Restoration Guide: Solid Wood Siding for Exterior Walls

Rob Sabo

Editor's Note: This is article 10 of 18 in Chapter 2: Exterior Walls section of the Old House Web's Home Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original material in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rehab Guide.


Section 1--Overview

Wood siding is among the oldest and most widely-used building materials used in the U.S.--its roots date back more than 300 years. However, as lumber prices rise, and use of engineered wood and other manufactured--and less expensive--siding types becomes more prevalent, wood siding's market share is expected to decline. Despite its higher cost, wood siding is a popular choice for remodeling projects due to its natural aesthetic beauty.

Most wood siding comes from Western red cedar milled in Canada and the United States. Western redwood and Douglas fir also are milled for siding by some manufacturers, and mills in the eastern U.S. produce small amounts of softwood siding made from white pine and spruce. Wood siding usually is treated with semi-transparent or opaque stains or paint as a protective coating.

Wood siding's ability to resist shrinkage, warping, and twisting is directly related to the part of the tree from which it was cut. There are four different grain patterns:

  • Flat grain
  • Curved grain
  • Vertical grain
  • Radial or quarter-sawn

Vertical-grain siding is the best performer over time, and it holds paint or stain better because more grain is exposed to absorb the stain. When remodeling a home or other structure with old siding, consider vertical-grain siding as the best available replacement.

Section 2--Repairing or Replacing Damaged Siding

Single pieces of damaged wood siding can be removed by cutting the nails that hold the siding with a metal-cutting saw blade. After slipping out the damaged piece, cut a new piece of siding to fit and install.

Section 3--Replacing Damaged Siding With Western Red Cedar Siding

Western red ceder beveled siding is milled with a rough and smooth side and is sold in several different grades:

  • Clear
  • Plain
  • Clear heart, vertical grain
  • A clear
  • Rustic
  • B clear
  • Select knotty
  • Quality knotty
  • Architect knotty

Each different grade has its own characteristics. Clear and clear heartwood siding typically offer the highest quality and have no visible knots. The other grades have their own features, such as knots and other growth characteristics. When replacing siding on an old house, examine the existing cladding and try to match with an appropriate grade--especially if you are replacing small sections of siding. Matching grades isn't as crucial when replacing the siding on an entire wall section since a different grade won't be as noticeable.

It's also critical to match the siding's pattern type. Plain bevel siding is the most widely sold, but other styles include rabbeted bevel, lap-drop, and rabbeted saw-textured. Bringing a length of old siding with you to the lumber yard is the best way to match grains and styles.

Beveled cedar siding can be installed over sheathing with a vapor retarder such as Tyvek or asphalt saturated felt. For more information on vapor retarders, see section 5. Cedar siding also can be applied over masonry walls with the use of furring strips.

Nails should not penetrate the thin top edge of the siding as they can split the material. Stainless steel nails are best, especially near the ocean, but hot-dipped galvanized nails also suffice.

3.1: Western Cedar Siding Warranties

Paint and stain companies such as Olympic, Cabot, and Sherwin Williams provide certain siding manufacturers with 5-year warranties if they apply a primer coat after milling. Warranties are increased to 15 years with a topcoat of stain or paint, and increased again to 30 years if the homeowner re-stains the siding prior to the first 15 years. Inquire with your lumber salesman about manufacturer warranties.

Section 4--Using Western Redwood Bevel Siding to Replace Damaged Siding

Redwood siding isn't as widely available as cedar siding. It comes in grades similar to cedar siding and also has the same characteristics. Redwood siding can be ordered "kiln-dried" so that minimal shrinkage occurs in the field. Thinner boards better withstand shrinkage than wider boards.

Redwood takes paint and stain well, but warranty programs with stain or paint manufacturers aren't as prevalent as with cedar siding. Redwood is highly resistant to decay. However, it must be periodically maintained or it will darken and discolor.

Section 5--Replacing Deteriorated Siding With Spruce or Pine Siding

Eastern spruce or pine bevel siding comes in limited grades:

  • 1x Clear
  • 2x Clear
  • Cottage

The 1x Clear grade has no knots, while 2x Clear allows a single knot per board. Cottage style has several knots per board. Eastern Spruce and pine bevel siding are sold unpainted, primed, or primed and painted.

This type of siding is milled to meet colonial reproduction specifications--important in historical preservation work. It has a long lifespan, and is cheaper than cedar or redwood siding.

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