The unpredictable weather that's assailed much of the nation this year might make it hard to get dressed in the morning. But you can always put on extra layers or pack a rain coat. Your home, on the other hand, has to make do with the same exterior finish no matter the conditions. Wild temperature swings, which cause wood and other siding materials to expand and contract, are particularly tough on paint, prompting less-flexible formulas to peel and flake. Consumer Reports' exterior paint test was designed with this variability in mind, so the products we recommend should perform predictably well in all conditions.
Our testers begin by applying the exterior paints—the current Ratings include 44 models in all—onto untreated yellow-pine boards. This wood is notably unstable, so the boards tend to swell and crack when exposed to the elements. And they get plenty of exposure up on the roof of our Yonkers, New York laboratories, especially after we face them south at a 25-degree angle, intensifying the effects of the sun, soaking rain, sleet, and snow that's part of the four-season climate here.
As a result, each year of testing at our facilities equals roughly three years on your home. Ultraviolet rays deteriorate the binders in the weakest paints, causing them to be released in the form of a powder that's washed away by rain, resulting in a faded finish. Prolonged exposure to moisture, meanwhile, causes inferior paint formulas to soften and swell, leading to cracking, blistering, and flaking. Our rooftop boards are also exposed to plenty of airborne particles, including the dirt and soot that come with the territory in any metropolitan area. To measure mildew resistance, we paint a second set of boards and stand them at a 90-degree angle facing north under a cluster of trees on our property.
Top-performing paints, including the 14 models that make our recommended list, can handle most conditions, and a couple picks do well against them all. Be sure to take price into consideration, since we see comparable performance in paints costing about $25 per gallon to those costing two and three times as much.