How to Paint Window Frames and Sills

Paint does not last forever. It also has an uncanny knack for making homes look new or old, based on their condition. That is why a relatively new house with peeling paint will look old. It’s while an old home with paint that is in perfect condition may look like it was just newly built.

It will all eventually need touch-ups, whether the most expensive kind of paint or only a cheap one is applied. Some will last a bit longer. All will eventually succumb to wear and tear, regardless of surface. And because they are constantly exposed to the elements, the exterior components of any home are typically the first ones to be affected.

Among those that will need repainting the soonest are the sills and frames of windows. It’s not only because they are found outdoors but also because they are often subjected to friction when the windows are opened and closed.

pink paint project

Okay, you may not necessarily want to go with a quite bold color.

If you have a project that requires you to freshen up the look or give them a different color, stick around. We will talk about how to paint window frames and sills.

Before you start working on your old windows, we encourage you to watch Tamara Rubin’s video. You will see just how dangerous old windows can be.

What You Need to Know About Working on Old Homes

There is not much to consider when painting a relatively new home with a different color. The same cannot be said for older homes, particularly those built-in 1978 or earlier.

There are a couple of things you need to know about working on old homes, particularly when it comes to the possibility of dealing with lead.

Lead-based paint was widely used for residential purposes, especially in the early 20th century. As many as 87% of homes in the US that were built before 1940 are confirmed to have used lead-based products.

beautiful window sill

Lead was normally added to household paint because of its many benefits, especially when accelerating the drying time. It increases its resilience to different conditions and prevents corrosion of the metal surfaces it is applied to.

It was later discovered that lead has adverse health effects on people exposed to it, with pregnant women and children the most vulnerable. And with constant exposure or at high amounts, anyone is at risk for lead poisoning. The effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Motor issues
  • Behavioral problems
  • Constipation
  • Neurological damage
  • Kidney problems
  • Miscarriage or premature birth
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Cramps
  • Developmental delays
  • Death

The number of homes that have it in them has steadily declined since discovering its health effects. However, the official banning of lead-based paint for residential use in 1978 does not mean that those who live in such homes are safe.

Undisturbed lead is safe. If it shows signs of damage, it can create dangerous lead dust that anyone can easily inhale. It includes cracks or peels. The risk is even higher when doing renovation or maintenance works on such homes. These tasks can damage the surface and release lead dust into the air.

Exposure to its dust occurs through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact with lead dust or chips, making it a serious concern.

Working Safely with Lead-Based Products

If a home is at risk for potentially having lead-based products, it is a given that painting will not be easy. But most importantly, you need to know how you can work safely with such a home.

You must always observe proper safety measures when doing so, from preparation to cleanup. This includes:

  • Wear safety equipment that completely covers your skin and a face mask or respirator intended to prevent lead inhalation.
  • Minimize the creation of lead dust while working by spraying the surface with water before stripping off the paint when sanding.
  • Cover up any vents and openings of the workspace when working indoors to confine any dust and debris generated in that area alone.
  • Place coverings on the ground and creating a barrier. It prevents dust from being blown away to other peoples’ properties, which can also put them at risk unknowingly. It’s also done to avoid contaminating the soil when working outdoors.
  • Prevent anyone not part of the team from entering the site, especially pregnant women and children.
  • Properly clean up spots where layers were removed.

While DIY work for lead-based paint is possible, it is not recommended. It is easy to be exposed to lead dust with various home improvement projects.

It’s especially the case when prepping the surface before getting started. There is no way to detect once anyone starts being exposed to lead; you only know it when you start exhibiting the symptoms. That is why this task should be left to the pros.

Not all businesses are qualified to do so, even if the workers are licensed contractors. The EPA came with the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program to minimize the health risks. It’s known as the RRP Rule.

This program requires businesses working on any renovation or painting project only to let workers who have an EPA-accredited certification do the job.

This applies to projects that may potentially disturb at least six square feet of the interiors of a home or facility suspected to have lead in it.

