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7 Big Fat Lies About Wood Siding

Way back in 2008 three major changes happened in the lumber industry:

1. All the old timers who actually knew what they were talking about lost their jobs.

2. Lumber yards stopped carrying non-vital inventory in order to survive.

3. Supply chains broke down.

Our job at Buffalo Lumber is not just to sell you wood siding. Our job is to make sure you understand what you are getting into so if you buy wood siding, it meets or exceeds your expectations. That is why we put together the top 7 lies about wood siding, including our wood siding expert tips that will help you avoid costly mistakes with your wood siding project.  

Lie #1:

The guy at the local lumber yard knows what he is talking about.

What you have now is a $9 per hour clerk who does not know very much about a product they don’t carry giving you advice. Not a recipe for success.

Here is what happens when you go to a lumber yard that does not carry the wood siding type, grade, pattern, or size you are looking for...

$9 per hour clerk calls a wholesaler (who no longer carries the product). Wholesaler calls a distributor (who no longer carries the product) and the distributor calls a mill. 

At each turn there is opportunity for mis- communication and mistakes and worse, you don’t know the quality control standards of each layer until you receive the end product.
The $9 per hour clerk may never even know who the mill was let alone their reputation in the industry. It is a total crapshoot.

Milling standards have changed, the use of younger trees has changed the way wood needs to be prepared and the laws regarding what is legal to put in a stain formula have changed.

Any mistake you make in the selection, preparation and installation of wood siding is likely to cost many thousands of dollars to repair and might not show itself for years down the road!

You quite literally can’t afford to screw this up! You should use nails ;-)

Siding is the most important decision on any project and wood siding is the most volatile of siding options. You better know what you are getting yourself into before you buy.

Lie #2:

Pine is a good choice for saving money on exterior wood siding.

Over the last 50+ years the use of pine for exterior siding has cost people more money than anything else I hear about. It is fast growth, it is highly susceptible to rot, it is prone to cupping and worst of all it is pervasive in lumber yards.

The pine tree used in New England 300-400 years ago was a different breed. The climate was much colder, and the pine took almost 40 years to grow a single inch in diameter resulting in high concentrations of resin, protecting the wood from rot and insects. By comparison, modern pine has not more than 6-10 growth rings per inch, and is no longer rot-resistant

People are always looking for a cheaper option. You go to the lumber yard and price cedar and go, "Ah geez, isn’t there anything cheaper?"

The answer is NO. Not to do it right. Doing something the right way usually costs 30 to 50% more than the cheapest way; however, fixing something gone wrong costs you 10 times what it would to do the job right in the first place. You really do get what you pay for.

Take Bart for instance - he went to the local lumber yard and talked to the guy there and was told that pine would work fine - especially if painted. He bought a bunch of 1x6 pine Dutch lap siding STK grade.
Bart knew the right way was to prime all sides especially the backside to resist moisture, but he had gone to work that day and by the time he got home his builder had installed over 1/2 of the pine siding without back priming.

Bart had been around wood long enough to know this was a mistake but at that point there was nothing he could do. The builder finished the job and left Bart with a sure-fire problem down the road. That was in 2004. For the next 5 years he worried about it every day. "Having something in the back of your mind like that really takes away from quality of life" he said. Sure, enough in 2009 it started to show problems.

He decided to do major replacement of most of the wood to ease his mind and limit the ancillary damages that can occur via improper installation methods. This time he back primed the wood himself before he let them install it. It took him a month of his own time!

Even though he had done everything right the PINE wood siding started showing signs of problems within 6 years.

3rd time is a charm. In 2015 he had enough! "I am finished with worrying about this. We are going to do it right this time or go with cement siding!"

By now he knew pine was a mistake, but it was all he could find in local lumber yards. "It is misleading to the customers to only carry pine. It leads them straight into problems down the road. Planned obsolescence?" He wondered as he contemplated his 3rd wood siding purchase in 12 years.

"This time we are going with factory primed cedar, and I am going to oversee the entire installation to make sure it gets done correctly!" he said.

Factory primed cedar siding is the right way to go. Cedar has a natural resistance to rot and reacts better as a siding substrate because it is less inclined to cup and bow when milled.

