What I'm Seeing Now


When Is It Too Cold To Paint Outdoors?

When is it too cold to paint outdoors?

Driving through a neighborhood of new construction, and arriving at the finished house I was to inspect, I noticed something that disturbed me.

I saw painters painting the foundation walls!

That sets off alarms for me for SO MANY REASONS:

1.  It was 34F outside.  That is too cold to paint outdoors! 
2.  Does the painter not understand this? 
3.  Does the builder not understand this?
4.  Does the painter not care?
5.  Does the builder not care?


It's not a good way to arrive at a home inspection.  I was disturbed.  Greatly disturbed.


But you have to read it.  If you are a professional you are supposed to know these things.  If you are a supervisor on a building product you should be sufficiently informed about things like these.


But, the question has not been answered.  When is it too cold to paint outdoors?

The rule of thumb is 50F or 60F, when using latex paints, at 50% relative humidity.  THE REASON FOR THIS IS CHEMISTRY.

Have you ever looked at the multiplicity of chemicals that go into the creation of various paints?  There are many, many!  And there is a reason for many, many!

Every paint contains chemicals that help it to stick to whatever the surface it is applied to.  These chemicals are called SURFACTANTS.  Whenever you see peeling paint, the reason has to to with its application - what it was painted over, the temperature during its application, the kind of paint being painted over another kind of paint - whatever.  PAINTS WILL PEEL IF THE SURFACTANTS CANNOT TAKE HOLD.

If you speak with a paint chemist (and I have called one to ask these questions!) to find out why there is a temperature range for various paints, the answer will be something like this:

As paint dries its components need to "coalesce," literally melting together.

When it is too cold dew forms on the paint, particularly at the end of the day, and this humidity mixes with the paint components.  The paint stops coalescing.  The surfactants are encouraged to leach out, coming to the surface.

The end is that as the moisture evaporates, the surfactants cause staining, and the paint will have adhesion problems.

To the right is my client's house.  They peeled back the turf, and sprayed, blowing dirt and mulch onto the wall in addition to the paint.  It is 34F.


Do you see the sarcasm drip from the statement above?

The local paint manufacturer most used by companies here is this one.  Look at what their label for the paint used here says about application temperature - 50F to 125F.  The other popular company around here has a similar label recommendation.

My client says they painted the doors and shutters at similar temperatures.  Excellent!

My recommendation:  home inspectors are objective in their knowledge, opinions and recommendations.  They aren't under time line pressures, budget constraints, personnel management, and if they are ignorant about something they will likely find out!  So ask questions of them! 



Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560


Comment balloon 47 commentsJay Markanich • January 19 2013 04:24AM


I have heard so many opinions on this topic. I have always heard that you can only paint by the sun when paint an exterior. When we buy homes that we are going to flip. We wait for the right weather and temperature and have never had a problem with the results.

Posted by Joe Petrowsky, Your Mortgage Consultant for Life (Mortgage Consultant, Right Trac Financial Group, Inc. NMLS # 2709) over 7 years ago

One of the easiest things for a builder to obtain is a "winter exemption" for paint application and landscaping. 

This is also one of the areas where, over the years, builder quality has deteriorated dramatically.  Builders don't want winter exemptions.  It means scheduling these inspections for several months into the future. Ten years ago, winter exemptions for landscaping, paint, brick/stone applications were routine.  I rarely see them today. 

Builders today schedule benchmarks for a property in their computer and rarely will change them, even by a couple of days, let alone one/two months. 

The worst thing I see is a builder that backfills a poured foundation without giving the concrete time to cure.  7 days is the recommended, but one builder I know backfilled a foundation after 3 days.  Guess what happened?????

This is also an area where the vaulted "county inspector" should be doing a better job.


Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 7 years ago

I have noticed new construction homes built in the winter that the floors and stairways squeek in the summer. 


Posted by Richard Burge Realty/ Burge Homes, Broker in Charge/Owner (Richard Burge Realty/Burge Homes) over 7 years ago

Isn't there a special kind of paint that you can use that works in the winter?  Maybe they were using that?  Just a thought.  