This rule ensures that only those knowledgeable in lead-safe work practices will do the renovations or painting tasks. It’s even if it only involves doors and windows.

Since the removal of the “opt-out provision” back in July 2010, the RRP has been met with great criticism from both homeowners and businesses alike. It allowed homeowners to hire businesses without the certification if their household does not have any pregnant women or children aged six years or younger. This move meant businesses had to go and get their workers certified, which required them to raise their rates and potentially drive off customers.

The RRP rule does have a few exceptions. This provision allows non-EPA-certified workers to work on specific projects that may have lead-based paint, such as in:

  • Homes that lack bedrooms.
  • Already tested homes or surfaces that are declared as free of the dangerous heavy metal.
  • Surfaces or spaces that involve six square feet or less of interior paint or twenty feet or less of exterior.

You may or may not be covered by this ruling when painting only an old home’s window frames or sills. The more windows involved, the higher your chances of being required to obtain certification.

How to Be a Certified LRRP Renovator

Under the LRRP rule, both firms and individual contractors can apply to be certified renovators. Only those who work under the following trades that may involve lead-based paint are required to do so:

  • Carpentry
  • Plumbing
  • Remodeling
  • Repair and maintenance
  • Replacement of windows
  • Prep work
  • Electrical tasks

Anyone who receives payment for work that involves disturbing any surface in pre-1978 homes and facilities that regularly accommodate children must be certified. This includes general and special trade contractors covered by the above list. Managers and owners of residential rental properties may also apply for this certification.

Any uncertified business or individual cannot advertise renovation and services for properties potentially having lead paint. Also, different states have different requirements for this certification. It is best to check the EPA website for the actual requirements.

An applicant must fulfill the required training handled by an accredited provider to be certified. This renovator training course involves an eight-hour training and two-hour hands-on learning. When completed, the applicant is given a certificate that will prove their credentials.

Do note that this certification has an expiration date. But before being allowed to renew, taking a four-hour refresher course is required.

Note that the validity period of the renewed certificate depends on the course method. The online course has a shorter validity period of the certificate compared to the validity period after taking the refresher course in person.

Anyone who becomes a certified renovator has the following duties and responsibilities when it comes to safe work practices:

  • Prepare all the records and documents that are mandatory for the project.
  • Provide on-site training to workers who are also involved but have yet to undergo the certification course. They must always follow throughout the project.
  • They must have copies of their certifications available at the worksite, both initial course and refresher course if already completed.
  • Oversee the work of those under their employ and ensure that the workers constantly comply with proper practices involving lead.
  • Must be found in the worksite. It’s especially when the warning signs in the site are put up while doing prep work. It’s done to contain debris in the workspace, and during cleanup of the workspace.
  • Verify the project cleaning.
  • If requested, do lead testing either using lead test kits that are EPA-recognized or by sending samples of chips to an accredited laboratory. If testing onsite and for work involving more than one area of the house or facility, get lead test kits in bulk to test more surfaces in one go.

Anyone who gets certified as a renovator must assume that any home built in 1978 or earlier contains traces of lead-based paint. It is unless testing is done and yields a negative result.

Is it Possible to Paint Over Lead-Based Paint?

Many commonly believe that it is possible to paint over lead-based paint. This is not a safe practice, even if the layer is still undamaged. Once the non-lead-based coat wears off, the layer underneath may also be affected and release dangerous dust and chips.

You can either encapsulate the lead first before painting or completely remove it to prevent this.

Encapsulation involves applying a special coating or an encapsulant over the leaded surface to seal it and stop lead dust and chips from forming. After applying the encapsulant, you can now follow the regular procedures. Do note that regular paint is not an encapsulant and should not be applied as such.

Encapsulation is known to be cheap and quick. It is not considered a permanent solution, nor would it work for damaged parts. Over time, the encapsulant will wear off. It re-exposes the layer underneath.

If you want a more permanent solution, the only way to do it is to remove it completely. It can be done through proper abatement procedures.

