What rust, bubbling paint, and popping nails mean for this winter

Those of us here in the East Bay are lucky (or not, depending on your view of snow) that we don’t have a harsh winter. Like much of California and the southern U.S. we get a little rain, some cold but not freezing weather, and then it’s back to spring sunshine. But winter still poses challenges even in less-that-freezing climates. Snow behaves differently than typical rain showers, the wind poses more threats to your siding and home exterior, and cooler temperatures cause metal to shift.

Here are our tips to make sure your home is protected for the winter. All it takes is half an hour to conduct a visual inspection to look for:

  • Peeling and bubbling paint
  • Wood that is changing shape
  • Loose caulking or cracks around the windows and doors
  • Popping nails
  • Rust stains bleeding through the paint

What to do about popped drywall nails or roof popping

Nail separation, or “popping nails”, allow moisture into your siding and home, potentially allowing damage to the wood.

These problems also frequently appear on roofs where a small bulge appears under a shingle. You can assume that if you have one you will soon have others. They’re also a common paint problem on walls.

Nails “wiggle” up slowly when temperatures fluctuate, most often during the winter when the cool air causes nails and other metal to contract. Then, during the day the combination of direct sunlight and warm air makes the metal expand quickly, sometimes more quickly than the surrounding wood. This force and friction of different materials shifting at different speeds and temperatures pushes the nail up and results in “nail pops”. 

On a roof you can sometimes just hammer them back in place if the shingle isn’t damaged. This is a temporary fix, but it will help protect the shingles until you can get more extensive repairs done.

Bigger problems come when the nail heads burst through a surface layer, like a coat of paint. As the nail pops out you’ll likely see a spot of bubbling paint in the base coat, then the bare metal will be visible. 

The best way to fix nail pops is to hammer or screw a drywall fastener into place, assuming the underlying wood isn’t rotting or damaged. Sometimes driving in two nails or screws above and below the nail pop can also fix it. 

Then, cover the nail with either drywall compound and a heavy coat of paint or roofing repair material.

What about drywall nail pops?

The same nail popping movement can happen inside your home, most often in kitchens and bathrooms or directly near heat sources where popped drywall nails are most common in the winter. 

To fix it, do the same as you would on the exterior by securing the area with either two new nails or screws or using a drywall fastener, smooth on some drywall compound, let it completely dry, sand it, and add primer or else latex paint won’t adhere. You will likely need a light second coat. If it still appears rough, make sure it’s sanded down again then repaint the area.

Remember: patching a small spot on your wall is difficult when the existing paint has been on the walls for a while. Read our guide to patching walls for more.

What to do about paint bubbles and peeling paint

Peeling and bubbling paint tell you some of the paint is loosening from the house, exposing the wood or stucco to moisture buildup and damage. 

This is sometimes caused by drywall nails popping, but is also caused by temperature changes separating the aging page. With age, underlying paint can lose its adherence to the surface. This is typical on vinyl siding, metal materials — like soffit vents —  and wood decks and fences.

To fix paint bubbles, sand down the area and remove all the bubbling paint and any loose paint that comes along with it. You can assume if one spot is bubbling that much of the surrounding paint job is loose and will allow air bubbles to form. You’ll likely find much of the paint falls off easily as it cracks and chips away.

Inspect the underlying surface for damage and if there isn’t any, prepare it for new paint. Sand down any rough spots, apply a primer or plaster, give it plenty of dry time and protect it from moisture. Then apply your first coat of paint, let it dry, then finish with the next coat.

What to do about loose caulking

Loose caulking or cracks around the windows and doors can allow water into your house which can cause more expensive repairs in the years to come. Loose caulk can also allow cold air into your house and your warm out, dramatically increasing your home heating and energy bills.

Caulking isn’t hard, but it can be challenging to do attractively well. Applying caulk requires a steady hand. But you can set yourself up for success by cleaning the area with warm, soapy water, removing any debris like loose plaster, caulk, or chipping paint, and ensuring it’s dry. Then using a caulking gun, apply a thin bead around the edges — a lot like icing a cake. Once applied, wet your finger and run it along the edge to smooth it out (very much not like icing a cake).

Ensure the area has adequate ventilation and let it dry. 

If you didn’t do as good a job as you hoped, most caulk comes off easily when you intentionally pull on it. Just remove it after it dries a bit and start again. 

And if that still doesn’t work, call us and we can help.

What to do about rust stains appearing through paint

Rust stains bleeding through the paint is a sign that water is getting to your nails and the nails aren’t being protected properly. That likely means the nails in your house weren’t galvanized or the galvanization has been removed. 

This is sometimes related to nail pops, but is usually just moisture that’s slowly seeped into a hole that’s slightly larger than the nail itself. It could be from the other side of the wall or because the nail has contracted faster than the surrounding wood in cooler air. Humidity in the summer can also cause rust stains to appear.

Painting over the rust won’t fix the underlying issue. Instead, wash the area and work to get it completely dry. Depending on where the rust is, you might need to wait for cooperative weather or use a hair dryer or other blower.

Remove the rusty nails, sand the area to remove all the damaged paint, then replace the nails — either with more in the affected area or a fastener. Don’t put a new nail in the same hole if you can avoid it. For large holes, use a wood filler or caulk. Apply primer and new coats of paint and ensure the area stays dry until the paint is cured.

What to do about and wood changing shape

Wood that is changing shape denotes dry rot and that the wood has been damaged and should be addressed.  This can allow water into your home causing more extensive damage leading to mold and additional dry rot.

The best fix for dry rot is to replace the wood. This may be an extensive repair job. But you can also remove the damaged wood fibers and treat with a two part epoxy. We often turn to Smith and Company’s Penetrating Epoxy Sealer. It’s great for repairing small-to-modest amounts of damage without limiting the integrity of the structure. Inside your home, dry rot can be structurally damaging near ceiling joists and floors and cause depressions or sagging.

Take dry rot seriously and get it inspected by a professional to ensure you don’t have mold or structural damage. Depending on your insurance policy, it may be worth investigating a damage claim if the rot is due to a leak. Speak with your agent for more details.

What else can I do in the winter to protect my home?

Unplug your garden hoses, ensure nothing is leaking around faucets, and bring flower pots into the garage. Otherwise any water inside will expand as it freezes and cause them to crack, warp, or burst. You should also check that tree limbs aren’t near your home, since scratchy, leafless branches can scrape at the siding and cause paint to crack in the wind.

You can also use the winter to get started on the paint job you’ve always wanted. Our crews can paint the exterior of your home — even in the winter — when there’s at least 36 hours of dry weather forecasted. And we can paint the interior anytime that makes sense for your schedule. Contact us today to request a free in-home consultation.