Posted by Amanda Christiansen, Christiansen Group Realty (Christiansen Group Realty (260)704-0843) over 7 years ago

Joe - you have to be circumspect regarding things like that or you won't be doing flips for very long.  If the sun is directly on a surface, that surface might be too hot to paint, even though the air temperature is not that hot!

Lenn - this gets back to the Golden Rule that I think we are getting so far from.  That builder or supervisor would NEVER do that to his house!  Common sense is fading fast...

Richard - perhaps because the woods were not given enough time to acclimatize to the surroundings before installation.

No Christiansens.  There is no magical latex paint. 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago
May- I learned this from my husband, a former builder? He had to keep an eagle eye on his contractors.
Posted by Kathy Streib, Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224 (Room Service Home Staging) over 7 years ago

Thanks for the description of why the paint doesn't work at these temperature, I find it helpful Jay.

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage www.tromlerconstruction.com Mobile - 916-765-5366) over 7 years ago

The consumer or buyer is at risk because this is not common knowledge...There is more to painting than popping the lid, having a brush and making sure we don't get paint everywhere...good one here

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 7 years ago

Good info, I sold paint at a lumberyard I worked at and those directions are so small on that can. Easier to just let it fly and hope for the best. 

Posted by Scott Seaton Jr. Bourbonnais Kankakee IL Home Inspector, The Home Inspector With a Heart! (SLS Home Inspections-Bradley Bourbonnais Kankakee Manteno) over 7 years ago

Oh gosh, not good at all.  Every year, I hear my local painter sharing this sort of info about when it's too late to paint or come spring when you can start.  Very unprofessional and uncaring indeed on both the painter and builder's part.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) over 7 years ago

Jay, I always learn something...thanks so much for sharing.  Now I'm learning chemistry, too!

Posted by Monica Hess, Kentucky's Feng Shui Master (Feng Shui This Kentucky) over 7 years ago

Jay, it appears the builder has a schedule to keep and they are going to keep no matter what. I'm sure most consumers wouldn't give this a second thought until the paint starts peeling. Good lesson today!!

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 7 years ago

You know we have deadlines to meet... there's gonna be an Open House this weekend! We can't let a little thing like frozen paint keep us from selling this house! So I think your alarm #'s 2 - 5 are the correct assumptions. And let's throw in #1 because that is true!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 7 years ago

Most of us don't know the chemical details of surfactants, but we certainly do know that it has to be warm enough for the paint to adhere and cure properly!

Posted by Brian Schulman, Lancaster County PA RealEstate Expert 717-951-5552 (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Lancaster PA) over 7 years ago

I think those who paint when it's 34 degrees must want to do the job twice! 

Posted by Melissa Zavala, Broker, Escondido Real Estate, San Diego County (Broadpoint Properties) over 7 years ago

Wow! It's good you caught them but as Melissa said, they really must like painting if they want to do it twice!

Posted by Bud & Beth McKinney, Cary/Raleigh/Apex NC - The Team That Cares, RE/MAX United (RE/MAX UNITED) over 7 years ago

My neighbor poured all his concrete 2 days ago (and it was a lot of concrete). The day was reasonable warm, but the tempurate that night was below freezing. The concrete crew finished at DARK 30. They had 4 vechiles aiming headlights at various locations.

Posted by Than Maynard, Broker - Licensed to List & Sell - 405-990-8862 (Coldwell Banker Heart of Oklahoma) over 7 years ago

So glad it doesn't get that cold here to affect this.  We only have a few cold days like this but this is great information to know.

Posted by Paula McDonald, Ph.D., Granbury, TX 936-203-0279 (Beam & Branch Realty) over 7 years ago

Another stellar job by a builder wanting to simply check off the lists on their punch list, and not actually worry about doing them right.  Just get the buyer into the home so they can put one more in the sold column.