Perhaps you want to bring out a window’s natural glory, like this one where the dog has found a comfortable spot.

Due to the risks involved, stripping lead paint is not as simple as scraping it off or using a sander or regular removers. The different methods of removing it include:

  • Using chemical strippers specifically intended for use with lead-based products.
  • Wet or dry sanding or scraping. Wet methods involve spraying water over the surface before sanding or scraping. It’s done to minimize the creation of dust and prevent air contamination. Dry sanding involves using a sander that is attached to a HEPA vacuum that will immediately collect all dust and debris.
  • Use a heat gun to soften the layer before scraping it off by hand.

These methods are also applicable for lead paint applied to window frames or sills. However, sanding should be done carefully to avoid damaging decorative elements. It’s especially on the exterior window trim and sill.

When removing it on window frames and sills, make sure to follow these steps:

  1. Equip all workers with the necessary safety equipment and ensure that the area is sealed off to confine all debris to that space.
  2. Switch off the HVAC system and seal off any vents or openings to prevent lead dust from settling inside. If not, the lead dust can go all over the house once the HVAC system is switched on.
  3. Remove all the stuff that is within the proximity of the windows you will be working on. If this is not possible, cover them up with plastic sheets or tarps.
  4. If using chemical strippers, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. When using a heat gun to soften , avoid using those with open flames. But if using the sanding method, make sure that the sander is attached to a HEPA vacuum. Otherwise, do wet sanding. You can also combine these different methods to ensure the complete removal of the problematic surface.
  5. Mist the surface with water before wiping dust off to prevent it from becoming airborne and contaminating the air. Do it several times so that no lead dust remains on the surface.

Once the lead is completely encapsulated or removed, that is the only time that you can start painting after finishing the necessary prep work. Also, make sure to work and finish one area first before moving to other areas to minimize the creation of lead dust in the home you are working on.

Preparing Surfaces

Before you can start applying the first coat to the window frames and sill, you need to prepare these surfaces first. Prep work is important if you want the paint to adhere to the surface and get a smooth finish properly. The kind of preparation needed will depend on the material of your window frames and sills.

Don’t forget to keep your floors or the ground protected before starting. Place plastic sheets on the ground directly under the windows you will work on, especially if it involves removing lead.

For Vinyl Window Frames and Sills:

  1. Clean up the surface by applying a degreaser using a sponge or cloth. A solution of water and dishwashing liquid is recommended because it is mild enough to prevent damaging vinyl. After scrubbing off the dirt, dry it off using a lint-free cloth.
  2. If using chemical removers, follow the instructions and make sure that it can be applied to vinyl surfaces. Removers that are too strong and not recommended for vinyl can damage its surface. Mineral spirits and acetone are quite safe to use.
  3. Use sandpaper to lightly sand the surface and roughen it a bit. 220-grit is great. The goal is to remove the shine present on the surface for better adherence.
  4. Get a vacuum or tack cloth to remove the dust present.

For Aluminum Window Frames and Sills:

  1. Use dishwashing liquid and water solution to clean the surface. For hard to remove dirt and grease, scrub it off with a scouring pad that is semi-abrasive.
  2. Remove loose or peeling parts using sandpaper or sanding block. To avoid damaging the surface, use medium-grit sandpaper. Go for 100-grit. You can also apply solvent for easier removal.
  3. Clean the aluminum surface with a rag to remove dust and loose chips. Use water to clean the windows and sills and let them dry. Do not apply primer to the aluminum frames and sills if it is still wet.

Once the surface has been prepped up, you can cover the glass and nearby structures with newspaper and painter’s tape. Do it to prevent the new layer from accidentally getting on those spots.

But for glass, you can also leave it bare to avoid leftover adhesive and use a glass scraper or paint remover afterward to remove stray paint. Make sure to scrape carefully to avoid damaging the glass. If possible, you can also remove the window sash to make it easier for you to work on a surface.

