Why is my paint peeling!?! Early failure explained.

While the most common citation for paint that peels soon after a new paintjob is “poor surface preparation”, the fact of the matter is that this only sometimes the case, and it is rarely the case if you had hired a good, reputable painting contractor to do the work.  Poor surface preparation would be fairly obvious – the job wouldn’t look all that great when completed if there was still loose and peeling paint that had been painted over, and if there were other surface problems like oil or dirt that affected adhesion, you’d see that as well because the failure would be inter-coat i.e, not peeling down to bare wood.  Far more commonly, early failure can be traced to one of two things unrelated to the quality of the previous paintjob: Moisture and Substrate Failure.

With moisture, it could be residual internal moisture trying to force its way out, or excess external moisture that quickly degrades and permeates the paint film. When it is internal moisture, the problem will show as blisters or bubbles in the paint film, that when popped or scraped go down to bare wood.  Sometimes there is even dampness or liquid water under the paint film!  Internal moisture problems can be caused by moisture trying to work its way out, from a damp basement or an unvented bathroom, and is much more likely to cause problems on an old house with no vapor barrier.  Internal moisture can also develop into a problem if liquid water is getting in behind the siding, from a leaky roof or faulty drip edge for example. When external moisture is the cause of problems, it is usually more obvious as it will take place in naturally damp areas or where water collects (such as near the ground, under a broken gutter, on horizontal surfaces, etc), and the paint film will clearly be degrading or delaminating because of that collecting moisture.  Ongoing moisture problems can be difficult to remedy, as they are often a result of the very design/structure of the house.  However, fixing obvious problems like a leaky roof, actively managing interior humidity, and installing flashing and/or composite materials where water, snow and ice collect will alleviate most moisture problems.  Otherwise, moisture-prone areas of a home can just be maintenance points – a little touch-up every 2-4 years can do wonders!

If paint is peeling down to bare wood soon after a repaint, or even within a few years with no obvious cause, the culprit is more likely to be what we call Substrate Failure. Substrate Failure can be caused by surface tension, which is the stress that a new coat of paint puts on the substrate as it dries and shrinks, and also as it expands and contracts once it has dried. On a sound, stable surface like bare wood or well-adhered existing paint, this tension is actually a very good thing, as it helps the film to “clamp down” on the surface tightly. However on an unsound substrate, such as poorly adhering old oil and lead paint, the result can be damaging.  This type of failure will be characterized by blisters, peeling or cracking all the way down to bare wood. It will also only take place where a new coat of paint has been applied over one or more old layers of paint. The bad news is that this type of failure is exceptionally unpredictable – with even the best prep work on a repaint, all of the existing paint won’t be removed if it appears to be sound and well-adhered, which gives ample surface area on any given job for a problem to show up.  The good news is that it occurs only on very few paintjobs, and even when it does happen it is usually relatively minor and easy to correct with a bit of maintenance painting.

If you are experiencing any kind of early paint failure on your Green Mountain Painters Paintjob, the first thing you should do is CALL US.  We will be happy to come out to your house and investigate the problem.  We will find out what is causing the failure and fix it for free if it is a simple problem with our work. Or, we will develop a long-term problem solving plan with you if it is a deeper issue like Moisture or Substrate Failure.  Approaching house painting from an ongoing and problem-solving perspective and providing support-after-the-sale is what sets us apart from the competition, and it gives our customers peace-of-mind to know that we care about not just the one-time paintjob, but the long-term health of their home.

Find out more about our support-after-the-sale: Green Mountain Painters Warrantee & Guarantees