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Tips on Selecting Exterior Paint for Your Home

Updated on July 26, 2011

Selecting colors for your home can be an arduous and sometimes contentious process with your family members. In addition to the actual paint colors, there are many technical factors that you should familiarize yourself with before embarking a "face lift" for your house. Exterior painting has added complication of weather and sun factor. Having been in the design profession for more than a decade, I have seen paint color selection as the Achilles' Heel for many design professionals. I hope the following tips can ease the process giving your house a make-over.

Type of Paint

Depending on the surface material of your house, you can either use oil-based Alkyd paint, latex paint, 100% acrylic paint or elastomeric paint. Oil-based paint holds up extremely well against the weather. It is a superior exterior paint rather than interior paint. The sun prevents the paint from turning yellow. If you want to use oil-base paint on interior application, please discuss with a painting contractor or the paint supplier. Because oil-based paint is harder to handle, and has higher environmental impact, it is not widely used by homeowners. Latex paint is more common among homeowners than oil based paint. 100% acrylic paint is higher quality than latex. It can be used on surfaces that need a little more flexibility. Acrylic paint is can also be applied by homeowner. Elastomeric paint is usually thicker than latex and acrylic paints. It is harder to apply; therefore you should have a painting contractor apply the paint. It also costs more than the other paint types. However, if you have a stucco building that is showing hairline cracks, elastomeric paint is your friend. It has a little more elasticity than the others. It can bridge over the hairline cracks that are hard to fill and patch in the first place. Some manufacturers may allow the use of elastomeric paint on wood surfaces. Nonetheless, they are still used primarily on masonry application, such as stucco. Because elastomeric paint is more water repellent, it means that it doesn't breath as well. If moisture gets between the paint and the building surface material, it will not be able to get out. It will either form bubbles and peel off or cause the building material to decay. Be sure to select a painting contractor who has experience in working with elastomeric paint. If applied properly, elastomeric paint has longer life than latex or 100% acrylic paint.

Water-based paint releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be harmful, specially to people with respiratory sensitivity. Many paint manufacturers now offer low VOCs or VOC free paint collection. Although the color selection may be limited, it is a good alternative to the standard latex paint. Some have found that VOC free paints are thinner and may not hold up as well.  Based on my professional experience, it all depends on the manufacturer.  Certain colors from one manufacturer may hold up better than the other and vice a verse.  For more information on zero or non-toxic latex paint, see here.

Color Schemes

How many colors should you have? In general, you should select a field color, which will be applied to the overall body of your building. It can be on stucco, siding (vinyl, shingle, cementitious) or board and batten. Then select a few accent colors, which will be applied to the trims and other accent items on your home.

If the roof of the building is visible and you're not planning are re-roofing, the color that you select should complement your roof. I.e., warm tone w/ warm tone and cool tone with cool tone.

A few rules to help your building looking sharp:

  • Paint always looks different under the sun. For example, I had painted a building "white". However, if you look at the paint chip at the paint store, it's grey. The sun will bleach out colors. Even though many paint manufacturers offer computer software for you to digitally apply the colors to your building, ALWAYS, ask for field mock ups. Lighter colors will look lighter. Brighter colors will look brighter or more obnoxious depending on your taste.
  • Consider the sun exposure of your building. If your building is shaded most of the time, have the painter do a field mock up on a cloudy day. If your building is exposed to sun all the time, the field paint mock up should be on a sunny day. The sun can make a beige color appear either pink or peach.
  • Darker colors will lose pigmentation faster than lighter colors. Reds are notorious for oxidizing/fading faster than others. Blues are difficult as well. Both will be harder to touch up in the future.
  • If you want to have more than one field color, change the colors at a inside corner rather than outside corner.
  • If you paint the accent trims a lighter color than the field, your building will feel lighter.
  • If you paint the accent trims a darker color than the field, your building will feel darker.
  • Paint the downspouts/rainwater leaders the same color as the surface that it passes.
  • Paint vertical corner trims the same as the field to avoid cartoonish look. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.
  • When pricing out the project, discuss how the painter will paint the trims. Make sure that the price include cutting in the edges - painting the accent color on the sides of the trims and not just the face.
  • Many paint manufacturers have "classic" or "historic" color lines that are grouped separated on the color fan-decks. These are tried and tested colors that have stood the test of time. If you are unsure of your own color aesthetics, these color lines are a good place to start.
  • If you are hiring a painting contractor for the project, ask them to include pricing for giving you additional paint at the end of the project.  The paint will be mixed at the same time as the original paint, which will mitigate color variation when you need to touch up later.

Color Sheen/Finish

Interior color paints are available in many sheen options ranging from flat to gloss. Exterior paints are more limited in options. Some paint manufacturers recommend flat paint for the body. Keep in mind that flat paint is most porous and will absorb most moisture. Unless your building has a lot of blemishes and uneven surfaces, avoid using flat paint on exterior applications. It may also give a "chalky" appearance. Satin or semi-gloss are good choices for exterior paints as they are more water repellent. Some manufacturers may state that they do not have semi-gloss as a standard finish. I have specified semi-gloss for my clients for many years. No one has ever told me that they can't find semi-gloss exterior paint or that they need to charge a premium for that. You just need to ask.



Last but not least, make sure that the surface is properly prepared to receive the new paint.

  • Scrape off loose old paint. Power wash if appropriate.
  • Patch and repair cracks and holes.
  • Remove and replace damaged sidings/panels.
  • Check with manufacturer before painting on pre-finished surfaces such as windows or metal louvers.
  • Use appropriate primer for each material. i.e. Metal primer for metal and wood primer for wood.

Once the project is completed, you'll be glad that it's over. Enjoy your new look!


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    • profile image

      john cartner 

      4 years ago

      Whether it is the exterior of your home or your business in order to make a good first impression it needs to be immaculate and nicely painted. The exterior painting service offered by Avatar Contractors never compromises on quality and provides only the most beautiful paint finishes.Hire an experienced, professional exterior paint contractor like the experts here at Avatar to guarantee the most attractive exterior.

    • tchenruiz profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      Thank you, Simone Smith. If you run into problems, feel free to ask me. Remember, these are general rules; there are always exceptions. If you don't quite like the mock up colors, you can always ask the painters to tweak what you have by making it a little lighter or darker, rather than starting from square 1. Good luck.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow, awesome tips tchenruiz! I'd typically think to just hire someone to do all this planning for me, but you've demonstrated that selecting the paint for one's home really isn't so difficult... now all I'd have to overcome is the physical ordeal of scraping off loose old paint and doing the other prep things... or... maybe I'll hire professionals for at least that part, hehee


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