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Written by on September 2, 2013 in Exterior Paints, Exterior Products with 5 Comments

SW Duration Exterior Trim Paint

As a product category, exterior trim paint is a fortunate beneficiary of paint manufacturers pouring R&D dollars into waterborne/latex technologies in the past several years. While oil stains were historically effective on exterior siding applications, they were not an enduring standard for exterior trim. Latex exterior trim paints have always been around. In the past, they have held up well, but could be difficult to work with. Some products in the new latex era have struck a better balance of performance and user friendliness.

You can call them waterborne, or acrylic, or latex. By any name, exterior trim paints are all about performance, and that is for the most part measured by durability – how they withstand all the elements that exterior wood trim surfaces endure day in and day out, through all the seasons. Durability is the umbrella under which several other measurable qualities fall.

Evaluating Exterior Trim Paints

exterior trim paint

Sherwin Williams Duration Exterior Satin being sprayed to prefinish rails.

These days you can make just about any exterior trim paint look good on a house. The technologies have come that far in ease of use. So, aesthetics don’t need to weigh as heavily in the assessment of exterior trim paints, with the possible exception of noting how sheen qualities and color retention compare across different lines and manufacturers. When we look at any product type, we always end up with a series of questions. With most paint or finish products, the questions usually begin with the word “how”.

Here is an example of 5 questions, each of which you will find can pretty easily lead to five more:

5 of the Basic “How” Questions

  • How does it apply by 3 methods (brush, roll, spray)?
  • How does it dry?
  • How does it adhere (to primer, to itself and to existing coatings)?
  • How does it sand?
  • How durable is it?

Notice that our questions are not only “how” questions, but “how does” questions. These are the types of questions that seek to discover how paint behaves. Each of these questions easily breaks out into a whole series of other questions within the initial question, but in general terms, these are the criteria that are important to consider in exterior paints. More often than not, a product will excel in a couple of these categories but not measure up in others. It wasn’t so long ago that exterior latexes would struggle in several of these areas, but these are basic requirements in today’s paint world, and if a product cannot meet a minimum standard in each of these qualities, then it should probably be excused from consideration.

When Latex Paint was Bad

Most of us who were painting in the 80’s and 90’s know that latex paints took a bit of a deserved bad rap for being rubbery, sticky and difficult to apply. While a rubbery quality may have been ok for their flexibility on surfaces that constantly expand and contract, as exterior trim does, it was not so ok for the ‘user experience’. And, while “sticky” was probably good for adhesion, it wasn’t good for application tools or flow. These technologies were difficult to use as exterior trim paint…thick, heavy, hard to spread by most any application method, and just about impossible to use when surface temperatures were anything but cool – not to mention using them in any kind of direct sun.

Duration exterior trim paintMy paint contracting company has put many exterior trim paints to the test in the past decade on both new homes and repaints. When product technologies are in transition, which they constantly are, we try to avoid ‘putting all our eggs in one basket’. We use a variety of different products, equal product lines across different manufacturers, in order to assess who is doing what in the advancement of these technologies. When technologies change, especially under legislative pressures (VOC), each manufacturer seems to put their own spin on “new”.

One that Passes the Test of Time

Sherwin Williams calls their Duration exterior trim paint formulation an acrylic latex. Our paint contracting company has been using Duration exterior satin for many years. We consider Duration to be a great example of high performance exterior trim paint that has proven to be successful on both new construction painting and residential repaints, because the answers to the “how” question list have proven just about every time to be exactly what we, and most painters who deliver productive quality, seek in exterior trim paints.

How Does Duration Apply?

Sherwin Williams Duration

The author applying Duration on synthetic (pvc) trim.

By brush, roller or sprayer, Duration encourages the user to move quick. In other words, it is not a product that will slow you down. This is where people struggle with Duration. It is on the thicker end of the medium viscosity latex scale. It holds and releases well by brush, loads and levels by roller, and is a particularly high performer in sprayed applications where we have consistently experienced it to level at a near interior trim paint standard. If you have visited our youtube channel in the past few years, you have no doubt seen Todd spraying miles of Duration satin in horizontal applications on exterior trim packages as a benchmark paint for air assisted sprayer testing. That’s how much we came to think of it. The reason is, it just plain works. Our company has prefinished trim packages for several high profile new construction projects in recent years using Duration. In every case where we prefinished trim packages, we installed three coat systems of sprayed latex primer and sprayed first coat of Duration in the shop, followed in the field with brushed (or rolled and backbrushed) coats after trim installation in the field. We have prefinished, conservatively, dozens of miles of product using Duration, with minimal glitches.