If he had gone with mill pre-primed cedar siding in the first place his material costs would have been more than double what the pine cost - BUT that would have been the end of it. Thousands of hours and dollars later and he still must replace the siding for a 3rd time!

"At the end of the day the money wasted is a bad thing but the constant worry is the worst part. I am very meticulous about maintaining my home and it drove me nuts to know sooner or later it was going to have problems", he said.

I asked him if he agreed with our rule that it costs 30% to 50% more upfront to do the job right and 10 times more than that to fix something gone wrong and he said, "I wish it had been only 10 times more!"

Lie Number 3: 

You can just tack the siding up and stain the face.

Result: Total siding replacement caused by not back sealing the wood.

This is the most frequent mistake made by installers. Putting wood on the wall unfinished and just staining the face actually causes the wood to rot!

Why does this Happen? Well, you are taking a substance that naturally absorbs water - wood - and creating a moisture/mildew incubator behind the wood and then trapping the water from escaping by staining the face. 

With no place to go moisture sits behind the wood and starts to rot creating an ideal habitat for wood destroying insects. Even cedar and redwood will rot if the water stands on it long enough.

Here is an email I got a couple years back.

Good morning Gentlemen!
I serve on the ******** Condominium Homeowners Association Board of Directors and have been charged with the task of finding ways to cut our exterior maintenance costs. Currently we have 26 buildings that house 130 condominiums, and those buildings are covered by cedar siding (rough cut).
Every three to four years we remove those boards that have not survived the weather well and replace them. I do know that the boards are all pre-dried, but all sides are NOT coated, and they are installed with NO coatings and painted after installation. We would like to see these "mid cycle" (every three years) replacements eliminated and only replace boards every 6 years.


This condo association is hoping to increase the life of their cedar from 3 years to 6 years. The wood is being installed without back priming and rotting off the wall within 3 years! They should get 20 years’ service life from a painted cedar siding application if they do it right!

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in repair and replacement that did not need to be spent. How much dinero and headache would it have saved everyone if they had spent a little more upfront and received 17 years of additional shelf life?

This is the kind of stuff I am talking about, damages that go unmentioned and unknown to the unsuspecting, would be, wood lover.

If you are contemplating wood siding and your installer says "just tack it up and I’ll stain it, you don’t have to worry about back sealing", fire him and find someone who knows what they are talking about. 

Don’t forget that your installer won’t be around in 3 years to answer for the price you pay for his mistakes.

Lie Number 4:

You can leave your cedar to weather naturally and it will be fine.

With today's cedar siding, that beautiful, prized silver gray weathered siding "look" is art not natural.

Wood fibers (read wood "skin") naturally degrade with the sun's UV exposure. This can produce that lovely silver effect. But the sun is literally baking your siding and it cannot take the punishment forever.

The reason you don’t want to leave wood siding completely unfinished is because wood will take on water in wet season and give off water in the dry season. It shrinks and swells constantly.

Sooner or later this constant stress begins to erode the wood fibers and it begins to fail. Knots fall out, tongues pop out of grooves, and water begins to get behind the wood.
This problem is exacerbated in today's market by the use of younger trees. Younger trees have fewer annual growth rings and more distance between them. The more distance there is between rings the more space there is for water to come and go.

Take a look at the index finger. It is an old growth redwood, you could not fit a razor blade between those rings. That wood could be left to weather naturally. Now take a look at the board just to your right of the index finger. Those boards have up to an inch between the growth rings.

Growth rings are what gives the wood its stability. The more rings there are the better the wood performs because water can’t absorb nearly as well into a ring as it can into the pulp surrounding the ring.

The wood siding available in today’s marketplace needs help to limit moisture coming and going and the stress it puts on the siding.

The art to capturing that naturally weathered look is achieved with bleaching oils that will also protect the wood from moisture ingress. There are specialty "weathered gray" stains you can use but we recommend a 50/50 mix of weathering stain and bleaching oil.

The effects are better on a sawn textured (rough) face than smooth.

Unfinished cedar will naturally turn different shades from silver to dark brown depending on the amount of sun exposure. The result is rarely uniform.

