10 Things to Consider when Buying House Paint

Couple picking out paint
Home Design Image Gallery From colors and sheens to durability and eco-friendliness, there's a lot to consider when choosing paint for your home. See more home design pictures.

Whether you've bought a new house or just need a change, the most dramatic impact you can make -- before buying furniture, knickknacks or appliances -- is in the color of the walls. Color shapes the space, sets the tone and can even change your perception of a room's size. Choosing the right color for a room means balancing its architectural details against the rest of the house and creating a flow throughout the space. So much of our lives take place within the walls of our homes: It's no wonder we take house paint so seriously.

In this article, we'll look at some of the things you should think about before you buy house paint -- the decisions you'll need to make before you even set foot inside a store and begin the fun, exhausting game of comparing paint chips.


10: Inside & Out

Of course, the type of paint you're looking for depends entirely on which part of the house you've decided to tackle. If you're not happy with interior colors, it's possible that you're not comfortable with the outside, either. Painting your exterior can seem like a monumental task, so starting with the basics and understanding what you're looking for can cut down on a lot of anxiety.

Solvent-based paint dries more slowly, while water-based is easier to clean up. If you're painting in the summer, or if you feel that you might need a little more time to get things just right, take this into consideration.


Next, consider the sheen, which depends on the traffic you expect: Gloss is toughest, and it helps with high-traffic areas, especially if you have kids. For trim, like door casings and shutters, semi-gloss is recommended: It's less shiny but still durable.

Satin, or low-luster, is easy to clean, while flat paint hides imperfections and is easier to touch up. If you have siding, consider the pros and cons of these two types.

In any case, it's best to start with a small quantity, paint a patch of wall in direct sunlight and see what happens. Like any complex chemical compound, there are a lot of factors that can change the appearance of any kind of paint, so you'll want to know what the future holds.

9: Use of Space

Hallway in house painted yellow
You might want to choose a durable paint for hallways and other high-traffic areas.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

If you're painting an inside room, the first consideration is use of space. Again, the type of paint you use should be your first decision, because it may restrict the color palette you'll end up using. Better to narrow those choices down as much as possible before your eyes start to cross at all the samples you'll be looking at.

As with exterior paint, a lot of those choices come down to the chemical makeup of the paint you're using. Still, make sure you know exactly what the space you're painting will be used for: Are you painting a kitchen? Do you have, or plan to have, small children in the house? Do you want a faster cleanup job in bathrooms or areas with a lot of foot traffic? While ultimately your decisions will be about color and aesthetics, knowing where to look first -- for each area you want to paint -- will save you both time and energy, as well as giving you a game plan for how those areas will work together.


For high-traffic areas, something highly durable may be required. A lot of popular finishes these days require enamel paint, for example. By laying out your design plans ahead of time, you can consult a paint professional to make sure that what looks like a matching shade in the store doesn't come out looking odd or out of place once it's on your unique surfaces.

8: Existing Decor

Next, you may need to do some detective work to figure out what's already on your walls. Short of scraping them down -- another level of backbreaking work in an already ambitious project -- knowing what you're working with can help with your decisions.

One of the newest innovations is paint-plus-primer, which implies you don't have to wait before digging into your color choices and getting to work. But this invention is still in its infancy, and you should definitely get the help of your local home improvement store's paint expert for your particular situation.


And then there's the question of integrating styles, if you're not tackling the whole house at once. Say you enjoy one room's existing decor and don't want to change it. It's important to think about how your plans for the hallway just outside might interact: Certain textures and colors may not work well together.

And, most confusing of all: What if you really like a room's existing paint job but want to touch it up? Depending on when your house was built or last painted, you could be in for a lot of detective work. Those leftover buckets and cans in the garage may have changed over time, or the paint on the walls might have faded. Matching existing paint can be a lot more complicated than it seems, and you might end up with a do-over no matter how much you love what's already there.

7: Quality of Light

Dining room with lots of natural light
When choosing colors, consider the effects that natural light will have on the room.

Light transforms a room or space even more than paint does. The sun moves around all day, casting shadows and hitting the walls from different angles. We consider sunlight's effects on our antiques, wall art and cushions, but sometimes we forget about the effects on the walls themselves.

