Cedar Shingle Stain

Is it better to paint or stain cedar shingles?

Cedar shingles offer a unique charm to a home.  They are incredibly durable and resistant to rot and insects and, when properly installed and cared for, can protect your house for decades.   However, many homeowners wonder how to renew their cedar homes.  Over time the shingles gray and must be coated to assure the best protection.  So, the debate begins, whether to use paint or stain.

The fundamental difference between paint and stain is the way it adheres to the cedar.  Paint is a pigmented, opaque (solid color) coating that comes in almost any color, and acts as a coating applied over the shingles.  It completely covers the old wood and lets less grain of the wood grain show through. Since the paint “sits” on the surface of the shingles, it will eventually peel and need to be scraped and reapplied.  It’s important to note that after shingles are painted, they cannot be stained unless the paint is sanded or has worn off completely, which is cost-prohibitive.

Stain has less pigment and is more translucent.  It allows some of the wood’s original color and grain to show through.  If the shingles are porous, the stain will soak into the wood rather than coat it, making it last longer than paint.  Stains penetrate the cedar, and help to make it resist moisture from rain, snow, and ice.  Stains are available in semi-transparent or solid-color forms.  Semi-transparent stains have a light pigmentation enhancing the wood’s natural color, and solid-color stains offer heavier coverage and resembles a flat paint that is monochromatic.

So, which is it? Paint or stain?  The best answer is based on your home’s current cedar condition.  Stain lasts longer and often looks more natural, but can only be applied if cedar is paint-free.  Paint offers more protection and can be a good choice for badly worn homes with previous peeling issues from past painting applications.

Before making your decision, walk around your home with your painting contractor.  Here is a checklist to help you get started:

  • Look under the eaves and in the shaded areas of your home to discover the original material applied. Sometimes old cans of paint or stain can be found in basements and garages to gain knowledge of the past supplies used.
  • Do a test cleaning and see how well the current stain or paint will come off on worn and protected areas.
  • Discuss if you want a solid color or if you want to see the wood’s color variations.
  • Examine the cedar to assess repairs and discuss types of cedar you would like to use. Generally, there are two options:  Grades A and B (knots or no knots).  Please note that newly installed cedar will have less grain than older cedar, it will not look the same or absorb stain or paint equally.
  • Remove old brackets, cable, and phone lines that are not in use.
  • Discuss caulking needs.  Some cedar homes are caulked, while others are not.  If you currently do not have caulk, it is better not to.  When cedar is installed correctly, it is meant to breathe!

It is vital to mention that you should inspect cedar every spring for water and sun damage.  Areas under gutters and around dormers or roof lines may need a touch-up.  This is perfectly acceptable.  Your painting contractor can touch-up areas that wear out the quickest, helping to avoid costly repairs.  In most cases, you will only need to touch up the shady side of the home, and stain the sunny side every 7-10 years.

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