Updated June 2014
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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, the finish can only look as good as the quality of exterior paint you buy. 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; the paint should retain its original color for several years and resist cracking, dirt 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. To make this task easier, review our report on pressure washers.

Some cheap house paints still deliver a quality finish. Experts and professionals recommend buying the best paint you can afford -- but we know that buying the most expensive paint isn't always possible for every job. The good news is that we've spotted a few brands of exterior paint that earn much praise on both performance and durability in independent tests, as well as in the eyes of contractors. Some of these rival more expensive paints costing $70 or more per gallon, though there are caveats with these budget paints. They 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 -- as you'll be breathing in less fumes -- these chemicals have been linked to air pollution, so the lower a paint's VOC rating, the better for everyone. Keep in mind these numbers are claimed by the manufacturer, and adding tints and colorants to some brands of paint will add VOCs. VOC limits for exterior paints are regulated by the federal government. Flat finishes can't exceed 250 grams per liter; other finishes can't exceed 380 grams per liter. California has more stringent limits: 100 grams per liter and 150 grams per liter, respectively, at the state level; some local regions in this state are as low as 50 grams per liter.

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 type 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. VOC levels for wood stains are regulated by the federal government and are set at 380 to 550 grams per liter, depending on the finish type.

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. One of these is sure to bring years of beauty to your home.

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