Renovation10 min

Exterior vs. Interior Paint Color – What’s the Difference?

Determining exterior house colors can be a daunting task, and I’m here to help you make the right decisions so that you can get the look you want for your home. When deciding on colors for the exterior, there are a few important things to understand.

Today we are going to talk about a basic but crucial difference between choosing exterior versus interior colors. Color is greatly affected by lighting and surrounding colors, so the same paint color can look surprisingly different on an exterior than on an interior. Natural and intense lighting conditions significantly impact the perception of exterior colors. Lighting conditions vary depending on altitude and surrounding natural elements, whether it’s a vivid blue sky, dense trees, or desert mountains. Regardless of geography, paint colors always appear lighter on an exterior. Quite a bit lighter. As a rule of thumb, choose a color two shades darker than you actually want it to look for an exterior. For example, an off-white or cream color will often read bright white on an exterior. A beige or light gray color may read creamy or warm off-white.

I recently specified exterior paint color for a house where the owner wanted it to be off-white. The color I suggested surprised her because it seemed too dark and too gray. Here’s the color I chose:

It doesn’t look off-white, does it? In an interior, it reads light gray with a slight blue-green undertone. Although this bedroom has good natural light, the effect of this paint color on the walls here is quite different than what it would be on the exterior of a house in true natural light. By sampling the color on the exterior of the home, I was able to help the homeowner see that it indeed looked much lighter than it appeared in a paint fan deck or on a small paint chip. This is the way the same color looks on the exterior of the house:

Another important thing to realize is that exterior color will read differently at different times of the day, under different lighting and weather conditions, and even on different sides of the house. These photos were taken on the same day, at the same time of the day, but look at the difference between the paint color on a section where sunlight is directly hitting it and where it isn’t:

Direct sunlight = color appears lighter

No direct sunlight = color appears darker 

If you want a dark color as an accent on shutters or trim, go darker than you think you should because it will read lighter once it goes up on an exterior. Choosing two shades darker than you think is usually about right. Always sample exterior paint colors during daylight hours onsite. I recommend painting two good coats of each possible paint choice on half sheets of heavy poster board. Move them around the house, holding them next to the roofline, windows, or any stone or brick on the exterior to see how the paint color reads next to those elements. Make sure to sample on different sides of the exterior and in both the direct sunlight and the shade.

Sampling the new LP SmartSide colors will give you the most up-to-date and cohesive looks for the exterior of your home. In the next blog installment, we’ll talk about the importance of taking your home’s style and age into consideration when choosing exterior house colors.

Note: All photos are for illustrative purposes only. Please refer regularly to lpcorp.com for correct and up-to-date product installation instructions.

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