Avoid Painting Your Frame and Panel Doors in the Middle of Summer

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Last August we moved into our new home in New Jersey. The house we purchased was built in the late 1960s and was still equipped with all its original exterior and interior elements such as the original kitchen, bathrooms, doors and windows … The house really never seemed to be been painted or updated significantly. Among the countless dated objects and surfaces that required a makeover was the original spruce (or was it southern yellow pine?) Solid frame and paneled doors that have darkened over the years.

We decided that part of the refreshing home plan would include painting the doors a dull color instead of tediously sanding them and then applying two coats of paint.

We hired a painting company and the job took a few weeks in July and August, in the height of the hot and humid Northeast season.

This is our basement door, showing more panel movement than any other door in our home. Basements are often wetter than the inside of the house, and the moisture content of their doors is the highest.

Once we have moved and until this January, everything looks bright, bright and tidy. But then I noticed that in the meeting line between the solid wood floating panels and the uprights (the vertical part of the frame) of some of our wider doors the color changed and now looked darker. I looked closely and saw that the dark line was part of the old wood panel that hasn’t received a lick of paint. It definitely couldn’t be the case, I thought, as I remembered that the paint job on all of our doors was great, so how did this happen? It didn’t take me long to figure it out – seasonal wood swelling and shrinking were the culprits.

The nature of the frame and panel structure is that the frame does not change its width with changes in humidity – only the panel is “allowed” to expand and float left and right with changes in air humidity. In summer, when it is hotter and wetter, the panel swells and pushes itself into the grooves of the uprights. In winter, and with the drop in humidity, the opposite happens.

Our doors were painted when the house’s air conditioning was inactive, the humidity was high and the panels were at their full width. Then when we moved and when the humidity dropped during the cold winter, to 35%, the panel shrank and moved out of the groove, exposing a strip of surface that wasn’t painted.

What can we do? The best option is to paint the dark stripes now when the panels are at their minimum width and are fully exposed. Once the humidity rises again, they will swell and return to their hidden location deep in the grooves. Next winter the panels will retreat, but this time their “private parts” had already been covered with a coat of paint, so any repeated embarrassment for them or the carpenter living in this house will be avoided.

If you need to paint the solid frame and paneled doors, try doing it during the winter. But if you have no choice and need to paint in the summer try to check the humidity levels of the doors and the surrounding environment, otherwise you will face the same situation I have just described. A good option is to paint them first, right after the home’s air conditioning system has been shut down for the renovations. Since the panels are thinner, it will take some time to reach the rising humidity, which will give you a window of opportunity to paint them.


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