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5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 3 Siding)

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

  1. Hi Scott,

    I am working on levelling my floors in 177 year old home. I was wondering if I should wait to refurbish my windows in case there damage to them in the levelling process.

    Any advice?

    Thanks

    Tom

  2. I have a 1942 house which I am renovating. It has redwood siding and no paper behind and nailed to the frames. In the past few weeks I put fiberglass insulation and drywalled the inside and was trying to water proof the outside. Was looking for a solution. I happen to read your article that the house needs to breathe and should not use close all the holes and use thick paint. How do I make sure that water doesn’t seep in? I don’t have a water barrier and concerned that the fiber glass will get wet and mold start developing.

    1. Nathan, the fiberglass will likely get wet and can cause some mold issues if you aren’t careful. In your situation you can either remove the siding and add a building wrap to keep the stud bays dry then replace the siding or remove the fiberglass batts. The extra insulation isn’t worth the potential mold and rot issues it can cause.

  3. I remodeled my families 1899 Eastlake style farm house in 1990. I took out all the
    Plaster and lath, rewired, plumbed, batt fiberglass insulation and installed central heat and air. Big mistake.This house originally had lots of wood stoves with chimneys. Now 27 years later I have never had paint stay on the original cedar siding. I believe I changed the dew point in the wall to the back side of the paint. I am going to remove the 128 year old siding, install a permeable tyvek like vapor barrier and put cement board lap siding back up. Maybe a very thin layer of insulation also to make the spacing on the existing trim work match. The current siding with 3/4″ diagonal boxing under it is very drafty. I want to solve this problem so my children and future generations have less maintenance issues and myself as I age. Also this two story house is balloon framing. Has this solution worked for others in my boat?

  4. What is your take on those old asbestos shingles? My home isn’t insulated (1890) and has the original plaster interior walls. I would love to get rid of the asbestos but my fear is what I’ll find underneath. I cannot afford to redo the house with cedar siding. Assuming the house was in great shape when they put this stuff on, should the wood still be good underneath? The shingles are in great shape. I did remove ugly old asphalt shingles on the kitchen addition and found great cedar shake shingles underneath that for the most part were in great shape.

    I do like the fact that the shingles hold their paint longer than wood (no expansion and contraction), and while I’m used to the look (which is also historic in and of itself since nobody uses those types of shingles any more ;)) I’m not sure the expense of removal and disposal will be affordable to my wallet.

    1. My son bought his first house, a 1910 Bungalow. The siding is asbestos. His siding looks good except for one southern exposure side. Is there a product that duplicates the asbestos siding that is not asbestos? I was told a few years back that someone is making one. But I can’t seem to find one. Thank you

  5. Hello,

    I have a 1928 Bungalow in Oklahoma. At some point the previous owners put up aluminium siding with faux rock on the bottom half of the house.

    We removed the aluminium siding and the orginal wood siding was is ok condition. However, when we removed the faux stone, the was significant rot from a leaky drain and we had to replace the sill plate and the corner studs had to be replaced as well.

    We were planning on just replacing the bottom siding with new novelty siding. But im wondering if I should replace it all and add sheathing. There is only tar paper under the siding and in an added on area paneling was the only wall barrier so we are planning on putting up drywall in place of the paneling.

    Is it a big deal to not have sheathing? If I have to replace most of the siding anyways should I just add it?

    Kind Regards

  6. I recently purchased an old farm cottage one side of the cottage had a stair and entrance added, without removing the old siding. After peeling off the old asphalt siding I found the original siding which looks like cedar boards that are 1/2″ thick. I have tried to gently pry off the boards which were dry, some were brittle and cracked. Underneath where these beautiful 8-12″ wide, about 1.5-2″ thick pieces of lumber. Between the cedar siding and the lumber (probably about 110 years old) there is lots of old bug activity. I have used a stiff brush to remove all the chunks of bug nests, the wood itself is solid and undamaged. Will this be enough or should I treat the lumber further? My plan is to leave some of the lumber exposed and use the salvaged cedar planks to make an accent board wall.

