Q: The brown shingles on our 1950s house are showing signs of wear. While not worn or damaged, the shingles look tired — waterlogged or parched, depending on the season.
We’ve asked painting contractors about oil treatments, but they all want to paint the house. They say there is no possible treatment that will extend the life and improve the appearance of the shingles without painting them. One even claimed that shiny, high-gloss paint was the best solution.
We love the natural look of shingles, especially here in our woodsy setting and neighborhood, and dread the thought of painting.
Is there a good alternative to paint? Thank you for any help you can offer. We are devoted to your column.
A: Thanks for the kind words. We don’t understand why the painting contractors you’ve contacted insist on painting the old shingles. We would consider painting only as a last resort.
There are few things more ugly than a failed, peeling paint job on a shingled house.
It sounds as if your sidewall shingles are starved for moisture. We’d bet they haven’t been touched for many years. Wood is ravaged by sun, rain and wind. For defense against the elements, wood must maintain a certain range of moisture content. Too much moisture and it’s the waterlogged look. Too little and it looks like a tinderbox ready to go up in flames.
Be warned, though, your siding may be reaching the end of its useful life — but maybe not. If your shingles truly do not look worn or damaged, they might be only dry and dirty — and salvageable.
With the price of new shingles these days and your aversion to paint, which we share, we think it’s worth the effort to try to salvage what you have. This is how we’d go about the job:
The first step is to give the shingles a good cleaning with a pressure washer. Be careful here. Pressure washers produce a stream of water under high pressure that blasts away the dirt and grime from the siding. But — and this is a big but — if the shingles are dry and brittle, you run the risk of blowing the shingles right off the wall.
To avoid this, use a wide spray pattern and keep the nozzle of the gun at least a foot away from the wall. Start at an out-of-the way spot until you get the hang of it. If you make a mistake, it’s away from the public eye. Try to remove dirt and leave the patina of the shingles. Go gently. The goal is to remove the dirt and limit the amount of wood you remove.
Once the washing is done, let the shingles dry for at least a week. The water absorbed by the washing must evaporate and the shingles must be allowed to return to their natural moisture content for the climate at the time you’re doing the job.
Once the shingles are dry, give the house a good once-over. Look for damaged shingles. Replace those that are severely cracked. The new shingles will look, well, new. But they’ll weather in time.
With the house washed and dried and the repairs complete, it’s time to put on a finish. We’d go for a clear wood preservative rather than a stain of any kind. But this is really an aesthetic choice. If you prefer a semitransparent stain, go for it.
There are a lot of wood preservatives on the market. Two of our favorites are Duckback and Preservawood. Both companies also make wood cleaners and brighteners that Bill has used with success. This will add an extra step to the process, but it’s worth checking out.
The best way to apply the preservative is with an airless sprayer. Do the job on a windless day, mask the windows, move the cars and warn the neighbors. There is a real risk of drift because these preservatives are very light and viscous. Another alternative to avoid drift is to use a garden sprayer. It will take longer, but you won’t risk spraying the neighborhood. Make sure to flood the surface.
Count on the shingles soaking up gallons and gallons of preservative. They haven’t had a drink in a long time. The job will likely take at least two full coats.
Finally, count on repeating the process in three or four years. Sun, wind and water will break down the protective qualities of whatever preservative you use. It’s a lot of work and it’s not cheap, but we think you’ll be happy with the results.