Exterior paints have improved dramatically in recent years. As a group, they’re more durable and less prone to cracking and fading. But there are still real differences among the 15 points in Consumer Reports’ latest exterior paint ratings. Our tests are tough, as you can tell by looking at the spread within the Overall Score. It ranges from 30 to 75 out of a possible 100.

To determine which paints are likely to last the longest on your home, CR’s test engineers paint pine panels and place them on the roof of our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y. We set the boards to face south and tilt them to intensify the effects of sun and weather. A year of CR’s severe testing is equivalent to about three years in consumer years. And after three years of testing, the results give us a sense of how paints will look after nine years on your home.

Top 10 Exterior Paint

Choose Your Sheen and Color

Choosing a color is where some folks start. Color-matching systems have improved to the point where you can get close to the color you crave in just about any brand. The sheen can vary by brand, however, and that can affect your perception of color. So decide which sheen is needed for the job (you’ll see the pros and cons spelled out below), the color you love, and then the best paint for your budget. (Despite all the colors available, whites and off-whites remain the top-selling interior colors. With dozens to choose from, zeroing in on just the right white can be tricky.)

Look at the biggest paint chips the store offers. A store’s lighting affects your take, so step outside to get another look in natural light. Once home, place the chips on the wall, next to the trim, and look at them at different times throughout the day as the natural light changes. Do this over the course of several days, omitting colors that aren’t working. Keep in mind that indoors, color tends to intensify over large areas, so it’s generally better to go too light than too dark in a given shade.

Once you’ve narrowed your choices, buy small cans for testing. Paint sample colors on large sheets of heavy paper so that you can move them from place to place without having to paint the walls. Live with them for at least a few days. Observe the effects of changing light on the color throughout the day, both natural light and light provided by bulbs.

For exteriors, warm, neutral palettes continue to be widely used, because the brick, stone, and other fixed elements are warm materials. That said, as blues and grays became popular colors for a home’s interior, they’re popping up on exteriors, too. And it’s smart to take a cue from other homes in the neighborhood, although you don’t want a color that’s too close to the homes next door.

Paint sample boards with each color you’re considering, and place them on different corners of your home. Again, observe the color at different times of day as the natural light changes. Once you’ve narrowed your choices, paint a swatch on the front of your house where it’s in full sun—not on the porch or under an overhang, where there are shadows. Look at the color at different times of the day.

Pick Your Paint

You can choose the most beautiful shade, but if the paint is mediocre, the end result is likely to disappoint. Our tests find that economy grades of interior paint don’t perform well overall, and you may need to apply three or four coats to cover dark colors. Paints scoring Very Good or Excellent in hiding cover most colors in one coat. Most of the tested paints are claimed to eliminate priming.

Exterior paints have improved dramatically in recent years. As a group, they’re more durable and less prone to cracking and fading. But there are still real differences among the tested paints in our ratings, and many manufacturers claim you won’t have to apply a primer first.

In response to stricter federal and regional standards, manufacturers have reduced the levels of volatile organic compounds—some of the noxious chemicals that can make paint smell like paint—in their products. Earlier low-VOC paints lacked the durability of higher-VOC finishes, but now all the paints in our tests are claimed to have low or no VOCs, and many perform very well.

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