Moisture Content and Painting

When you want to have your home or business repainted, you want a paint job that will last for years to come. The last thing you need is chipped paint that peels off your walls just months after it was applied. But you might not know that there’s a simple step you can take to prevent peeling paint.

You can ensure that your paint will adhere to its surface by checking your walls for their moisture content before the paint is applied.

Many people take this for granted. After all, most online painting tips fail to mention that you should check the surfaces moisture levels before applying a stain or a coat of paint. You also won’t even typically notice high moisture content without using a professional reader. But moisture levels above 15% for primers, paints and most stains will result in paint peeling.

Couple painting walls in home.

At Klappenberger & Son, we know just how important it is to test the moisture content prior to applying any paint. It doesn’t matter how much prep work and sanding do. It doesn’t matter if you use the best primers, and premium grade paint money can buy. If the moisture content is above 16% the paint will peel. The higher it is the faster it will peel. We believe in focusing on quality from the beginning to the end of any paint job, so we consider the moisture content of any Maryland home or business before we begin painting. Read on to learn more about paint failure, the importance of moisture content management and the process we use to balance your walls’ moisture levels.

Why Does Paint Peel?

Paint will allow a certain amount of moisture to pass through without peeling. But when the sun wants to bring its strong powerful rays down on that siding or trim after time the paint will fail and crack. It loses it flexibility, like dry skin it cracks. In the early stages of getting painted the paint has amazing flexibility. I painted a pergola before and it rained the next 4 days. Fortunately, most of the pergola was fine but there were a few bubbles. She described the as big pockets of water! I asked her to pop the bubbles and I would come back in a few days to repaint it. When I did we could hardly find the bubbles. The paint had reattached to the pergola. Amazing! We sanded them off and repainted. If the paint job was older the paint wouldn’t have been so flexible and it would crack and peel.

Exterior paint is susceptible to harsh elements, peeling with both excessive heat or rain and snow. But if your paint wears away in multiple places at once or without any apparent cause, you face a more serious underlying problem.

Interior paint is also exposed to high moisture levels from showers, cooking and daily wear and tear that can occur especially if you have children.

Several factors can contribute to the continuous peeling of paint, including:

While you should consider each of these problems in determining the reason behind your paint failure, harmful moisture levels are one of the most common reasons for peeling paint, and they’re the number one cause of premature paint failure on wood surfaces. If you’re not sure why your paint is peeling, checking the moisture levels is one of the first steps you should take. Even if surfaces feel dry to the touch, they could still harbor excessive dampness that eats away at paint and damages the overall structure. The human hand is not able to detect moisture anywhere near the 15% threshold.

Orange roller painting wall.

Exterior walls are regularly exposed to moisture. And while these walls are built to be water-repellant, excessive water exposure over time can lead to moisture retention. Some of the factors leading to high exterior moisture levels include clogged gutters, worn-out caulking, heavy rain or snow, migration of high moisture from an interior wall, leaking roofs and paint that was applied to previously damp surfaces. The most common reason for paint peeling though is when trim is not installed properly. Butt joints in wood should be primed. Water loves to find a butt joint and wick into it just like a candle. Butt joints at bases of doors, but joints in trim absorb water. The solution is always to prevent water from entering but the common most painters do is caulk it and paint it. You can caulk it but don’t paint it until the moisture content drops below 16%. If the wood is rotten but dry, and you apply an epoxy or wood filler, unless all the softwood is removed, it will still peel.

Family painting walls of home.

Once moisture is trapped in a surface, paint loses its adhesion and swells and peels around the moist area. Peeling often begins along the edges of a board or drywall and spreads along the rest of the surface over time. You might notice a brownish water stain before the paint starts to chip shortly after.

And not only does moisture retention itself peel paint, but dampness might also result in surface rot to wood siding, boards or frames.

Unaddressed water retention can attract wood-decaying fungi, which creates rot. This rot eats away at and softens the wood. It can also attract mold, insects and other pests that further break the wood apart. Window frames and doorways are some of the most common problem spots for surface rot, but the fungi can easily spread to non-wood surfaces.

Pull out quote about surface rot.

When surface rot breaks wood apart and attracts wood-eating insects, the paint no longer has a smooth surface to stick onto and quickly begins to peel. You might first notice a white or grey growth on the wood, which quickly gives way to blistering, peeling or cracked paint. If wood surfaces feel soft or spongy, the paint is likely peeling due to surface rot.

How to Manage Moisture Content

Controlling both interior and exterior surfaces’ moisture content is vital in ensuring that paint sticks to your walls and surfaces for years. After all, you don’t want to waste your money on a paint job that is bound to fail from the beginning.

