Kendall "aka Renos"

Founder, Lead Instructor of Renos 4 Pros and Joes and Bathroom Update Guide

Vinyl Shutter Painting 101

Okay Guys,

This one here is a cautionary tale. This is something that happened to me more recently than I care to admit while painting vinyl shutters. I’m going to explain how it happened, what the unexpected result was, how I fixed it, and what I learned from it.

Can you Paint Vinyl Shutters?

Before I go any further let me answer this question. The answer is yes, you can definitely paint vinyl shutters. The difference in painting vinyl shutters and wood shutters is primarily in the preparation. But I promise to get into all of that in a moment but keep reading.

And now Shutter Painting Story

One summer I was painting the exterior of a home as part of a renovation project. This home was one of those that basically needs everything. Even the things that are typically salvageable on most houses needed to be replaced on this one.

The Original Shutters.

The house had wood shutters on the front of the house. There were a total of 7 sets of shutters.  The shutters appeared to been original to the house. Upon close inspection only 3 of the 7 sets of shutters were salvageable. There was no middle ground on these shutters. The ones that were salvageable were in great condition. The ones that we discarded were literally falling apart, rotting, and missing fins, etc.

A Cautionary Tale

The original shutters were constructed out of wood. In recent years there has been a huge shift away from wood products for the exteriors of homes. This means that wood shutters are sold fewer places, take longer to get, and of course are also more expensive.

Enter Vinyl Shutters.

The big box stores in my region of the country only stock vinyl shutters in the store. The store where I went shopping happened to have a vinyl shutter in stock that was close to an exact match for the ones on the home.

Location of Shutters

As an aside, I want to mention that the shutters that were replaced were installed on 3 windows that were all side by side. As I said, this was a pretty cut and dry decision. I likely would not have tried, nor would I recommend splitting a pack of shutters and installing each on a different window. But if you do decide to try that, make sure that the new PVC shutters match the style of the old wood shutters as closely as possible. The last thing that you want is to do all that paint and installation work, and realize that the newly installed shutter sticks out like a sore thumb once it’s installed.

So anyway, I get my three sets of shutters and head out. I take them out of the packaging and set up the three sets of vinyl shutters on some scrap OSB board so I don’t get overspray on the anything. The shutters that were in good shape were not removed from the house. I simply masked the perimeter of the shutters that were to remain so that I didn’t get any overspray on the bricks.

Painting the shutters

Now that I have everything set up, it’s time to lay it down! (The paint that is). I prefer to paint shutters and louvered doors with an airless paint sprayer. The sprayer applies the paint evenly, and quickly, and easily. If you have ever had the joy of painting or trying to paint shutters or louvered doors, then you KNOW how slow, tedious and frustrating it can be?

Paint Quality.

So, I used an exterior grade above mid-level paint line, in an above mid-level paint. If you know anything about paint of even if you are just learning, then you’ve likely realized that when it comes to painting, there are levels to this thang! The coverage, quality, and durability of your paint are most important when you are painting an exterior because the building components that you are painting are going to be subjected to the elements. (Hot, Cold, Moisture, Dry, Wind, Rain, ICE, freezing temperatures, etc.) If you go super cheap on exterior paint, you are probably going to find yourself needing to paint again long before you want to.

As a side note, be sure to check out the article I wrote about the valuable lessons I learned the very first time I used limewash to paint my brick house. 

Back to Painting.

So, I lay down the paint on all of the shutters. I apply a single coat to all the shutters and allow them to dry to the touch and then I go back over them again to ensure solid coverage. Once they are dry, I tackle the installation work on the ladder. Depending on how you like to work, you may prefer to drill your pilot holes before you paint. I prefer to do all of my ladder work at once when I install the shutters.

I got them all centered, leveled and installed. And they looked great. We “nailed it” with the shutter color, and it really brought the exterior home colors together.

Painted Shutters and the first rain

About a week went by and we ended up getting several days of heavy rain. When the rain ended, I was on the exterior of the home and I saw a few little places on a couple of the shutters that looked like blisters. I found it strange, but I didn’t think too much of it. Then several days later we got even more rain. This time I noticed even more blisters, but only on the new shutters. The old re-painted wood shutters looked perfect. I got up on the ladder for closer inspection. And it was at this point that I realized two things. 1. I did not read the instructions that came with the shutters (which was a single page document that came stuffed inside the packaging which was now LOOOOONG GONE. 2. I was going to have to do something to correct this problem.

