How to Choose Exterior Paint Colors

choose exterior paint colors

When it’s time to choose exterior paint colors for your home, you have to be patient and lay a little groundwork. There are a number of factors that can affect the outcome of your color choices. Sometimes the colors you love and what will work on your home are two separate things. Choosing a great exterior paint color palette is a combination of listening to what your home is trying to tell you and, if possible, infusing some of your personal preferences along the way.

1. Assess the Fixed Elements of the Home

Assess the fixed elements of the home, i.e. the features that won’t be changing anytime soon. For most homes, this includes brick or stone accents, the grout, roofing shingles, event walkways or sidewalks around the home. This can be a great starting point for color selection since there are a variety of hues within the building materials.

Focus on the main neutrals and identify which undertones they have (and don’t have). For example, a stone pattern may have flecks of tan or blue-gray that you can find on a paint color strip and work into the color scheme.

choose exterior paint color

2. Look at Your Paint Samples Outside

Look at your color samples outside, next to the house, at varying times of the day. DON’T just buy a bunch of paint based solely on what you saw online or a chip you only looked at inside the store. You can purchase small quantities of sample paint and apply it to wooden planks or posterboard…

OR you could make your life way easier on yourself and order re-usable peel-and-stick paint samples online! Check out SAMPLIZE. These paint swatches are far more affordable, easier to use, and kinder to the environment that traditional cans of paint. Plus, they offer paint samples in lines from Sherwin-Williams, Benjamin Moore, Farrow & Ball, and Home Depot. Here’s why I like them:

  • Your samples generally arrive in just 1-3 days
  • They’re far less expensive than brushes, rollers, pans, and cans of sample paint.
  • No clean-up. No waste.
  • You can re-position and re-use them.

Click below to visit their website and order your samples:

3. Consider Your Exposure

When exposed to natural light, paint tends to look a lot lighter than it does on a little chip, especially on a large surface. Not only that, your exterior paint can look dramatically different from one side of the house to the other depending on the light.

Think about which side of your home faces the road, which side most people will see, and which side is most important to you. For most folks, it’s the front of the house (but not all — some people have elaborate backyards or homes that don’t really face the road). Exposure refers to the orientation of that most important side of your house in relation to the sun.

Generally speaking, if you live in the Northern hemisphere…

  • Southern-exposure: Mid-morning or mid-afternoon is the best time to evaluate your paint colors on the south-facing side of a house. Paint tends to look lighter on southern exposures so make sure your color isn’t too light, making the paint look washed out.
  • Northern-exposure: Paint colors tend to look more true to the sample on north-facing sides. Avoid selecting a color that is too dark.
  • Western-exposure: Colors will look brighter and warmer in the afternoons with an almost golden-orange light. Colors will look rather flat in the morning hours. Select a paint color bright enough to withstand the drabness of mornings yet won’t look washed out in the bright afternoon light.
  • Eastern-exposure: Color will look much brighter in the morning. By afternoon, colors will have a more overall gray cast created from lack of light (similar to a Northern exposure side). Choose colors that won’t look too washed out in the morning, but are not too heavy for the afternoon.

4. Understand How Shadows and Texture Affect Exterior Paint Color

Paint will look a bit darker in places where heavy landscaping or trees block direct sunlight, as well as portions of your home shaded by overhanging architectural features. For homes that have a heavily stippled, stucco finish, expect the color to appear a bit darker than painting the exact same shade on a piece of smooth siding.

Trimmed to Perfection traditional-exterior

5. Understand How Sheen Affects Exterior Paint Color

When it comes to sheen, or finish, there’s a bit of trade off between washability and texture enhancement. In other words, shinier paint is easier to clean, but using it on a really textured surface can be a bit garish. Generally speaking, you want to give more heavily textured areas a lower sheen paint (but not necessarily flat or matte, which is difficult to clean). Save shiner finishes for smoother surfaces. A higher sheen will also feel brighter (more saturated) than a flatter finish (which is what is typically on paint chips).

These recommendations are based on how paint typically acts on these surfaces, but may vary depending on what part of the country you live in (high heat or humidity, for example). When choosing exterior paint colors, check with the experts at your local paint store to find out what sheens work best in your environment.

  • Cement, stone, or brick: Eggshell or low-lustre finish. Anything shinier will likely be too intense with all the texture of masonry, but either of these finishes will be easier to clean/hose down than flat or matte paint.
  • HardiePlank, wood, or vinyl siding: Eggshell or low-lustre finish. If the surface is super smooth you could go with a satin finish, but make sure it’s a good quality paint.
  • Doors, trim, shutters: Satin.

This client wanted to update the color scheme of a gorgeous older home she’d just purchased. The trim got a fresh coat of crisp white paint and Sherwin-Williams Salty Dog applied to the doors and shutters for a more modern, beautiful pop of color!

Most Common Mistakes When Choosing Exterior Paint Color

  • Overlooking the color schemes of surrounding homes. Choosing a color palette that doesn’t go with neighboring homes is just bad news for everyone. Select a palette that harmonizes with nearby houses or sets itself off in a sophisticated, yet understated way.
  • Not taking into account the landscaping. Flowering bushes and gardens and color-changing trees should complement your selection. Homes with an abundance of trees and shrubbery may appear darker from all the shade.
  • Not considering the elements of your particular environment. For example, my clients who live in Texas experience a tremendous amount of heat and sun exposure, which tends to fade bright colors (particularly reds) more quickly. Clients who live in coastal neighborhoods tend to use brighter, more playful palettes for their homes, whereas homeowners in HOA-monitored neighborhoods in the suburbs often have tighter restrictions on the color schemes residents are allowed to use.

We Can Help!

Are you struggling to choose exterior paint colors? Or interior colors? We’d love to help! Three Bears Home Staging offers color consultations! Watch the video to see how it works or click below to get started!

one room paint color report

One Room Paint Color Report | Virtual

Need help choosing the best paint colors for your room? Then this is the (virtual) service for you! Based on your questionnaire responses and uploaded photos, we’ll create a personalized digital Paint Color Report just for you. We’ll also send you paint swatches! Click below to learn how it works or to get started!


exterior paint color

Exterior Paint Color Report | Virtual

Ready to give your home exterior a fresh new look, but feeling overwhelmed with the decision? Get a little virtual help from the color experts at Three Bears Home Staging! Based on your questionnaire responses and uploaded photos, we’ll create a personalized digital Paint Color Report just for your home’s exterior. We’ll also send you paint swatches! Read below to learn how it works…

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