The 7 Most Important Things To Consider When Buying Exterior Paint

Jeremy Holderness

Yellow house to show exterior paint TampaWhen you or your contractor are choosing an exterior paint for your home there is no shortage of choices available.  And who has the best paint -- the big box home improvement stores like Home Depot & Lowe's or the specialty paint shops like Sherwin-Williams & Benjamin Moore?  Should you pay $30 per gallon for paint or $80 per gallon?

Rather than directing you toward the best product-specific paint option, this article will focus on helping you to understand what qualities you should be looking for in an exterior paint, regardless of where you're buying.  Because once you get beyond the marketing gimmicks and the pretty paint can labels there are a few characteristics that actually separate good exterior paint from great exterior paint.



1. Durability

The durability of an exterior paint determines how well, and for how long, it will hold up to nature's elements.  This is obviously an area of great concern to homeowners.  If you're going to spend a large amount of money either painting or paying someone else to paint your home, you want to know that it's going to last.  

Independent consumer testing publications perform tests that simulate years of outdoor exposure on a coating.  And the results -- assuming they're coming from a reputable, non-biased source -- can give you a good indication of the expected longevity of any paint.

If you don't have the benefit of the results of one of these tests at your disposal when you're doing your shopping, you can always look to the amount of years that the manufacturer is willing to stand behind their product with its warranty.  With that said, paint manufacturers know that homeowners re-paint their home about every 7 years on average, for one reason or another.  So expecting that any paint will last 20-30 years, let alone a lifetime -- as many of the labels claim -- is nothing more than a marketing technique.  But what different warranty periods do indicate are different levels of quality of a coating.  The shorter the warranty the lower the quality; you get the picture.


2. Color & Gloss Retention

Direct sunlight can degrade the binder and pigment of paint, causing it to chalk and lose its gloss. All paints will lose some degree of color and gloss over time but lower-quality paints will generally lose them much earlier than better grades.

Latex paints that are not 100% acrylic, as well as oil-based paints, are the two biggest offenders.  Be safe and go with at least a mid-grade 100% acrylic paint.


3. One-Coat Coverage

This is an area which I believe is greatly misunderstood, and unfortunately this confusion benefits the paint manufacturers.  The whole concept of a one-coat coverage paint is extremely appealing to any reluctant weekend warrior who's staring down the barrel of a daunting paint project.  I mean, who wouldn't want to cut their painting time in half, right?

What they don't tell you in many cases is that these one-coat coverage paints are not ideal for every situation, and they don't apply the same as traditional paints do -- at least not if you want them to work correctly.  Don't get me wrong, when used correctly and in the right situation they can be real labor-savers.  But in other scenarios they can reduce the longevity of your paint job or even cause massive paint failure.

Apply It At The Proper Thickness - There's no magic involved in how these products do what they do.  They're able to achieve two coats worth of coverage in a single coat because they're most-often thicker than regular paint and, unlike regular paint, they can be applied at twice the normal thickness without running or sagging down the side of the house.  Where the misunderstanding comes in is that if you don't apply them at the proper thickness, you aren't really getting two coats worth of paint -- which will lead to another re-paint in your near future.

If you're going to attempt to apply one of these products, my advice is to find out the specific application recommendations from the product label and apply it as directed.  Since this will usually involve applying the coating at double (7-8 mils) the normal wet film thickness (3-4 mils), and since that can be very difficult to determine, I would go as far as to say you should purchase yourself a simple wet mil film thickness gauge to monitor your wet paint thickness as you apply it.

Use It In The Right Situation - Maybe the larger problem with these products exists around the ones that are intended to be used as a primer-finish, or self-priming product.  As acrylic paint dries it shrinks.  When acrylic paints dry that are twice as thick they can have the tendency to shrink more aggressively than their counterparts.  But where the real issue occurs is when you have a paint that's twice as thick that bonds well enough to act as its own primer, when it shrinks it can literally pull old layers of paint right off the side of your home, causing widespread coating failure.

My basis for this claim doesn't come from anecdotal evidence, but from one of the major paint manufacturers who had this very issue on a national level when they first released their one-coat product and over-marketed it to the public as the best solution for all re-paint situations.  The truth is that these products do have their place, but in my humble opinion that place is on new siding or siding that has minimal layers of existing paint from the not-so-distant past that are well adhered to the substrate.


If a one-coat coverage product is not a fit for your project, then opt for a good primer (where necessary) followed by two coats of a high quality 100% acrylic paint that has good color hiding capabilities (usually a thick coating).  You'll get nice, uniform coverage and it's hard to go wrong with it.


4. & 5. Moisture Resistance & Low Temperature Application

A couple of areas that the painting industry has focused on in recent years are extending the exterior painting season, and allowing users of their products to push the limits of good sense when it comes to painting under the threat of rain.

