What's the science behind "vinyl safe" exterior paint?
August 3, 2017 12:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm buying a house! I want to repaint it. It has vinyl siding, which is in good shape and fairly new. I understand that I can repaint the siding, but need to be careful about color selection. I'm having trouble finding unbiased, specific advice about selecting a paint color. I could use some paint expertise.

Everything I've found online says (most) dark colors cause vinyl siding to absorb too much heat, possibly leading to warping and damage. Okay, that makes sense. But how do I know if my paint color (when I'm picking a different color the original) is too dark?

The house is a pale-ish yellow currently. I'd like to paint it gray. I am flexible about the exact shade, but would probably prefer a medium gray, not something pale. I have a hunch that a gray of a similar darkness to my current yellow might absorb more heat, since it absorbs more wavelengths of light. (I think?)

Sherwin-Williams has a line of vinyl-safe paint colors that can be used with several of their exterior paints. These are completely separate colors from their main palette, and I can't get paint chips for any of these from my local Sherwin-Williams shop (and they're out of the little booklets for VinylSafe, I checked).

Benjamin Moore has a separate paint just for vinyl siding, and a decent selection of colors for it.

Between those two limited paint palettes, I'm not seeing quite the shade I was looking for. So I'd like to open up my color options a little by getting a better understanding of how the paint companies determine that a color is "safe" for painting on vinyl.

I was hoping to use Behr paint (they came out on top in Consumer Reports' recent tests, granted they weren't testing for painting on vinyl), and perhaps have Home Depot color-match a vinyl-safe Sherwin-Williams or Benjamin Moore paint color. That's not set in stone, though.

Obviously, if the important factor is getting a sufficiently light color, I could theoretically pick from many, many light paint colors and be perfectly safe and stop overthinking this. I also understand that there's not a magical line where everything lighter is 100% safe and everything darker is 100% gonna melt my house.

(For the sake of argument, I'm not interested in new/different siding at this point. Eventually, yeah. But that's a waste of perfectly good siding and money right now.)

Because climate may be relevant: I'm in Cary, North Carolina. The house gets quite a bit of shade, with direct sunlight to the front of house in the afternoon.

So here's the question part: How does a paint company determine a color is safe to use on vinyl? Without doing any testing myself, is there a good way to quantify the darkness/light-energy-absorptivity of a paint color (based on hex values or the pigment mix or something like that?) so I can get a feel for what colors are relatively safer? Or is this something where most colors are actually fine in most cases, but the paint companies just don't want to get sued if someone in the desert paints their house black?
posted by katieinshoes to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Drive around the nearest suburban development and take note of the various shades of grays and taupes that the homes are clad in. Those would be considered "safe" tones.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:29 PM on August 3, 2017

I'm no expert on paint just a home owner. I believe the "vinyl-safe" have flexibility properties so when the siding expands and contracts the paint will not crack and peel. They are likely formulated to stick to vinyl better the regular house paint.
posted by tman99 at 12:39 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can write Sherwin-Williams and ask. I wrote them when I wanted to paint a metal fireplace, and they answered all of my questions.
posted by FencingGal at 12:45 PM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I believe the "vinyl-safe" have flexibility properties so when the siding expands and contracts the paint will not crack and peel.

You might also want to investigate adhering qualities. My (admittedly very minimal) research suggested that a primer would be useful (needed?).
posted by John Borrowman at 12:59 PM on August 3, 2017

The idea of painting vinyl siding makes me nervous. I don't think I have ever seen a house with vinyl siding fully painted, but maybe that's because wood and stucco are more common exteriors here.

I am sure it will look just fine in year 1, 2, maybe 3... but beyond that, all paint will start to flake or fade eventually. On a wood sided house, the first step to repainting is scraping. I saw a Bob Villa article saying vinyl siding paint will last about 10 years. So, in 10 years, what is the re-painting plan? Can it be done? How is it prepped for the second layer of paint? Or would you just buy new siding when the paint begins to fail?

As well, if you hire pros to do the painting, it's a lot of labor hours and it will get expensive, which kind of defeats the purpose of inexpensive vinyl siding. Maybe put that money into a newer siding instead?

See if you can find a house in your area that has done this, preferably several years ago. Ask that homeowner for advice.
posted by littlewater at 1:38 PM on August 3, 2017

The world of paint is vast and confusing. It's going to be hard to replicate the research facilities of a paint company on your own, so I wouldn't recommend trying to experiment.

As others have noted, it's not just the heat absorbing issues. It's also elasticity, adhesion, weathering, and the requirements for time to dry / second coats. Adding darker pigments also requires reformulating. Primers can be helpful but have similar issues to the above.

I'd highly recommend using a vinyl-approved line from a quality paint company, and not trying to mix your own. Emailing the companies might help, but they will probably tell you to "use at your own risk."
posted by chemicalsyntheticist at 4:17 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just guessing but from some of the things I read online. The colors selected likely are limiting the amount of dark pigments added to the base paint.
posted by tman99 at 5:57 AM on August 4, 2017

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