Help! I Don't Know which Color to Paint My House!

Tips for Choosing Exterior House Paint

You've decided to paint the exterior of your house. Good for you! A new paint job will increase both the curb appeal and resale value of your property while bringing new life to your home. Now you only have one problem: What color to paint?

A well-chosen palette can greatly enhance your home, highlighting architectural details and disguising design flaws. Color can make your small house look larger or rescale the proportions of your too-tall or unbalanced house. A complimentary accent color will draw attention to your home's assets: big windows, columns or molding. An attractive porch color will make your house more welcoming. All of this can be accomplished with the right paint color. Here are a few guidelines to help you find that perfect hue.

Paint Neighborhood
No home is an island; you have to work within your environment. Pay attention to the other houses on your block. You want a color that blends or stands out in a subtle, unobtrusive way; not one that clashes with your next-door neighbor. A magenta Victorian with blue trim looks splendid in San Francisco but will be wildly out of place in a more conservative neighborhood.

Where you live should factor into your choice of color. If your desert house is going to bake in the bright sun all day long, remember that darker colors will fade faster and that blue and yellow are most likely to change with prolonged exposure to the sun. If your house is surrounded by large trees, the shade will make dark colors look even darker and your house might get lost.

Touring your neighborhood with a camera is a great way to get ideas and find paint colors that appeal to you. If you find a house you really like, ask the homeowner for the name of their paint color. Look through magazines for colors and if you find one that appeals, cut it out and bring it to your paint store. Most stores can match any color you provide.

Paint Stay True to your House
What was the original color of your house? Buried under many layers of paint, you may discover the first color. If you have an historic, older home, you can refer to historic color charts. A New England Salt Box is traditionally painted in blue-gray tones, while a Victorian home can have a variety of colors. If your home is in a wooded area, you might want to choose earth tones.

Paint Existing Colors
Your house is not an entirely blank canvas. What color is your roof? Is there mortar or other siding such as brick, slate or stone that will not be painted? Will doors and railings remain their existing colors? Consider the colors that won't change and take them into consideration when choosing a color. Building materials contain numerous hues and shades. For example, a charcoal gray shingle might contain numerous flecks of blue or green that could be nicely incorporated into your palette. Though your new paint color doesn't have to match existing colors, it should harmonize with your other colors and textures.

Paint Preview your Color
Many paint stores and computer programs offer computer imaging to give you an idea of how a particular color will look. You supply a photo of your home and these programs paint it in a different color. Although these colors are not exact, the printout can give a solid idea of where to start.

Once you have a basic palette, get paint samples and test your colors on the side of your house. Wait to see what happens during different times of the day as the sun moves across your house. Live with these samples for awhile so you can see how these colors grow on you.

Paint Accents and Trim
When choosing a paint color, you also need to have at least one other color for accents such as trims. Depending on the style of your house, you may want anywhere from two to six other complimentary colors. Try not to make your house look too busy or distracting. This can be tricky, because too many colors will overwhelm your house and too few will make it seem two-dimensional.

Accent colors are meant to accentuate the positive so use them on areas you want to emphasize like window ledges, shutters, columns or molding. Windows give character to a house and outlining them lends crispness to the color scheme. Be judicious. Do not accent unattractive elements such as gutters, downspouts, a protruding garage door, air conditioning units, unevenly placed windows, security bars, and such.

A light or white color is a good choice for windowsills for reflection of the sun's heat and light. Lighter tones will highlight details that project from the wall surface while darker shades are best for accenting recesses. Dark bands of trim provide a pleasant contrast and draw attention to architectural details. On traditional Victorian homes, the darkest paint is often used for the window sashes.

If your house is really tall, you can scale the proportion by painting the upper portion a deeper tone than the bottom (reverse trim color). This is also effective on a small lot or when landscaping is immature. Conversely, a darker color on the lower portion grounds the house to the earth.

Remember that extreme contrasts for accent colors can actually detract from details. To be safe, consider staying within a single color family. Try using a darker or lighter shade of your primary color instead of a different hue all together. When in doubt, consult some of the paint color strips found in most local hardware stores and select two tints or shades from the same color strip. Either the lighter or the darker shade could be used for the body and the opposite for the trim. A contrasting accent color could punctuate the door.

Paint Dark vs. Light
When choosing colors, it's important to understand that paler colors advance in space while dark colors recede. Light colors will make your house seem larger while darker tones will tend to make your home seem smaller but more substantial. If your house is positioned far away from the curb, painting it a light color will bring it forward visually. Lighter colors on a porch will make a home feel more approachable and welcoming.

If you chose vivid shades like red or deep blue, keep in mind that over time they will lighten substantially. Also, darker shades seem to suffer more maintenance problems, due to the fact that they draw both heat and moisture and because dark paint fades, it's difficult to touch up.

Paint Sheen
In addition to picking colors, you must chose from three different paint sheens. Flat paint is the dullest, followed by low-luster (often called eggshell or satin), semi-gloss, and gloss. The glossier the surface, the more likely it will show imperfections, brush strokes and touch up marks. On the other hand, glossy surfaces are easier to clean. Many homeowners opt to use flat paint for walls and semi-gloss or glossy paint for columns, railings and window sashes.

PaintFinally, whatever colors you choose, always remember to keep the entire house in balance. Adding a burst of accent color to just one part of your home will make it seem lopsided. Your goal should be to balance your colors over the entire structure. The same rule of balance applies to your landscaping, but then again, that's a whole different topic to consider.

Related links:
The Color of Love
To Prime or Not to Prime, That is the Question
Ready, Set, Paint!

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