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If you want your home’s cedar siding to live up to its reputation for longevity and decay resistance, make sure it’s treated or stained properly and checked periodically.

Left untreated, cedar shakes — individual planks of one of several varieties of cedar — will discolor and begin to soften, with a possibility of rot after about five years, depending on the climate.

There are several options for covering cedar siding, including stain, a clear treatment or paint.

A solid-color stain or paint tends to give cedar a more formal appearance, while a transparent stain or clear waterproofing treatment provides a more rustic look.

Stain is considered a more effective protectant for cedar, and it lasts longer than paint. A solid-color latex house stain offers the appearance of paint, but with less effort.

The cost for hiring a professional to paint or stain cedar siding can range from $2,500 to $4,000 or more, depending on your home’s size and the labor required.

A stain or clear coating needs one or two finish coats, depending on the cedar-shake grade and whether you’re applying a solid or semitransparent product. If you choose semitransparent, test an inconspicuous area to be sure the color is what you want.

Painting requires a base coat of exterior oil-based wood primer, followed by a latex-based exterior wood finish coat.

High-quality paint or stain, properly applied, should last five to seven years, and as many as 10, depending on weather conditions and if you maintain the siding. However, you may need to reapply a clear-coat stain every two years.

With a new installation of cedar shake siding — which can cost around $5 a square foot — you shouldn’t need to do any prep work before staining or painting. In fact, you can pay extra for pre-primed or pre-stained shake products.

If new cedar siding requires a finish, apply to individual shakes before installation. This allows for a complete coating of sides and edges.

Older siding should be cleaned and allowed to dry thoroughly enough that it can absorb sprinkled water. Many siding pros recommend power washing. The Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau, a nonprofit trade organization, warns that an experienced washer should assess a cedar-siding job individually, since high-pressure water jets can damage wood.

Before applying stain or paint, secure loose shakes, replace rotten or damaged ones and fill blemishes with putty or caulk.