Clapboard Siding: Paint or Replace?

By Robert Robillard on Home Maintenance

Installing Cedar clapboardsOld Clapboard Siding

I have a 124 year old house with clapboard siding and the paint is starting to peel. One contractor says I should strip and paint when the time comes. He also said I shouldn’t replace the siding because the newer wood is not as good as the old wood on my house.

Another contractor says it’s better to replace the clapboards with new cedar ones. His point is that in doing so Tyvek can be installed underneath and longer boards can be used so that there are fewer seams for moisture to penetrate.

Thanks for any advice on how I can determine which way to go.


Ahhh the age old debate of refresh or replace!

One critical missing piece of information is what is the shape of the old siding?

The best, and most expensive, option would be to replace the clapboard siding and follow “best-practice” installation methods. [See below]

What is causing the clapboard siding peeling paint? Before doing anything you should be looking at the root cause of the problem and fixing it. Peeling paint problems often requires you to look three likely culprits:

  • Moisture
  • Improper paint preparation
  • Lack of proper maintenance

Western Red Cedar clapboard installation

Clapboard Siding Moisture

Moisture can be internal or external, for example a lot of paint issues occur outside bathroom shower walls with no bath exhaust fan.   I’ve also see a lot of water damage on the lower third of homes, due to lack of gutters.

Other areas of clapboard siding paint failure result from water penetrating the siding through:

  • Damaged and cracked siding
  • Siding and trim seams
  • Improper installation, lack of proper flashing
  • Moisture penetrating nail holes

Clapboard siding on older houses are not back primed, and often were installed over resin paper, tar paper or bare sheathing.

When siding is not back primed or the end grain is not sealed the clapboard absorbs moisture and will push the paint off the wood. Unprimed wood end-grain absorbs liquids up to 250 times more than other wood surfaces. This is why we see siding end grain is usually the first places paint fails and rots.

According to Dan from HDF Painting Inc. out of Concord, MA sanding old clapboard siding down to the bare wood and re-painting will give you more life out of the siding but you are not guaranteed that the paint will not fail. Dan agrees with me that the best solution is to install new siding.Factory finished Siding


Improper paint preparation

Professional painting contractors all acknowledgement that one of the most common reasons clapboard siding paint fails is due to improper preparation, for example, failing to lightly sand, and wash a surface prior to painting.

Pollen, mold, environmental and construction dust can cause this failure and must be removed. Adhesion is key in painting and washing and etching the surface is a must!

Lack of proper maintenance

Cedar clapboard siding is inherently insect and rot resistant and even the best materials will eventually fail when they are installed poorly or neglected.

Washing, inspecting and performing the following steps on clapboard siding will maintain your home:

  • Caulk open siding/trim joints
  • Touch up chipped or missing paint
  • Repainting
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About the author

Robert Robillard

Carpenter / Remodeler / Editor

Rob Robillard is “The Concord Carpenter” Rob is a builder, general contractor, carpenter, woodworker, and editor of Concord Carpenter and ToolBoxBuzz As a General Contractor and carpenter, Rob owns and operates Concord Carpenter LLC. A full-service remodeling and construction company. Rob is a recognized leader in home building best practices and a source for how-to information for building professionals. On this website, Rob covers all aspects of home construction, building science, home improvement, woodworking, remodeling, and some of the best product and tool reviews. Rob is in charge of our Tool and Product Review series - Concord Carpenter Videos where we post all of our tool reviews and video tutorials. Rob approaches remodeling and building construction with a pragmatic and problem-solving approach. He enjoys using his knowledge and experience to help and educate building professionals as well as DIYers on best practices in the construction and remodeling industry. He's a strong advocate for "raising the bar" in the construction trades and promoting the trades to youth. #BeAMentor #Green2Great Craftsmanship, quality, and pride guide his journey on this channel The Concord Carpenter's motto: "Well done is better than well said!" : Read more about Rob

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