Home & Garden Columns

Ask Matt: Questions About Insurance and Shingles

By Matt Cantor
Friday November 24, 2006

Dear Matt, 

I read your column with interest, and I have a question for you: 

My wife and I own and live in a 1920s Berkeley stucco bungalow, ca. 2000 sq. ft., four bedrooms, two baths. It is presently insured for $233 per sq. ft. which my insurance agent assures me is an adequate figure. Do you agree? If not what would you suppose a more realistic number to be? This is a question that I haven’t seen addressed in your column, and I’ll bet that others of your readers might be interested. What do you think? 

Best Regards, 

— Roger Moss 


Dear Roger, 

The $466,000 coverage is for rebuilding the house and does not cover the land value of your property, which is reasonable unless you get hit by a bunker-buster. If you do get hit by a bunker-buster, you can sell your story to Rupert Murdock and make way more than you will from the insurance. Actually, I’d sell it to the movies. Oh, sorry. I got lost there, didn’t I? 

Construction costs vary a lot and it really depends on what you’re trying to build. You can certainly build in this area for $233/square foot BUT you won’t be able to build in the style many of us have come to know and demand here in the aesthetic capital of the universe. Some houses cost closer to $500/square foot but they’re pretty amazing (that’s a cool million to build 2,000 square feet). I think you’re actually pretty safe with the $233 but you might want to find out if the price per square foot drops much as you go up. I’d personally try for a bit higher but it depends on what you can afford and what you plan on building when that bomb falls on your house. Jeez, I hope you’re out shopping when that happens. 

Your friend, 

— Matt 


• • • 

Dear Matt, 

OK, I am going crazy here with making decisions that should be fairly simple. Through my process of asking a million questions about how to go about painting my shingled house, well, you guessed it correctly, everyone has such a strong “do, or don’t” point of view on how to paint a shingled house. 

One style of painting shingles would be to stain the shingles. The people who recommend this process of staining shingles seem to feel that this is the “only” way to go. Period. Other painting professionals who suggest painting shingles with a heavier, more traditional exterior paint, say that is the only way to go. What to do? 

I find myself driving around looking at homes to find what I like. Do you have any pro-con advice on the stain/paint debate when it comes to painting shingles? I want a beachie-cottagie, clean, and crisp look to my house, and don’t want to make a mistake in the process while making my decision. I keep hearing, once you make a decision and go with it, there is no turning back. 

Do I need to prime the house first if I am staining? I wouldn’t think so. Do I prime the shingles first if I am using a heavier exterior paint on the house.  

And lastly, I hear if you choose paint over stain, the house needs to be painted quite often, demanding more upkeep? Waaaaaaaaaa! 

What is your take on this seemingly controversial painting de lemma? 

Thank you, Susan Lissberger 

Owner Mill Valley Montessori 


Susan, you poor dear, 

I’m getting stressed out just hearing your woe. This is pretty tough.  

O.K. Here goes. To stain or to paint: 

Your friends who point out that you have to choose one or the other are dead-right. Stain is usually oily and will make painting nearly impossible for years to come. Naturally, once you’ve painted, you won’t  

be removing the paint unless you’re thinking about suicide, divorce or voluntary removal of a vital organ. 

Just pick one. Figure out what you like best. Either will be fine if you take the right steps. If you have really old shingle that’s looking pretty tired, painting is an option that I’ve been known to endorse (but I’m easily given to graft and am largely untrustworthy). 

I’m a bit snobbish about shingle myself and consider painting new shingle to be sort of sad, since it’s so darned pretty but hey, that’s me. I would tend to treat (not stain) shingle with Penofin or a similar  

preservative regularly and save the paint for when things have gone South. I also find the color change in shingle over time to be rather charming and natural. Preservative often have a UV protective element that slows this but eventually all shingle will change color. 

Pardon my teasing. I hope you don’t feel shingled out.