Your house is your public face; if you make a mistake when you paint the outside, the whole neighbourhood will know. Also, in terms of labour and cost, repainting the exterior is a far more involved proposition than doing an interior room. Fortunately, finding the perfect exterior colour scheme really just means doing a little extra homework first.
There are some rules of thumb and a number of new resources to get you started. Many designers offer colour consultations at a reasonable fee or even specialize in this art; check the Yellow Pages or provincial interior design associations, or ask at a paint store. And both Para Paints and General Paint have created software that allows you to scan in a photo of your home and "paint" it any colour the company offers. If you don't want to buy the actual software, some General Paint stores offer their service for a fee.
Whether you choose to consult professionals or rely on your own eye, colour designer Janice Lindsay says there's a big difference between interiors and exteriors: in a word, it's context. "It's not necessarily what you might like -- it's what goes with your neighbours' houses," she says.
Dos and don'ts
Do test colours on bristol board. Outside light changes during the day and seasonally, and can dramatically affect a colour's appearance.
Do consider neighbouring houses; your home is part of the overall streetscape.
Don't use white as trim on a house with unpainted brick; it's outdated and artificial looking. Rich neutrals that complement the tone of the wall material enhance its natural beauty.
Do paint trim white on a house whose exterior is a neutral or rich colour -- it's a crisp, fresh look.
Don't paint vinyl siding a much darker colour than its original shade -- one or two shades darker is fine, but not more. Unlike metals and wood, which can accept any colour with the proper surface preparation and primer, the increased heat absorption of dark colours can cause vinyl to buckle or warp, ruining an expensive paint job.
Don't paint your house yourself unless you're experienced; a professional job is worth the investment.