If you use bleaching oil alone when first applied your siding will have a slight grey tint but you will still see the natural color of the wood. Within 6 months of installation the bleaching oil will begin to weather the wood to a natural grey in varying degree depending on the exposure to the sun.

Picture: Kenny in New York bought 3600 SQFT of 1x10 Western Red Cedar (WRC) rabbeted bevel mill select grade (STK) siding mill pre-finished with Cabot's bleaching oil/weathering grey 50/50 mix.

The stain in the 50/50 weathering mix gives the process a jump start while the bleaching oil helps spread the natural graying process of the sun more evenly.

If you are going to spend the money to have that natural wood look you may as well spend the time and money to protect it and have it last a LONG time!

Lie Number 5: 

Your builder or painter can do a better job of finishing your wood siding at the job site than the factory can!

Even a professional painter inside a warehouse can’t do it as well as a factory finish machine.

This machine can set a consistent film thickness throughout the entire run.

This drying rack can hold thousands of feet inside to dry in controlled environment.

If you were talking about 2000 square feet in 1x6" tongue and groove or bevel wood siding it would take 4800 lineal feet of wood to cover that area. If you are going to finish both sides that is almost 2 miles of wood, you need to find a way to dry while keeping the bugs and dirt off of it.

Any professional worth his salt will admit that machines can do a better job than humans can.

Brandon Stendal - owner of Stone Valley Painting, LLC:

"For us - a commercial painter - to prime coat 6 sides in the field takes about twice as long as coating the face alone after installation. We charge $50 per hour commercially so the price immediately doubles.
We primed all 4 sides of about 833 sqft of your wood siding and it took 2 guys about 8 hours to do this job. It took 5 gallons of primer to coat it (between $25 and $30 per gallon) and we had to rack it to dry at our own warehouse and then transport to the jobsite.
I would actually prefer my customers to get a factory finished primer coat and then have me do the final face coat in the field - that is the best wood siding performance option.
That may not sound like it is good for business but long term, happy customers are my business!"

We agree completely!

We often hear, "We are going to source locally and have our builder finish on site to save money."

No - If you do NOT seal all six sides you are putting your entire building at risk to save a couple grand up front (you hope) and you are gambling everything on your builder.

If you DO have your builder finish all sides you will definitely pay a lot more than a factory finish which runs 40-50¢ a square foot - primed or stained, one coat Cabot's, Sherwin Williams, or Olympic standard color lines.

Often a builder starts out with good intentions but runs into difficulty with how hard it actually is to seal both sides before installing.

And where are you going to put all that wet siding to dry safely and cleanly?

Even if he takes the time to do the job exactly right there are conditions that exist in the field that can cause improper absorption and subsequent failure of the siding.

People don’t realize that if there is a problem with your siding, typically you have to remove an entire wall to address it.

There are no cheap fixes for siding issues. If you get off for $1000 you are the lucky few. Anything that goes wrong will cost many thousands of dollars in labor and replacement costs.

It’s not worth the risk. Factory finish is the best possible way to do the job right! If you take care of your wood, it will take care of you. If you don’t it won’t, and YOU will be the one footing the bill for replacement.

Lie Number 6: 

All Installers are created equal.

99% of all reported wood siding issues are installation related.

That means that 99% of problems are blamed on installer error. Making sure your installer does everything by the book is critical to covering your butt (because trust me everyone else is covering theirs).

In this picture the installer apparently was not familiar with the Channel Lap siding pattern. Instead of each board squarely meeting the board underneath, the channel was forcibly installed as bevel which overlaps the lower board. 

Note the boards with broken "reveal" that will not be useable when they re-install.

Installation is not rocket science, but it is not kindergarten work either.

It falls to you to make sure your installer cares enough to do the job by the book. You may think this is obvious and it should be, however, I have seen so many stupid things, it bears the warning.

Architect: Chris, should this siding we bought be installed using staples?
Chris: Um - no, why do you ask?
Architect: Well, we just had a contractor install 8000 square feet of your painted wood siding in a commercial application and he used staples.
Chris: That is going to be a problem for whoever is footing the bill on this because those staples are going to pull out sooner or later. What was the name on the project so I can look it up and see what we should do?
Architect: He doesn’t want to tell you his name because he is embarrassed.

