Exterior Vinyl Windows – Can You Paint Them Dark?

As a residential paint color specialist, this is the busy season for exterior paint color consultations. Dark exterior windows are quite the rage for high-end builds right now, and I’ve been specifying them right and left. But can you paint vinyl windows dark, and if not, why?

can you paint your vinyl windows dark?

 

This week I consulted with a couple on colors for their new home currently being built. The windows are already in – they are paintable PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which is a plastic polymer.

2016-03-29 09.05.15

 

My clients were excited about going dark on their windows, so I helped them choose Benjamin Moore Kendall Charcoal. This was the overall plan I presented them:

painting exterior pvc windows

 

When they shared the plan with their builder, he told them that if they painted the pvc or vinyl windows a paint color that had less than a LRV of 55, the warranty on the windows would be null and void. So they are paintable, but only light colors can be used???

Way to rain on our parade . . .

So here’s the scoop – dark colors with low LRV (that means light reflective value, in case you’re wondering) absorb heat much more than lighter colors with a higher LRV. This isn’t an issue if you are painting wood, because heat does not alter wood. You may have already heard that you can’t paint vinyl siding dark, because it can warp. Unlike their competitors, LP SmartSide siding and trim products are engineered wood products, so heat doesn’t warp it. However, heat CAN warp plastic products. So pvc and vinyl window manufacturers don’t want to take the chance that direct sunlight will damage the vinyl windows, which is why they make this caveat to their product warranty.

Here is the advice that Azek (a pvc trim board manufacturer) provides its customers:
• If you choose to paint, use a 100% acrylic latex paint
with colors having a Light Reflective Value (LRV) of
55 or higher.

• For darker colors (LRV of 54 or lower), choose paints
specifically designed for use on vinyl/pvc products
such as, but not limited to, Sherwin-Williams
VinylSafe™ coatings. These paints/coatings are
designed to reduce excessive heat gain.

 

AHA! Here’s more about the Sherwin-Williams product that might solve the problem:

Sherwin-Williams VinylSafe™ Color Technology provides a wide color selection and excellent performance on vinyl without buckling — even when using a dark color.

You can choose from their 100 color options in the VinylSafe™ palette, or have them do a custom color match. VinylSafe™ Color Technology promises a quality finish that resists blistering and peeling. And no, they are not paying me to tell you this (but they totally should)!

Does this mean that you can safely paint a dark color on your exterior pvc windows? Yes, probably. Since pvc does not absorb moisture, the paint on polyurethane trim will last much longer than on wood, so that’s a plus as well.

However, the window manufacturer may still render the warranty void just to avoid the potential of problems down the road. I’m still waiting to hear back from my client – we may have to alter our exterior paint palette.

Big, fat frowny face . . .

If you are building a house or replacing your windows, make sure you check out all the prefinished options before defaulting to white windows.

5-Ormond-Castle-Window

Dark windows are popular right now, but don’t be fearful about them going out of style. They are a classic – just check out centuries-old European castles, and you’ll see for yourself!

Do you like dark exterior windows? Would you take a chance on painting yours?

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25 thoughts on “Exterior Vinyl Windows – Can You Paint Them Dark?

  1. Barbara Jacobs says:

    HI Kristie, great topic.
    A long time before discovering the “new” Sherwin Williams product for this purpose, we had to paint our 1881 house in MA. All the sashes on the windows were already black and because I liked the palette, when we changed the body and trim colors, we kept the black window trim. However, we had installed 3 or 4 ‘replacement windows’ and those were naturally white.

    Nonetheless, using the right prep and primer to make sure the paint would adhere, I did specify a black for all the windows throughout the house…old and newer. The painters were unconvinced but they did as they were asked.

    10 years later, still adhering. Most were on the East-facing side that got full sun until it went overhead to the other side of the house.