Whether working on wood or metal, it is vital to remove all dust present after sanding. If not, expect to see bumps and a rough finish after allowing the final coat to set. Dust may seem minuscule in size, but it can prevent a smooth finish. It’s even after applying multiple layers.

cute cat in the window

The cat is enjoying the view from the window!

How to Paint Window Frames and Sills

  1. Check for signs of water damage, rot, mold, and mildew.

    Wood is vulnerable to the elements, especially moisture. It will be useless to paint over badly damaged wood. You need to replace the damaged frame or sill first, either entirely or only the affected sections, before prepping the surface. But if mold and mildew are the only issues, treat them using fungicides.

  2. Look for gaps present between the glass and the frames and seal them off using fillers, like acrylic sealants or multi-purpose putty.

    Allow them to dry. Patch up any holes in the sill as well.

  3. If you do not want the installed fixtures to be affected by the paint, remove them first.

    Maybe you plan to open or close the window while working. You can simply loosen up the handles to allow the paint to go underneath them.

  4. If working with ordinary paint with no lead, remove it using chemical strippers or a scraper.

    Start with the loosest section. If lead is detected, it should be encapsulated or removed using the proper methods mentioned in the previous section.

  5. Use sandpaper or sander on the frame and sill to strip off stubborn parts and roughen up the surface but still make it even.

    It allows better adhesion.

  6. Clean off the surface using a vacuum or a damp cloth to wipe up the area.

  7. Apply a thin layer of primer and allow it to dry first.

    Once the prep work is completed, you can finally paint the window frames and sills. It includes the primer application.

    The primer should match the surface you will work on. Use a wood primer for wood frames and sills, a metal primer for aluminum, and a vinyl primer for vinyl ones.

    You have a bit more leeway when choosing which product to use. You can use different types to work on the material used for the frames and sills.

    After gathering the materials, namely the paint, primer, 1 to 2 ½-inch brushes, and tape, give the window frames and sills a new coat using these steps:

    This may take 12 hours or so. Primer can be applied using a spray can or by brush. A spray can works best on wider spaces, such as the windowsill. Use sweeping motions when spraying.

  8. Once dry, stir the paint you will be using. It’s even if only using a single color.

    This ensures that the ingredients are mixed together.

  9. Place painter’s tape or masking tape on the weatherstrips and window tracks to prevent paint from getting into those areas.

    Immediately remove any spill that gets to those areas; dried paint will prevent them from working properly.

  10. Dip the brush in the bucket.

    Make sure to remove excess by tapping the brush on the sides of the bucket. Apply it on the inside of the frame first, then going down to the jambs. The painting should be done from top to bottom to avoid ruining the finish with drips.

  11. After painting the inside frame of sliding or tilt-out windows, open and close the window a few times to prevent it from getting stuck as it dries.

    Do this repeatedly every after an hour or two if the sash was not removed.

  12. If working on sliding windows, paint the upper sash first.

    The lower sash should be raised up, while the upper sash should be lowered. Start at the crossbar and work towards the rest of the upper sash. You should also start at the upper sash first of tilt-out windows; access it by tilting down the bottom sash. Allow it to dry first before moving on to the lower sash.

  13. To paint the lower sash, return the upper sash to its original position and drop the lower sash.

    Follow the same process as the previous step.

  14. With the windows open, paint the windowsill and casing. It includes the exterior window trim and the edges of the window.

  15. Once it is dry, add another layer to the sections you previously went over.

    Two coats should be applied at a minimum to get the best coverage and to fully protect the surface. Continue applying paint until you get the desired coverage and color.

  16. To protect the surface, you can apply a clear coat that is polyurethane-based as the final step.

    This coating will also act as a sealant to prevent it from being damaged in a short time

    The surface must be dry before reattaching any fixtures and sashes uninstalled before painting.

Avoid working in direct sunlight. If working in a humid environment or while raining, add one to two hours of drying time to the manufacturer’s recommendation. This will help ensure any condensation is removed from the air.

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