Painting Cedar Siding: Paint vs. Stain, Prep, & Maintenance

When it comes to what kind of finishing touch you want to go with on your cedar siding, there are a wide variety of choices at hand, ranging from your more traditional semi-transparent stain type finishes to something a little bit more formal and robust.

Since cedar siding comes in many different shapes and sizes, can you paint it?

You can indeed paint wood cedar siding. Yet, it may be a different experience depending on what type of project you are working on. 

Applying the paint might become more of a challenge with small cedar shakes because of the many crevices and corners you need to go through. 

One of the main appeals of cedar is its natural appearance. If you can avoid painting it, do so. Remember, once you paint cedar siding, it’s not reversible and you’ll lose its natural beauty forever. You’ll need to paint it every 6 to 10 years depending on the paint quality and your climate.

Throughout this article, you will become informed on not only which options can work best but what your application guidelines should be when you begin laying down that very first coat, to what choices of paint will work best with the project you’ve got at hand.

As with most new projects, there are a few things you are going to want to bear in mind before you begin, and to that end, you would like to consider what your end goal is with the paint or stain and consider your options diligently to avoid making a wrong choice at the end of the day.

Can You Paint Exterior Cedar Siding?

You most certainly can paint over most cedar products. However, the order in which you paint your siding will dramatically change what kind of options you have depending on how you go about handling your cedar siding paint job.

One of the most significant issues about painting would be removing the innate beauty of cedar itself; there is a lot to be said of admiring nature’s majestic colorings and not tarnishing something that can already be breathtaking as it is. 

Cedar Wood Shingle Siding

If you absolutely cannot avoid painting your cedar siding, or a client requests explicitly for you to do it, you will want to make doubly sure you are not dealing with cedar wood shingle sidings. 

While these make for an excellent choice in siding themselves, painting them would be setting yourself, or whomever the new homeowner is, up for a nightmare of up-keep. 

It will not be enjoyable because you will need to paint the cedar shingles individually. Using a paint sprayer can help, but won’t reach every corner and crevice.

More to the point, because there are so many edges and corners and openly exposed vectors for the elements to get in, you will be dealing with cracking and peeling paint until you decide to replace them entirely.

Painting Over a Semi-Transparent Stain

The first thing to remember is that you can paint over a semi-transparent stain, but you cannot effectively apply a semi-transparent finish over an existing paint coating. 

If you opt to paint your cedar siding, be sure to apply a nice layer of semi-transparent stain first to cover and protect your investment. 

Afterward, allow the wood itself to cure for about half a year to a year, then you can go ahead and paint over it.

Can You Change the Color of Cedar Siding?

As with most brown cedar, you can change the color of the siding itself depending on what paint and stain options you would like to go with.

The changes themselves will have a host of other things to keep at the forefront of your mind as you go with that decision, though, things like how weather resistant will this stain coating be whether or not it will have strong moisture resistance. 

The choice of colors will fit in nicely with the neighborhood or be a giant eyesore.

These are just some of the things you may want to keep in mind as you decide on what stain or paint color you want to go with. 

Still, ultimately creative expression is going to be the most significant deciding factor as to whether or not you went with something that will stand the test of time and prove an attractive option, or if it feels forced and looks tacky.

How Long Does Paint On Cedar Siding Last?

If weather conditions permit, a well-done paint job with a proper stain application will last you for several years. 

Still, the most appropriate response would be the second you see the paint itself beginning to chip and peel would be when you need to apply a fresh coat.

If you were going strictly for longevity, though, you would want to make doubly sure that when you apply your semi-transparent stain finish onto the cedar wood siding itself, you cover all sides of it.

Solid color stain is an alternative to paint. The solid color stain will still allow some of the wood grain to peek through and often lasts longer because the color absorbs into the wood, while paint adheres to the surface.

Covering all sides helps prevent any foreign moisture from tainting the natural beauty of the cedar itself and increasing the time your paint will endure the elements.

Like paint, you’ll still need two or more coats of stain to obtain a true, long-lasting color.

Your Home is Exposed to Sunlight

Assuming your home is constantly exposed to rather intense heat or direct sunlight for a vast majority of the year. 

In that case, you’d be better off going with a semi-transparent stain as the paint itself will begin to peel much faster due to heat exposure.

The Weather Does Not Bother Your Home Much

If the weather isn’t an issue, then you can expect a solid stain paint job to last you anywhere between five and six years, whereas the stain alone might give you a year of coverage and require quite a bit of upkeep to maintain that fabulous look.

Is it Better to Stain or Paint Cedar Siding?

Seeing if it is better to paint or stain cedar siding boils down to the weather conditions you live in and what kind of temperatures your stain or paint will endure throughout its lifetime.

As we’ve said above, cedar has a beauty all its own, and painting over it steals a certain level of your overall investment. 

Never mind that in painting it, you are also stripping the cedar from some of its natural fragrances and pest combating qualities.

Given the option, you’d want to attempt to keep things utterly natural unless nature itself is giving you a reason not to. 

In the industry, letting your cedar be able to “breathe” is one of the best choices you can make to keep it healthy.

What Kind of Paint Do You Use On Cedar Siding?

