Stain versus Paint: What is best for Shingled walls?

If you have a California bungalow or Arts & Crafts house that retains its original shingled exterior walls, you are lucky indeed. It may be in need of repair, but shingles are easily repaired, and do not involve heavy lifting, but rather a careful eye and a steady hand to match and fit new shingles. Look carefully at how corners are fitted, and the width and trimming of the original shingles. Original wall shingles are thinner than roofing shingles. You can still buy wall shingles, or trim down roof shingles to be the correct thickness to match the original wall shingles.

Even houses that have been stuccoed over the original shingles can often be restored if the stucco was applied over the wood shingles using stucco wire and building paper, which can act as a protective layer over the shingles.

A c1917 illustration of a brown shingled Bungalow with a green-shingled roof. The dark green window sash brings the green color of the roof down into the main floor as an attractive accent color. The green striped awning adds a coordinating color feature.

Removing stucco from a shingled wall will leave some nail holes and cracks in the individual wood shingles. Occasional shingles may require replacement, but most of the wear can be successfully disguised by colour.

If a shingled wall has always been stained, do not paint it. It was most likely originally stained with an oil base penetrating stain. These stains – for environmental reasons – are not used much today. However, a good-quality solid-coloured or semi-transparent stain can be used for the best results for your house. Sample pots are recommended to test which product will recreate the original colours on your house.

A dark colour stain – usually a warm,  darkish, reddish-brown color – was the popular original colour used for Arts & Crafts homes. A dark colored stain will very effectively hide cracks, small splits and holes in the shingles. The result, especially when paired with a pale trim colour in a warm cream color, will present a home that looks well cared for, and appropriately coloured to its original architectural design.

A warm, reddish brown wood stain harmonizes well with the red brick of the chimney and porch plinths of this house. A light tan/ochre stain colors the roof.

If, on the other hand, a pale grey colour is used for example, every one of those defects will be obvious as dark marks to the bystander, and the building will look like an old, worn house, with every defect showing.

Stain as a finish is inherently easier to maintain on a shingled wall than paint. Stain is absorbed into the wood, and gently wears off the shingles. When it is time to restain the walls, the stain is again absorbed into the shingles. Paint on the other hand, builds up in layers, and becomes uneven. When it comes time to redo the house, scraping paint from shingles is an unpleasant task, and damaging to the wood shingles themselves. If at all possible, keep a stained finish on the shingles and apply paint on the smooth trim boards and window sash in order to keep your shingled house looking trim and tidy for years to come.

If you have a house that has been painted, then you may have to paint again. But keep in mind what darker colours can do for shingled walls – instant hiding of small defects, and a fresh overall appearance. Keeping a contrast between finishes – dull for shingles and a semi-gloss for light trim and porch ceilings will add a good visual contrast for the exterior of your house.