After a bit of deliberation and online research, I decided to repurchase 3 more sets of shutters and try again. Now many of you may be thinking that if the paint was peeling off so easily, why didn’t you just try to remove it from the shutters? This did cross my mind. The problem was that all the paint wasn’t coming off with the same level of ease. And for the amount of time that I would likely spend trying to get the vinyl shutters completely free of paint, I could buy 3 new sets, and paint them correctly and be done. So, that’s what I did.

The key step that I overlooked was priming the vinyl shutters or painting them with a paint that was specifically designed for vinyl.

Painting the Shutters the 2nd Time Around.

Second time’s the charm. This time I sprayed the shutters with a vinyl primer that came in an aerosol can. It took a few cans to get solid, coverage on everything, but after royally messing things up the way I did, I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t have the same problem again. After priming I applied the same exterior grade paint that I had previously erroneously used without vinyl primer. The shutters came out looking exactly the same once they dried. I installed them and waited for the rain. The rain came and went and came and went, with no issues.  The peeling paint issue was solved.

How did this Painting Problem happen?

They say experience is the key. I have quite a bit of experience painting wood shutters, however, this was the first time I ever fooled with vinyl shutters. Additionally, painting the shutters was a small task in the grand scheme of the exterior paint project and it’s typically a task that you do and move on. It’s QUICK. I wasn’t rushing, but I was moving expeditiously. In retrospect, I should have taken a few moments to read the instructions and heeded their warning. The instructions didn’t give much in the way of instructions for paint, other than simply not to paint them with paint that was not specifically designed for plastic. I guess that’s enough though, huh?

Take Away- Conclusion

6 shutters later, this what I can share with you:

  • When you are working with a new building product take the time to read the instructions.
  • Also, remember that building material that may serve the same purpose, but are made from different materials, often have different properties. So, don’t make the mistake of assuming that what worked well for one will automatically work for another.  Part of prep on this project should have been reading the instructions.
  • Don’t let your expeditiousness get in the way of or negatively impact your preparation.

Want to see a project where all the preparation in the world would not have helped? Check out this post I wrote about a really gross complete bathroom remodel including before and after pictures and video!

Painting shutters with a Brush

There are two main options for painting shutters, The fashioned tried and true method is with a paint brush. In some instances using a paint roller along with the paintbrush can also speed up the overall paint process. But it will be slow and you will need to be careful not to allow the paint to run down the louvers of the shutters. It can be tempting to load the brush with paint and jamb it in between the louvers, and you can, but this will affect the look of the overall finished project.

Take your time and watch for runs and make sure to get good coverage in the corners of each louver. It’s going to be a bit of paint if you have a bunch of shutters to paint. Also, be aware that this technique will also leave brush strokes. The are some newer types of paint that level out once applied, which will help combat brush strokes.

Painting shutters with an Airless Paint Sprayer

Applying paint with an airless paint sprayer is far and away the fastest and easiest way to paint shutters and it leaves the smoothest paint finish hands down.  You can rent an airless sprayer at home improvement stores if you don’t own one. I would suggest that you spend the extra money and buy your own sprayer tip for the rental pain sprayer. Especially if you don’t know how often they replace their tips.

The tip will cost around $25. It seems like a lot to pay, but just keep in mind that if the sprayer tip is worn out the paint is not going to spray out in a uniform manner, which will negatively affect the quality of the paint finish. And after all, one of the reasons you are renting the sprayer is for a finer finish. it could also save you time, because if the gun starts to spit of drip paint, you may find yourself trying to clean up or brush in the paint that you’ve accidentally gotten on the shutters.

Pre-fit the PVC or plastic shutters before you paint

Once you paint the plastic shutters, the coat of paint is going to initially be delicate because it is still fresh and has not completely cured yet. with that said, the less you handle the shutters after paint the better. Do you really want to be drilling holes through freshly painted plastic? No.  For this reason, you should consider drilling any necessary pilot holes necessary to complete their installation in their final location.

Keep the Shutters Location During Paint

Make sure that when you paint your shutters, that you have them in an area where you have good visibility to ensure that you are getting good paint coverage. Also, make sure that your shutters do not pick up too much heat. This can easily happen if you are painting in the direct sun during the summer months. If the surface of the shutters is too warm it can cause the paint to shrink and crack as it dries.

Your experience?

Have you ever had an experience like this? If so, please share in the comments. Peace.