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QUESTION: Hello Stephen,

Out of all the experts here you are the only one I could find who mentions 'siding' in their area of expertise.  I hope you can help.

I live in southwest West Virginia, near Huntington, and I have a one-story rancher with cedar siding.  I bought this house in 2001 and the previous owners had put Polyurethane sealer on the siding after the house was built.  They said that they regularly applied it every year or two, so I don't know exactly how many coats was on the house when I bought it.  

So 13 years have gone by and I have not applied any polyurethane, and some of the siding is beginning to turn black, and the polyurethane is peeling.  This is happening mainly on the sides of the house facing the weather, as we get most of our weather from the southwest, and the front of my house faces the east, so it gets direct sun for the biggest part of each day.  The rear of the house faces north so it looks practically new.  

My question is:  What would be the best way to refurbish the cedar siding to get the black off and the peeling polyurethane?  Would you recommend pressure washing, or sanding?  And would you recommend re-applying polyurethane afterwards?  I was told by a contractor when I first bought the house that cedar siding does not need to have a sealer applied to it, that it will resist weathering on it's own.  Is this true?  Any advice is much appreciated.  Thanks!

ANSWER: Gary,

OK, a few issues here.  In the long term, polyurethane on exterior siding is not a viable choice.  It will eventually fail, and when it does it is hard to fix.  Exterior cedar is best finished with a penetrating finish, and preferable one with a pigment.  In other words, stain.

Over time, sun and weather will cause topcoat-type finishes to fail, unless they are meticulously maintained.  This is not something that most homweowners want to do or pay for.  

Cedar is naturally decay resistant.  This means that it tends to repel fungus and insects.  It does not self-preserve its own original fresh color.  Cedar, left exposed, will weather gray.  If it is kept moist, it will also blacken, and eventually mold or other decay organisms will take hold.  It is decay resistant, not decay-proof.

I your case, you could remove the remaining peeling finish with a chemical stripper, or sanding, or both.  It depends on how well it is adhered.  In most cases this process is pretty labor intensive, especially if you want it to look good when completed.

Then stain the siding with a top-of-the-line oil-based semi-transparent exterior stain.  Try shopping at a contractor's paint supplier if you have one nearby (as opposed to a big box retailer).  They tend to sell products (at the upper price end) that keep their contractor customers out of trouble and in business - i.e. good products.

If you can send along a few pictures of the siding I would be glad to add more information if I can.

Thank you,
Steve Major

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Steve,

Thanks for the detailed answer! I'd like to address a couple of things you said.  In regards to Cedar siding turning gray when weathered; mine has no gray areas at all.  I don't know if this is due to the polyurethane coating, or something else.  But what isn't brown is either black or a very light tan color.  

The current finish is peeling in some places, and the areas that are black have already peeled completely off.  I understand that this will be labor intensive, which is why I was wondering if pressure spraying would be an option?  Would applying a stripper or cleaner with a garden sprayer and washing it off be a bad idea?  I have no shrubs, flowers, or plants in my landscape to worry about, so that wouldn't be an issue.  Actually my property is in need of some serious TLC.

Providing pictures may be a problem.  I am one of those people who is far behind in technology, and right now I have no means of taking pictures and loading them on my computer.  I do not have a "smart" phone, but I do have a 'dumb' phone that only allows me to make and receive calls and texts.  But I really do appreciate your willingness to help.  

Thanks!  
Gary

Answer
Gary,
If you want to remove the coating, there are strippers out there, but they are normally applied by brush and the finish is then scraped off by hand.  There is also a product called "Peel-Away" that works well but is expensive.

Just applying a deck cleaner or stripper with a sprayer may not penetrate the polyurethane, and if so you would end up with very uneven results.

A pressure washer is very tricky on wood siding, and you will severely gouge it if you make any kind of error.  I would not recommend this, except with a wide fan tip on the sprayer, but then it might not even work.

As I mentioned in the first response, the correct solution will probably end up being very labor-intensive.  This is why that type of finish is not appropriate for a wooden exterior, unless it is something small and manageable like the on-board parts of a wooden boat, for example.

Steve  

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Stephen Major (Owner--Major Design Group)

Expertise

I can answer any questions regarding the design and construction of homes and additions. This includes trade-specific questions (how-to) in all major building trades: framing, foundations, site prep, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, water treatment, interior finishing, trim & cabinetwork, exterior finishing, roofing, siding. PLEASE indicate your state or region, so I can provide the best possible answer. PLEASE provide photos whenever possible.

Experience

30 years experience in building design and construction, all hands-on, including the construction of dozens of single-family homes and hundreds of remodeling projects in the northeastern US.

Publications
Author: "Architectural Woodwork - Details for Construction" published by Van Nostrand Reinhold (now Wiley).

Education/Credentials
BS Cornell University.

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