Conquering The Temperature - If you've decided to tackle that exterior painting project in the Spring or the Fall there's good news that'll help you to do just that.  Many exterior paints are now equipped with the technology that will allow you to apply them when the surface and air temperatures are 35 degrees and above.  This is especially helpful given the fact that just a few years ago you couldn't paint if the temperature was expected to fall below 50 degrees.  There's no special tools or tips needed to paint in these conditions, just be aware that I said air and surface temperature need to be 35 degrees or above.  Be conscious of the fact that on cold mornings it sometimes takes the surface temperature of your siding longer to come up to the acceptable level than it does for the air.

Conquering The Rain - An uncertain weather forecast can really delay your painting schedule.  If you decide to hold off because of a reasonable chance of showers, you'll be kicking yourself in the butt over a missed opportunity if it doesn't precipitate.  If you decide to risk it because of a small chance of wet weather, you'll really be kicking yourself in the butt when your newly-applied paint is being washed down the side of the house by a mid-afternoon downpour.

Some new products are giving you more control over your schedule even if you can't control the weather.  Many of these moisture resistant products out now will allow you to paint almost up to the point of rain without worry.  Usually it is still recommended that you stop painting if rain is expected within 1-2 hours.


6. Sheen

You might be thinking that paint sheen is a pretty self-explanatory topic.  But I've found that few people really understand which sheen is ideal for which application.

Flat - Flat paints are great for hiding lots of imperfections in any surface, and they also tend to touch-up quite well.  The drawback to most of them is that they tend to attract more dirt and not wash as well as their shinier alternatives.

Satin/Eggshell - Satins and eggshells are probably the most common sheens selected.  They seem to strike the perfect balance between having enough shine to make them washable but not so much shine that you have to wear sunglasses to keep from being blinded by the glare.  When asked, I tend to recommend them as a good choice for your home's siding.

Semi-Gloss/Gloss/High-Gloss - Most people wouldn't choose a shinier paint for their siding because the glare can be a bit distracting.  However, glossier paints tend to have a harder film, they're more durable, and are less permeable to water and snow.  They are an excellent choice for painting doors, windows, trim -- since those are the areas that are being touched the most and are also more often subjected to snow and water remaining in contact with the surface for longer periods of time.


7. Latex or Oil

Do you ever wonder why people don't use oil-based paint much anymore?  Heck, you can barely even find it on the shelf at your local paint store these days.

Well, there's good reason for that.  For one, the ever-tightening governmental restrictions on VOC's (volatile organic compounds) would have eventually driven it off the shelves anyway.  But the real reason is that it simply can't compete with the performance of 100% acrylic products today.  A good acrylic will stay flexible where an oil will not -- doing a much better job of expanding and contracting with the surface below it; they retain their color and gloss much better; they have a greater tolerance to low temperature application; they're mold & mildew resistant; and they're much easier to clean up when working with them...just to name a few.

You can also check out this article on latex and oil-based paint compatibility for more information on the pros and cons of both: You Can't Paint Over Latex With Oil !...Or Can You?



You don't have to spend a fortune to get a good, even great quality of paint for your home.  What you want to do is to pay attention to and compare the characteristics that we talked about in this article.  

As I mentioned earlier, it's best to do your research and read comparison reviews on specific brands and products.  If not, the warranties will tell you a lot when it comes to the different levels of quality you can expect with each product offering that you'll find on the shelf.

It is my personal opinion that -- as in almost anything else -- you get what you pay for when it comes to paint.  The notion that 'paint is paint' is one that I hear from a lot of people, and I couldn't disagree more.  However, when deciding whether it's worth the extra money for a 'lifetime warranty' paint or paint that costs $80 per gallon, what it really boils down to is what will give you the best ROI (Return On Investment) of your money.  Because when you're potentially spending thousands of dollars on a paint job to protect and beautify your home, I would definitely consider it an investment.  

More expensive paint will usually have features and benefits over that of the lesser expensive options, but they may not all be of benefit to you personally, and there is certainly a point of diminishing returns where the amount of additional benefit you're getting with an upgraded product may not be worth the extra money on your project.  My advice is to set yourself a budget you can afford and find the best product line that will fit within that budget.

I know this article is not intended to be product-specific but I can't resist the temptation of throwing my 2 cents in.  I will admit that I've not personally tried every exterior paint product on the market but of the many that I have tried there are a couple of products from top manufacturers that we utilize often, that represent a level of quality I believe will satisfy the needs of most situations -- being that they are reasonably priced enough where many people can afford to use them and their quality is time-tested which makes me feel confident in saying that they will hold up exceptionally well on anyone's home.  And those are:  SuperPaint by Sherwin-Williams, and Manor Hall by PPG-Pittsburgh Paints.










Contact the Pros

Ready to get started with your next painting project but unsure if it is in your budget? Reach out to the expert painting team at ImageWorks Painting to schedule a free consultation today. Give us a call at 724-898-2446, or request a visit online.