Ask the Carpenter: Can you paint over exterior house stain?

Ask the Expert

Q. I read and enjoy your home repair tips in the Globe very much. I have a couple of questions myself. I always heard that if you cover your home’s exterior with stain you must stay with stain going forward. We have been in our home 22 years and had it stained four times. We are getting ready to have it stained again, and when we were getting quotes, the painter said regular latex base exterior paint was the better option. What are your thoughts on this?


A. You can paint over stained siding if the stain is latex. If it is an oil stain, I would check with the manufacturer first. I applied a pigmented stain to my house for years. After it was well-worn, I sanded it, washed it, and applied an exterior acrylic stain-blocking primer and then a latex paint (my wife wanted the color change). Siding weathers faster with stain.

Q. We own a 200-year-old stereotypical Cape; it’s white with a black roof. The house is at the top of a hill and is surrounded by deciduous trees. There’s lots of shade in the summer and light in the winter. About 100 years ago, the roof was raised (a little) to allow bedrooms on the second floor and a small attic. The second floor has short ceilings (6 foot 5). The attic has 6-inch insulation in the floor and a fan to cool it in the summer. With the black roof, the attic gets very hot in the summer, and the fan randomly comes on. We have no air conditioning in the house. We have shade and fantastic breezes in the summer. Fans move the air for us.

Two years ago we replaced all of our smoke detectors because they were out of date. The one that is in the second-floor hallway (outside all of the bedrooms) goes off randomly. Sometimes during the day, sometimes at night. We replaced that one with a different brand, but that goes off as well. Sometimes it is just for a few minutes, sometimes it sounds for hours (we have heard from neighbors).

There is no fire or smoke to set it off. The second-floor ceiling is warm to the touch (because the attic is hot, and all we have is a fan going). I think the smoke detectors are too sensitive. I went to a fire station and asked what to do. They had no solution, but said others have had this problem, too. The smoke detector is off the ceiling and sitting on a bookcase. It has not gone off since I moved it.

I don’t want to be one of “those people’’ who has a disconnected smoke detector and then something happens. Is there another place that the smoke detector should be placed? Can you help?


A. Never go without working smoke detectors in your home. Ever.

According to the state Department of Fire Services, it takes a lot of heat for a detector to go off, and it’s very unlikely that your bedroom level is hot enough to trigger it.

Common issues with smoke detectors are dirt, dust, insects, condensation, and age. Changing the location of the detector slightly, while still observing fire codes, may also help. At this point you need to start eliminating possible triggers until you find the correct one.

How regularly do you clean your smoke detectors? This is important. If the vents or sensor become clogged with dirt and dust, the alarm will not work. You should follow the manufacturer’s directions. In most cases you can use a vacuum cleaner. If you will be doing work that will produce a lot of dust, such as sanding or installing drywall, cover the alarm with a plastic bag. Remove the bag as soon as you are finished with the work. Never paint a smoke alarm; it can clog the vents.

As always. I recommend you purchase a quality detector, not the least expensive one on the market. Please put yours back up.

Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to [email protected] or tweet them to @robertrobillard. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter at