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Should I Paint or Reside an Old House in the Pacific Northwest?

Eleanor Heyrich

Many old houses in and around Seattle have their original cedar lap siding (lap siding means that it overlaps) and most of the time this siding has several layers of paint.  Cedar siding that has been well-cared for has a useful life of about about 30-50 years although it certainly can last far longer.  What kind of paint job do you need?  When does it make sense to repaint, restore, or re-side?

When I think about painting houses with old cedar siding, I take the following into consideration:

  1. How long do we want this paint job to last?  In the PNW, an exterior paint job should last 5-10 years.  The lifespan of a paint job depends on a lot of factors (exposure to sunlight, types of trees on the property and their proximity to the house, proximity of house to saltwater, type of siding, etc).  It also depends greatly on the amount of prep and the type of paint used.  A 10+ year paint job will cost about 40-60% more than a five year paint job because presumably the painter will do a lot more prep and use higher quality paint… another way to look at it is a five year paint job will cost 100% more because you’ll probably have to do it twice in ten years.
  2. How much prep should be done? This is something a lot of folks don’t thoroughly discuss with their painter because they assume there is some sort of industry standard.  For the cheapest paint job, you can expect a painter to pressure wash the house and scrape the worst of the peeling, but not much more.  A moderate (and probably plenty adequate paint job for 85% of houses) paint job, will include scraping the worst spots and then sanding those spots so that there’s minimal rough edges and priming over those areas that have been scraped and sanded.  An expensive job will include a lot more priming and application of some sort of epoxy or filler for a more seamless finish, and possible replacement of certain highly visible or weather-prone wood.  A really expensive paint job, for you perfectionists out there, is more of a restoration job where all layers of paint are removed and surfaces are all sanded smooth… and in many cases it can be almost as expensive as re-siding.
  3. There comes a point where it makes more sense to re-side than to pay for even a “restoration” job. Usually it makes more sense to re-sdide if: your siding is over 75 years old; the existing paint already peels back to bare wood (indicating the wood simply won’t hold paint anymore- yes, it happens!); and/or there is severe cupping/warpage and severe cracking in the wood.