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Best Exterior Paint

By: Angela Stringfellow on May 16, 2017

Editor's Note:
You can spend more for paint, but for the do-it-yourselfer, Behr Premium Plus Ultra outperforms well-regarded competitors while leaving a few dollars in your pocket. If you are budget crunched, Olympic Assure outperforms other paints at its price point. If you've got a deck to tackle, we name some top wood stains to get the look you want.

Behr Premium Plus Ultra Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Sheen -- Flat VOCs -- 50 g/L Coverage -- 250 sq. ft./gallon

Best exterior paint

Behr Premium Plus Ultra is a solid choice if you're looking for a great value. It provides great coverage overall, impressive durability and ease of use. With just 50 grams per liter of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), it's one of the lowest-VOC paints available, aside from zero-VOC paints. While it's not the lowest-priced exterior paint available, Behr Premium Plus Ultra shines in testing, scoring well for its resistance to cracking, mildew, color changing, and dirt.

Olympic Assure Review
Runners Up
Specs that Matter Sheen -- Flat VOCs -- 50 g/L Coverage -- 400 sq. ft./gallon

Cheap house paint

If you are on tight budget, decent exterior paint doesn't come much cheaper than Olympic Assure. Users say that it applies easily and dries quickly. Many say that they need no more than two coats to get the job done. If does fall behind more premium paint when it comes to durability, however, though you should last six years or more and still look very good. It's available in flat, satin and semi-gloss sheens.

Benjamin Moore Arborcoat Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Opacity – Solid color VOCs -- 100 g/L Coverage -- 400 sq. ft./gallon

Best deck stain

Benjamin Moore Arborcoat is the top performing solid stain in professional tests. It offers exceptional durability, with an excellent appearance after the equivalent of three years on a deck. It's available in tons of colors, and in also semi-transparent and transparent versions to fit any style or project, but durability isn't nearly as good in those other opacities. For the environmentally conscious, Benjamin Moore Arborcoat contains less than 100 grams per liter of VOCs, placing it in the low-VOC category.

Behr Premium Waterproofing Wood Stain & Sealer Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Sheen – Semi-transparent VOCs -- 100 g/L Coverage -- 300 sq. ft./gallon

Best semi-transparent deck stain

Behr Premium Waterproofing Wood Stain & Sealer comes in several options, including solid color, semi-transparent and transparent. All perform well, but the semi-transparent opacity outperforms similar stains -- including Benjamin Moore Arborcoat (Est. $45 per gallon) -- in expert testing. You should very much ignore the claim that this stain will look good on decks for 6 years (10 years for the solid opacity), but it should still look good for two -- which is much better than average among semi-transparent stains.

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, it takes a quality exterior paint to produce the best results. That's why choosing the right type of exterior paint is such an important step.

Types of Exterior Paint

Exterior Paint

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; quality exterior paint retains its original color for several years and resists cracking, dirt, fading and mildew. 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. That said, some cheaper house paints still deliver a quality finish, and while experts and many users recommend buying the best paint you can afford, we found that some of the best exterior paints land in the middle of the price spectrum – around $30 to $40 per gallon, with some mid-priced exterior paints rivaling and even out-performing more expensive paints costing $70 or more per gallon.

Deck Stain

Exterior wood stain is the best choice for decks, rough-finished wood (such as cedar shake and log cabins) and any exterior project where you want the grain of the wood to show. Unlike paint, which forms a thick, smooth film over the surface of the wood, experts say the best stains actually soak into the wood. While paint can peel and chip over time, stain simply fades when it ages. You can expect a wood stain not to last as long as a properly applied coat of exterior paint, though experts and professionals add that its longevity depends on the type and quality of stain you choose, how it well it's applied, how harsh the weather is, and whether the stain is applied to a horizontal surface (such as a deck floor), which suffers more weather abuse than a vertical surface (such as a wall).

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, these chemicals have been linked to air pollution. VOC limits for exterior paints are regulated by the federal government, meaning any paint you purchase today must meet these guidelines. Still, environmentally conscious consumers often opt for low-VOC paint, which has VOC levels that are even lower than those mandated by the federal requirements. Keep in mind these numbers are what's claimed by the manufacturer, and adding tints and colorants to some brands of paint will add VOCs. Low-VOC and zero VOC exterior paint typically performs on par with their higher-VOC counterparts, but tends to fall at the higher end of the price range for exterior paints. Like exterior paints, VOC levels for wood stains are also regulated by the federal government.

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 color 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.

Finding The Best Exterior Paint
Our Sources
"Exterior Paints"
"Wood Stains "
"J.D. Power 2016 Paint Satisfaction Study"

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. We found the best review at ConsumerReports.org, where editors test a multitude of paints and wood stains, rating a paint brand only after it has completed the equivalent of nine years' real-world exposure in simulated test environments. Ratings are based on durability, including resistance to dirt, mildew, fading and cracking, as well as considerations such as VOC levels.

We also consulted the J.D. Power and Associates 2016 Paint Satisfaction Study, which evaluates consumer satisfaction with overall paint brands rather than individual formulations, and professional tests from the Paint Quality Institute, where technicians put paints through rigorous tests in both simulated laboratory settings and real-world, outdoor conditions. In addition to these professional reviews, tests and surveys, we found a number of thorough reviews from professional painters who test and evaluate exterior paint in various settings.

Finally, we consulted consumer reviews at retail sites such as Lowes.com and HomeDepot.com, where consumers report on issues such as paintbrush and roll marks, fading, lack of coverage, and other issues, or praise paint that performed particularly well for their projects. We also found a few forums for professional painters and do-it-yourselfers, where professionals and consumers alike weigh in with recommended exterior paints and stains and report on performance. Some reviews at certain sites, such as HomeDepot.com and Lowes.com, originate at manufacturer websites and, therefore, appear across several sites that post reviews – a factor that we considered in determining the exterior paints and stains that are truly top performers.

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What every best Exterior Paint has:

  • Covers easily.
  • Resists dirt and mildew.
  • Lasts for years.

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