Siding & Soffits

We knew we wanted a black house. In fact, when designing the house, it was one of the only things that really remained consistent and we didn’t change our minds about (ok, truthfully, we strayed a little bit – testing the waters, but as they say, once you go black, you probably won’t go back… or something like that).
DSC_0395Our previous house had been painted black by the previous owners (we are since soul mates) and we loved it dearly. But really we did not not want to simply paint our new house black. Paint is great for covering up years of other layers of toxic paint, as in our old house, but not as an initial coat. So, what to do?

In the process of researching, planning and designing the house, we collected hundreds of inspiration pictures. The majority of my “architecture” folder on Pinterest is of black houses, and each one I’d look at and try to figure out what they used: paint, stain, or something else.

One of the first “something else” option we were initially really drawn to the traditional Japanese siding treatment called “Shou-sugi-ban”. Taken from a Treehugger article on this process:

This is a traditional Japanese method of preserving cedar, where it is burned enough to create a layer of char on the outside. The char serves a number of functions: it seals and preserves the wood, it makes it significantly more fire-resistant, and termites and bugs hate it.

Shou sugi ban house in Alaska

It is said that this type of treatment can allow the wood to survive for 80-100 years without maintenance and much longer if treated with oil every 15 years.

Here is an impressive video of the traditional process in Japan:

Ok, so just imagine doing that 200 times over to clad your moderately sized house. Now that is labour intensive! Most people nowadays, from what I’ve read, use a blow torch to char each board, then dunk it in water, scrub the charred bits off, and then oil it. Even with a blow torch this a crazy amount of work, but in the end you get something really impressive and completely unique.

I really thought we were going to do this for our place, however, there were a few reasons we abandoned this idea. Firstly was the obvious: OMG, that would be so much work!! Second, cedar is crazy expensive right now, running in the range of $7-9 per sq.ft. But the final reason, was that we had heard that someone had decided to do a house in shou sugi ban in the City. Curious to see it in real life, we drove over to take a look at it. And well, to be honest, we really hated it. Perhaps it was just the people who did it did a bad job, but it looked really… gross. It basically looked like a house that had had a fire recent go through it (which I suppose is true). I think I would like to test it out on a shed or coffee table or something before I invest thousands of dollars into the siding of my house and ended up hating myself over it.

So, we turned to the natural and perhaps, most obvious option, stain. Stain is all well and good, but you really need to stain your wood every 5 years (or less) to preserve the wood and keep it looking good. And really, you still should use cedar to have optimal rot protection with plain old stain. That is until my wife came across a little black Swedish house.

Black house in Sweden

Granted, this house is actually sided in plywood, which I would never do, but what intrigued me was the rich black colour, that the grain of the wood still came through (not painted), and that they had used a siding that was not cedar.

As I read more into this, they used “black tar” for the siding. Through some detective work, we eventually found this same house linked to a Swedish product called “Auson black pine tar.

I had never heard or seen this product before but  I was very intrigued. Also, it was Swedish, and seeing as our house had a lot of Scandinavian inspiration, this only seemed fitting.

We found that the product was available in Canada through a website called Solvent Free Paint. Score. We emailed the company to learn a bit more about it:

Genuine Pine Tar is one of the more effective wood preservers we’ve seen, and it is all-natural, which is amazing. In Scandinavia, they have been using Pine Tar for around 1500 years as a preservative on everything from stave wood churches to wooden splint roofs to Viking ships, and it is still the predominant choice for continuing to preserve these old wooden structures to this day. Amazing. In fact, the heritage arm of the government of Québec has been making studies on this here with respect to preserving wooden roofs, and their current recommendation is to use pine tar.
Pine Tar is made from burning the pine resin out of the stumps of pine trees. The sticky resin is then collected and cleaned to various degrees, and pigment is even added for colour. In this state, Pine Tar has the consistency of molasses and can be used for preserving wood, even below grade. Above grade, we recommend mixing the pine tar 50/50 with Allback Purified Raw Linseed Oil and applying warm so that the pine tar and oil mixture really penetrates the wood. This mixture offers the best of both preservation and nourishment for the wood; it also takes down the stickiness of the surface so that it is more pleasant to touch or walk on.”
Even better, this product is ideal for use in Scandinavia, where pine and spruce are much more readily available and cedar is not. It preserves the wood and needs to be recoated only once every 15 years.
Bingo, we’d found our product. We ordered a few litres of this stuff. We had debated about using cedar for our soffits as well, but once we saw this, we realized we could use pine with a natural clear pine tar for much less than half the cost of cedar still.
IMG_2921We started out with the soffits, which would be easiest to install first. Yes, it is true that most people use aluminum or vinyl vented soffits, which are fool proof but are so fucking boring. Instead,  we purchased 1×6 tongue and groove clear white pine. Now one thing you need to know about staining (or painting) wood for siding or soffits, is that you mustn’t let any part of the wood be left untreated (otherwise the lifespan of the wood will drop by 50-75%, so preparation is key)! That is, you must stain all six sides of the wood. For the tongue and groove pine, this meant that yes, we had to stain the tongue AND the groove, which is a crazy, tedious and annoying task.
We had about 800 sq.ft. of soffits to stain, all sides, twice. It took us about 14 hours, but it looked pretty nice by the time we were done. The pine tar was actually easier than we expected it would be to use. Once mixed 50/50 with the linseed oil it was really just like a slightly thickened stain. It brushed on easy and evenly. However, we had to keep it warm. On the hot 30 degree Celsius days it was easy, but on the cooler day we had to heat it up on the stove in the shop. Also each coat took about 4-7 days to dry and still had a bit of residue on it that hopefully will dry someday. Surprisingly, it was not at all sticky (I had fears of moths and dust sticking to the house).
Now as for venting of the soffits, there is a calculation of square footage of ventilation versus square footage of attic space which is approximately 1 sq.ft of venting to every 100 sq.ft of attic. We figured out that that meant about 3/4″x30″ gap lengthwise along every fourth board, would be about right. We used a router to cut the gap and covered it with a bug screen. Here’s a photo:
IMG_2990
I was so impressed with how well these turned out. Much better than I’d expected to be honest.
Next up was the siding, which I was most excited about. We ordered the clear white pine siding as a “shiplap reveal” in 1×8.
DSC_0068
That pile took a ridiculous amount of time for us to work through. I had expected it to go relatively quickly seeing as we did not have to stain a stupid groove, but 30 hours later we were finally done. Exhausted, but man did it look badass.
DSC_0078
Over the next two weeks the contractors, chipped away at installing the siding. This too took much longer than they had expected too, particularly from having to stain the ends of each cut. But seeing that siding go onto the walls, I knew we had made the right decision.
DSC_0004
IMG_3012
(Yes that is a chimney pipe, more to come).

19 thoughts on “Siding & Soffits

  1. Hi I am going to be redoing the siding on my house with 1×6 pine shiplap. I am finishing it with Auson pine tar. I was just wondering what you used for a house wrap? Did you use lath or just secure the siding right on the wrapped sheathing? Thanks for any information you have.

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    1. We used Typar house wrap and secured it right to the house wrap. In hindsight, I would probably have put strapping (lath) behind it to give the siding room to breathe, so I think that would be a good idea for you. It’s not required for building code here so the contractor didn’t do it, but it’s a good idea to reduce cupping of the boards and improve longevity of the siding especially if you get a fair bit of rain and moisture during the year in your area.

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  2. I love your project. Working on a long house in Bar Harbor Maine. Was wondering if you are still happy with the pine tar siding? Also what color window did you choose?
    Thanks for all your help
    Desiree Sirois

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    1. Hi Desiree, we are still happy with the pine tar siding. It’s been up for about 18 months now. The color is great. I really like the matte finish. There is some pine sap that has seeped out of some of the knots in the wood which has given the siding an even more unique look. As for the windows, they are black as well.

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      1. Am an architect in Seattle and we are about to use the same Auson Black Pine Tar for our own newly built house in Seattle. So glad I came across this page. Would you be willing to email me offline about this? We’ve done samples with it with various mixes of the tar, linseed and gum turpentine and really like it. However our construction ran longer than expected and we have hit rainy season here. Our cedar siding isn’t up yet, and I am hoping to get a little more detail and advice about your pre-staining process. My email: daintydu at gmail

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  3. I like the pine tar finish you guys came up with. It looks great!

    And you’re right to believe shou-sugi-ban is a lot of work. We’re doing it right now for our new house. You can check out the details here:

    https://kimchiandkraut.net/2016/10/31/cedar-siding-delivered

    The charring is a lot more fun than the oiling and wiping down part.

    I’ve enjoyed your blog and your posts to Green Building Advisor. We’ve reached many of the same conclusions you have regarding Passive House certification — apart from ideal climate conditions and building a two-story cube, it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. We learned this the hard way (losing $30,000 to our original builder).

    Congratulations on your house! It looks fantastic!

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    1. Hi Eric – thanks for your comments. I read the article you posted on the shou sugi ban process. Looks fun! But as I suspected – time consuming. I was wondering if it would be necessary to char the back of the boards due to the cedar being rot resistant?
      Do you have photos of the siding in place on the house?

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      1. Hi Kent – To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s necessary to char the back. Arguably, since it won’t be directly exposed to the elements, it shouldn’t be necessary and should be fine even over the long-term — especially with a substantial rain screen system behind it.

        I’ve always seen people burn both sides, and I guess I just liked the idea of avoiding even a potential issue in the future — plus the charring is fun, so I didn’t mind the extra time it required.

        It’s not up yet — just starting our build. We’re trying to finish up the oiling of the siding right now, before the weather turns cold. We need the siding to be ready for late winter/early spring installation.

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  4. I’m a builder in the Mountains of Utah, and I have an architect that is pushing to use black pine tar on a project that we have underway . I showed the owner pictures of your house and they loved it! (as do I) I’d love to hear from you on coverage rates, and cost. I was able to check out the website of the supplier that you supplied, but its a bit daunting. Did you mix with raw linseed oil or boiled linseed oil ? Any other specifics would be really helpful, thanks in advance ! My email is tandttravis@hotmail.com

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    1. Hi Travis – I’m glad you’re considering the pine tar. We love it. We’ve had it on for the past 18 months and are still very happy with the decision to use it. We mixed 50/50 black pine tar with raw linseed oil. This helps with penetration, coverage and ease of application. The pine tar is super thick and sticky unless it is thinned. You do NOT want to use boiled linseed oil. It won’t mixed properly. I think we went through about 15 gallons (of the 50/50 mixture) to apply two coats to all six sides of each board. The cost was not outrageous. I believe it was less than $750 for the supplies. I did email the suppliers to ask them to help me confirm what I would need and I found them very helpful and knowledgeable.

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  5. Thanks for the info ! I just made up some samples with the black pine tar and the genuine pine tar, thinned in different ratios. I’ll be curious to see it when it dries, it looks really cool right now. It’s only about 25 degrees outside, and maybe 50 in my garage (Fahrenheit) so it’s probably going to take a week to dry !

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    1. Great. We stained when it was cool outside too some days but then we would heat the pine tar and linseed oil in a pot to 90Degrees F. It goes on much easier and penetrates the wood better when warm. Good luck

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  6. This is an awesome resource, thanks! I’m an architect in San Francisco, and considering using the Auson Black Pine Tar and organic linseed oil in a 1:1 ratio for staining Western Red Cedar 1×4 T&G siding black. The project is a house in Napa with serious SW exposure to the sun–it is going to get blasted all year. Any feedback regarding fading of the nearly-black color due to sun exposure, now that the house has been up a few years? Our client wants a low-maintenance finish, but also wants the dark color to not fade (or at least stay dark for 2+ years)….thoughts?

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    1. Hi Ryan – it’s faded a bit – maybe 20%, but I think it’s due to rain and not the sun as much as it’s on the east and west sides more so than the south. The north side has not faded at all. We did two coats of stain and it probably could have handled a third easily. I might do a recoat in another year or so to darken it up a bit. I’m still very happy with the product and would highly recommend it.

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      1. Hi Kent,

        Awesome news, thanks for the feedback. I have a few follow-ups if you have time (apologies in advance if these are answered elsewhere on this post):

        1. Where is the house located?
        2. When was the completion date?

        Thanks!

        Ryan

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