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How To Choose A Wood Siding Finish - Tips for Durability and Curb Appeal

Wood siding is a big investment for a new build or renovation. You want your siding to last a long time and add value to your home. Putting the right finish on your new wood siding can add durability and longevity, and amp up the curb appeal.

We’ll list a few considerations you should ponder when making a finish choice.

And, offer insight into the following wood finish options; each with differing wear expectancy values and aesthetic appeal:

  1. Wood Siding Stain
  2. Wood Siding Paint
  3. Weathering Wood Siding

What Are the Considerations When Choosing A Wood Siding Finish?

You want to consider your environment. Do you live in a dry or humid climate? Does your wood siding get lots of sun or is it mostly shaded? 

Another consideration is how much wood grain and texture you want to see. Coverage options range from completely clear to fully opaque.

Consider your expectations about wood siding maintenance because the finish you choose will have a direct bearing on the maintenance needs of your siding. Maintenance is going to be a commitment during the life of your wood to get the best performance and maintain the beauty of the wood.

Stain Finish

Stain can enhance the natural beauty of wood siding and it can be used to change the tone or color of wood.

Semi-solid Stain on Cedar Siding
Semi-solid Stain on Cedar Siding

Stain also protects your wood from UV light, moisture, and other environmental assaults, such as dirt, salt, sand, and wind.

Stain is available in oil-based or water-based formulas.

Oil-based stain penetrates into the wood and keeps wood cells healthy, conditioned, and flexible. It protects against UV and moisture damage, and weather issues that cause dry, dull wood.

Oil-based stain may perform best in dry or sunny climates, protecting against brittle, dry wood.

Water-based stain forms a film of color and protection on top of the wood surface and protects well against UV and water damage.

Water-based stain is very mildew and mold resistant and may be a good choice for wet or humid environments and where shade is more prevalent than sun. 

Stains are available in different opacities. Generally, the more color or pigment in your finish, the stronger the UV protection and the longer the wear expectancy.

Clear Coat allows all of the wood grain and natural color to show through, highly desirable when premium wood is used, but the UV and moisture protection can be minimal.  A clear coat finish may require re-application every six to twelve months, depending upon environment, to maintain the desired protection.

Transparent or Translucent Stain looks clear but has a subtle hint of color. New technology created a class of pigments that offers exceptional clarity but resists UV light up to three times longer than a clear coat. Depending on manufacturer, the wear expectancy is 2-5 years.

Semi-transparent Stain adds some color and allows the wood grain and texture to show through. Semi-trans stain can last from 3-5 years before refinishing is required.

Semi-solid Stain offers subtle color that masks some of the wood grain but allows the wood texture to show. It’s great for hiding minor wood imperfections. The wear expectancy is about 5 years.

Solid Stain gives you a rich, vibrant color, but hides the wood grain and allows very little of the texture to show through. Solid stain hides imperfections well. Solid stain is as opaque as paint with a wear expectancy between 7 and 10 years.

Paint Finish

Painted Cedar Siding
Painted Cedar Siding

Paint is a film-forming finish that affords the most protection, the longest wear expectancy, and the least maintenance requirements for your wood siding. It’s possible to get twenty years or more, depending on your environment, before repainting is necessary.

Paint masks the natural grain, texture, and color of wood. While you lose the natural beauty, you gain a vibrant color and the most weather protection available. 

A prime coat will be necessary prior to painting wood siding.

Weathered Wood Finish

If you want the silvery-gray hue of weathered wood you have several options.

Natural Weathering is achieved over time, with no product. It won’t weather evenly; there will be areas not as exposed to light and moisture. You’ll need to be extra vigilant, because your wood has no protection against UV and weather.

You’ll want to check your wood siding several times a year for spot cleaning issues. Cleaning all your siding yearly is recommended and will help with the weathering process in the shaded areas. The siding will continue to weather throughout the life of the wood.

If it's weathered to a silvery hue you love, you can choose to stop the natural weathering process by applying a sealant that contains both UV and moisture protectants.  Re-apply based on the manufacturer's label for continued protection.

Bleaching Stain can be applied if you want quicker, more uniform results. It has a light gray pigment that gives a hint of color when applied and bleaches your siding to a uniform weathered look within six months. It will protect your siding against moisture for 3-5 years.

Stains – semi-transparent, semi-solid, and solid are available in various shades of gray to give your wood siding a weathered look while protecting it against UV and moisture.

Painting your siding a shade of driftwood gray will impart a weathered look and offers many years of protection.

Factory Finished Cedar on Drying Racks
Factory Finished Cedar on Drying Racks

Always factory finish when possible. It’s the best option.  Factory finishing costs about 50% less than on-site finishing. Your siding is finished in a controlled environment, by professionals, eliminating the problems of lap marks, shrink lines, streaking, color variation, and job site dirt pick-up.

Maintenance and Refinishing

Just a note on a subject we talk about often. Wood ownership is a commitment in terms of maintenance, including refinishing. Real wood siding requires maintenance throughout the lifetime of the wood to get maximum durability and longevity, and to keep it looking beautiful.

Your finished siding should be inspected once, maybe twice each year.  It may need a general cleaning to remove dirt, dust, and debris yearly. 

How often do you need to refinish?  Consider the type of product used, manufacturer’s suggestions from the label or data sheet, and your environment.

Does water bead up on your siding? That’s a quick test. If yes, your moisture barrier is still intact and refinishing may not be necessary at this point.

Water Beading On Cedar Planks
Water Beading On Cedar Planks

Check for dark spots. If there’s just a few, spot clean them. If there are many, this could indicate it’s time to deep clean and refinish.

What’s The Next Step In Choosing A Wood Siding Finish?

Work through your considerations for environment, opacity, and maintenance.

Now that you’re familiar with the finish types, what’s your preference? Staining, painting, or weathering?

Choose a product that will give you the look you desire, that works best with your maintenance expectations, and affords the best durability and longevity for your wood siding.

Don’t forget to talk with your wood siding professionals. Their experience and expertise can help you pinpoint the finish that is right for you.

Check back soon. More information on installation of wood siding coming in an upcoming article.

Until next time, Wood Lovers!

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