If you don’t currently suspect high moisture content but want to protect your walls from potential problems both before and after a paint job, you can choose to manage moisture content on your own. But if your paint is currently peeling and you suspect high moisture levels, hiring a professional to take a reading and quickly address any pressing issues with the walls and paint is your best choice in ensuring your paint’s longevity and your building’s health.

1. Managing Moisture Levels Personally

You can take several steps towards managing moisture content on your own, especially if you don’t currently have a problem with peeling paint.

Taking preventive measures is helpful if you’re getting your walls painted soon or recently had your walls painted and want to make sure the new paint stays in good condition for as long as possible. You can also manage moisture content when building a new home or business to prevent any damage after construction is complete.

The Environmental Protection Agency created an extensive guide to controlling moisture content during the construction of new buildings. But these points can also be applied to current residential and commercial properties.

Man painting concrete wall outside.

According to the guide, here are some steps you can take towards lowering your walls’ moisture levels:

  • Drain any rain or snow away from the building. Weather conditions can harm exterior walls over time and make them more prone to damage and rot. Divert any water away from walls or other susceptible surfaces.
  • Provide a clear path for water to exit. Roofs need to slope to prevent water from collecting, and roof drains should stay clear at all times to channel rainwater away from the building. Clean leaves and debris from the drains regularly.
  • Prevent plumbing leaks. If toilets, showers or sinks continuously leak water towards your walls, the walls and floor will take significant damage over time. Monitor your plumbing lines and make sure they’re unlikely to freeze or to come into contact with porous insulation.
  • Use ventilation systems to keep interior walls dry. Exhaust fans remove water vapor from showers, cooking areas, locker rooms or indoor recreational areas such as indoor pools. Make sure that the fans in your building work properly, and consider installing air conditioners with dehumidifiers set to activate at a certain dew point.
  • Inspect walls, roofs, ceilings, plumbing systems and thermostats periodically. Inspecting the most common problem areas for moisture levels keeps you well-informed on the status of your home or business. You’ll also be more likely to notice if something is out of the ordinary and can more quickly take preventive measures if you routinely check the area.

Pull out quote with roller painting wall.

You can also manage your moisture content by monitoring your high-humidity activities such as showering or cooking. If possible, open a nearby window to allow the moisture to escape without draining into the walls. Remembering to turn on bathroom or kitchen fans as needed also helps increase air flow. These simple, everyday preventive tasks can save you hundreds on repairs.

But if you find that your walls’ moisture is dangerously high or if your paint’s already peeling, repainting over the spot or trying to fix the problem yourself won’t solve the underlying issue. It’s often best to contact a professional to get an accurate moisture reading.

2. Professional Moisture Content Management

Hiring a professional to check and manage moisture in your walls is always a good idea, but it’s especially important if you’re interested in getting your home repainted soon or if you suspect that water damage is already destroying your walls and peeling your paint. And if your building was recently flooded, it’s best to contact a professional even if you don’t immediately see any signs of damage. A professional painter will take the steps necessary to lower moisture content before repainting the affected walls.

Pull out quote about Pin Type Meters measure wall's moisture content.

An experienced painter can assess high moisture levels using moisture meters or other testing methods. In fact, it’s imperative for any painter to diagnose and repair water damage immediately so that new paint isn’t compromised. These professional moisture meters and tests accurately measure water damage so that necessary action can be taken:

  • Pin-type meter: Also known as a destructive or invasive moisture meter, a pin-type meter uses two contact pins that penetrate the desired surface at a set depth. The meter measures the electrical resistance between them to determine the percentage of moisture content. Pin-type readers are most often used to measure wood, but they can also be used on drywall, ceilings and other flat, painted surfaces. These meters are best when looking to identify precisely where a water buildup occurred.
  • Pinless meter: A pinless moisture meter — also called non-destructive or non-invasive — reads water content levels at a wall’s surface without penetration by using electrical impedance. Pinless meters are especially useful for assessing water buildup behind showers, bathroom tiles and other finished surfaces. Painting a bathroom or painting a kitchen requires extra attention to detail because of the amount of moisture content the walls are likely to have.
  • All-in-one meter: Perhaps the most useful type of moisture meters, an all-in-one meter uses both pin and pinless technology to measure moisture levels. This versatile option can be used to read nearly any kind of material.

Professional readings can determine where the problem lies and how severe the damage is. If you’ve recently had a flood or other serious water damage, moisture levels will most likely be too high to repaint the area safely. Completely replacing a flooded surface is more cost effective than just painting over it. Further, repainting without taking care of underlying damage will multiply the problem and create more severe future issues.

But if your wall or surface is healthy enough to be fixed without complete replacement, it will still need to be sanded and repainted to protect the surrounding area and prevent further damage. Carpentry skills are a necessity when repairing and repainting damaged surfaces. Contact a painter with complementary carpenter skills — such as Klappenberger & Son if you are in the Maryland area — to guarantee that you’re getting the best service and a paint job that won’t chip due to untended damage.