All day long -- while we're at work, or dropping off and picking up the kids -- the spaces in our homes are getting hit by light that can transform color in just a few years. Estimating how your colors will fade means you can include those changes in your plans.


Consider also the emotional impact. When creating a breakfast nook perfect for early-morning coffee, for example, consider what happens to that space at night. What was a bright, airy space this morning could become stark and naked, lit by just a chandelier. Giving this space a softer pastel, instead of monochrome white or gray, helps it serve double duty.

Or think about a dramatically lit family room that gets less light during the day. While a darker, more exotic color may lend excitement to the space at night or when you're entertaining, by day that room will be a dead spot, no matter how well-lit. Think about the room's daily life cycle, not just your single-use ideas, and plan colors accordingly.

6: Family Changes

Fading paint isn't the only kind of future change you should consider. Unless you enjoy redecorating on a regular basis, which some of us do, look into your crystal ball and see what's coming up in the next few years.

Perhaps your guest room will become a nursery, a care center for an aging relative or a second bedroom. That mudroom may become extra storage as your life accumulates around you. Or you may designate and design one room as a home office, only to find you work better outside, from the couch or at the coffee shop down the street. The paint you choose should fit with the mood of a room, so you should know what the future of that room holds.


Buying a home is both a thrilling and intimidating experience. For example, when moving from a smaller apartment or house into a larger home, you're confronted with all kinds of spaces and rooms to fill with color, and it can be tough to decide where to start.

Your house will grow with you, and your family, through all the changes and triumphs that your future holds. Planning for these eventualities is one way to make sure your house always feels like a home.

5: Future Projects

Couple painting wall red
Bright red may seem like the perfect choice right now, but how does it fit in with your future plans?
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

When first considering the best way to create a home from the house you've bought, you may tend to lump your DIY projects into several categories, from what's immediately necessary to what you'll do in the near future. By decorating with an eye toward the future, you can keep yourself motivated while also smoothing the transition when you finally get around to larger renovations. For example, if your new home contains carpet or tile that you know will be gone one day, you can paint and decorate in a way that incorporates both the current style and the one you plan to create.

A pastel pink accent wall may look fantastic with your buff-colored carpet now, but it could look pretty silly once you've installed those red Mexican tiles you've always wanted. And once you've exposed the vaulted ceilings or gorgeous hardwoods the previous owners decided to cover up, you're going to want a texture and color that shows off those new and exciting details to their best effect -- without adding an all-new paint job to the intense project you've taken on.


4: Basic Costs

So, you've narrowed down your types of paint and you're thinking about color. But before you run out to the store and start grabbing paint chips and palette books, it's time to do the math. If you're a new homeowner, you're only just learning about the expenses that come along with your new space. Even those of us who are great with money can underestimate the cost of a home improvement job. We're overly optimistic about the costs, or, even if we've been conservative, mistakes or last-minute changes can start to add up.

Carefully measure the space you're going to paint. Your local store's expert can help calculate the necessary amount of paint to buy. Once you've figured out your spending range from the measurements -- and set aside money for brushes, rollers and drop cloths -- you can decide how much you're willing to spend on paint.


Interior paints can cost up to $50 or more per gallon, depending on quality, and those gallons can add up. For a 12-by-12-foot (3.7-by-3.7-meter) room, you'll most likely be spending up to $100 on paint alone -- and that doesn't include the $50 in supplies you'll need to make sure it's done right. Make sure you do the investigative work to understand why one paint you're considering is more expensive than another: It might not be a better value in your specific circumstances.

3: Calling a Pro

Couple meeting with interior designer
If you're overwhelmed by choices, a consultation with an interior designer might be helpful.

DIY projects are exciting in part because they give us a sense of ownership over our new surroundings. Once you've painted a room and fallen in love with it, it feels like home.

But nothing can make you feel more out of control, or in over your head, than a home improvement project gone terribly wrong. Consider whether the paint job is really as easy or as hard as you think. Taking the time to understand your materials and research the best way of doing things can take a lot of the edge off -- and so can getting outside help.


A licensed contractor, using high-quality materials, can double or quadruple your price. On the other hand, so can a few rookie mistakes or sudden panics. Likewise, interior designers' fees vary widely, but if you don't have a head for design, color or the technical aspects of either, you may be better off getting a consultation.

