Exterior Paint: Satin or Flat?

House Painter
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When you paint your house exterior, which sheen should you use--flat or a satin finish?

Because your home's exterior is subjected to major stresses--rain, snow, UV rays, and physical impact--this question is even more important than if you were considering your home's interior.

First, understand the basics of each paint sheen before comparing the two:

Flat Exterior Finish:  Your Sophisticated But Difficult To Maintain Choice

How It Feels

When you run your hand across a flat finish, it feels like porous, uncoated cardboard--slightly chalky and dry.

How It Looks

Flat finish has a soft, velvety appearance.  It will not highlight minor bumps and gouges as would a glossy coat.  Many homeowners consider flat finish to have a more contemporary and modern look.

Good and Bad Points

  • Good:  Flat finish has one huge selling point: no overlapping problems. The matte finish means that you can lay down a second coat or a neighboring coat and not worry about overspray dulling the existing coat.  This applies to brush and roller, too.
  • Bad:  Flat exterior is virtually impossible to clean.  Cleaning flat is like trying to wipe down a chalkboard with a dry rag: dirt smears but does not come off very well.  You can scrub flat finish with TSP or water pressure washer.  Better yet, lay down another coat of paint. In fact, owners of exterior flat finish homes tend to have an extra gallon on hand for quick fixes.

    Satin Exterior Finish:  Your Durable, Shiner Choice

    How It Feels

    When you run your hand across a satin finish, it feels like the cardboard mentioned above, but with a light wax coating on it. 

    How It Looks

    Satin exterior has a low shine, with minor reflective qualities.  Imperfect texture will show.  Colors will be slightly richer than with flat.

    Good and Bad Points

    • Good:  Satin finish paint can be wiped down or even hosed with fresh water.  If you want a look that is slightly swankier, choose satin over flat.
    • Bad:  When applying, you will need to be careful of overlapping stripes and dullness.  As you would with interior paintingkeep a wet edge to paint alongside.  Also, improperly mixed paint may create an overall uneven sheen, since the solids that produce the satin appearance may sink to the bottom.  Boxing your paint (the process of mixing several different cans as one) or taking the paint to the store for machine mixing are two solutions for this problem.

    Recommendation

    All things considered, satin finish is preferable for the exterior.  It satisfies basic maintenance points while providing a pleasant appearance that appeals to the widest range of home buyers.

    However, the choice is based on your own situation. Factors to consider:

    • Will you be painting the house yourself? If not, then you do not need to worry about overlapping.  Professional painters are proficient at laying down all kinds of paint.  If they make an error, they are accountable and can be expected to fix the issue.  Answer:  either finish.
    • Do you have children? Bikes get laid against houses, snowballs thrown, and mud splattered.  Just as you would choose a wipeable finish for the interior, so too with your exterior.  Answer:  satin or semi-gloss.
    • If your exterior is riddled with texture-related blemishes, flat will help hide them.
    • Do you want to finish your project with more ease?  Then flat will help, as sheen will always be consistent.  Remixing and boxing would then be used only for maintaining color consistency.