You spent the extra money to be “Maintenance Free”. So, why would you even consider painting your vinyl trim? Isn’t that what you are trying to avoid? Let’s examine what the real problem is when it comes to painting that is so frustrating—the peeling, cracking, checking, and flaking that occurs over time and ultimately requires maintenance and upkeep. Right?
First of all, let’s not blame the paint (as long as you are using a good paint). Usually, the main cause of paint failure is the surface it is applied to; typically wood. As the paint tries hard to hold on, the wood does everything it can to push it off. Paint applied to vinyl doesn’t react that way. PVC/Vinyl seems to cooperate with paint and even seems to like it. Think about it; it does make sense that they would get along. They are cousins, in a sense. Latex paint is, after all, sort of like a type of vinyl coating.
Painting does have some positive attributes, regardless of the surface it is applied to. Most exterior paint contains additives that resist the formation of mildew. A painted surface tends to stay cleaner, especially on the edges.
Also, paint allows for individual expression. What if every house on your block had the same white trim color? That’s why vinyl is the perfect material. Leave it natural white or paint it with an acrylic latex paint. The paint, when applied to a clean surface, will adhere extremely well and provide you with years and years of service and personality.
If you choose to paint your vinyl trim or component, there is, however, one important area of concern to consider. How dark can you paint it? Vinyl is not tolerant of extreme heat. As surface temperatures approach 140 degrees, distortion caused by the softening of the material is a possibility. That’s not to say you can’t paint PVC/Vinyl darker colors. It’s just when you are considering using a very dark color, you have to consider the level of sun exposure and how it is going to react to the increased heat caused by absorbing the sun’s energy.
Most paint colors are assigned an LRV (light reflective value) number expressed in percent. White has a value of 100 and black has a reflective value of 0. All other colors fall in between. Typically, the LRV number is displayed on the paint chip. Vinyl manufacturers recommend using a LRV of 55 or higher when painting PVC/Vinyl.
In my personal opinion, I feel the LRV recommendation of 55 or higher is a conservative number and that the location of the vinyl should be factored in when considering the LRV rating of your paint color. Individual components like porch brackets and corbels can certainly be painted darker colors due to their covered environment. The more the bracket is shaded by a wide porch or roof overhang, the darker they can be painted. On the other hand, gable brackets and sawn balusters which will see more direct sunlight should be painted in lighter colors that have a reflective rating of 55 or higher. For direct sun exposure, a good rule of thumb is to consider using colors no darker than those used by vinyl siding companies.
In addition to its shaded environment, a freely attached component like a bracket or a corbel can take more heat because of its small size and the increased surface area caused by the shape of the design. A good example of increased surface area is our hollow builder components. Many have been painted very dark colors yet have remained stable. Being hollow provides for a larger surface area inside which helps dissipate heat.
Because of the way they have to be installed, I do not recommend painting vinyl sawn balusters a color with a LRV less than 55. The confining nature of the installation doesn’t allow enough room for expansion, which could possibly cause the balusters to bow as they are heated by the sun.
All in all, the lesson here is to consider the surface you are painting and its environment prior to painting. If you are painting wood, expect to be sanding and repainting it in a few years. If you are painting vinyl, use a quality acrylic latex paint in the appropriate color for its location and you will have years and years of maintenance free enjoyment.
SIDE NOTE: It’s important to know that all latex paint is not the same. 100% Acrylic Latex paint is the best for durability and fade resistance. Just because paint says Acrylic doesn’t mean it’s 100%. Vinyl latex paint is at the low end of the quality scale. In between are 100 different acrylic percent combinations. As a rule of thumb, the more a name brand latex paint costs the higher the percent of acrylic latex is in the formula.