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Don't buy strictly by brand
Manufacturers tend to reformulate paints frequently to improve performance and comply with tougher regulations. That means the paint you loved last time may not do as well this time around.
Think carefully about color
A hue that looks great in the store could disappoint once its on your walls. Use the store's color-sampling products and retailer and manufacterer computer programs. Most stores sell sample jars so you can test a paint before buying a large quantity.
Try out samples on different walls and at various times of the day. Fluorescent light enhances blues and greens, but it makes warm reds, oranges, and yellows appear dull. Incandescent light works well with warm colors, but it might not do much for cool ones. Even natural sunlight changes from day to day, room to room, and morning to evening. Color intensifies over large areas, so it's better to go too light than too dark in a given shade.
Manufacturers are reducing the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)--some of the noxious chemicals that can make paint smell like paint--in their products, in response to stricter federal standards.
Don't cheap out
As with interior paints, we've found that economy grades of paints and stains don't weather as well as top-of-the-line products from the same brand. Pinching pennies now may mean spending more down the road, since you'll need to refinish more often.
Consider lesser-known brands
Major brands have tended to wind up at the top of our tests. But some small regional brands have joined them at the top, while some national heavy-hitters have looked scruffy after the equivalent of just three years.
Choose the right gloss level
Flat and satin finishes are best for siding because they hide flaws by reducing reflections. Semi-gloss paints add some shine to doors and trim, providing visual contrast.
Look for deals
Holiday weekends, including Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, are popular times for paint promos.
Dont scrimp on the prep work
Good preparation is critical to a good, long-lasting exterior finish, whether you're paying a pro or are doing it yourself. That means scraping, sanding, and cleaning the siding thoroughly. And while the best paints covered in one coat--and some claim to eliminate the need to prime the surface--we recommend two coats for long life and optimal coverage. If you sand or scrape paint on a house built before 1978, be warned: Older coats of paint may contain lead, so you'll need to take extra precautions. Indeed, federal law now requires that painters you hire be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and be trained in lead-safe work practices.
Insist on top finishes
Hiring a pro? Be sure the contract specifies the brand, line, and number of coats; for paint we generally recommend two top coats plus a prime coat over bare surfaces if paint is not self-priming
Different Paint Finishes
Flat Finish - 0 to 5% gloss A paint with a flat surface that does not reflect light and generally used on ceilings and walls of formal rooms. Flat finishes are usually non-washable and cleaning is not advised.
Matte / Velvet Finish - 5 to 10% gloss A durable paint with a flat, non-glossy finish usually used for walls. Matte finishes can endure light cleaning, but heavy cleaning is not recommended.
Eggshell Finish - 10 to 25% gloss A durable paint with a low sheen and gloss reminiscent of an eggshell. Eggshell finishes are normally used on walls, have a slightly higher sheen level than flat, and clean better than flat finishes as they can endure moderate level cleaning.
Pearl or Satin Finish - 25 to 35% gloss A durable paint with a smooth, velvety gloss texture. Satin can be used in high traffic areas because it can hold up to heavy cleaning and light scrubbing, and is most often used for doors, windows, and other trim.
Semi-gloss - 35 to 70% gloss Paint with a semi-gloss finish goes on smoothly and has a nice gleam without being too dramatic. Trim, doors, windows and cabinets are the surfaces most often applied with semi-gloss.
Gloss - 70 to 85% gloss Gloss paint has a has a shinier finish than semi-gloss and is popular for trims, doors and cabinets. Careful attention should be given to prep work and undercoats to create a smooth surface for glossy paint.
High-gloss - 85% gloss and higher This highly luminous sheen has the greatest amount of gloss and looks almost like plastic. High-gloss paint certainly offers durability and washability, making it ideal for cabinets in the kitchen or bathroom. The reflective surface of this paint finish really exaggerates imperfections, so prep work is important to a clean polished look.
Exterior stains range from clear, with no pigment, to solid, with lots of pigment. Some manufacturers offer different formulations for siding and decks, but most now are designed to be used for either application.
These stains allow wood to gray naturally. They have no pigment, so they show off wood grain the best. But that also means they offer minimal protection from the elements. Typically these need to be reapplied every year on a deck and every couple of years on siding.
Semi-transparent stains penetrate and let some of the wood grain show through--a plus with premium grades of wood.. Some go the distance better than others, but generally they need to be reapplied every couple of years on decks and every four to five years on siding.
These stains don't penetrate the wood, but form a paint-like outer coating. They hide the grain, but that's not a drawback with woods such as pine, where seeing the grain isn't important. Solid stains save time and money in the long run because they typically outlast semi-transparent and clear stains as a group. But even the best solid stains won't last as long as most paints.