How to paint in cold weather at your construction site

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The polar vortex and global warming are changing the way construction projects are managed and how tasks are being scheduled. Learning how to paint in cold weather has become a daunting, yet necessary challenge, and every day painting pros and construction professionals are struggling to meet project timelines. This guide will help you understand the painting procedures and tools necessary, and provide some tips on how to paint in cold weather.

Painting in cold weather and freezing temperatures

Some products on the market can be applied in temperatures as low as 35 degrees. This temperature marks the low limit of when painting can be completed successfully. However, be aware that there are certain caveats to this limit.

Painting in cold weather is effective when both the air temperature and the surface being painted are both over 35 degrees.

Painting pros tend to postpone painting when temperatures are too close to this threshold. That’s because, even if the thermometer gets past 35 degrees during the day, at night the temperatures might drop below 35 degrees, which could affect the quality and outcome of the project. Be aware that the dew point is an indicator of humidity and moisture that might affect your painting projects.

With cold weather also comes winter storms, so be sure to prepare your construction site for inclement weather.

Related: Critical items for a builder’s storm preparedness plan

Tools needed to paint in cold weather

How To Paint In Cold Weather Tools

Even when the temperature is over 35 or even 40 degrees, sealants and caulking will affect the final outcome of your painting project. Choose the right type of primer and make sure it is compatible with the paint product that you will be using. Incompatibility issues might result if you don’t combine the right products, such as fillers and primers that are normally designed to be applied at or around 50 degrees.

Cold weather paints and coatings are designed for low temperatures so there is no need to thin them.


Because the paint is thicker, make sure you have the right roller and brushes for the consistency. Nylon brushes are the best choice for this type of weather because they are stiffer. Lastly, use an infrared sensor to indicate surface temperature effectively. Because sun and shades might affect the surface temperature, I recommend capturing and monitoring temperatures the day before you start painting.

Tips on how to paint in cold weather

Now that you know the tools and the temperatures, let’s get the work done. If you’re painting outside, aim to start around 10 a.m. and complete everything by 2:30 p.m. so daylight can warm the paint and allow it to dry. Also make sure to follow the sun as you paint, which is the opposite of what you do with summer painting when you normally follow the shade. Before applying a second coat, you need to be certain that the paint is completely dry. Painting over wet paint creates blistering and will damage the substrate.

Paint during cold weather needs to be properly managed and stored. Freezing temperatures and thaw cycles will affect some of the paint characteristics.

The most frequent issues related to painting in cold weather are:

  • Color uniformity
  • Water spotting
  • Extremely slow and inconsistent drying time
  • Film cracking

Related: The impact of natural disasters on the construction industry

How To Paint In Cold Weather Exterior

There are additives you can use in the paint to make it more manageable.

Another great idea many painters follow is to submerge used cans of paint in a pot of warm water to prevent it from freezing.

Paint might begin to clump and even freeze when the temperature falls too low, so be sure to maintain a consistent, warm paint temperature.

When it’s too cold, you can create your own climate-controlled area using 6-millimeter plastic sheeting to create a “room.” Use a space heater in the area — leave it on for a few minutes or hours, depending on how cold the weather is — before getting started. The temperature should be between 65 and 80 degrees.

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Other cold-weather paint issues

Oil-based paints tend to be sensitive to color uniformity due to moisture and condensation during drying. Latex paints will be sensitive to water spotting issues, so make sure you are aware of the type of paint you are using. During colder temperatures, mixing paints is more challenging and more prep time is needed, including additional shaking times.

Follow these tips for success

Not adequately preparing for cold weather can slow down the work at your construction site. Be sure the temperatures are just right to paint so you can finish the job on time. You want to be sure your client is happy and you met the goals laid out in your proposal.

If you’re just getting started in the construction industry, be sure to take the right steps to start your construction company and follow the current trends.