    I’m not promising anything, but this is a personal story. If you want to see a picture of this house, try:
    http://www.integralcolor.com/portfolio/exterior-and-interior-color/#
    (It’s number 20 of 40)

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Barbara, thanks for sharing your experience with black paint on exterior windows! Your house is gorgeous!!! We have metal storm windows from the 1950s, and 8 years ago I had to convince painters to paint them the same dark expresso color as the windows we had just painted. They thought I was nuts. It turned out great, even almost a decade later.

    • Lynne says:

      Can you tell me if the painters did any special prepping prior to painting? Did they use primer first? Lastly, did they brush paint or spray paint?

      • Cowboy says:

        I too am waiting for a reply to this post. What is the best process ie paint brush / spray /primer or other. I’m going from white to charcoal and am not worried about warranty. Please advise thx all

  2. Jenny B. says:

    Great info! I am not a fan of dark exterior windows. I am always drawn to thick white window casings (or moldings, or whatever they’re called on the outside). 🙂 I do like a lot of the designs I’m seeing lately with dark windows on the inside, though. They really pop in the light and bright rooms that are so popular right now. I grew up in a house with black windows, though, and I never liked them. We replaced all the windows when I was in high school with almond colored ones, and it made such a huge difference — much lighter and brighter feeling. So, I still prefer white (or very light) for windows inside and out. 🙂

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Thanks for your thoughts on the black windows, Jenny! Notice on the first picture the dark windows are just a pencil eyeliner kind of effect – the thick white case molding around the windows is still white. So it’s not really heavy at all. The lighter you go with the body color or wall color (on an interior), the cleaner and crisper the effect 🙂

  3. Kathy says:

    My field is historic preservation and I have been studying these issues for years, trying to find affordable alternatives for the average person. The choices are not easy, and even custom replacement windows can fall short.

    Dark sashes with matching or contrasting jambs and casing has been the historical pattern until 1950 or so. Dark sashes are also the norm for many modern and contemporary style homes. If you can’t repair your wood windows, consider a fiberglass replacement window and go with full simulated divided lights if you can. Fiberglass has a low expansion/contraction ratio similar to wood and can be painted, or finished to look much like wood, and the muntins tend to be thicker and more like old wood windows. Metal windows may also work, especially for Prairie, Tudor Revival, and many modern to contemporary style homes, perhaps paired with an interior storm.

    Vinyl windows are less expensive, but the flex in a vinyl window eventually causes the seals to break, the weatherstripping to get brittle, and if they are painted, for the paint to buckle or wear off, especially where the window slides in the jamb and along the edges of the sash. The fact that synthetic materials absorb less water is actually a problem because then water can get trapped under the paint layer and pop the paint. Acrylic paint is quite elastic, but it will fail eventually, and then it is a mess to get off to repaint, and you can use the same paint removal techniques as you can for wood.

    It is a tricky business anyway to properly paint an operable window, and even more tricky for modern synthetic units. Casement, awning and picture windows may be less potentially problematic than double hung because they have concealed moving parts. The more extreme your climate, the more cautious I would be, even with expensive specialty paints or specially formulated vinyl. The material is just inherently less stable, gets brittle with cold and age, the color fades and it is not recyclable. Exterior vinyl anything has a lifespan of about 25 years or so at best, and then it all eventually has to be replaced and the materials get dumped in the landfill.

    I’m glad Barbara has had a good experience, and she has done some lovely work, but I’m a cautious sort and I don’t think it is worth the potential mess painted vinyl windows can be. If you want dark sashes, a painted or dark storm might be an option, and they do improve thermal performance, even for insulated windows. Otherwise, I think sticking to white or a white sash with a low contrast color on the casing looks better on most houses than white windows and dark casing, unless the siding is white or a light color.

    There are a lot of stylistic difficulties with modern windows too, especially on a historic house. Old House Guy has an extensive evaluation of major window brands and their limitations and gives specific recommendations. Basically, modern windows proportions are different than historic windows of the same size–the muntin profile, the sash width and the casing style and width are typically different, even if you order custom windows. Iif you go with a contrasting casing, the jamb will match the sash, not the casing, which makes the casing look thin and flat. His website and the book “Get Your House Right” are the best I’ve found on the pitfalls of typical current house design and remodeling and how to make a new traditional home look its best. Take a look–you will never look at a window, a porch railing, shutter or an eave return the same after.

