Looking for the perfect exterior paint is a little like seeking the Fountain of Youth: Everybody would love to find it, but it probably doesn’t exist, at least in the sense that there’s no single paint that outperforms all others in all situations -- nor will there ever be a paint that lasts forever. That said, there’s a huge range of paint quality out there, and you certainly want to shoot for the top of the scale. No matter which paint you choose, you’ll ensure the best results if you thoroughly prepare the surface and follow the directions on the paint can, including things as simple as waiting for a calm, mild day to paint the house.
The Best Exterior Paint
As a general rule, the best all-around exterior paints are acrylic latex formulas that contain a high proportion of acrylic resin, which is the binder or “glue” in the paint. Acrylic latex is highly resistant to chalking, color-fading and mildew. It’s also very flexible, making it the best exterior paint for vinyl and aluminum, as well as wood, all of which test paint adhesion by constantly expanding and contracting with temperature and moisture changes. For most applications, you can’t go wrong with 100% acrylic latex paint. Also on the market are relatively new acrylic latex formulations with polyurethane added. Manufacturers claim the urethane improves adhesion (a good thing for badly neglected surfaces), resulting in better resistance to cracking, peeling, etc.
Acrylic latex paints are water-based, which means less odor, fewer noxious fumes and much easier cleanup than with oil-based paints. While some professional painters prefer oil-based (alkyd) paint in certain applications, such as high-gloss finishes on cabinet doors and the like, there’s really no advantage to using oil-based paint on most exteriors (although oil-based primers are still great for stain blocking and other characteristics).
Why Pay More?
You’ve probably been told more than once to “buy the best paint you can afford,” and it’s true -- with a caveat or two. You don’t have to pay extra for designer brands or ethereal “mood” colors (unless you want to), but you should always spend more for premium quality paint. The reasons are simple: Good paint looks better, lasts longer and, in many cases, goes farther than lower quality versions. And when you think about it, the bulk of the expense of painting (in both time and money) is in the labor; the cost of the paint is relatively small.
The Prep is the Most Important Step
Even the best exterior paint in the world won’t last long or look very good if it’s slapped over a surface that isn’t properly prepared. Most jobs call for the full treatment: washing the surface (with cleaning solution and usually some hand-scrubbing), scraping and sanding areas with loose paint, repairing any damaged or rotting wood, priming all bare wood and repairs (or the entire house if it’s been badly neglected) and caulking trim joints, gaps between siding and other areas as needed. Note: If your house was built before 1978, be sure to follow all EPA rules and recommendations for testing and working with lead paint.
So remember this for a good, long-lasting exterior paint job: Don’t slack off on the prep and don’t cheap out on the paint.