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Photos by: Ned Matura
Why do some five-year-old paint jobs peel and flake while others done sometime during the Reagan era look as if they were laid on last week? The answer is deceptively simple: Quality exterior paint — when it's properly applied over a well-prepped surface — lasts longer than the cheap stuff. But trying to find the good stuff at the store can be an experience in sensory overload. Besides pondering the oil-vs.-water-based dilemma, homeowners have to choose from among several lines from each of the national brands as well as from locally produced products. And, while price usually indicates quality, with some exterior paints tagged at $40 per gallon, going by price alone can get expensive. Fortunately, there are some other indicators that will help you buy the right paint — if you know what they are. So whether your next exterior-painting project is imminent or a few years off, read on to find out what, according to independent researchers and industry experts, makes a quality product. You'll also pick up some helpful tips on both the all-important prepping process and the esthetic science of choosing colors. THE CASE FOR "LATEX"
For years, there's been a lively debate about the supremacy of oil-based or water-based paint. Oil-based products, which include alkyd paints, clean up with mineral spirits. Water-based products, which are referred to as latex paints though they are now based on vinyl and acrylics, clean up with water. Although the question still gets asked, water-based paints win hands down for home exteriors. Research done at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in Madison, Wisconsin, shows that water-based paints expand and contract with the siding. They also allow water vapor generated inside the house to pass through the paint film. Oil-based paints, on the other hand, dry to an inflexible coating that blocks moisture. The results can be telltale cracks as siding gives and paint blisters as trapped moisture tries to find a way out. Water-based paints are also gentler on the environment because they are lower in volatile organic compounds. Does that mean oil-based paint should not be used at all? Certainly not. "When asked to recommend a paint," says Al Beitelman, director of the Paint Technology Center for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, "I always ask about the previous paint job. If it worked fine, I suggest using what was there before."
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