When I finished laughing, I looked it up and called our mill manager. We advised the architect to instruct the unnamed builder to leave the staples in but go back and use stainless steel, ring shank, siding nails to secure the wood and do another coat of paint to blend everything in.

That was a commercial project with over $35,000 in pre-finished wood siding, you’d think the guy would read the installation guide we sent which specifically states "avoid using staples".

Recommended nails: Nails must be corrosion resistant and preferably rust proof. Avoid using staples.

People don’t do what you expect, they do what you inspect!

First and most important cedar siding install requirement: seal all six sides - face, back, edges, and ends - on every board BEFORE you install!

If the plywood you have is only 3/4-inch-thick, install furring strips. You need at least 1 1/4-inch purchase with a ring shank siding nail behind the wood. You don't want to just nail to the plywood, or the nails will pull out.

If you do not need to use furring strips, then add a drain wrap or mesh wrap to create a space for air and water to flow behind your wood siding. This will reduce the risk of rot to your wood.

Educate yourself and inspect your installer’s work as soon as they begin and make sure they are doing it correctly.

There is no law against being a crappy installer. If someone takes your money and does nothing you have legal recourse. If they actually do the work and just do a crappy job, there is very little you can do legally.

Your BEST protection is inspection. Do it early, do it often.

Lie Number 7: 

The stuff at the lumber yard is the exact same quality you get at the mill level.

It might be the same quality if you are the first person to get there after it arrives.

Everyone who shops at the local lumber yard or home improvement store is an amateur "grader" meaning they are sorting through the pile to get the best boards. 

The lumber yard does not send someone out there to re-fit the pile with better quality boards, you are just left with other people’s reject pile.

If stored for a long period of time outdoors, the wood experiences the same stresses it would on a house. Contraction and expansion with changing moisture levels in the air cause it to degrade over time. 

There is no way to know how many people have visited that pile before you or how long it has been sitting there. You take your chances.

Now let’s talk about grading standards and practices. There is a lot of room for interpretation in a grade description. Lumber companies with pride will use a grade rule as a "worst case scenario" and their quality will be high.

Lumber companies who use the rule as a "what can we get away with" guide will have much lower quality under the exact same rule.

To illustrate let’s talk about Clear Western Red Cedar. Aye and Better Clear Cedar is one of the highest grades we have. When people hear the word "clear" they think "no knots". That is the expectation the word "Clear" inspires.

But if you read the rule book carefully you will see that "Clear" grade actually allows 2 knots per every board.

A "worst case scenario" interpretation of that rule would be that 1 in say 10 boards might have a knot or two but most will be clear with no knots. 

This first picture is our mill grade expectation that our customers can depend on. See how there are only two knots in eight boards.

A "what can we get away with" interpretation could allow two knots on every single board and it would still fit the rule in the book.

This second picture is an example of a mill pushing allowable limits. The wood is beautiful, but the customer was expecting virtually no knots. Same grade, same rule, and two completely different outcomes. 

Let’s not forget that at every level of distribution (retailer, wholesaler, distributor) the opportunity to re-grade the wood exists. It is almost impossible to control quality under the traditional distribution model because you simply can’t know what everyone else has done.

Contrast this to custom selected, milled and shipped direct to you. There are no other people sorting through the wood before you get it. There is only one company handling the wood, so if there is a problem you have someone you can yell at.
That is quality control and that is our value to you.

We know what you should expect, we show you what you should expect, and we deliver at or exceeding the expectations we set!


You now know more than 99% of the people you will talk to about this subject!

Buffalo Lumber specializes in milled to order and mill pre-finished primed, painted, and stained cedar siding.

Don’t make rookie mistakes! What you don’t know CAN cost you!

The marketplace has changed. You need to do your homework because ANYTHING that goes wrong costs thousands of dollars to fix.

Discover the truth. There are 100 ways to do it wrong, only one way to do it right!

Consult with a Buffalo Lumber cedar siding custom milling expert today!

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