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Tips for Choosing an Exterior Paint Colour

Updated: Feb 5, 2022

First impressions are everything in the world of real estate. Whether you're looking to change your exterior colours to update the look of your home or preparing it to sell, there are factors you should take into consideration before buying that can of paint.

Have you ever picked that perfect colour for the exterior of your home, only to start painting and realizing it's not what you were expecting? Maybe it doesn't look at all like the colour you picked or maybe it just doesn't look as good as you were hoping and you can't figure out why. Not only have I made this mistake myself, but it's a common concern from many of my clients. By taking the time to plan and factor in some important considerations, you can have all of the tools to ensure you've chosen the right colour for your home.

Here are some simple tips to help guide you to an updated exterior you'll love:

Tip #1 - Build Colour Palette Around the Fixed Features

This doesn't seem like an exciting first tip but it's definitely an important one! Exterior elements such as shingles, metal roofing, bricks and stonework are all expensive materials to replace. If that's not in your plan or budget, then you will need to build your colour scheme around these features.

Head outside, take a step back and really look at your house closely. Let's start at the top and work our way down. Questions to ask yourself:

1. Does the roof have warm-tones or cool-tones? If you're noticing cooler colours such as blue cast in your shingles, you may want to stick with a cooler palette for the rest of your house. Maybe you notice red or orange hues, then sticking with a warmer colour palette would be ideal. If your roof is a neutral colour or black, you can choose pretty much any colour.

2. If there's brick or stonework, what undertones (underlying colours) are you noticing? Maybe you have brick with a warm, rosy undertone, consider choosing a field colour (main or dominate colour) that will compliment that feature of your home.

3. What permanent features are present that are not attached to the house? Examples of this would be a brick-paved driveway, a concrete patio or a slate walkway. Even though these items aren't attached to your house, they will have a visual influence and affect the overall curb appeal of your home.

The ultimate goal with this step is to determine whether you're working with warm or cool tones and keeping that flow cohesive with your paint colour.

Tip #2 - Determine your Exposure

If you're not sure which direction your house faces, grab your phone or handy dandy compass. Most phones have the compass app, click on it and use it to determine what exposure the front of your home is getting.

I could take a deep dive into this topic and I definitely will another time, but today I'm going to focus on the front of the house and how different exposure affects paint colour appearance.

Southern-exposure: Homes that have southern exposure at the front will get the most amount of sunlight throughout the day. Paint colours tend to look much lighter on southern exposures. You'll want to evaluate your paint sample in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon. If your colour is too light, it may look washed out. If you're considering a white paint, knowing the LRV (I'll go into this on the next tip) is important. I would typically recommend an LRV (light reflectance value) between 70 and 85 for white. With that southern exposure, choosing a white paint colour with a higher LRV higher than 85 can create an extremely bright house (meaning you'll need sunglasses to look at it).

Northern-exposure: Colours tend to look closer to the paint sample on north-facing sides. This side of your home will get the least amount of direct sunlight. You may want to avoid choosing a colour that is too dark (check the colours LRV) to avoid it appearing heavy.

Western-exposure: With the sun setting in the west, colours will look brighter and warmer in the afternoons. If the front of your home get's western exposure, you'll want to choose a hue that has enough saturation to avoid looking drab in the morning but also won't be washed out in the afternoon light.

Eastern-exposure: The sun rises in the east, which means colours will look brighter in the morning. Your house will have a gray cast in the afternoon as the sun moves west. Choose a hue that won't look too washed out in the morning but won't appear dark or dull in the afternoon.

Regardless of the direction your house faces, evaluate your paint samples outside in the morning and afternoon. Check for brightness, unwanted undertones and the heaviness of the colour. Make sure the colour still flows with the cooler or warmer tones of the existing features.

Tip #3 - Consider the Light Reflectance Value (LRV)

What is the light reflectance value of a colour? It tells you how light or dark a colour will appear when painted on a surface. It's expressed as a percentage between 0-100. A higher LRV means the colour will reflect more light making it seem lighter and brighter. The lower the LRV means the colour will absorb more light which will make the paint colour appear darker. Generally, paint colours between 0%-50% appear dark to medium, whereas paint colours between 50%-100% appear medium to lighter.

How do you find the LRV? You can search the paint colour on the company website and find it in the details.

On the Benjamin Moore website, search the colour you're looking for and the LRV will be displayed under the paint colour swatch.

On the Sherwin Williams website, you'll need to search the colour and click on the details box underneath the colour swatch. You'll see the LRV displayed as well as other information about the colour.

When picking a paint colour for the exterior of your home, this is an important consideration. As I mentioned above, southern exposure homes will get direct sunlight throughout most of the day. You won't want a colour that's LRV is too high, such as Benjamin Moore, Chantilly Lace with an LRV of 92.2, it would appear blinding bright. A house with northern-exposure gets a duller, gray cast throughout the day, so you may want to avoid a colour with a lower LRV. Benjamin Moore, Black Beauty has an LRV of 3, this may work for a southern-exposure home as it will make the colour appear lighter, but a north-facing house may appear too dark and heavy. Instead you may want to consider Benjamin Moore, Iron Mountain LRV 9, to have the depth and richness without looking dark and drab.

Tip #4 - Observe Large Paint Samples Outside

Once you've selected your paint samples (notice samples is plural, you should always compare more than one colour), you'll want to test them outside. You can paint test patches directly on the siding or paint a large sample on bristol board to hold against the house. I would recommend not only doing this on the front of your house, but also on the other sides to see how the colour looks in the different exposures.

Test for a number of light variations. You'll want to observe the paint samples at different times of the day and/or on sunny and overcast days. View samples on sunny and shaded areas of your house.

Test samples for distance variations. Observe the colour up close, comparing it with fixed features, are the warmer or cooler undertones cohesive? Also observe it from the road to see how it will appear from the street and as a whole with the other elements we discussed above.

In most cases, colours typically look paler in natural light. If you find the colour looks washed out, chose a darker shade of the same colour.

Don't forget to have fun with it!

Choosing exterior colours can be a stressful process, but narrowing down colours you're typically attracted to can help. Have fun with it, look around your home and notice which colours you decorate or paint with. Drive around different neighbourhoods to see which colour schemes you're drawn to. By using what you've learned from those strategies and following the tips above, you'll have the tools needed to pick a paint colour that enhances your curb appeal and more importantly gives you your desired look.

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