Every building that’s created contains a slice of history. If you own a historic home, it might be tempting to upgrade it to look like modern homes, but that would be a shame. Instead, consider restoring rather than renovating.

Many companies offer historic paint colors and can match your home’s original color. For example, Sherwin-Williams offers an entire line of historic paint colors. You should be able to find something that will match your home’s exterior.

If you do decide to renovate your home, many companies can build them to at least fit the theme of the area. They can make your home look both historical and new. GoldLeaf Designs, custom home builders in NJ, says, “We take into consideration the feel of the community and make design decisions that allow the home to conform to the neighborhood.”

However, if you decide to restore your home, you’ll likely come across many problems that need to be fixed, including the paint. Here are a few of the most common paint problems when restoring historic homes.


Six Common Issues with Exterior Paint on Historic Homes

1. Chalking

Excessive chalking is common in areas where there is very little rain. It’s natural for the paint to chalk when it is exposed to the elements, but large amounts of buildup can cause damage.

Other causes of excessive chalking include using cheap exterior paint, interior paint, over thinning the paint and failing to properly seal the surface before painting. If chalking is left to sit for a long time, it can cause permanent stains.

To fix this issue, you’ll need to wash the surface with a power washer or by scrubbing it. Once it’s clean, repaint the surface with a historic paint color that most closely matches the original color.


2. Mildew

Mildew occurs for the opposite reason that excessive chalking usually occurs: excess moisture. This problem isn’t related to the paint itself. Mildew is a fungus that grows where it is wet and dark.

Homes are often built to get as much sun exposure as possible for this reason. However, there often isn’t a way to have full coverage. If someone painted over mildew, it can grow through the paint, so it’s important to completely clean the surface before painting.

When you’re cleaning, wear gloves, goggles, and a face mask. Any kind of fungus can be dangerous to breathe in. Bleach does a great job at killing fungus, but you’ll need to scrub to make sure you get all of it. Since it’s organic, leaving any amount can allow it to regrow.


3. Rust

Rust damage is caused by nails in the wood behind the paint. If the nails are exposed to the elements, they will become rusty and stain the paint. You can avoid this by using corrosion-resistant nails; stainless steel and galvanized zinc-plated nails are great options.

The best way to solve this problem is to replace all the faulty nails with new ones. Unfortunately, most historic homes were built without rust-proof nails. If replacing all of them isn’t feasible, you can sand down the old nails and cover them with a rust-proof primer. That will protect the paint and the nails when you repaint.


4. Peeling and Blistering

Peeling paint can be caused by poor adhesion and moisture. When it’s due to poor adhesion, it’s usually because the surface was not cleaned, primed or painted properly. This isn’t common on historic homes, but you’ll need to be careful when repainting.

If you apply the paint incorrectly, the peeling paint will need to be removed and properly applied. Don’t make more work for yourself.

Both exterior and exterior moisture can also cause peeling. Exterior moisture is usually the fault of gutters or leaks, and interior moisture is typically caused by humid bathrooms, kitchens and basements.

Blistering paint causes bubbles and is also most commonly caused by moisture. Wood surfaces are especially prone to blistering. If your historic home is made of wood, make sure you remove all damaged paint down to the wood and sand the surface before repainting.

The best solution for both problems is to take steps to waterproof your house. If you struggle with interior moisture, invest in a dehumidifier and make sure your walls are properly insulated.

If exterior moisture is a problem, get better gutters and install downspouts. If those steps aren’t enough, you might need to consult with a professional home waterproofing contractor.

Do not attempt to repaint your home until you’ve solved moisture problems. Water damage is the most common cause of damage to historic homes.


5. Efflorescence

Old brick and concrete homes suffer from this problem. When the salts in these materials mix with water, they expand and cause salt deposits on the paint. These deposits dry out and stick to the surface.

Like peeling, this can be caused by improper preparation and water damage. In historic homes, water damage is the likely culprit. Proper waterproofing will be necessary in this case as well.

Once your home is waterproofed, you can scrape away the salt deposits with a wire brush. In some cases, a power washer might be able to get the job done. Then you just need to clean and prime the surface and apply your paint.


6. Alligatoring and Checking

Both of these problems are caused by the natural aging of the paint. Checking is less severe than alligatoring. The problem will usually start out as checking, with long, evenly spaced cracks, and advance to alligatoring, which resembles the scaly skin of a reptile.

Historic homes often suffer from this problem if they aren’t taken care of. The old paint will need to be removed, and the surface will need to be sanded before you can prime and repaint.


Many of these issues can be avoided entirely with proper maintenance, but the exterior of your house isn’t likely to be top of mind. Preserving a historic home gives you a bit more of a reason to keep it top of mind.

Try adding maintenance days to your calendar a few times a year. At least take a look around the exterior to see if any problems are starting. The sooner you catch something, the easier it will be to fix it.