Although painting is considered one of the most budget-friendly ways to spruce up your home, if you have a lot of space to cover the cost can add up. The good news is that several under-$30-per-gallon paints perform respectably (in some cases, better than pricier paints) in independent tests.
One inexpensive wall paint that gets praise from expert testers, contractors and do-it-yourselfers is Ace Royal (Est. $20 per gallon). Sold at Ace Hardware stores, this interior paint comes in flat, eggshell, satin and semi-gloss sheens.
Ace Royal tends to fade more than other interior paints in tests, but otherwise, it's a strong performer -- especially when it comes to scrubbability and stain- and mildew-resistance. Royal earns high marks from editors at Good Housekeeping on ease of use, performance and appearance.
Ace Royal flat finish lists 100 grams of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per liter, the chemical linked to respiratory and other health problems. If you're worried about possible health effects from VOCs, you can find paints at every price point -- including some in the budget category -- that have low or no VOCs.
One low-VOC interior paint that won't break the bank is Glidden Premium (Est. $15 per gallon). While it doesn't earn nearly the amount of praise that Ace Royal receives, it earns solid reviews overall considering its cheap price tag. In flat finish, it performs very well in independent tests. It does a good job of hiding colors, resisting mildew and dries to a smooth, nonsticky finish, though it shows some fading at times. Fading is a bigger problem in the satin and semi-gloss finishes. Glidden Premium is sold at Home Depot.
Reviews of paints by Behr, such as Premium Plus (Est. $28 per gallon) and Premium Plus Ultra (Est. $30 per gallon), are all over the map. Some report using Behr paints for years without any significant complaints, while others report having to apply several coats of paint to get a proper finish. Behr is also sold at Home Depot.
Lowe's carries Valspar Ultra Premium (Est. $20 per gallon) and Olympic Premium (Est. $20 per gallon). Both perform comparably to their Behr and Glidden counterparts and also get mixed reviews. If budget is your primary concern, however, you should ultimately end up satisfied with any of the paints in this category.