  7. I gave a house that half of the main and the the top floor are siding with T-111 wood siding. None of the trim boards were flashed and they are all rotted. I was going to install vinyl fake cedar over the T-111 after pulling the rotten wood. Is tgis the best way to go?

  8. I have a 1928 craftsman bungalow and the original siding and trim has been wrapped in vinyl siding with aluminum trim. Can I restore this? I have been told by contractors here that I can not. Is it a matter of filling thousands of nail holes?

  9. I have removed steel siding that was covering up beveled cedar siding. After removing it I found that the siding in a large area of a wall had deteriorated around the nails holding it. This was due to poor installation of the steel siding which lead to water getting behind it for 40+ years. With that being said I am replacing a large portion of the wall with new pre-primed finger jointed cedar siding that dimensionally is an exact match 1/2″X5.5″. The problem being is all cedar siding manufacturers say when installing take care not to nail the top piece through the piece below. The siding on my house has a 3.5″ reveal so that means a 2″ overlap. This only leaves 1.5″ to nail. The nail would be 2.5″ up from the bottom and 1″ down from the piece above. This puts the nail in an thin part of the siding where it will split. The original siding is nailed through both pieces .75″ up from the bottom and 2.75″ down from the piece above. I need to match the existing reveals so the siding lines up with the windows. The original siding has lasted 100 years nailed through both pieces. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions.

    1. Nailing through both pieces of siding is not always a problem and I have done it many times in the same situation especially when the original siding was installed that way. I think it’s best to copy the original installation unless there are obvious flaws in workmanship that way the patches behave the same as the original portions.

  10. Here’s a nightmare for you. Unbeknownst to us (we would come home and just see sections of primed house), our painter caulked in between each and every cedar shake shingle on the upper half of our 110 year old Craftsman 4 square. This was 2 years ago. There were many other things that went wrong before we said “ta ta” to him but now we are left with trying to figure out how to remove the caulk from between these shingles to save them. Besides cutting the caulk out (which is very difficult to do w/o ruining the shakes w/ razor knives), do you have any ideas? Does any stripper exist that would “dissolve” it? We are devastated. The entire house has to be repainted as if it was never done. It’s a disaster.

    1. Wow! That is a LOT of work! I don’t know of any stripped that are good for caulk, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. It sounds like a lot of manual labor sadly.

  11. I was wondering if you could tell me if hardi siding is vapor permeable. I am worried about water vapor retention and a negative effect on my house’s breathability. thanks!

    1. Hardi siding is vapor permeable I believe, but the paint or factory coating may not be. Also with the gaps between siding that allows vapor movement but if your painter caulks everything tight then you might start running into bigger problems.

  12. I have an old Victorian home in SLC that I am presently restoring. The previous owners covered the original siding with some horrible asbestos siding that I just recently had removed. For the most part, the original siding (a wood Dutch shiplap) is in great condition, especially considering how old it is. However there are a few places I need to replace and for some reason, some of the siding is missing from the front entryway. I am having a difficult time locating wood Dutch shiplap siding. Any suggestions?

    1. Jules, a local mill shop can likely duplicate the pattern for you. You’ll have to bring them a sample and have them cut a custom knife for the siding (usually $175-250). After that they can mill new siding for you exactly like yours.

  13. My son recently bought a home built in 1957 (first time home buyer). The garage is a detached wood structure that is an eye sore. The paint is peeling so badly that there are many areas of exposed wood. The inspector did state that the structure is sound. What would be the best option–hire someone to clean and paint or possibly cover it with siding?

  14. Does anyone have any recommendations for a pre-war stucco house? I have a few areas that need repaired and the paint is starting to peel in some locations. The stucco is almost a 100 years old and feels pretty sound. What concerns me is the idea of having to repaint every 7 years and possibly damaged sheathing behind it. Re-stuccoing sounds expensive but maybe it saves in the long run?

  15. Does anyone have an opinion on Sandblasting my 1912 Craftsman Home. I currently have original old growth siding and trim.

