What Color Should I Paint My House?

Jeremy Holderness

Painting your house is a big deal. It just is…. On average, American homes get painted every seven years. If it’s a newer home it’s possibly less frequent. For many, it’s a little more frequent. Either way, it’s a big decision, and an expensive one. When you do it, you want to get the most out of it and be really happy with your result.

Based on our anecdotal experience (we’ve painted around 6000 houses, so though non-scientific we’ve had quite a few conversations), the criteria homeowners base their satisfaction from seem to be:

  1. Quality of the work they got for their money.
  2. The experience they had with the company they used, and
  3. The colors/appearance of their finished project.

Though it may be third in most mentioned criteria of satisfaction, color selection is probably the most common thing that can make a person unhappy with an otherwise great paint job. No one wants to make a multi-thousand dollar, multi-year decision only to later wish they’d made a different one. Below, we are going to discuss some considerations to contemplate before choosing a color, then we’ll discuss some tools and tactics to help you in the decision-making process.

Making color choices that are right for you

Before walking into a paint store (or using the other tools below) to choose your paint colors, the first thing you should do is perform an unbiased evaluation of your personality, particularly relating to your general style preferences and your steadiness in those preferences. If you’re a capricious type of person who may really love something today and really not love it a month from now, you may want to avoid fad colors.

If you’re someone who is open to frequent changes and doesn’t mind spending the time or money to make those changes, following trends and choosing colors that really jump out to you today may be a fun and safe choice for you. If you’re planning on selling your house before the next paint job, realtors will unquestionably push you towards neutral, less bold choices. If you want your house to stand out and get vocal recognition, those bolder choices may be just your thing. If you’re in an HOA, your choices may be largely made for you….some HOA’s have predetermined colors or color options that you have to live by.

Lastly, for many people a repaint is just that… you may have a house that you feel is designed for a specific color, and a repaint is always just that… a repainting of the same colors to freshen it up. Everyone’s tolerances and situations are unique. Below are some low-tech and high-tech tools to help you reach your final decisions.

Low Tech Tools for Choosing Colors

This is pretty easy…. And honestly for a lot of people, including myself, low tech and easy is more fitting than the more advanced tools we’ll discuss next.

  • Low tech tools start with the good ‘ol color chips you can pick up at any paint store. You walk in…you look at colors… you hold a few side by side to see what looks good together… then if you’re like most people you’ll probably take a bunch home and ask every person you can get to listen to you their opinions in the quiet hope that they’ll confirm what you’re already thinking.

  • A step up from the color chips in the store is the color deck. A color deck is a full book of all the standard colors in a manufacturer’s color palette. The color deck is useful because most paint manufacturers have a couple thousand colors in their current palette, so carrying home the full book allows you to hold the full array of colors up to your brick, shingles, shutters, or other items you’re trying to complement. These color-decks are expensive, so most paint stores won’t loan them out to homeowners…but maybe for a $25 or $50 deposit, they’ll loan it to you. If you’re working with a reputable painting company, you can often get one from them.

  • Next in line of the low-tech tools would be utilizing a color consultant. A color consultant is a color expert and will work with you to find colors that work with your architecture and your personal style to find (an often bolder) color options that are personally fitting to your home. Private color consultants often cost 300-600 dollars (or more). Some paint stores, whether boutique high-end stores (Benjamin Moore franchise stores or quality regional manufacturers) or premium national brand retailers (like Sherwin-Williams or PPG) will sometimes employ a designer or color consultant that you can use at a greatly discounted rate…often in the $150 range for a 60-90 minute in-home consultation. A handful of high-quality, large residential painting companies (like your good friends at ImageWorks Painting!) can sometimes also provide this service free of charge if you have contracted with them. Always keep in mind that a color consultant is ONLY a consultant. They will advise, they sometimes are overly confident in their choices, and they sometimes miss the mark. In the end, you should consider their knowledgeable opinions…but the choice is always yours. It’s yours to live with, and it’s your responsibility in the end.

  • Not so much a tool…. But one of the methods I used recently in choosing my house color was an old-fashioned Sunday drive. My wife and I spent a couple of hours driving through nearby neighborhoods where we knew there were (relatively) similar styles of houses to our own and watched for things that jumped out at us. This wasn’t just for house paint…though it was instrumental in our decision… we also came up with multiple other ideas for summer projects including a new chicken coop and a great butterfly garden.

  • Lastly… and this fitting into the “low-tech” section is certainly arguable… is just a simple Google search. Go to google images, give the best description of your house’s architectural style that you can (brick ranch, split level vinyl, two-story contemporary, tudor, cape-cod, colonial, Victorian, American Craftsman, modern farmhouse, etc.), and scroll for things you like. It’s quick, simple, and gives you a starting point to use for the rest of the selection process.

High-Tech Tools for Choosing Colors

For those of you who want to put the time into personalizing your color choices, or who have a hard time envisioning things in your head (like me!), or for those who just love the capabilities of modern technology… we have a great deal of technology-based color selection options. We have compiled a good amount of our favorites of these into a single location on the color help page of our website.

Some of the options you’ll find on our page are:

  • ColorSnap® - An app that you can use from your smartphone to identify colors and then save your favorites to a file. ColorSnap is frequently used by artists, designers, architects, and savvy homeowners who are always looking ahead to the next great project.

  • SnapIt - This app allows you to take any picture you like – a great sunset, a lake surrounded by Autumn Oak trees, or your tomato garden in the middle of summer or a bluebird sitting on a sunflower – and build a full color palette our of the colors in the picture.
  • Color Visualizer - Another Sherwin-Williams based tool that allows you to find a representative area somewhat similar to yours, and then plug and play with colors to see them painted out in a (virtual) real world environment.

  • The Color Sense Game™  is a PPG offering that relates back to that first thing we mentioned in this article…. Knowing yourself and choosing based on your personal styles and tendencies. This “game” is a great way of starting the journey of identifying your personal color inclinations.

 

No matter how you get there… one final thing I’d recommend to everyone is to take a look at your colors live and in place. Anything you choose off of a paper sample is an approximation of color. Paint stores will not guarantee the actual color out of the can will perfectly match the color on their color card. Sound crazy, I know, but it’s the way it is.

The back of each color card will normally have a simple disclaimer telling you that. From the contractor standpoint…once the paint goes on the wall, their cost has been incurred. If you don’t like a color and an area has to be repainted, you should expect that the painter will charge you for the time and material…including the down time if his workers have to stand around not painting while you re-choose colors.

The answer to this is to do a mock-up before colors go on the walls. Sherwin-Williams offers a “Color-to-Go” program and PPG offers “Color Sample Pints” (and other manufacturers will sell you regular quarts of paint) which allows you to buy a low-cost small container of paint (not finish quality, it’s not a replacement for the real product your contractor will use) in the colors of your choosing that you can inexpensively paint onto an area of your house or wall to see the paint on your actual surface, in sunlight (which is always different from interior lighting) so you can be sure of your color choices.

Paint out a lap of siding or a stretch of stucco (preferably corner to corner) and ensure that you love your colors before giving the painting contractor the go ahead to put them on your house. PLEASE do this long in advance. Once your painter is scheduled is NOT the time to be picking colors. If you’re dealing with a quality painting contractor, you probably have a wait between the time you award them the job and the time they are actually able to get through their lineup of customers who scheduled before you (if they can be there the next day or week…. Maybe worry about that!). Use those weeks or months to choose your color, apply a sample, and get excited about the happy times to come!

Good luck and happy color-hunting!

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