cedar siding installation

Five Questions Homeowners Should Ask About Wood Siding Installation

1)  Does Your Architect Or Designer Know How To Specify And Plan For Maximizing The Lifespan Of Your Wood?

A lot of factors go into the decisions you make at the planning stages, such as the exposure, the south-facing wall, the drainage plan for behind the wall and in front of the wall, and what kind of trim you use. You don’t want to put a gigantic expanse of wood on the south wall where it’s getting dinged by rain, sleet, hail, and snow. 

You have to keep in mind that all of the trim pieces need to take water out and over the siding. Any water that continuously hits the siding will pose a threat to any finish on the market.

Knowing and keeping in mind a few of these little things can go a long way to maximizing the life and performance of your wood siding. If your architect or designer does not know or needs a refresher, he or you should take my two webinars.

2)  Does Your Installer Properly Know How To Install The Wood?

This is a tricky question because so many installers think they know how because they’ve installed some type of siding before. They don’t read the instructions and do it wrong. Some installers admit they’ve never installed wood siding but don’t bother with the instructions and do it wrong.

We have do-it-yourselfers who are totally in love with wood, afraid to make a mistake, read every letter of the instructions and do a beautiful job of installing it. We have to work through the arrogance, apathy, and ignorance of some installers. And, the installation process cannot be rushed.

If you get an installer with any combination of these four traits it can epically screw up your wood siding and unlike other siding substrates once you mess up wood you cannot fix it… you have to replace it. Better to do it correctly from the start. There are little tips and tricks that you learn over time that aren’t in the installation guide. 

So, I’ve made some videos that go over these tips and tricks. Have your installer watch these. At the very least, it will be a good refresher course. If you’re a homeowner, footing the bill, I highly recommend you watch the videos, as well. 

Watch how this installer is doing it. If there’s a problem with your installation, you’ll want to catch it in the first hundred square feet. If you don’t catch the issue till the end of the install, it’s thousands of dollars to fix.

3)  Do You Have A Realistic Maintenance Plan If You’ve Opted For The Natural Wood Look?

“Do you have to maintain cedar?” I get this question a lot. Yes, you do if you want it to look good. Unless you want it to turn gray. A realistic maintenance plan has to do with how long your stain is going to last and how much of a work load it is to keep it maintained.

There are a lot of caveats, but with natural cedar you will want to use a rough textured face. You’ll want a semi-transparent oil-based penetrating stain. You want to be able to properly calculate how many years you are going to have to do this and properly calculate the cost of doing it.

Owning natural wood is not something you do as a commodity; you own it because you love wood.  It’s a lot of work, but wood will reward you. If you take care of it and you re-stain it, it rejuvenates to the beautiful, rich look it had when you installed it. But if you don’t, it goes to hell in a hurry and you won’t like that look.

So, a realistic maintenance plan and a realistic understanding of those maintenance costs are hugely important before going into a wood purchase of many thousands of dollars. Take my webinar #2 if you’re not sure on this question.

4)  What Is Your Tolerance Of Cleanup Chemicals?

In 2012 they passed the VOC law that said you can only have a certain amount of VOC’s in a stain. Prior to that, we had oil-based penetrating stains.

They worked well since the first man 10,000 years ago put linseed oil on wood. We’ve always known that oil worked well for wood. Oil penetrates the wood.  As it penetrates it conditions the cells, keeping it moist.  Keeping it from becoming brittle, cracking, warping, splitting, cupping, and drying.

Once it penetrates, most of the residual stain on the surface of the board is gone. And cleaning your wood involves gloves, oxalic acid, a bucket of water, a scrub brush, and hose. You scrub and rinse, like washing a car, and you’re ready to re-stain. On the other hand, since 2012 they flooded the market with these film-forming finishes which are basically crap, in my opinion; with the exception of a few.

A film-forming finish is basically a very thin paint. Essentially, the industry has taken paint and removed all the things that a paint can do to protect itself because they couldn’t figure out how to do the R&D on a multi-billion dollar manufacturing level to meet the VOC laws.

The reason this has to do with your cleaning chemicals is because when you use a film-forming finish that adheres to the wood you have to remove that product on a molecular level. You have to sand it and then use caustic, chemical wood strippers. These are hazardous chemicals and hazardous material waste management is involved when dealing with strippers. 

You’ve got two cedar wood sided homes. One finished with oil-based penetrating stain does a scrub and rinse and it’s ready for re-staining. The home finished with film-forming stain has a two-week stripping job ahead of him and it costs many thousands of dollars more.

This was such an important issue to one of my customers who loves wood and doesn’t mind doing the maintenance. But he didn’t want all those chemicals around his vegetation and his family. He opted for the film-forming finish and found out what this process would entail when we called the stain company. He sanded and did everything he had to do to go back to an oil-based penetrating stain and never have that problem again.

5)  What Should I Know About The Stain I’m Considering?

These are the most important questions you, the homeowner, should ask about whatever stain brand you’re thinking of using. Call the tech department of that manufacturer and ask them if this is a penetrating stain or film-forming stain.

If it penetrates, how much does it penetrate? Does it penetrate all the way through so that all I have to use to clean it is an oxygen bleach washdown, like washing a car? Or is it a film-forming that is going to require molecular removal of every single particle of stain on that wood? That’s sanding, stripping and a couple of weeks. This is a multiple thousand dollar question.

After 30 years in the business and talking to about 20,000 wood lovers, overwhelmingly they say that you put a good stain on the wood then after a couple of years, washing the house down and re-staining is not that big of a deal. You put a film-forming finish on there and in a couple years you’ve got to go through that nightmare of chemical removal that is going to be a tremendous dollar cost and the worry about health and safety.

I know all of this is scary. If you stick with the basics your wood is easy to maintain. Use rough textured facing every time you can because double the amount of stain soaks into the rough face, as opposed to the smooth, and that will immediately double the lifespan of any stain.

And find an oil-based, semi-transparent stain that penetrates. We have one we love called Timber Ox. It’s a small company. They are environmentally friendly. They use castor oil and d-Limonene citrus oil instead of petroleum products. It’s more expensive but in the long run, way easier to use.

Timber Ox is the one that I use on all of my Whole Foods Markets, because I can’t have those guys out there losing their minds on the first maintenance or they will never build with Buffalo Lumber Company again. When I go to a commercial site, we go rough-faced, Timber Ox because that is the most bulletproof option.

Next week we’re coming with Five Things A Builder Should Ask, But Probably Won’t.

1 thought on “Five Questions Homeowners Should Ask About Wood Siding Installation”

  1. It’s great that you went into detail about how crucial it is to have a realistic maintenance plan and an understanding of how much maintenance will cost before making a multi-thousand-dollar wood purchase. This will be useful to my father, who wants to build wooden fences to enclose our garden and give it more privacy. I believe it would be wise for him to follow your advice before making his final lumber supply purchase. Thanks!

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