Experts and contractors say you should buy the best quality exterior paint you can afford, not only because they generally provide a richer, smoother finish than their less expensive competitors, but they can even save you money in the long run. This is because premium paints typically get the job done with fewer coats. They're also more durable -- able to withstand wear and tear better, and not change colors -- which means they can last longer without needing to be repainted.
Sherwin-Williams Duration (Est. $70) is the most recommended exterior paint we've found. Duration is Sherwin-William's top-of-the-line exterior paint, as its premium price tag suggests, but most experts, professional painters and do-it-yourselfers agree that it's worth it. The main reason is that coverage is excellent. So many painters on Internet discussion forums who frequently use Duration for outside projects say you shouldn't need more than two coats, and some say one coat is sometimes adequate thanks to its self-priming ability. Duration goes on thicker than many other paints, and while it's easy enough to apply, according to reviews, it may take a bit of getting used to when gliding it on.
Duration is a top performer at independent tests focused on durability, looking great even after nine years of accelerated weather testing. Most professionals and do-it-yourselfers who used Duration for their houses say these results are in keeping with their experiences, as many say their exterior walls look great and didn't need repainting for almost a decade. Duration also resists cracking and isn't likely to change colors when exposed to the elements. There's a lifetime warranty to cover blistering and peeling on a properly applied coat of paint. It's not the best paint at resisting dirt and mildew, experts say.
Duration comes in satin, flat and semi-gloss finishes, all of which meet all federal and state limits for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) -- the harmful chemicals in paint fumes that have been linked to health problems as well as pollution -- though not the toughest local limits in certain parts of California. The manufacturer claims that adding their colorants to Duration doesn't alter the VOC rating.
Behr Premium Plus Ultra (Est. $40) is another top exterior paint, available exclusively at The Home Depot. While it doesn't receive the unequivocal recommendation from professional painters that Duration does, it earns much praise overall. Reviewers say performance rivals that of many top-of-the-line paints at a fraction of the cost. It earns the top editors' nod at one independent testing agency, with high marks for durability -- the flat finish in particular. Premium Plus Ultra looks great even after nine years of simulated weathering in lab tests, and resists cracking and color change. It's also formidable against dirt and mildew, according to the same tests, which is a potential one-up on Sherwin-Williams Duration.
Paints by Behr are a thorny subject on paint-related discussion boards, mainly among professional contractors. Many say Premium Plus Ultra will get the job done in two coats and provides a rich, smooth finish in the process, but there are just as many who say they've had to apply more coats than they would if using a premium-priced paint, such as Duration. User reviews found at Behr.com and HomeDepot.com are overwhelmingly positive, on the other hand, and many report being pleased with the way it held up over the years. Despite mixed reviews, we've yet to spot a house paint that offers performance and durability comparable to Duration at this modest price point.