How Does Duration Dry?

Duration exterior trim paint

A pleasing viscosity with well balanced open time.

Some paint contractors over the years have complained that Duration dries so fast that it is difficult to spread manually, and the paint is challenged to level before tacking up. This is a situational characteristic. If surfaces are smooth and well prepared, Duration spreads fine. Duration stays wet long enough to manipulate by any of the three application methods, and it is one of those acrylics that continues to lay down and level long after initial tack up – a very desirable quality in an exterior trim paint. With latex paints in general, there are several drying stages. Tacking up is the first stage and it is relatively quick, which prevents surface imperfection from airborne contaminants. That is a strength. On the backend of the drying process, this is not a latex that will stay sticky for 6 days. Worst case we observed was spraying to heavy mil thickness in humid conditions, in which case, 48 hours would be desirable prior to sanding surfaces or stacking boards that had been sprayed. On average, 24 hours is realistic. In the field, 20 minutes before light rain was a safe amount of time. This is good across the board drying performance – again, still leaving you with a workable product.

How Does Duration Adhere?

In a word, excellent. Because we have been observing this product for over three years on initial coating systems that we installed, we have been able to observe product performance in harsh New England exposures. We have seen what these elements can do to less robust products. Duration’s adhesion runs deep. We have not seen it fail, at all. Again, keep in mind that we build 3 coat systems correctly, and Duration deep base in a 3 coat system experiences subtle fading as it weathers, but it is not inclined to peel, flake or blister. It builds well and holds up well in a 3 coat system. Adhesion to primers and to itself is better than most acrylics. Also, worth noting, closely tied to the adhesion question is the coverage factor. We have routinely put white Duration over funky colors with ease. Exceptional coverage paired with great adhesion make this a product worth taking the time to understand.

How Does Duration Sand?

While some latex paints are sandpaper destroyers, Duration (with proper dry time) does not gum up or load abrasives. From a practical standpoint, the sanding factor occurs in between first and second coats of finish. In between coat sanding, whether manual or by power sander, is easy with this paint. No nonsense, it just smooths out. We have also done more aggressive, material removal sanding with Duration to see how it breaks down and strips. Even in stilted dry time scenarios, we have not found Duration to want to go “rubbery”. That said, it is not an easy product to remove, it is rather toothy.

How Durable is Duration?

exterior trim paint

We put exterior trim paints through many challenging applications and observe them through several seasons before critiquing.

Obviously, it holds up, ages gracefully, and is well built for success in extreme exterior conditions. Further, some of the durability nuances in which it excels include sheen retention and color retention. Even after 2-3 years of exposure, we have found Duration to be easy to clean and maintain. Even in a satin finish (as opposed to other latex paints in semi gloss), Duration maintains its composure over time very well. We have found that in building a three coat system with Duration, it is best to apply the first finish coat over primer on the heavier side. This is where the bulk of the coverage, adhesion, and body for durability is established. The final finish coat can be lighter, more like a “tip off” coat that just gets the surface wet and puts a shine on it. While the final coat does build some of the overall coating system thickness, it is really just a cosmetic round.

While it seems that there are new and improved waterborne and latex formulations rolling out just about daily, there are notable examples of exterior trim paint that are still quietly going about the business of protecting surfaces over time and looking good in the process.

{A version of this article by Scott Burt was previously published in his “From the Field” editorial column in the July 2013 APC magazine, and is shared here with permission of the publisher}


Scott Burt

Scott Burt is a contractor and freelance writer whose column "From the Field" has appeared in American Painting Contractor magazine (www.paintmag.com) since 2008. His writing and projects also appear in other print and digital venues. This site is an extension of Scott's publication work, and he encourages readers to leave comments and questions about articles published here. Hope to hear from you!

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  1. Mike Pope says:

    Great article Scott. Very well written. And, as you mentioned….those of us who were painting in the 80s and 90s have seen a lot of changes in latex paints.

  2. Matt says:

    Duration does spray nice. Bet here in Florida, it is unbrushable.

  3. Great article Scott! I am new to Topcoat Review but not Duration. I have used it for some time now and have come to rely on it for just the reasons you have stated above. It’s an excellent product and one I recommend without hesitation. Thanks for the thorough review and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

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