A quality exterior paint can bring out the best in a home
A beautiful paint finish can really make a house stand out from the others on the block. But it doesn't matter whether you're a professional contractor or do-it-yourselfer, it takes a quality exterior paint to produce the best results. That's why choosing the right type of exterior paint is such an important step.
The best exterior paints go on smooth and last for years. Experts, professional painters and do-it-yourself homeowners agree that the best exterior paints go on smoothly, which means you shouldn't see any streaks from a brush or roller when you apply it. The finish should look rich and evenly spread. Durability is a key consideration as well; quality exterior paint retains its original color for several years and resists cracking, dirt, fading and mildew -- the latter is particularly important if you get a lot of rain. You can usually expect a thicker paint to be more durable. Top paints will generally get the job done in fewer coats than cheaper paints, though experts recommend applying at least two coats, as it leads to a longer-lasting finish. Don't forget to do the proper prep work -- that is, cleaning or scraping the siding before painting. A good pressure washer (covered in their own report) can go a long way toward making that prep work easier.
Some cheap house paints still deliver a quality finish. Experts and professionals recommend buying the best paint you can afford -- but buying the most expensive paint isn't always possible for every job, nor does price always equate to better quality. In fact, we found that the best exterior paints land in the middle of the price spectrum – around $30 to $40 per gallon, with some mid-priced exterior paints rivaling and even out-performing more expensive paints costing $70 or more per gallon. Paints at the lower end of the price spectrum – below $30 per gallon – typically require more coats to get the job done, and some say they don't look as good or don't dry evenly.
The lower the VOC rating, the better for you and the environment. Most paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the harmful chemicals in paint fumes that have been linked to health and environmental problems. While VOCs are less of a concern when painting outside than if you were painting inside, these chemicals have been linked to air pollution. VOC limits for exterior paints are regulated by the federal government, meaning any paint you purchase today must meet these guidelines. Still, environmentally conscious consumers often opt for low-VOC paint, which has VOC levels that are even lower than those mandated by the federal requirements. Keep in mind these numbers are what's claimed by the manufacturer, and adding tints and colorants to some brands of paint will add VOCs. Low-VOC and zero VOC exterior paint typically performs on par with their higher-VOC counterparts, but tends to fall at the higher end of the price range for exterior paints.
Be sure to choose the right paint sheen. Once you decide which exterior paint is best for you, you'll need to decide on a type of finish. This is important because choosing the wrong type of sheen can be just as bothersome as choosing the wrong color of paint. The rule is the glossier the sheen, the more detail it shows. So if you're painting over a surface with a lot of imperfections, such as siding, a flat finish is best for the job as it has the dullest sheen. Eggshell and satin have a slightly glossier shine but also can be used for siding. Semi-gloss and high-gloss finishes are often used for painting trim, as they accent the surface details and are easy to clean.
Deck stains are ideal for a quality wood finish. If you're applying a finish to a wooden deck, consider a wood stain. Like exterior paints, they come in different finishes. Choose a clear deck stain if you really want to accentuate the wood grain, though you'll need to reapply the stain every year or so to get the best look. More durable are semi-transparent and solid finishes. These cover up more of the wood grain but do a better job of resisting the elements and need to be reapplied less frequently. Like exterior paints, VOC levels for wood stains are also regulated by the federal government.
Finding the best exterior paints and deck stains
ConsumerSearch editors examined professional tests, dozens of expert reviews and hundreds of owner reviews to find the best exterior paints, cheap exterior paints and the best deck stain. We found the best review at ConsumerReports.org, where editors test a multitude of paints and wood stains, rating a paint brand only after it has completed the equivalent of nine years' real-world exposure in simulated test environments. Ratings are based on how well a paint's hiding performance as well as resistance to scrubbing, mildew, fading, and more.
We also consulted the J.D. Power 2015 Paint Satisfaction Study, which evaluates consumer satisfaction with overall paint brands rather than individual formulations, and professional tests from the Paint Quality Institute where technicians put paints through rigorous tests in both simulated laboratory settings as well as in real-world, outdoor conditions to identify top-performing paints that resist mildew and fading, the best paint-primer combination products, and rust-resistant paint.
In addition to these professional reviews and tests, we found a number of thorough reviews from professional painters who test and evaluate exterior paint in various settings. Finally, we consulted consumer reviews at retail sites such as Lowes.com and HomeDepot.com, where consumers report on issues such as paintbrush and roll marks, fading, lack of coverage, and other issues, or praise paint that performed particularly well for their projects. We also found a few forums for professional painters, where professionals and consumers alike weigh in with recommended exterior paints and stains and report on performance. Some reviews at certain sites such as HomeDepot.com and Lowes.com originate at manufacturer websites and, therefore, appear across several sites that post reviews – a factor that we considered in determining the exterior paints and stains that are truly top performers.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Exterior House Paint | Best Deck Stain | Buying Guide | Our Sources