5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 3 Siding)

By Scott Sidler • December 20, 2011

5 worst mistakes historic homeowners sidingNo Maintenance. These two words scare the heck out of me when it comes to home improvement products, especially when it pertains to historic homes. So, let’s dispel a myth…

There is no such thing as a “No Maintenance” product for your historic home. Not a single one! No car will last very long without an oil change, your lawn needs water to stay green, and your house needs painting to stay healthy. But many people search for products to sheath their house that will last decade upon decade with no upkeep. The unfortunate news is that these products don’t exist and many of the ones that claim to be such, are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The Problem With Siding

Vinyl siding covering up original cedar shiplap siding

The problem with siding is simple. It’s outside! It gets rained on, snowed on, tortured by hail and sleet, and the sun is constantly beating down on it and baking its protective layer of paint off day by day. It’s no wonder that folks look to “solutions” like vinyl or aluminum siding to “protect” their home’s exterior. The problem is that they cause more problems than they solve.

Vinyl siding is touted as a no maintenance product. It is rot proof, insect proof and comes in a variety of colors so it doesn’t need painting. But the problems begin almost immediately. First, vinyl siding doesn’t allow the house to breathe.

Most of the time when I remove vinyl siding from a historic house, I find wet, spongy, and rotted wood siding. Inevitably, the vinyl siding got some moisture behind it sometimes from rain seeping in and sometimes just from water vapor trying to escape the house. Since water vapor can’t get through the vinyl, it just sits on the wood siding and turns it into a mushy mess that termites love.

But don’t worry, you’ll never know that you have termites because while they munch away at your home, the evidence will be completely hidden behind your perfect vinyl siding. Vinyl siding hides all kinds of ills which, along with its inexpensive price, is what makes it so popular. Unfortunately, you and your inspector will never be able to know there is a problem lurking beneath until it’s far too late.

Hail Damaged Aluminum Siding

Aluminum siding is another enemy of old houses. Not so much because of the damage it can cause but because it’s just plain inferior to historic materials. We actually came upon an aluminum sided house once that was built with brick! After a little show and tell, the homeowner was thrilled to have us remove the siding and reveal their beautiful brick home. More often than not, aluminum siding gets dented by any number of things like hail, strong storms, and the occasional baseball. The bottom 3 ft. of aluminum siding is usually covered in dents after only a couple years from its biggest enemies…Mr. lawn mower and Mrs. weed eater.

There is one product that I don’t mind, and actually use occasionally on our projects, that is not historically accurate. James Hardi siding products are top quality, long lasting products that, in my mind, can be a good fit for historic homes. If you’re not going to use the original materials they are a fine substitute. You see, I’m not a blind purist! I simply appreciate quality products and they do a good job.

The Solution

Cedar siding and shingles, especially if they are old growth, are extremely long lasting and resistant to rot and insects. When properly installed and cared for they will protect your house for well over a century. Problems arise when they are installed poorly or neglected. So, here are some helpful hints when it comes to repairing your real wood siding. Follow this advice and your siding won’t need to be replaced until your great grandchildren can swing a hammer. And remember, there is no such thing as no maintenance. Just like any relationship needs quality time and attention to remain healthy, so do our homes.

  • Always leave at least a 3/4″ gap (though we leave 1″) between siding and roofing materials to prevent rot.
  • Always prime the ends of boards with an oil-based primer before installing.
  • Follow the very specific nailing processes using only the approved nail types for your type of siding.
  • Always caulk siding/trim joints.
  • Inspect your siding at least once a year and touch up any chipped or missing paint.
  • Repaint your house as needed to maintain your siding.
  • (Optional) I always prefer to prime the back of any siding with oil-based primer prior to installing them just for added security. That way if there is a leak or moisture build-up behind the siding, you’re still protected.

And one last parting thought about historic materials…”They’re not good because they’re old, they’re old because they’re good!”

