I live in a 70 year old bungalow with no insulation in a cold climate. The old paint is deteriorating, and there have been condensation problems. I believe the old paint is oil based and acted as a vapor barrier (until now).

A contractor looked at the house and told me he would use oil based primer followed by acrylic paint. Since I don't know anything about primer and paint, I would like to know if this is the proper material for the job? I would like to restore the vapor barrier.

The house is wood frame, brick on the outside and plaster on the inside. Thanks...

  • 5
    ...start with addressing the lack of insulation in a cold climate.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 13:55
  • 2
    The best bang for your money is adding insulation. The money you save in heating will pay for the insulation and painting job.
    – crip659
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 13:59
  • Brick on the outside, wood frame, plaster, usually means ~ 3" - 4" gap between brick and plaster that can be filled with insulation. Commented May 16, 2023 at 14:04
  • The cost to strip to (assuming) studs, insulate, re-wall and paint might be about the same as you'd save in heating bills...
    – Huesmann
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 14:15
  • If the wall's surface temperature is below the dew point due to lack of insulation there is absolutely no reason to have a vapor barrier. Condensation will form on the walls. You're better off letting it breathe in that case.
    – isherwood
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 16:25

2 Answers 2


You don't need to play guessing games with primers and paint, there are coatings designed specifically for vapor barrier function such as some of the ones shown on the Benjamin Moore website.

That said, it doesn't sound right that your house has stood without a problem for 70 years relying on paint to prevent moisture issues. Old houses with little to no insulation have lasted for longer as originally built and can develop moisture issues after being insulated improperly. There might be other things happening that are causing condensation problems and that's why your paint is deteriorating, not the other way round.

If you do want to insulate, that's a can of worms and I don't want to do a write-up here on all the things you can do without knowing anything substantial about your house or the climate that it resides in.

  • I understand the benefit of insulating but the house is in a neighborhood where all the old bungalows are being demolished and replaced by monster houses. At best my horizon is 10 to 15 years. Is it a good investment?
    – QTX
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 14:55
  • @QTX Not sure I see how old houses being replaced affects your plans. How big are your heating and cooling bills now? Commented May 16, 2023 at 15:02
  • Only you can do the math: “over the next 10 years I expect to spend $x on home heating. Insulation will cost $y and reduce my heating bills to $z.” Don’t forget that some municipalities sometimes have energy efficiency programs in place that might offset the $y cost. Commented May 16, 2023 at 18:11
  • @aquaticapetheory It means it's a "scraper" - given local market conditions the financially rational choice is to demolish it and start over. It may be a fine house; just a mismatch for comparable homes nearby e.g. a 1BR cottage among 5BR McMansions.(because apparently, all houses in a neighborhood should be the same). As such, you're leaving a lot of money on the table by not doing so or selling to someone so inclined. OP is saying sooner than later they may get an offer too good to refuse... Commented May 17, 2023 at 0:22
  • @Harper My sense has been that people that actually profit from that type of transition are not the owners of the 1BR cottages but the ones that buy up those cottages from aging owners for low-ball prices, tear them down, build the 5BR McMansions as cheaply as they can, and then sell them for millions of dollars. The original owner might get a decent price on their cottage without having to do repairs but then they have to move out to the boonies because they're priced out of their old neighborhood. Haven't tried it though so could be wrong. Commented May 17, 2023 at 14:01

More likely, the condensation and/or undiagnosed leaks in the walls or roof are causing the paint to fail. This suggests that likely, there will be some serious remedial work needed in the future.

Your idea that "the paint was holding back the moisture until it failed for no discernable reason" is a rationalization; grasping for a way to deny the above. In that narrative, repainting is a silver bullet; and by amazing coincidence, that is a task you feel confident about funding and doing, so it is a fast-track to a happy ending.

Yeah, unfortunately you'll want structural experts (not paint experts, and preferably not people who sell roofs, because they are infested with scamming salesmen) to take a closer look. Because if you have a serious problem that will require sinking real money...

... I believe in comments you were discussing how your small bungalow is now a misfit for the neighborhood, and the surrounding houses are becoming McMansions. And because of that, it is not rational to sink significant amounts of repair money into the bungalow as-is.

My teacher called those "scrapers" - houses where the value of the property would be most improved by demolishing the structure and starting over. That can happen either because of a significantly damaged house, and/or a perfectly fine house that doesn't fit a changing market.

I would tend to agree. You can always be a holdout and be the last bungalow in a sea of McMansions, purely as a passion project... but you're leaving a lot of money on the table if you do that. And it'll just get demolished anyway the day after you move out of it.

So my strong advice is to get structural guys out there to give you an assessment of where that water is coming from; and if you're due for a roof or major siding work. If that is the case, then you can get estimates and make a rational choice on repair vs sell vs scrape-and-build-new.

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