Pro Tips: What Type of Paint Is Best for Exteriors?

Bob Vila

Oil vs. Latex Paint - Exterior

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A fresh coat of exterior paint does wonders for the look of a home, revolutionizing its curb appeal while adding a valuable layer of protection against the elements. In recent years, paint technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, leaving today's homeowners spoiled for choice when it comes to products that are not only durable, but also resistant to mold, mildew, and dirt—the trio of threats that most commonly undermine the longevity of an exterior paint job.

Related: Exterior Paint 101

If you are trying to decide whether to choose oil or latex paint—latex being the generic term for all non-oil-based paints—the question may no longer be a relevant one: The latest and greatest paint formulations are more often than not water based. "In the past, oil-based paints were the standard for exterior projects," explains Karl Schmitt, of Sherwin-Williams. Times have changed, however. Superior performance characteristics are now to be found among water-based products.

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Schmitt continues, "Some professional painters believe oil-based paints deliver a better finish." But unless the surface to be painted is distressed (for example, weathered wood or rusty metal), Schmitt maintains that "a water-based paint is the best option for the average do-it-yourself homeowner." Whereas "oil-based paints tend to yellow and become brittle over time," high-quality water-based paints, such as Sherwin-Williams Emerald, retain a smooth and uniform appearance for years.

Oil vs. Latex Paint - Ladder

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"There are some real benefits to using water-based paint," Schmitt says. These include "improved adhesion performance, mold and mildew resistance, and low VOC emissions." Another important benefit of water-based paints: They more or less extend the exterior painting season. It used to be that "you couldn’t paint if the temperature was below 50 degrees." Those days are gone. Improved formulations permit successful painting to be done even on days as cold as 35 degrees.

Noor Aweidah of Valspar cites further advantages of water-based paint: "shorter dry time, better coverage, and easier cleanup." Duramax, the top-of-the-line exterior paint manufactured by Valspar, even features paint and primer in one application. What it all adds up to, she says, is a "just-painted look" that lasts for an impressively long period of time.

Before undertaking an exterior painting project, Aweidah recommends that you take several factors into account. "Weather is the first thing to consider." Start by figuring out the right time to paint. "For best results," she says, "an air temperature and surface temperature of 50 degrees is ideal. It's also important to prepare for the project and use a high-quality paint." Cover these bases, and "any exterior paint project [will be] doable for any DIYer."

Sherwin-Williams’s Schmitt concludes, "Buy the highest-quality paint you can afford." Chances are "the more expensive paint will last substantially longer, which means that in the long run, the pricier product "represents a much better value."

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