Read the rest of the 5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners:

Part 1 Windows

Part 2 Floors

Part 4 Plaster

Part 5 The Details

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142 thoughts on “5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 3 Siding)”

  1. We own a 100 yr. old farmhouse in northwest Iowa. It needs to be painted, I don’t want to cover it with siding. I LOVE old, original houses, Victorian would be my favorite first choice, but you don’t get that in our neck of the woods, so I have my century old farmhouse. I get lots of mixed reviews about what to do. I want to keep everything original. I know some trim boards will need to be replaced – so be it. Any suggestions, or advice would be much appreciated.

  2. So how is it hardy board siding is a good option? It’s way too wide to fit the narrow reveal the most craftsman’s have in a majority of the country. I’d rather see the narrow no maintenance siding than the awful wide siding not normally done.

  3. hi…
    i have what im Just going to come out and call a “stupid home owner question”…
    I bought my 1st home last year, It’s a 1957 Campanelli straight ranch, And it was a flip, So I am finding all sorts of fun little corners have been cut. It is a slab foundation and the garage was converted into a den. The foundation for the garage is a little bit lower than for theRest of the house.
    I am having moisture issues in thatThe carpeting in the front section of the den becomes very wet when it rains, As does the baseboard on that particular wall. The dry wall seems to be fine,And I cannot find any obvious leaks. The house has vinyl siding and there is a window on that wall,And I have noticed that the siding on the exterior of that wall has some exposed woodPeeking out from the bottom. Originally the dirt’s of the front yard was up over the lip of the siding But I removed some of the dirt So that the foundation was exposed and put in gravel thinking this was the cause of the issue. This is when I noticed that the sighting had been completed leaving some of the wood under it exposed.I am wondering if this could be the cause of my issue but to be honest I know absolutely nothing about any of these things and due to having some other on anticipated costly repairs am currently out of the funds to get a contractor in to even look at it.
    At this point I have had to remove all the furniture from that half of the room and M having to dispose of 2 bookcases which now have wood rot on their bottoms from the moisture absorbed from the carpet.
    Any help would be appreciated!

  4. Hi Scott.
    I have a question about a 1880 house that has wall paper. I peaked some back to see what was under and it feels like some type of wood but with a plastic feeling. I took a picture of IT and was wondering if you can give me some info in what material it is and how to paint over it.

    1. Hello Holly, it sounds like a veneer used back then. My daughter has that in her historical home ands he is removing it. It is a thin wood with what looks like a plastic coating! I would peel it off.

  5. Hi Scott, I really enjoyed reading your windows book but I have a siding question: my 1910 home mainly has original wood siding. I’d like to keep it…I also want to prepare the home for another 100 years and want modern water proofing and insulation. Is it possible to remove and replace siding, or once it’s off, it’s off? Is there a way I can add a rain barrier behind my siding and modern insulation (closed foam or rockwool with some foam to fill air gaps). What I would love to have is a rain screen and rigid insulation behind my siding.

    Thanks again!

  6. Hi! I’ve got a quick question! We have wooding siding That’s roughly 80 years old. The paint is chipping, and weve considered sanding ans repainting. A family member said to just cover it with vinyl. Will that be a smart thing to do?

    1. One thing that he doesn’t mention is that when vinyl installers are prepping to install vinyl, they cut all the trim around the windows, doors, eves, everywhere! It flattens the look of your home. Your 80 yo wood siding is probably still good, and restoring it will enhance the value of your home. Vinyl is not a good solution, and can cause rot and other issues.

  7. Hello!

    My husband and I purchased a 1927 craftsman bungalow in Los Angeles and will be renovating the interior and hoping to include the exterior as well, budget permitting.

    It’s a small 900-1000 sqft house with a 200 sqft addition added to the back. The main house originally had siding that was later covered in (horrible) stucco by a previous owner. You can clearly tell as the stucco sits flush with the original exterior window trim. The addition is stucco as well, but the window frames sit proud of the stucco since it was installed around the same time.

    Are there things we should be watching out for or questions we should be asking before we start work for the exterior siding? Is this too broad of a question?

