Q: What are the pros and cons of leaving cedar sidewall shingles unfinished? We’re planning to cover the walls of our house in western red cedar, but don’t know what to do after that.
A: I install cedar sidewall shingles on my own projects because they’re the best option I know of for interesting, exterior wood on your house without a maintenance burden. That’s the biggest advantage. Leave them bare and you never need to do anything to them afterwards. I’ve seen cedar wall shingles last 50 years with zero maintenance. No paint, no stain ever. That said, I wouldn’t let the shingles go grey naturally because the results will be uneven. Shingles at the bottom of the wall will be dark, and shingles in the protected place up near the eaves will remain light. It’s a contrast that looks bad. Click here to learn more about installing cedar siding shingles properly.
In projects of my own I use a product called Ecowood Treatment to make the shingles an even grey colour no matter where they are. This is a one-time treatment that causes wood to go grey by a non-toxic chemical reaction. The building you see is a cabin my son and I built and the grey you see comes from Ecowood Treatment. Click here to watch a video about me applying this product to a public marina building that went up in my area a number of years ago.
The downside of leaving your shingles unfinished include the fact that you might not like the grey colour, even if it is even. In the case of your western red cedar, the shingles will go quite dark – almost verging on black in time. Eastern white cedar, by contrast, usually goes a more silver-grey colour. Also, unfinished cedar shingles have a slightly higher tendency to crack if left unfinished, but this doesn’t happen much if the shingles are reasonably dry before installation. The nice thing about cedar sidewall shingles is that cracks here and there don’t matter. At any given spot on your wall there are three layers of shingles at work. A new crack is just the same as any one of the hundreds of joints between shingles on a wall.
If you do decide to apply a finish, don’t apply paint or stain that forms a surface film. This will peel in time, causing something of a nightmare to strip in preparation for refinishing. Also, I strongly recommend installing the shingles over some kind of a drainage screen on the back. Creating an air space behind the shingles means that any leaked or condensed moisture can drain down and out of the wall harmlessly.
Watch the video below for a trick that will help you install cedar sidewall shingles better and more quickly.