Posted by Chris Ann Cleland, Associate Broker, Bristow, VA (Long and Foster REALTORS®, Gainesville, VA) over 7 years ago

Hello Jay,

Congratulations on being featured. Great post and true across the board. Take what you see in VA and multiply that times 3 for situations here in the great north. Your alarms would really be going off. Our warm months last only a few short months depending on the year. Painting business booms in a very short window. Still there are those that seem to do as they wish for meeting deadlines and other reasons. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Robert Rucker III over 7 years ago

Jay - thank you for another informative blog. Learned the definition of 2 new words: surfectants and coalesce. I am just curious as to what else the builder is asking his apprentice to practice on... 

Posted by Les & Sarah Oswald, Broker, Realtor and Investor (Realty One Group) over 7 years ago

Great post as usual Joe. Thank you for the information.

Posted by Susan Shaw (Premiere Plus Realty Co.Marco Island, FL) over 7 years ago

Good information .. thanks for sharing!

Posted by The Temple Team, Specializing in Lake Norman/Charlotte/Charleston (THE TEMPLE TEAM) over 7 years ago


I always figure it's too cold to paint outside when my wife has to wear gloves.


Posted by Richard Iarossi, Crofton MD Real Estate, Annapolis MD Real Estate (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) over 7 years ago

I personally wouldn't be caught painting outside in those temperatures. If the air temperature is 34 degrees the temperature of the surface is below that. It would require a paint capable of temperatures even lower than that. Seems crazy to me!

Posted by Suesan Jenifer Therriault, "Inspecting every purchase as if it were my own". (JTHIS-Professional Home Inspection Team) over 7 years ago

Hi Jay - The instructions on paint cans I have used in recent years have said that the temperature had to be at least 10 degrees Celcius for a certain amount of time before applying paint.

Posted by FN LN over 7 years ago
Interesting information although here in Florida will it get that cold very often. You would think the pros would know but my guess it is the deadline that matters most.
Posted by Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty, Fifteen Years Experience in Brevard County (Bucci Realty, Inc.) over 7 years ago

Joe -- Moving to New England from California several years ago.. upon our first visit to the paint store, the salesperson made us aware of the importance of making sure the temperature was not too cold.  

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) over 7 years ago

Jay - excellent blog post.... as you say, professionals should know when/when not to paint outoors..

Posted by Gay E. Rosen, As Real as Real Estate Gets! (Julia B. Fee Sotheby's International Realty) over 7 years ago

Jay, you just answered a question I was about to Google.  I have a small painting job that got put on hold because, well, Winter showed up and I didn't.  So, I was wondering what the minimal temperature is to paint out doors.  I guess I'll wait a little longer.  8=)

Posted by Mike Cooper, GRI, Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) over 7 years ago

I see a market for cold weather paint. We could make millions!

Posted by Rob Ernst, Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor (Certified Structure Inspector) over 7 years ago

Even my wife knows this.  OK, it's because I tell her that's why I can't paint the house.

Posted by Rafi Footerman, Home Inspector, Mold Inspector, Radon and More! (Mid Jersey Inspections) over 7 years ago

Jay, even people in Florida know that you can't paint below certain temperatures! This builder is clearly acting in their own best interest - or the subcontractor is. Won't it be fun when the sub has to come back out to repaint when the paint starts peeling during the warranty??


Posted by Sharon Alters, Realtor - Homes for Sale Fleming Island FL (Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty - 904-673-2308) over 7 years ago

When you see unprofessional work like that being done, you should next time stop and have a slight general conversation with them and get there info... That way you can put that company on your "black list".

Posted by Steve Warrene, Pittsburgh Real Estate Investment Specialists (Your Town Realty) over 7 years ago

Well Jay I learned something about paint today that I did not know.  he wife usually does the painting and I get involved if only on a have to basis. 

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty) over 7 years ago

Kathy - if the supervisor doesn't do it, who will?

Glad you do Tom.  There are reasons for labels!

Richie - there is more to most everything in life behond popping the lid.  Well, except peanut butter...

Scott - but a "professional" would know this without reading the label, right?