    1. Hello! Congrats on your home purchase. Excellent choice! I wish we could see it person! Honestly, our best recommendation is to use our directory to find a certified historic preservationist in your area so that they can advise accordingly upon seeing it in person. https://thecraftsmanblog.com/directory/
      Feel free to keep us updated on your restoration journey! Also, feel free to tag us in photos on Instagram so we can see!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

    2. STUCKO IS THE STANDARD MATERIAL AND ONE OF THE THINGS THAT DENOTES A TRUE CRAFTSMAN COTTAGE HOME. I HAVE A SEARS CRAFTSMAN COTTAGE HOME IN BOULDER COLORADO. IT HAD GROUND UP ABALONE SHELL’S MIXED INTO THE STUCO…

      1. This depends on the region. The Seattle Bungalow style of Craftsman, almost always has fir or cedar clapboard siding. Clapboard is very common in other regions as well.

      2. Lmao not all craftsman homes are STUCCO, and in LA a lot of Spanish bungalows have been renovated to appear like craftsman’s and then there are the wood sided ones that have been stuccoed to help with the lack of insulation.

  8. Hey Scott,

    My wife & I own a 1930’s bungalow in the DC area. It’s covered in aluminum siding from the 70’s or 80’s, but underneath we’re pretty sure we have cedar shingles. We need to get rid of the aluminum siding, and probably replace it with something more current, like hardy board, but first we want to see what condition the wood siding is in. Is it possible that it’s still in working order, or could be fixed up? If that were the case it would be like winning the lottery. We want to find a specialist who can help us investigate rather than just selling us more vinyl or even the hardy board options before we know what we have under the aluminum. We’re unsure how to proceed. Any advice would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Timmy,
      Thanks so much for reading our articles and reaching out! The best advice we have for you would be to check our directory ( https://thecraftsmanblog.com/directory/ ) and try to find a specialist in your area who can more accurately assess in person. We also do have an article about caring for cedar shingles if you are in fact able to salvage them! https://thecraftsmanblog.com/how-to-care-for-cedar-shingles/
      Best of luck to you. Keep us updated on your progress!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

    2. We live in Iowa and removed the aluminum siding ourselves. It’s really easy. Start at the top and work your way down. We found cedar shingles underneath in mostly good condition. We hired someone to patch and stain them. You won’t be able to know their condition until you remove all the siding.

  9. I own a house in southern Ontario, Canada built in the 1870s. It has wood board and batten siding with no sheathing from what I can tell, and lathe and plaster walls on the inside. There is no insulation in the walls and most of the windows are original. For such an old, drafty house the heating bills are surprisingly reasonable. The siding and exterior trim is in rough shape and will need to be replaced soon. I have read a lot of opinions about insulating houses like this one and creating moisture issues in the walls. When I remove the siding that would be the time to insulate. Should I bother insulating at all or if I should then what would you recommend? Thanks!

  10. Hi Scott.
    We live in a 50 year old home that my father-in-law built. He was the top of the line builder and loved using old techniques. We live in the Pacific Northwest and he put Western Red Cedar shake siding on most of the home (no sealants or stain} and cedar planking on the rest of it. We recently changed insurance companies and they had an individual company come out to inspect the home. They have come back to us saying they want the siding painted or stained to prevent water damage. After 50 years of nothing on them the wood is still dry and we have no moisture wicking into the siding. Is it necessary for us to seal it after all this time and if so what is the best approach? Would applying an oil (linseed or similar) be best? We don’t want to paint or stain it, we like the weathered appearance it has taken on. Any suggestions?
    Debbie

  11. I live in a 1913 2 story duplex (side by side) in Indiana. It’s cold and drafty in the winter. The windows have been caulked and window sills replaced. The house was originally wood at the bottom and cedar shake at the top somewhere along the line aluminium siding was added to the bottom of the house. I would like to replace the aluminum with hardie plank. What type of wrap/vapor barrier would i use? Will the wrap and the her due board help with the draftiness?

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