Who has the best exterior paint? Consumer Reports' new winner among satin and semigloss finishes is Sherwin-Williams, and it shares top honors with California for flat paints. But CR's recent tests also prove that other players do almost as well for far less money, and they beat the pricey brand when it comes to exterior stains.
CR tested 76 paints and stains under grueling outdoor conditions that intensify the effects of sun, sleet and snow so that one year of exposure equals roughly three on your house. Paying more than $60 per gallon for Sherwin-Williams' Duration flat, satin and semigloss paints buys a finish that still looked impressive after the equivalent of nine years, or about how often most homes are painted. All three also eliminate the usual prime coat. But Glidden's Premium flat and satin paints are two of several finishes that did almost as well for as little as $21 per gallon.
Sherwin-Williams also made CR's top picks for semitransparent stains, which show some wood grain. But Behr beat it in that group and won among solid stains. The catch: As with Sherwin-Williams, the particular Behr you choose makes a big difference. Here are the details:
•Same brand, different results: Among paints, Sherwin-Williams' Duration line topped CR's Ratings, but its Resilience line finished near the bottom. And although Valspar Ultra Premium and DuraMax flats are picks, neither Lowe's product made the grade among satin and semigloss paints.
•A tale of three Behrs: Superior durability and resistance to cracking, fading and mildew helped Behr's Premium Semi-Transparent Weatherproofing Wood Stain place last year's winner, Sikkens, among the also-rans. Behr's Solid Color Deck, Fence and Siding Wood Stain is also tops. But this Home Depot brand's pricier Premium solid stain didn't do nearly as well.
•Outside finishes have more VOCs: Almost all interior paints now meet even the toughest regional California limits of 50 grams per liter for volatile organic compounds. But fewer exterior finishes meet that limit for paints or even the higher limit of 100 grams per liter for stains, especially among semitransparent and clear finishes.
For flat finishes, CR Best Buys include Glidden Spred Flat, $25; Glidden Premium Flat (Home Depot), $21; and Behr Premium Plus Flat (Home Depot), $25. For satin, CR Best Buys are Glidden Premium Satin (Home Depot), $23, and Glidden Spred Satin, $27; for semigloss, which should be used mainly for trim, windows and doors, Behr Premium Plus Semi-Gloss Enamel (Home Depot), $28, and Glidden Spred Semi-Gloss, $28.
For house and deck stains, CR Best Buys for solid stains are Behr Solid Color Deck, Fence and Siding Wood Stain (Home Depot), $28, and Sears Weatherbeater Deck, Fence and Siding Solid, $21. For semitransparent stains, Flood TWF-Semi Semi-Transparent Wood Stain (Wal-Mart), $24, is a CR Best Buy.
How to choose
Don't buy solely by price or brand, and consider these suggestions when you shop for exterior paints or stains:
•Choose the right gloss level. Flat and satin finishes are best for siding because they hide flaws by reducing reflections. Semigloss paints add shine to doors and trim. For stains, clear and semitransparent show all or some of the wood grain.
•Insist on top finishes. Hiring a pro? Be sure the contract specifies the brand, line and number of coats; for paint, CR generally recommends two top coats plus a prime coat over bare surfaces if needed.
•Look for deals. Holiday weekends, including Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, are popular times for paint promos.