The one job at home that most of us do ourselves is paint.
For example, I repainted the walls along the staircase after nicking them with a Morris chair we move upstairs each winter so the Christmas tree has a spot in the living room.
I touched up a window frame here, a wall there, and plan to give the exterior of the house a fresh coat of paint in the spring. May is always a good month, although late September to early November is ideal.
I've been using paints without volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, exclusively for three years now, and they appear to do the trick.
While choosing paint should involve thought and investigation, too many of us just run to the home center, pick a color and start slapping it on.
Even the familiar is not necessarily a good choice.
"When choosing paint, don't assume a leading brand you swore by last time will do just as well this time around," said Bob Markovich, home and yard editor for Consumer Reports.
"Our tests found paints can vary year to year, and a bigger name does not always equal a better product," he said.
In Consumer Reports' tests of interior paints, Clark + Kensington, available only at Ace stores, was tops in satin and semigloss finishes.
New formulas have improved some paints, but others performed worse than they did just a year ago in Consumer Reports' tests.
Compared with earlier versions, the Behr Premium Plus satin enamel, available at Home Depot, wasn't quite as good at hiding and became dull when cleaned.
Some paints, such as Olympic One flat enamel at Lowe's, improved at hiding. Better hiding also helped move Lowe's Valspar Signature matte and semigloss up in Consumer Reports' ratings. They join Behr in besting Benjamin Moore, which costs roughly twice as much, among flat and semigloss paints.
You can check out the complete test results in the March issue.
Here are some tips for choosing paint.
Sleep on it. Because colors often look different in different lights, Consumer Reports suggests buying a sample, painting a patch and living with it for a day or two before buying more.
Go online before hitting the store. Manufacturer's and retailer's websites and Facebook pages offer a wealth of tips on choosing colors, including photo galleries of finished rooms and calculators to help consumers figure out how much paint they need. There are also a variety of smartphone and tablet apps that help you make a decision.
Find the perfect color. Certain hues are specific to a brand, but retailers often can match colors. Paint-color formula books and color-matching computer technology mean consumers don't have to rely solely on the skills of a salesclerk, though one with a good eye and mixing equipment with clean nozzles might be able to match colors, too.
Match sheen to surface. The best low-luster satin and eggshell paints offer easy hiding and durability, making them ideal for most surfaces. Flat paints hide flaws better but are less resistant to stains and smudges, so use them in low-traffic areas. Semigloss works well for trim and other surfaces that don't need to be wiped frequently, because repeated cleaning will dull most finishes.
Consumer Reports rated a variety of interior and exterior paints. "We generally test premium lines from major brands, which tend to perform best over time," the consumer-advocacy organization said. Here are the top-ranked recommended brands in each category and their scores. If a brand is available only at one store, that's indicated in parentheses. For full results, visit Consumerreports.org.
Satin and eggshell: Clark + Kensington Satin Enamel (Ace), 86. Benjamin Moore Aura Satin, 84. Kilz Casual Colors Satin, 82. Glidden Premium Satin (Home Depot), 80. Behr Premium Plus Ultra Satin Enamel (Home Depot) and Olympic One Satin Enamel (Lowe's), 77.
Flat and matte: Valspar Signature Matte (Lowe's) and Behr Premium Plus Ultra Flat Enamel (Home Depot), 82. Benjamin Moore Aura Matte, 77. Behr Premium Plus Flat Enamel (Home Depot), 76. Benjamin Moore Natura Flat, 75.
Semi-gloss: Clark + Kensington Semi-Gloss Enamel (Ace), 85. Behr Premium Plus Ultra Semi-Gloss Enamel (Home Depot), 84. Valspar Signature Semi-Gloss (Lowe's), 82. Benjamin Moore Aura Semi-Gloss, 80. Ace Royal Interiors Semi-Gloss, 77.
Semi-gloss: Sherwin-Williams Duration Gloss, 76. Behr Premium Plus Semi-Gloss Enamel (Home Depot), 75. Glidden Spred Semi-Gloss, 74.
Flat: California Paints Fres-Coat Velvet Flat and Sherwin-Williams Duration Flat, 79. Glidden Spred Flat and Glidden Premium Flat (Home Depot), 77. Behr Premium Plus Flat (Home Depot), 76.
Satin: Sherwin-Williams Duration Satin, 78. Pratt & Lambert Accolade Eggshell, 76. Glidden Premium Satin (Home Depot) and Glidden Spred Satin, 75.