  4. Sheri says:

    Love this Kristie. I too just wrote a blog about painting exteriors with Sherwin Williams VinylSafe Colors that has provided to be useful for my clients here in Calgary. I’m not sure who said this comment (and it quite possibly could have been you) but a color like black around a window is similar to eyeliner. Just a touch can make such a huge impact!

    As always, such an informative blog, Thank you!

  5. Katie says:

    Very interesting! I’ve been seeing all your posts lately with the black windows and I wondered if you purchased them like that or painted. Now I know!

  6. Kathy says:

    I agree that dark window sashes and casings look great, but I’m not sure that painted vinyl is the way to go
    Painted vinyl siding has its issues too. This painting website gives some guidance: http://www.imageworkspainting.com/blog/bid/349645/Painting-Vinyl-Siding-On-Your-Home-Can-You-Should-You

    I have done a little research on painted vinyl windows (another word for PVC ) and there is a small American window manufacturer who has a lot to say on the topic that is worth looking at. Its blog explains the chemistry and their manufacturing process and why they are believers in painted vinyl. http://www.mgmindustries.com/painted-vinyl.php

    But even with a specialty company that has put a lot of effort into the manufacturing process, I see some issues. This company has been painting custom vinyl windows for quite some time now, but even they offer only a 10-yer guarantee on the paint surface, and only for manufacturing defects, not defects from installation. Their windows come with bottles of touch-up paint for damage to the paint surface during installation.

    Obviously, it is better if the paint is applied during manufacturer, or the color is integral to the product. To paint afterwards requires careful preparation. This website recommends cleaning with TS{ substitute and wiping with acetone to remove the factory glaze. You need a porous surface for the paint to stick. I would check the manufacturer recommendations of these windows and make sure the builder follows them rigourously.

    Even with a professional paint job, I would be concerned that there will be seasonal cracks due to the expansion and contraction of the vinyl, and that regular touch up would be required. Paint on any exterior surface only lasts 10-15 years at best, and less for additional coats. The paint will eventually chalk and fade and chip around the edges. unless it is completely stripped, which wouldn’t be possible on vinyl. You can’t use heat or chemicals on vinyl to strip paint, so it would have to be mechanically and very carefully scraped and repainted. The lifespan of a typical house that is occupied and cared for is around 50 years, often longer.

    I’m sure your clients are in love with the idea and the color scheme, but they need to know the additional maintenance likely required. . Maybe you can prepare several color boards for your client to choose from, one with painted windows and one without and one with just painted casings and shutters.

  7. Charles Manson says:

    I love how this bimbo only replies to the positive comments. Anyone who dares to say that painting vinyl is a bad idea gets ignored. Booooooooooo!

    • Jay says:

      Go troll somewhere else idiot. She’s replied to everyone. She said she was having her clients consult the contractors and they haven’t even decided yet! Also- why would you call this lady such a name? I guess you’ve met her to make such a claim, or is that the word you use for every beautiful woman? Booooo on you. I’m so tired of you internet idiots.

  8. Richard G LaFlamme says:

    I have used Sherman Williams Exterior Super paint on multimillion dollar homes exterior vinal windows and azek for years with minimal problems.

  9. Amanda says:

    Hi Kristie,

    I know this is an older post but I’m just reading it. The only thorn in my side is I REALLY want to get the additional bars in the inside of the window frames (like cottage style lines) but all the vinyl options I’ve researched have that part of the window inside of the glass where you wouldn’t be able to paint it. So I’d only be able to paint the outside edges of the frames and then have to leave the decorative lines white. Any thoughts on if that would look good/bad??

    • Lynn says:

      Amanda,

      WeatherBarr vinyl windows give you the option to have the bars on both sides of the glass or an option to keep it inside the glass making it easier to clean. I love the look of aluminum clad windows, but have found that the WeatherBarr vinyl can give you the same look for less. You can choose from a variety of colors and even choose a different color for the interior.

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