion around the inner perimeter of your balcony. This will hide the grody wall and railing.

You can then cover the balcony floor with some cheap-o sisal mats.

I see this DIY approach all over the place in the rental apartments near me. It actually creates a pleasant grass-shack like outdoor area. Just be mindful if your building has some jive-ass convenants (HOA) that forbid anything other than the original colors on public-facing areas.

Even if you have to replace the "fence" and flooring every so often, it won't be all that spendy.

Scraping and sanding and washing and prepping is such a huge PITA (and you expose yourself to all sorts of crud doing it).
posted by nacho fries at 8:32 PM on March 8, 2014

Was this place built before 1978? If so, test for lead based paint by buying a test kit at the hardware store.

As others have explained, this is going to be much more work than you expect it to be. Doing it right will be a lot of work, and doing it half heartedly could mean your landlord having to scrape off your paint and do it right before the next renter.

So, here's what you do. Send him a budget that includes everything you'll need: TSP substitute, towels, splash goggles, chemical protective gloves, a tarp or paper to protect other areas, paint containers, painters tape, caulk, a caulking gun, that 5 in 1 tool, brushes. Also include a list of all the questions you have with a note about being a painting novice. "Should I rent a power washer or can I just cover this dirt with paint," "do you prime first or does that go in between the coats of paint?" He may realize that outfitting someone with no equipment costs almost as much as paying the professionals, and that with them he'll get a better result.
posted by slidell at 9:31 PM on March 8, 2014

To clarify, this was my (naive) idea, not the landlord's. Landlord is unlikely to pay for pro painting work, and I have no leverage to make him do it, so it's basically a question of what I can reasonably do by myself. Right now I'm thinking paint the railing and wall and find some way to make the floor look less grotty -- something of the sisal mat variety might work. The difficulty there is that the balcony gets rain and doesn't drain well at all. Creative solutions welcomed.
posted by zeri at 9:52 PM on March 8, 2014

I think you should grab a lead tester, and see if the paint contains lead. Not really for any other reason than potentially building your convictions.

If there's no lead, then say to your landlord "I'm not going to do this work, a professional should do it."

If there's lead present, then say to your landlord "I'm DEFINITELY not going to do this work, a professional should DEFINITELY do it."
posted by oceanjesse at 4:21 AM on March 9, 2014

If you're game, you can do this. (as long as the paint isn't lead--nthing getting a tester.) You're going to want to rent equipment. (the landlord can pay for this.)

Go to a big-box store, and they'll recommend the right products.

First, use a deck cleaner to get all the dirt off.

Then, if you're feeling super ambitious, use a paint stripper. It works pretty easily.

Then, take a power washer and power off all the old, flaking paint and whatever other loose material there is.

Let it rest and dry for a few days.

Then prime surfaces with whatever the big-box paint gal says to use. Then use a rented sprayer. Use the paint for the wooden railing recommended. Use the paint recommended for the stucco wall. Use a special cement floor paint, with some sand in it, for the floor.

This isn't a big balcony, so you could probably get away with a good paint brush for the railing, a huge, nappy roller for the stucco and a special roller for the sanded cement floor paint. You can be the judge of that.

What I'd do is to go to the big box store and make a list of the proposed materials and their costs. Verify with the landlord that it's not a $10 gallon bucket of paint, but a full-on project that's likely to run into the hundreds of dollars. Do it in writing and get a response in writing, and keep with your lease and punch list.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it really, really isn't. I did a redwood deck and I can't tell you how much better it looked after the cheesy red-barn paint was stripped off!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:04 AM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

An alternative for the floor, if you decide not to paint it, is deck tiles -- examples here, here, here, or just google the term. The advantage is that, unlike sisal matting, this would raise up just a bit off the floor surface so dampness wouldn't be as much of a problem. I'm actually considering these for my grotty cement patio.
posted by Kat Allison at 9:17 AM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, do test for lead paint, and don't mess with i if it is lead-based. I'm with stormygrey, esp. as the landlord is unlikely to have it done. You don't have to match the colors, but sticking to similar colors will make it easier.
posted by theora55 at 2:39 PM on March 9, 2014

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