Everything You Need to Know About Exterior Gray Paint

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated October 28, 2021
Front view of a gray house
Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

When it comes to exterior paint, nothing’s black and white—it’s all about shades of gray

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You might think gray is pretty basic, but there’s actually a rainbow’s worth of gray paint. There are blue-tinged grays, pinkish grays, and grays that channel ocean foam during a storm. You can have a gray that’s basically white or a gray that’s basically black. Gray can really be almost anything. 

With so many options, it can be hard to narrow down the perfect shade for your home. After all, your home’s facade is the first thing people see on the street. Learn how to find the perfect exterior gray paint shade for your home.

Is Gray Exterior Paint Still in Style?

Girl carrying a cat in front of a house
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As one of the most versatile exterior paint colors, it’s not surprising that gray is considered classic. It also happens to be very current, particularly dusty charcoal shades. In the past, Pantone named Ultimate Gray their color of the year; Valspar listed the cool-toned Academy Gray and Garden Flower among their top shades; and Sherwin-Williams crowned Urbane Bronze, a warm gray, their color of the year.

Needless to say, gray is one of the most popular exterior paint colors. It’s so popular that The Washington Post went as far as calling it “ubiquitous” while musing about when it will finally go out of style. Doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon.

Cool vs. Warm Gray Paint: How Do I Choose?

Gray paint can either have warm undertones, cool undertones, or neutral undertones. Basically, it does it all. To narrow down a shade for your home’s exterior, look at your roof, your outdoor furniture, your shutters, and your trim. Are they on the warm or cool side—and how much? 

Can’t tell? Here’s how to know if you have warm or cool undertones:

  • Warm colors typically have undertones of red, orange, or yellow.

  • Cool colors have undertones of green, blue, and purple. 

You’ll want to match the undertones of your existing exterior accessories with your paint choice and make those elements pop by balancing those colors with neutrals. For example, a neutral gray with a slight warm undertone will complement bright, rust-colored shutters better than a shade that’s so warm it starts to compete. 

On the flipside, if you already have beige shudders with a slight cool undertone, you might want your exterior paint to be a vibrant blue-toned gray. When in doubt, keep the accents simple.

Play With the Balance of Light and Dark

Gray paint runs the full spectrum between white and black. That gives you a lot of room to play with the balance. The classic palette seems to be a darker body paired with lighter trim (think: slate gay with a pristine white or a deep greige with a light cream. It thrives in contrast, but that’s not a rule. 

Consider your local weather too: Smoggy areas call for brighter shades of gray (to ensure it will stop pop) and you might need an even brighter shade than you think.

Painting your home a single shade of dark gray can actually make it look more modern and contrast beautifully against greenery. Since darker grays also make accent colors stand out, you may also want to try a brightly colored door—like a fire engine red or cobalt blue.

Still Having Trouble Choosing a Shade of Gray? Take a Walk

If you can’t narrow down the perfect gray for your exterior paint, take a walk. Different regions have different trends. For example, architects in the Bay Area of California told Gardenista they preferred brown-toned grays, while an architect working in the beach town of Sag Harbor, New York preferred a green-gray.

Since preference varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, it’s best to look at your own area.

  • Earthy gray tones will help an A-frame home in upstate New York blend beautifully into the forest.

  • A house in New Mexico surrounded by adobo-style homes might blend in best with a warm-toned gray.

  • A home near a highway might work best with a darker color that won’t show the dirt and grime from the traffic.

Either way, you’ll need approval from your homeowners association if you have one.

Darker Shades of Exterior Paint Require More Care

Sun affects all shades of gray paint, but dark shades tend to get hit the worst. Not only is sun-bleaching more noticeable, but dark colors absorb light. This means they warm up fast and can start to blister if they get too hot. These blisters eventually lead to peeling paint. 

In the United States, it’s likely that the south-facing side of your home will be hit the hardest. Unfortunately, you can’t continuously rotate your house so it fades evenly. You just have to work with what you’ve got. 

This includes:

  • Choosing a high-quality paint

  • Choosing a fade-resistant paint

  • Properly preparing the surface you plan to paint

  • Adding an exterior sealer to protect the paint

If you live in a particularly sunny area, you may just want to stick with a lighter shade. Whether you paint your home’s exterior gray yourself or hire a local exterior painting pro, with a little research (and paint samples), you’re sure to find the perfect shade for your home.

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