What the best exterior paint does

  • Covers easily. The best exterior paints cover existing hues with minimal coats. Many top-of-the-line house paints are self-priming, meaning one coat of paint can act a primer coat too, and can get most jobs done in no more than two coats.
  • Resists dirt and mildew. If you're painting in an area that receives lots of rain or moisture, consider an exterior paint that resists mildew. Also, the ability to withstand dirt is another hot selling point, especially if you live in a busy city or urban environment.
  • Lasts for years. Experts place a huge emphasis on durability in independent tests. Paying extra for paint that can withstand the elements over the years can save you money in the long run, as you'll need to repaint less frequently.
  • Dries fast and smooth. Sometimes a house paint can dry unevenly, even if you apply it correctly. The best exterior paints dry quick enough to prevent dripping, and provide a rich, smooth finish.

Know before you go

Spend money to save money. Experts say a top-quality exterior paint can save you money in the long run over cheap paint. This is because premium paint generally lasts several times longer, and you'll have to repaint less frequently. Even in the short run, more expensive paint usually does the trick in just one or two coats, experts say, while you may need more coats of cheap paint to get the same coverage. The labor involved in painting your home costs far more than the paint itself, so spending the extra cash on a top-quality paint can be a drop in the bucket.

Match the color you want, or buy some samples. Many paints can be tinted in nearly infinite variations of colors. If you want to match your existing color, bring paint, a chip or a picture to the store. Paint sellers have equipment that tells them which colors to blend to make an exact color match, and the service is usually complimentary. If you're uncertain about which color you want, or whether or not it'll look good on your house, buy a sample. Many retailers sell minuscule pre-mixed containers of paint, so you can see how well a paint looks when dry before buying massive quantities.

Match the existing type of paint. While latex (acrylic) paints are preferred over oil (alkyd) paints in general, experts recommend matching the existing type of paint if you're repainting a surface. Use latex paints on existing latex finishes, and use oil paints on existing oil finishes. This is because if you're painting over many layers of old oil paint, a new coat of latex can actually cause the old oil paint to peel off in sheets, because the two paints react differently to moisture.

Consider a wood stain for decks. Deck stains are ideal for when you want to show the wood grain of a deck or porch. Clear (or transparent) stains accentuate the wood grain the best, but are the least durable. Solid stains are the most durable because they're the most penetrating, though they hide the wood grain the most.

Exterior Paint Runners Up:

Behr Premium Plus Ultra Est. $40

4 picks including: HomeDepot.com, DIY Chatroom…

Thompson's WaterSeal Deck & House Est. $25

2 picks including: HomeDepot.com, ConsumerReports.org…

Glidden Premium Est. $25

2 picks including: HomeDepot.com, DIY Chatroom…

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Thompson's® WaterSeal® Deck & House Semi-Transparent Waterproofing Latex Stain - One Gallon
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