The kind of paint you use is highly dependent on what type of style you want to achieve, coupled with what other utility you want out of the color itself. 

Speaking from a purely theoretical standpoint, the best kind of paint you could make use of would be one that functions not only as paint but as a stain, so you get twice the functionality from the same purchase. 

Unlike most paint jobs, when you are dealing with raw wood, you want to account more for the overall health of the wood than you would the aesthetic look of it, but you can find choices that meet both criteria. 

Best Paint for Cedar Siding

The best paint for cedar siding is acrylic-based paint. You’ll need to prime the siding with an oil primer before painting.

In the world of paint wood, BEHR is typically known as the industry standard, primarily because they were one of the first companies to truly get a formula down for a stain paint that would not only look good but protect your wood.

Other household names have since cropped up, targeting different niche projects and goals depending on what you are dealing with.

Best Stain for Cedar Siding?

You’re looking at anything from Sherwin-Williams™ Woodscapes to Sikkens Proluxe line of semi-transparent stains that will take care of all your shingle needs without a care in the world.

How Much Does it Cost to Paint Cedar Siding?

The overall cost to paint cedar siding will change significantly depending on just how large the home is and how much surface preparation work is needed to get the cedar siding ready to paint. 

You’ll need to use a power washer to clean the cedar first. Power washing removes any dirt, mildew, and grime then allows ample time for the siding to dry. If the cedar is already painted, whoever preps the house will need to use a paint scraper to remove loose paint. As you can tell, this is a labor-intensive process.

If you are looking at painting roughly 1,500 square feet of cedar siding, you could expect to spend anywhere between $3,000 to $4,500 on just that size alone.

The running estimate would come down to about $3 per square foot but can fluctuate depending on the brand you go with and additional prepping you will need to do to get the cedar itself ready to paint.

Can You Paint Wet Cedar Siding?

You cannot, and should not under any circumstance, paint wet cedar siding. 

The rule of thumb should be to let the cedar itself dry out for approximately two weeks and have an excellent dry forecast for a week to get the job done as well.

How Long Does Cedar Siding Need to Dry Before Painting?

If referencing normal wetness as with rain or wet environments, you’d want to wait that same two weeks for everything to settle down to begin a paint job, as we stated above.

Alternatively, if the dry spell is following a stain, you will want to give your cedar anywhere between a half year to a year for the color to set in and not give you any issues when applying the paint.

Is it Bad to Paint Cedar Siding?

While this is more of an objective viewpoint, it’s difficult to say whether or not painting it is “bad” per se, sub-optimal, or unnecessary would be a better viewpoint.

Cedar is world-renowned for having natural beauty and resistance to most types of weather, but being highly resilient to bugs and rodents, actively being a deterrent to them, and having a delightful smell to compliment all of those positive perks. 

In painting the cedar siding, you steal from the core value of the wood itself, give it less room to function with the strengths it has, and open yourself up to a wide range of different kinds of maintenance chores that otherwise might not be needed.

Taking everything into consideration, though, you may have weather issues, or if it isn’t a personal choice, something your client requested personally and as such have no real say in the matter.

Is Cedar Siding Waterproof?

As we touted above, Wester Red Cedar has one of the most impressive resistances to all forms of damage that you could expect out of a building product. 

Resting moisture is just one of the many strengths this wood boasts and can withstand most of the more complicated elements nature can throw at it. 

Assuming the cedar itself is not directly touching the ground and left completely untreated, it’s widely known that cedar siding can last up to 30 years or longer without having any real issues.

What Happens if You Paint Wet Pressure Treated Wood?

Suppose you were on the unfortunate end of a poorly timed paint job on wet wood. In that case, you can expect the paint not to dry as efficiently as you like, looking both distorted and odd. Also, peeling exceptionally quickly, the wood warping itself is a possibility.

How Do You Know if Wood is Dry Enough to Paint?

Avoiding some of the more annoying results of painting wood too early can be done in a few easy steps, the first of which comes from testing just how wet the wood itself is to govern whether or not it is even close to being ready.

First Test

Take your hand or even a paper towel to have a better visible gauge of how wet the wood is. Then, lightly push it down on the surface of the wood itself.

If you can feel any moisture, or if your paper towel comes up damp, you need to wait a while before the wood is ready for a coat.

Second Test

The second test is an even better visual representation as to whether or not your wood is ready or not. Please take a few tiny droplets of water, and bead them on the surface of the wood itself.

If those beads absorb into the wood itself, you may be ready for a coat of paint. 

However, don’t rush to get your brush just yet, because you may still be a bit too early and still run the risk of damaging your beautiful cedar.

Third Test

You can pick up a digital moisture meter from your local hardware store. This handy little device has two small prongs that you insert directly onto the wood surface to get a reading of whether or not the wood is ready for paint.

It’s worth noting that you will need to calibrate the digital moisture meter to give an accurate reading and ensure that all parts of your siding are ready. You will want to test multiple spots to provide yourself with the highest chance of getting a good paint job.

Conclusion

Gearing up for painting, staining, or even taking good care of your cedar siding takes time to do. Even more so, to understand why the subtle nuances from task to task are so important.

Nevertheless, doing so can make the difference between having a cedar siding paint job that lasts for years to come and expecting to lose time and money.

Sources

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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