Debbie - he knows and honors that because he is a professional painter.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Monica - I hope you learn something new every day!  I learned about Feng Shui once, the hard way.  Did you see my post?


Mike - consumers don't know about this stuff.  That's what their home inspector is supposed to do for them.

Fred - when the Spidey Sense goes off, it does for a reason.  Like the robot waving his arms, "Danger!  Danger!"

Brian - with good temps and humidity latex needs about 4 hours to dry.

Melissa - I assure you they won't do it twice!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

B&B - and like I said to her, the liklihood of getting them back is minimal to none.

Gee, Than, what are you thinking?  Ummm...

Paula - and just when you think it won't get cold, someone will be at your house to paint and...

Chris Ann - not much time left.  Got to get to that other state!

Robert - you guys must do stuff furiously when the temperatures allow.  Hurry up and don't wait!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

S&L - I'm very glad you find it informative!  I think it's time for me to go coalesce some hot chocolate...  And maybe some oatmeal to surfactant to my ribs?

Thank you Susan.  I expect it won't help you too much down there!

And thank you Kent.  I love sharing.

Aw, send her out there anyway Rich, gloves or no gloves.  Keep her busy! 

That it would Sue.  They haven't invented that magical paint yet. 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Marc - I just put that into my phone's temperature converter app and it says that's 50F.  So your labels are consistent with ours.  Right on!

Gary - isn't it always following the money that gets you to the truth?

Joan - that is a circumspect clerk!  And a helpful one.

Gay - when you hire a "professional" company, they should be just that.

Mike - even during a 50 degree day, like yesterday for a while, if the paint isn't dry enough before it dips below that the job is ruined.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Rob - I think our logo should have an igloo on it, and a painter standing on a walrus instead of a ladder.  Whatcha think?

Rafi - what's her email?  I will send her a link to the blog...  (Oh, photos please)

Sharon - and they know that without the reasons there that we have here!

Steve - the trucks usually have names on the sides, and I do keep a list!

James - and get her out there!  Work to be done!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

In many cases, but not all, the owner of the painting crew actually does know that they should not pain when the temperature is too low.  Unfortunately the workers that are applying the paint probably are not aware of this.  What is worse, the superintendent in most cases does not know it is a problem.  Too many of the superintendents only know that they have a schedule to meet, and the work had better be done acording to the schedule!

Here if Florida during the summer the problem is more that they are painting when the temperature is too high.  Even with a paint such as the one you mentioned that allows it to be applied up to 125 degrees (although I have seen a number of paints that say not apply them if the temperature is over 90 degrees) you can easily exceed the limit.  I am not saying that the outside temperature is over 125.  The temperature limit is the "surface" temperature.  With the temperature outside at 95 degrees, that wall that the sun is shining brightly on will be much hotter.  This will cause the paint to dry out too quickly where it contacts the surface and it will never achieve the proper bond.  Good post.

Posted by Robert Sole (REM Inspections LLC) over 7 years ago

Robert - one other thing I pointed out here is the same old, same old insulation thing - not enough to meet the stated R-value.  This supervisor told my client not to worry, that it is cellulose insulation with plenty of depth.  Well, NOT!  I told my client to have him call me.  Still waiting for the phone to ring.  If he doesn't know it's too cold for paint he should not be building houses.  And the label for this paint says 125F, so it is consistent here with your standards there.  And yes, that label doesn't mean 125F for outside temps!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

The painter is painting the Igloo? Sounds like a good way to get the point across.

Posted by Rob Ernst, Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor (Certified Structure Inspector) over 7 years ago

Sure, make the point that the paint can be applied in temps as low as -60.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

All tooo common here...there are orders from VA or FHA to address peeling paint...yeah right...it is whatever below zero...and these folks were ordered to do the same without knowing "the rules" that apply to paint and weather...brrrrrr....

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 7 years ago

S&D - when I was a contractor the VA ordered a seller to paint their house.  It was near zero here, very cold for here, and yet they asked me to paint outdoors.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

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