How to Choose House Colors

Published: 14th May 2009
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Choosing exterior house colors is difficult. It often takes years of experience to learn what colors and materials will work together. Most people have never done this before and certainly dooesn't have training or professional experience. And choosing the wrong color paint or material can be a very expensive error that you'll likely have to live with for many years (or spend a lot of money to fix). Here are some tips to help you get started.

Choosing the Right Paint Colors

The most common error I see in choosing exterior house color is that the color is too light. The sun will wash out colors outside, so choosing a light color will end up looking like white paint. When choosing exterior colors, keep in mind that they usually need to be more grey or brown than you think. For example, a grey with a tint of green in it will read more green than you usually think when painted on an whole house. If you choose a color and can say 'now that's green', you've likely choosen too 'green of a green'. The primary exception to this rule would be in more tropical locations such as Florida or other areas where a lighter color is desired to keep a house cool. Here is whenpastel and brighter colors can work very well.

If you are having trouble choosing trim and siding colors, keep them related to each other, like a cream trim and a darker beige siding on the same paint chip strip. Then add an accent color like a deep rich color.

Choosing Window Colors

Many homes have vinyl windows which will usually be white. Don't paint the vinyl windows unless you have no other option. If you do, consult your window manufacturer and paint company to find compatible products. Painting white vinyl with a dark paint can be disastrous because of the expansion of the vinyl in sunlight. The dark color will cause the vinyl to expand even more than normal, leading to paint and possibly window failure. If you have trim around a white vinyl window, it often works best to paint that trim white too. That will tend to make the vinyl windows blend in more, and look more like a traditional wood window.

If you are choosing new windows and you want to paint your house a dark color, consider choosing a window that is cream or almond in color. A white window on a dark color house will generally have too much contrast. If you choose cream or almond windows, and paint the trim a coordinating color, it will work better with the darker paint scheme. There are several manufacturers that product a grey vinyl which can work well with a more modern house or a metal sided house. Generally I don't like white vinyl on brick sided homes, unless the house is very traditional. Choosing a grey or almond will almost always look better. If you have the budget for wood or metal clad windows, then you'll have many more color choices, and the mid-tone to darker colors often look better with brick.

When to Paint Brick

Just because you have a brick home, don't automatically rule out painting the brick. You will still have the texture of the brick, but you won't be stuck to the same color, which date many, many homes. Of course, if you live in a Frank Lloyd Wright brick home, don't paint it! But most of our homes are not so inspired. Painting the brick can really freshen up a dark and dreary house. Consult a good paint store when painting brick to be sure to get compatible products.

Accent Colors:

This is a place where you can afford to be a little riskier because generally accent colors are limited to less area. I compare this to a lady who puts on makeup: the accent color is like putting on mascara and lipstick. But keep it classy! You know what too much makeup does to a woman. The same goes for a house.


When the roof of a house is visible, it can be a very prominent element. Choosing the wrong color roof is a very costly mistake so it's important to understand some general rules. When choosing the roof, consider what color the house is going to be painted (or if it is brick or stone, consider the general tone of the material). If the house is being painted warmer colors, then a brown roof will be a better choice. If the house will be cooler colors (like greys, blues or greens), then a dark grey roof will work best. If you have to decide on a roof color first, one of the most common and versitile is a dark slate grey color. If your house used to have wood shake shingles and you are replacing it with a composition shingle, most manufacturers make a dark brown color (often called driftwood) that is similar to shake colors. If you are installing a steel or aluminum roof, consider colors other than the traditional green, which works well on buildings with log siding, but not too much else. Again, choose a roof color that will allow for flexibility in your house paint color choices.

Choosing colors can be really challenging. Don't choose from a little paint chip! Even trained professionals have large sample boards painted (or paint directly on the house). Buy a quart of several colors of paint and look at your samples in several different lights of the day and on different sides of your house. Color can change dramatically in different light, so put in the time to choose the right colors. When you do the results can make an amazing difference.

About the author:

Nazim Nice is a Seattle Architect

at the Washington State based firm of Motionspace Architecture + Design PLLC. He is also the founder of Lumen ID, a company that makes custom engraved switchplates with switch labeling.

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