ConsumerReports.org has a monopoly on full reviews of exterior house paints and stains. The editors' simulated testing is ongoing, measuring how paints and stains perform over time.
ConsumerReports.org's testers simulate the aging process to learn about endurance of exterior paint. They subject painted wood to conditions that roughly accelerate aging three times faster than real time. Editors evaluate appearance after simulated three-, six- and nine-year periods, including resistance to dirt, mildew and color changing. One flaw with this slow methodology is that manufacturers engage in continuing research and development and regularly introduce new formulations (which may not always result in a new product name). ConsumerReports.org editors say testers verify whether formulations have changed and are forced to start over when changes are made. As a result, some popular exterior house paints are not currently rated. ConsumerReports.org rates eight fully tested exterior paints in their June 2010 issue, publishing partial results of 21 other house paints in various stages of testing. Exterior paints from Behr, Benjamin Moore, California, Dutch Boy, Glidden, Olympic, Pratt & Lambert, Sears, Sherwin-Williams and Valspar are included in this evaluation.
To test exterior stains, ConsumerReports.org editors built a deck and stained sections of it with various products. Testers check whether the boards look cracked, dirty or faded after one, two and three years. Again, product formulations sometimes change before the ratings are complete. Indeed, only one of the stains that has completed three full years of testing is still available. Fourteen stains are rated in all, but most have only been on ConsumerReports.org's deck for a year or two. Editors test stains from Behr, Cabot, Olympic, Sears, Sherwin-Williams, Sikkens, Wolman and Woodsman.
Internet forums are the best place to find professional and user opinions on exterior paints and stains. Veteran house painters -- as well as knowledgeable do-it-yourselfers -- debate the best brands on ContractorTalk.com's Professional Construction and Remodeling Forum, PaintTalk.com's Professional Painting Contractors Forum, DIYChatroom.com's Painting Forum, and PainterForum.com's Professional Painters and Associated Trades Forum. Some of these professional painters criticize ConsumerReports.org's exterior paint ratings, which have historically been led by brands (notably Behr paints from The Home Depot) that these pros say do not apply easily or look good in their real-life experience.
However, painting contractors and ConsumerReports.org do agree on one thing: Don't buy cheap exterior paint.
"Buy the top of the line," ConsumerReports.org editors say. "Over the years, we have found that lower grades -- typically dubbed good, better, or contractor grade -- do not perform as well. If a top-line paint can cover all but the darkest colors in two coats, lower-quality paints might need three or four coats. That makes them a poor value." Professional house painters agree, pointing out that cheap paint will degrade more quickly and force you to repaint more often, which costs a lot more in labor costs than the extra money you would have spent for good paint. On the other hand, if you are planning to move soon, you may opt for a cheaper paint anyway.
Of course, top-of-the-line can mean $55 for a gallon of Sherwin-Williams Duration -- the exterior paint professional contractors recommend most -- or as little as $13 for a gallon of Behr Premium Plus, a brand that performs well in professional reviews. You can get a gallon of house paint for less money, but none of our sources recommend doing so.