How to Paint Window Frames and Sills

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

Whether the most expensive kind of paint or only a cheap one is applied, it will all eventually need touch ups. Some will just last a bit longer, but all of them 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, not only because they are found outdoors but also because they are often subjected to friction when the windows are opened and closed

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

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

What You Need to Know About Painting in Old Homes

While there is not much to be concerned about when painting a relatively new home with a different color, the same cannot be said for older homes, particularly those that were built in 1978 or earlier. There are a couple of things you need to know about painting old homes, particularly when it comes to the possibility of dealing with lead paint.

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

Lead was normally added to household paint because of its many benefits, especially when it comes to accelerating the drying time, increasing its resilience to different conditions, and preventing corrosion of the metal surfaces it is applied to, among others.

However, it was later discovered that lead also has adverse health effects on people who are 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, whose 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

Although the number of homes that have lead paint steadily declined since the discovery of its health effects and until official banning of lead-based paint for residential use in 1978, it does not mean that those who live in such homes are already safe.

Undisturbed lead-based paint is safe, but such paint that shows signs of damage, including cracks or peels, can create the dangerous lead dust that can be easily inhaled by anyone. The risk is even higher when doing renovation or maintenance works on such homes, as these tasks can damage the paint and release lead dust into the air.

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

Working Safely with Lead-Based Paint

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

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

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

While DIY work when it comes to lead-based paint is possible, it is not recommended. It is easy to be exposed to lead with painting projects, especially when it comes to prepping the surface before painting. 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.

However, not all businesses are qualified to do so, even if the workers are licensed contractors. That is why to minimize the health risks, the EPA came with the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program, known as the LRRP.

This program requires businesses working on any renovation, repair, or painting project to only let their workers who have undergone an EPA-accredited training program and are certified for it to 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-based paint.

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

Since the removal of the “opt-out provision” back in July 2010, which allows homeowners to hire businesses without the certification if their household does not have any pregnant women or children aged six years or younger, the LRRP has been met with great criticism from both homeowners and businesses alike. 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 LRRP 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 lead-based paint
  • Surfaces or spaces that involve six square feet or less of interior paint or twenty feet or less of exterior paint

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

How to Be a Certified LRRP Renovator

Although both firms and individual contractors can apply to be certified renovators under the LRRP rule, 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
  • Painting prep works
  • Electrical tasks

Anyone who will receive payment for work that involves disturbing paint in pre-1978 homes and facilities that regularly accommodate children must get certified, including 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, repair, and painting services for properties potentially having lead paint. Also, different states have different requirements for this certification, that is why it is best to check the EPA website for the actual requirements.

As mentioned earlier, 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 the certificate that will also serve as proof of 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 is dependent on the method of taking the course, with the online course resulting in 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 lead safe work practices:

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

Is it Possible to Paint Over Lead-Based Paint?

A common misconception of many is that it is possible to simply paint over lead-based paint. However, this is not a safe practice, even if the lead paint is still undamaged. Once the non-lead-based paint wears off, the lead paint underneath may also be affected and release dangerous lead dust and chips.

To prevent this, you can either encapsulate the lead paint first before painting, or completely remove the lead paint.

Lead paint encapsulation involves applying a special coating, or an encapsulant, over the lead paint to seal it and stop lead dust and chips from forming. After applying the encapsulant, you can now follow the regular painting 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 but is not considered a permanent solution, nor would it work for damaged paint. Over time, the encapsulant will wear off, re-exposing the lead paint. If you want a more permanent solution, the only way to do it is to completely remove the lead-based paint.

Due to the risks involve, stripping lead paint is not as simple as scraping it off or using a sander, nor using ordinary paint removers. The different methods of removing paint include:

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

All these methods are also applicable for lead paint applied to window frames or sills. However, sanding should be done carefully to avoid damaging any decorative elements, especially on an exterior window trim and sill.

When removing lead paint 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 the paint, avoid using those with open flames. But if using the sanding method, make sure that the sander is attached to a HEPA vacuum, or do wet sanding. You can also combine these different methods to ensure a complete removal of lead paint.
  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 paint 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 creations of lead dust in the home you are working on.

Preparing Surfaces for Painting

Before you can start applying the first coat of paint to the window frames and sill, you need to prepare these surfaces first for painting. Prep work is important if you want the paint to properly adhere to the surface and get a smooth finish, and 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 paint.

For Wood Window Frames and Sills:

  1. Check for signs of water damage, rot, mold, and mildew. Wood is vulnerable to the elements, especially moisture, and 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 it 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, and allow 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. But if you plan to open or close the window why painting, you can simply loosen up the handles to allow paint to go underneath them.
  4. If working with ordinary paint with no lead, remove it using chemical strippers or a scraper, starting with the loosest section. Lead-based paint should be encapsulated or removed using the proper methods mentioned in the previous section.
  5. Use sandpaper or sander on the the frame and sill to strip off stubborn paint and roughen up the surface but still make it even, allowing paint to adhere better.
  6. Clean off the surface using a vacuum or a damp cloth to wipe up the area.

For Vinyl Window Frames and Sills:

  1. Clean up the surface by applying 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 paint removers, follow the instructions and make sure that it can be applied to vinyl surfaces. Paint 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 a sandpaper, preferably 220-grit, to lightly sand the surface and roughen it a bit. The goal is to remove the shine present on the surface for better paint 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 paint using sandpaper or sanding block. To avoid damaging the surface, use medium grit sandpaper, preferably 100-grit. You can also apply paint solvent for easier removal.
  3. Clean the aluminum surface with a rag to remove dust and paint chips. Use water to clean the windows and sills and let it 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 up the glass and nearby structures with newspaper and painter’s tape to prevent paint from accidentally getting on those spots. But for glass, you can also leave it bare to avoid leftover adhesive and just use a glass scraper or paint remover afterwards 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 paint.

Whether you are working on wood, metal, or vinyl frames or sills, 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 miniscule in size, but it can prevent a smooth finish, even after applying multiple layers of paint.

Applying Paint to Window Frames and Sills

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

The primer should match the kind of surface you will work on – use wood primer for wood frames and sills, metal primer for aluminum, and vinyl primer for vinyl ones. You have a bit more leeway when it comes to choosing which paint to use, since you can use different types that will work on the material used for the frames and sills.

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

  1. Apply a thin layer of primer and allow it to dry first; 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.
  2. Once dry, stir the paint you will be using, even if only using a single color. This ensures that the ingredients of the paint are mixed together.
  3. Place painter’s tape or masking tape on the weather strips and window tracks to prevent paint from getting into those areas. Immediately remove any paint that gets to those areas; dried paint will prevent them from working properly
  4. Dip the brush in the bucket of paint, making sure to remove excess paint by tapping the brush on the sides of the bucket, and apply it on the inside of the frame first, then going down to the jambs. Painting should be done from top to bottom to avoid ruining the finish with paint drips.
  5. 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 the paint dries. Do this repeatedly every after an hour or two if the sash was not removed.
  6. 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 painting at the crossbar and work towards the rest of the upper sash. You should also start painting 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.
  7. 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.
  8. With the windows open, paint the windowsill and casing, as well as the exterior window trim and the edges of the window.
  9. Once the paint is dry, add another layer of paint to the sections you previously painted. Two coats should be applied at minimum to get the best coverage and to fully protect the surface. Continue applying paint until you get the desired coverage and color.
  10. To protect the paint, 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.

It is vital that the paint is dry before you reattach any fixtures and sashes that were uninstalled prior to painting. Make sure to avoid painting 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.

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