Which is more important: The pride you'll feel if the paint project goes well, or the wonderful feeling of living in a space that perfectly tells the story of your family? Only you can decide. Don't be afraid of DIY projects, but do think about whether you'll be satisfied with the results. What matters is that you feel happy and comfortable in your new home, no matter who does the work.

2: Health Concerns

No matter what it's made of, paint is a compound of thousands of chemicals. It's scientifically designed to glide easily onto your walls and surfaces, then harden there with exposure to air. When you think about it, that has to be quite a recipe. And once you've smelled house paint for the first time, you know there's something not very tasty going on.

Compared with the fresh air outside, most indoor air is three times more polluted, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that this is one of the top five health hazards we all face. Among those toxins are paint emissions, which can linger for years after we paint. Until recently, these toxins -- volatile organic compounds, or VOCs -- were considered essential to the performance of paint: If you wanted color on your walls, you had to breathe those years' worth of VOCs and pay the consequences. But environmental regulation and new awareness about these issues has led to the development of many low-VOC, no-VOC and natural options for paint. In fact, most paint companies now carry at least a low-VOC line.


We've come a long way from the old lead-paint jokes, but that doesn't mean all paint is completely nontoxic. The very nature of the product means it contains harsh and scary chemicals. But if you're concerned about indoor health risks, low- or no-VOC paint is something you should consider. It's better for your family and the planet.

1: What Your House Says About You

Family painting room green
Remember, as long as you choose something your family loves, there is no wrong decision.

When you're looking for inspiration -- in magazines, on television or at friends' homes -- it's easy to start seeing some of the concepts and trends that make interior design such a dynamic business. It may seem like the whole world is using faux finishes, accent walls or this year's dramatic shade.

But remember: You're designing in a specific time and place (here and now), and you're designing the space where you're going to live for years. While some trends last for years, others can mark your space as outdated by the time next summer rolls around.

The important thing is finding your own aesthetic, something that speaks to you and your family. If that includes special paint or texture effects, or quirky or exotic touches, go for it. If you feel like you just might be following the herd, think about what your decisions will look like five years from now.

It may be hard to think outside the trend box sometimes, but remember this: A design aesthetic that's completely yours will always be timeless and classic. And as long as you're comfortable in your own home, there are no wrong choices when it comes to choosing paint.

For more information on paint and design, check out the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

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  • B., Heather. "One, Two, Three, Three Rooms in One!" Furniture & Design Ideas. Sept. 22, 2010. (Feb. 22, 2011)http://www.furnitureanddesignideas.com/bedroom-furniture-design-ideas/rooms
  • CostHelper. "How Much Does Painting an Interior Cost?" May 2007. (Feb. 22, 2011)http://www.costhelper.com/cost/home-garden/painting-interior.html
  • Green, Penelope. "Homme & Home: Do It Yourself Interiors." New York Times News Service. March 8, 2011. (March 8, 2011)http://www.augustman.com/2011/03/08/homme-home-do-it-yourself-interiors
  • Lowe's Companies, Inc. "Exterior Paint Buying Guide." (Feb. 22, 2011)http://www.lowes.com/cd_Exterior+Paint+Buying+Guide_39408193_
  • PadStyle. "Transforming your bedroom into a multi-purpose room." Dec. 7, 2010. (Feb. 22, 2011)http://padstyle.com/transforming-your-bedroom-into-a-multi-purpose-room/3230
  • RemodelGuide.com. "Buying Exterior House Paint." (Feb. 22, 2011)http://www.remodelguide.com/improve/siding/extpaint/extpaint_bg.html
  • RISMedia. "Do-It-Yourself Interior Painting Is Like Money in the Bank." Jan. 6, 2011. (Feb. 22, 2011)http://rismedia.com/2011-01-05/do-it-yourself-interior-painting-is-like-money-in-the-bank
  • Eartheasy. "Non-Toxic Paints." 2010. (Feb. 22, 2011)http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_paints.htm
  • Wendy. "A multipurpose room…" Relatively Unique. March 1, 2011. (Feb. 22, 2011)http://relativelyunique.blogspot.com/2011/03/multipurpose-room.html