How to Pick Exterior House Paint Colors: 9 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Palette

Audrey Bruno
Written by Audrey Bruno
Updated May 31, 2023
A beautiful house on an autumn day
Photo: Laurin Rinder / Adobe Stock

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Knowing how to pick an exterior paint color isn’t as simple as choosing your favorite shade. You may be dead set on yellow, but even then it can still be daunting to select just one variation from the dozens of yellows to choose from. 

Fortunately, there are a number of factors—from the pre-existing elements of your home to what your homeowners’ association will allow—that can help you determine what’s right for your particular setup. Here’s everything you need to know about how to pick exterior house paint colors, whether you’re painting your shutters or your siding.

Find Out Which Colors Your HOA Allows

Before getting your heart set on a particular hue, find out which colors are fair game in your homeowners’ association. That way, you won’t fall in love with a shade you can’t actually use. Some HOAs permit just about any paint color, while others are more strict about adhering to a certain scheme and might even dictate the trim, roof, windowpane, and soffit and fascia paint colors.

Decide Which Elements You Do and Don’t Want to Paint

The exterior of a brick house with painted shutters
Photo: Stephen VanHorn / Adobe Stock

Take a long, hard look at the outside of your home before beginning an exterior painting project. Take note of what’s already there, what can and can’t be changed, and how much you’re willing to change. 

Start by considering how your home was built. While it’s not impossible to paint a brick house, for example, they don’t typically need a coat of paint to look great. In those cases, you may want to turn your attention to the other components of your home’s exterior, like the window trim, doorways, and roof. Try to choose a color palette that highlights or complements the natural shade of brick or stone you’re working with for the best results, like navy siding with a red brick house or a slate gray paint color for a front door on a dark wood home.

On the other hand, wood homes generally need a fresh coat of paint every seven to 10 years. Of course, painting the body of a home is a lot more work than just touching up a doorway. And taking care of everything at once can be quite the project, especially if you’re picking brand new colors for each element. Instead, try choosing one new shade for the majority of your home that pairs well with the other pre-existing colors to cut down on things like the cost to paint a garage door or roof. Then, simply refresh the older colors with any leftover paint cans that you still have from last time.

Think About Your Home’s Style and Architecture

When choosing an exterior house paint color, it’s important to consider every aspect of your home—including its architectural style. After all, some home styles just look better in certain colors.

For example, the best exterior paint colors for a colonial home are going to differ from the best options for a mid-century modern abode. While a light blue facade may be charming on the former, it’s more likely to look out of place on a house built in a completely different style. 

When in doubt, do a bit of research to find out which colors are most commonly used on your home type. While it’s not unheard of to choose an out-of-the-ordinary option and have it work, having some visual references will help you pick a color you’ll enjoy for years.

Take Inspiration From Other Houses Around Town 

Looking for inspiration online is a great start, but nothing compares to seeing what a house color looks like in real life. Where’s a good place to see such colors in action? In your neighborhood, of course! Perusing your neighbors' abodes will both give you ideas for your own and a chance to see colors outside of a computer screen or magazine. 

That way, you can see if that blue you’ve been dreaming of is really all it’s cracked up to be or rather hiding its defaults behind a flattering filter. What’s more, roaming your community for inspo will also give you a peek into what your HOA does and doesn’t allow so you can plan accordingly. 

Look for a Range of Colors Rather Than Just One 

If you are up to the task of changing your home’s entire color palette—from the garage door to your deck colors—don’t limit yourself to just one color. Even the brightest yellows can fall flat if they aren’t paired with the right counterparts. 

Stick with three colors as a general rule to avoid overdoing it, and don’t be afraid to try something that you never normally would. Sometimes the best pairings look far better together than they ever did apart. 

Use Color Theory to Pick the Perfect Palette 

Whether you’re trying to choose a shade for your siding or looking for barndominium paint colors that stand out, a little thing called color theory can really help. Color theory explains the dos and don’ts of pairing different hues, including how to navigate a color wheel and pick a palette that melds rather than conflicts. 

Consider Options That Will Reduce Energy Costs

Both light and dark exterior paint colors have the capacity to reduce your energy bill, but where you live has a big impact on which option is right for you. 

Light colors are great for warm climates because they reflect the sun and keep home interiors cool. On the other hand, dark colors do a better job of absorbing and retaining heat, which makes them particularly well-suited to colder regions. That’s why you’ll often see tan and white houses in the desert and darker homes in icy settings.

Think About the Effects of Light and Weather

A white house with a big tree on the garden
Photo: Steve Hull / Adobe Stock

While we’re on the subject of weather, let’s talk about how it can affect the appearance of your home. Everything from stormy afternoons to the sunniest high noon can have an impact on the way your exterior paint color looks. 

For example, brightly colored homes are popular in cloudy destinations because they pop even more against a gray backdrop. But in a sunny place where there are already plenty of bright colors, they may appear more gaudy than welcoming. 

Use Paint Samples to Finalize Your Choice

Once you have an idea of the colors you’re going to use, it’s time to start testing your options. Head to the hardware store and pick up a few sample paint cans or swabs of the shades you’re considering. Then, apply them to a part of your home that’s not visible from the front (just in case they aren’t what you were expecting). From there, you’re all set to start preparing your home’s exterior for a brand new coat of paint, and, if you’d rather not do it yourself, hire an exterior painter near you.

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