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Choosing Interior Paint Colors (Working with Light Reflectance Values)

Color is the most practical and inexpensive way to create the environment you want, and dynamic colors won't cost you a penny more than ordinary ones. Here are a couple of tools you can use to help find colors that will work for you.


Choosing Interior Paint Colors

(Working with Light Reflectance Values)


Have you ever tried to use a special paint color, but been disappointed with the way it looked on the walls? Often a color will turn out to be much darker or much brighter on a larger surface than you could ever imagine from looking at a tiny paint chip. The result of these disappointments is that many people are afraid to use a color more daring than beige. Color is the most practical and inexpensive way to create the environment you want, and great colors won't cost you a penny more than ordinary ones. Here are a couple of tools you can use to help find the colors that will work for you.

Light Reflectance Value

Light Reflectance Value is a numerical rating assigned by paint manufacturers to each color they make. This number is a scientifically determined assessment of the amount of light and heat that color will reflect on a scale of 0 to 100. Pure black has an LRV of 0, absorbs all light and heat, and can get very hot. On the other hand, pure white has a reflectance value of nearly 100, and can keep a space light and cool. All colors fit in between these two extremes. A color with an LRV of 50 will reflect 50% of the light that falls on it, and one with an LRV of 23 will reflect 23% of the light, and so on. Think of LRV's as a numerical version of a gray value scale for colors, roughly like this:
White:  (LRV 100)
High Light (LRV 95)
Light (LRV 80)
Low Light  (LRV 65)
Medium:  (LRV 50)
High Dark  (LRV 35)
Dark  (LRV 20)
Low Dark (LRV 5)
Black    (LRV 0)

 

LRV Chart

 

 

Some paint manufacturers will put the LRV number on the sample chip itself, usually without the label LRV, and some will list the LRV information alphabetically by color name in the back of the fan deck. If you can't find it, the experts at the paint store can help you.

What does knowing a color's LRV mean to you? The biggest benefit is that once you know the LRV, it's much easier to compare colors to find the ones that are right for you, because color attributes and differences aren't always obvious from looking at tiny sample chips. For example, when I want to use multiple colors with little contrast, I choose ones with LRVs that are no more than seven points apart. In an open concept plan such as we have in our new home, I wanted different colors on adjoining walls, but I wanted the differences to be subtle, so I used LRV numbers to help guide my choices. When you're looking for a ceiling color, knowing the LRVs will help you achieve the right degree of contrast from the wall color, and when you're choosing between shades of the same color, knowing the LRV will help you identify which are the truly lighter, brighter ones. Then you can choose the colors you like best to get samples and make a final decision. That brings us to the next tool.

Sample Boards

It's impossible to know what a color is really like from looking at a tiny paint chip. For each color that you're considering, paint a two-coat sample on a 2x3 foot piece of foam core board (about $2 each at a superstore). Look at the sample on each wall at different times of day and in different lighting.  Once you choose the wall color it's important not to overlook the ceiling. Don't paint it plain white because it will look as if you forgot it. One option is to have the paint store mix a color that's a ¼ or ½ formula version of the wall color. The ceiling will be lighter and it will relate very well to the walls. Another option is to use a different, but complementary color. Taking the time to paint sample boards for both the ceiling and walls will help you avoid color mistakes and get the results you're looking for. 

If tackling a coordinated color plan still is daunting, just call. We'll help you find the colors that are right for your home, and if we do the painting there's no charge for this service.

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