What Happens If You Don’t Check Your Moisture Content

If you don’t check walls’ and surfaces’ moisture levels, you run the risk of repainting the surface in months not years. Remember, not amount of prep work, primers or premium grade paints will save you from painting damp surfaces. Painting contractors blame the paint, but most of the times its damp wood. A moisture meter can be purchased at some paint stores but a surprisingly small inventory is kept so call or just go online and order one.

Woman painting her wall.

1. Rot and Deterioration

Trapped moisture will result in surface rot and deterioration on both interior and exterior surfaces. Fungi and insects eat away at wood and other materials, which causes irreversible damage if not treated quickly.

Mold, which grows in any damp environment, takes hold of the area nearly as soon as dampness appears. A mold colony can form on a wet surface within 24 to 48 hours if preventive measures aren’t taken. From the original surface, mold continues to spread throughout the entire surface onto touching surfaces until it’s eliminated.

You might first start to notice mold through wall and ceiling discoloration or its musty smell. If it’s seen quickly, you can sometimes disinfect the area and prevent the mold from spreading. But if mold has damaged over 25 square feet of a surface, you’ll need to hire a professional to have it removed. Most often, the entire wall will need to be replaced and completely renovated. Renovation could cost anywhere between $500 and $1,000, a needless expense if preventive steps had been taken.

2. Degeneration of Old and Historic Buildings

Surface rot prevention particularly plays a critical role in the preservation of historic buildings. Rot eats away at the fragile building itself and prevents paint from sticking to the walls, which can completely deteriorate an old home.

The longevity of many historic buildings can be traced to their paint. Paint is one of the most important materials that preserve historic buildings, as it protects the wood siding from deterioration. Paint shelters a wall similar to the way sunscreen protects your body from the sun or the way insulated coats keep you from the cold winter elements. As you age, it becomes more critical to shield your body from harsh weather. Likewise, it becomes more crucial to protect a building’s paint as it ages.

You wouldn’t put on soaking wet clothes underneath a warm snowsuit before going out in freezing temperatures, right? You dress yourself to ensure your longevity and survival. Your building is no different. Historic buildings are especially prone to damage, and “dressing” a building properly with paint protects it from harmful elements.

When the paint wears away due to water damage, rot and mold quickly take its place. Failing to treat this high moisture and paint failure could compromise historical structures and even wholly decompose them.

3. Health Problems

The World Health Organization warns that dampness in walls and other indoor surfaces can fill your home with dust mites, fungi, bacteria, allergens and viruses that thrive in moist environments. Pollutants can have a lasting impact on you and everyone else in a building.

Man painting wall of his home.

You might never have considered the lasting effects that mold and other fungi and bacteria have on your health. But health concerns due to mildew and rot have been linked to allergy problems and severe lifelong issues. These include:

  • Respiratory problems such as wheezing and asthma
  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Eye irritation such as burning, itching and watering
  • Skin irritation such as rashes, hives, eczema, dermatitis and acne
  • Problems with the nervous system such as headaches, memory loss and mood swings
  • Aches and pains

People with immune system complications and chronic lung conditions can be severely impacted by mold introduced into the home when high moisture isn’t treated. Because high moisture levels affect both your building’s health and the lives of those living in it, testing your walls for dampness is essential before having them painted or finished.

Our Process

At Klappenberger & Son, we do what any good painter should — test all areas for water damage before applying paint.

We understand that you want your paint to last a long time, and so do we. We never paint over damage because you deserve the highest quality job possible for your home or business. Our process involves fully testing an area before applying paint to ensure that the paint lasts for years to come.

Before beginning the painting process, we use professional moisture meters to find any potential problem spots with both interior and exterior surfaces. We mark off any troublesome with blue tape and will bring these areas to your attention prior to doing and correction.

We also replace rotten renewable composite material that does not absorb water. This takes all the guesswork out of wondering if the surface is damp. It’s not. And when a premium paint is applied you can expect the paint job to last of ten years. If you are going to replace the wood you might as well replace it with these products like Borel or Azek. These type of product will never rot and the fact that the paint job will last twice as long as wood makes the extra cost a moot point.

The trained professionals at Klappenberger & Son focus on integrity and attention to detail from start to finish with every job we do. Rather than just doing a shoddy job quickly, we give our customers consistent and predictable results. And with over 400 positive reviews, our record speaks for itself.

We’ve been a leader in interior and exterior painting for residential, commercial and government properties since 1989, and we continue to paint some of the finest homes in the Annapolis, Baltimore and Montgomery County regions. Contact us today to see what we can do for you in managing the moisture content and repainting of your walls, and trust us to provide the high-quality work you and your building deserve.