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Product Reviews

Priciest paints, stains aren’t necessarily the best

Consumer Reports

It’s official: Home Depot’s Behr brand tops two of the three major types of exterior paints and stains. In fact, Consumer Reports’ results show that there’s little reason to go anywhere but that store if you want a finish that stands the test of time.

Flat and satin paints are what most people use on siding. Resistance to cracking, fading, and mildew after the equivalent of nine years outside helped put Behr's Premium Plus Ultra Flat, $37 per gallon, and Satin, $39, at the top.

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Archrival Lowe’s Valspar Duramax, $40, won among the semigloss paints used on trim. But when it comes to value, it can’t beat Behr's Premium Plus Semi-Gloss, $29 — one of six Best Buy paints and stains sold only at Home Depot.

Consumer Reports’ tough tests, which subject paints to sun, rain, and snow, also found some big-name losers and, for stains, a wide gap between the best and the also-rans. The details:

Kilz gets KO'd. True to its mildew-fighting promises, Kilz Casual Colors Satin and Semi-Gloss paints kept the slimy stuff away in tests. But both are at the bottom of the ratings because they didn’t resist cracking and dirt very well.

Pricey stains get pummeled. Solid stains last longest overall. Behr's Solid Color Waterproofing, a CR Best Buy at $29 per gallon, handily beat Benjamin Moore’s Arborcoat Deck & Siding Solid, $46 — and left similarly pricey stains from Sherwin-Williams and Sikkens on the mat.

“Clear” winners are scarce. Semi-transparent stains show some of the grain at the expense of longevity. Behr's Premium Semi-Transparent Weatherproofing is the only one that held up on a deck after the equivalent of two years. And Thompson’s WaterSeal Advanced Waterproofer is the only colorless finish that looked presentable after a year.

How to Choose

Don’t buy solely by brand. Even Home Depot’s Behr finishes varied depending on the line. Frequent reformulations for performance and emissions also mean the paint or stain you loved last time may not perform as well this time around. Here’s what else to remember.

Know what your pro is using. Painters often bargain with stores for discounts on specific brands, so the finish they push may not be the one that lasts longest. Whether the paint will be brushed or sprayed, insist on one that did well in the tests. The contract should include the brand and line to be used and the number of coats; Consumer Reports recommends two plus a prime coat for paints that require primer.

Look for deals. Check for sales and promotions, especially during holiday weekends. Save by buying five-gallon containers.

Play it safe. If your home was built before 1978, painters you hire must be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and trained in lead-safe practices. If your deck is older than 2004 and its finish is flaking, keep in mind that the wood is probably chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which contains arsenic. A trained pro is better equipped to safely refinish the deck and properly clean up.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.

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