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How cold is too cold to paint outside?

How Cold Is Too Cold to Paint Outside?

Even if it's warm while you paint during the day, lower nighttime temperatures can ruin a good paint job

Now that it's cooler, in many parts of the country you can tackle those big outdoor home improvement jobs without breaking a sweat. It's a great time to paint the exterior of your house, and if you're thinking of hiring a contractor, you may get a discount in areas where seasonal business is winding down.

But get moving. Water-based exterior paint requires certain conditions to cure properly, or you’ll be repainting your house sooner than you planned.

“It should be at least 50° F when applying the paint and shouldn’t drop below 32° F at night for several days after,” says Rico DePaz, the paint pro at Consumer Reports. The paint needs several days to cure, and as the temperature dips, dew can form on surfaces and the water in the paint evaporates too slowly.

Even if it's toasty during the day, if temperatures drop too low at night the paint won’t form a good film. That affects how the paint holds up over time, including how well it resists cracking, according to the Paint Quality Institute. Durability aside, the colder temperatures and moisture on the surface can result in staining or mildew. 

Some manufacturers now claim that certain paints will cure in temperatures as low as 35° F. You still have to keep an eye on the nighttime temperatures and the extended forecast. Check the label on the paint can for instructions on temperature ranges, and follow Rico’s tips for nailing the job.

Prep Before You Paint

  • Protect plants. Cover plantings, your air conditioner(s), and exhaust vents with drop cloths. Tie back shrubs and tree limbs.
  • Scrub, then patch. Dirt, mildew, and chalky old paint prevent fresh paint from adhering properly. If your house was built before 1978, it may be coated in lead paint. (See CR's step-by-step guide for how to test for lead paint with a DIY lead test kit.) In that case, you’ll need to use a certified lead abatement contractor to prep the surface. Otherwise, scrub the surface with a wire brush or scrub pad, or very carefully with a pressure washer, and clean with a detergent such as Red Devil TSP.
  • Remove mildew. Mix a solution of chlorine bleach and water or buy a commercial cleaner. Wearing gloves, a mask, and eye protection, scrub the mildew away. Scrape out rotted areas and fill them with wood filler, then sand smooth. Allow to dry for several days before painting.
  • Caulk and prime. Scrape away dried and cracked caulk around windows, doors, and trim. Apply fresh acrylic caulk where needed. Prime bare wood using the primer recommended by the paint manufacturer, or skip priming by using a high-performing self-priming paint.
  • Replace cracked or rotted boards. Water might seep in if you just fill and repair cracked or split boards.

Lab-Tested for Your Home's Exterior

To find out how durable a paint is, we apply two coats to pine boards. Then we mount the boards on angled racks on the roof of our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., to see how well the paint withstands the elements. Then we wait. 

Because the boards are angled, and not placed vertically as they would be on your house, they're more exposed to the elements.

Each year of testing is about three years on vertical surfaces, says de Paz. Three years later, our results give you an idea of how the paint will look after nine years. We also test for mildew resistance by placing painted panels on vertical racks in a shady area of our grounds.

You'll see paints in our ratings that sell for about $22 a gallon from America's Finest, Color Place, Glidden, Olympic, and Valspar. Paint in the $28 to $48 range are from Behr, California Paints, Clark+Kensington, Glidden, HGTV Home, and Valspar. And you'll spend $68 or more for a gallon of the Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams paints.

Keep reading to find the exterior paints that scored 70 or higher (out of 100). If you go with one of our picks, you can expect your home's exterior to look good for eight to 10 years. All are self-priming, but be sure to check the can for situations when priming is advisable. 

Check our buying guides for paint and wood stains for more information.

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We investigate, research, and test so you can choose with confidence.

CR's 7 Top-Ranked Exterior Paints

Exterior paints have improved over the past decade. Our tests show that they're usually more durable, and less prone to cracking and fading. However, they seem to be less resistant to dirt buildup. 

Behr Premium Plus Ultra (Home Depot)
Price: $39 a gallon
Overall score: 75
Ranking: 1 out of 20
CR's take: This paint scored high enough to make our recommended list. Warm and humid areas require paint that resists mildew, and this paint will. And it holds up well to cracking and fading—important if you live in an area that's sunny, hot, and dry. Urban and desert dwellers, take note, dirt doesn't build up on this paint's surface. 

Clark+Kensington (Ace)
Price: $35 a gallon
Overall score: 75
Ranking: 2
CR's take: This paint from Ace Hardware also made our recommended list. It's resistant to cracking, fading, dirt, and mildew. 

Sherwin-Williams Emerald
Price: $72 a gallon
Overall score: 73
Ranking: 3
CR's take: It resists cracking, fading, and mildew, but doesn't stand up as well to dirt buildup. 

Behr Premium Plus (Home Depot)
Price: $30 a gallon
Overall score: 72
Ranking: 4
CR's take: This Behr scored almost as well as the top-rated Behr, and it costs less. It's durable enough to fend off cracking, fading, and mildew, but not dirt. 

Valspar DuraMax (Lowe's)
Price: $39 a gallon
Overall score: 72
Ranking: 5
CR's take: It resists mildew, making it a good choice if you live in a humid area. It also resists fading and cracking, but wasn't great at resisting dirt.   

Sherwin-Williams Duration
Price: $68 a gallon
Overall score: 70
Ranking: 6
CR's take: Impressive overall, it resists cracking and fading, but doesn't resist dirt or mildew as well. 

Benjamin Moore Aura
Price: $68 a gallon
Overall score: 70
Ranking: 7 
CR's take: It does fight off fading and cracking, but doesn't do a great job resisting mildew or dirt.

See our full exterior paint ratings and recommendations for more choices, and the paint buying guide for tips on how to find the best paint for your project.

20
Exterior paints in Our Ratings.
Current Exterior paint Ratings