    1. NEVER sandblast an old house. It will erode the wood and even bricks. Don’t pressure wash an old house either. It will erode the siding and drive moisture into the wood that will take months to dry out.

      You could have someone scrape just the loose old paint wearing a face mask and keeping plastic sheeting on the ground to catch lead paint chips. You could also use an infrared heater like the a Silent a Paint Remover to loosen all the old paint so you can scrape it off. You will need to sand lightly if you take all the old paint off as the scraper will make the wood too smooth and the new paint won’t adhere to it.

  16. I purchased a Craftsman home built in 1912, I am considering residing the entire house and detached garage with Smooth Hardie Siding. I have over 30 windows in my home and the old siding runs under the exterior window treatments. I think my first question is if the siding is over 100 years old am I wasting my money by painting it again and not residing? Also, when/if I do reside should I now put the Exterior Window Treatment on first then side up against them which is standard process in todays industry or is that new process taking from my historic value?

    1. Christopher, residing an entire house when you already have old growth siding installed is a completely unnecessary expense that you’ll never recoup. Save your money! Plus changing the exterior trim from a siding pattern that runs underneath (which is very common for your age house) to one where the siding butts to the trim will be another huge project with little to no payoff. Likely the whole project will create more problems than it will fix.

      1. I read the exchange you had with Christopher L. on May 2, 2016 and it has caused me angst as we have been working diligently toward a re-siding project for two months now. My home probably doesn’t count as historic. It is a 1965 4-level split with a cottage style roof all around, located in Canada about 2.5 hrs north of the ND-Montana border. Cold winters and hot summers.

        80 to 85 % of the house is covered in 12″ (nominal) clear, beveled, smooth cedar lap siding with about a 9.5″ actual exposure. (The rest is manufactured stone.) For the most part the siding is in very good condition. The south and west facing walls however have lots of cracks in the paint (and sometimes the wood). These boards have never looked really good even right after a fresh painting. Also the 2001 addition to the house was sided with the same type cedar siding which had been salvaged from the original detached garage that was removed and replaced with attached garages. Some of those boards have since cracked.

        I started looking at replacing the siding when my painting estimate came in around $6000 CDN. I can replace all the siding with LP Smartside engineered textured “cedar” lap siding (approx 6.75″ exposure) that comes pre-finished with 2 coats of paint and a 30 yr prorated warranty on the paint and 50 yrs prorated on the siding. The pre-finished siding and trim would cost approximately $5600 CDN. (Replacing the cedar siding with the same type on the house would cost $18,000 CDN plus labour.) The siding removal, installation of additional 1″ insulation, wrap and the new siding and trim, etc will cost an additional $13,500 CDN with tax. A total of $19,000 to $20,000 CDN. Two paint jobs (in 5 yrs) of the existing cedar will cost almost two thirds of that.

        SInce we have 2×4 construction in the oldest part of the house and poor insulation in most of that, all of this seemed like a good investment in improving the insulation, reducing drafts and updating the look with a stylish, low maintenance wood product for essentially $7000 CDN more than what it will cost me to have it painted this year and in 5 yrs time.

        However, after I read your reply to Christopher I wondered if you would tell me that I too was wasting my money. I hate the idea of stripping off a natural wood product that is hugely expensive in itself (to replace) and which has in the main, stood the test of time, but given our wish to improve the insulation and update the looks this seemed to be overall a good investment.

        So – are we too wasting our money?

        1. John, every situation is unique and yours is no exception. First, I would shop around your painting quotes a bit more and let the painters know that you are looking for a high quality paint job. Canada and Florida are very different climates but if I can get a paint job to last 12-15 years then I know you can too. A longer lasting paint job changes the math in your ROI.
          The other Hong to think about is the amount of materials ending up in the landfill by removing all that perfectly good siding and replacing it.
          I understand the insulation dilemma, I really do and wouldn’t fault you if you went that route, but even maintenance smartsiding will need a paint job in less than 30 years even if it is just for a color update. Good luck!

          1. Many thanks for taking the time to reply. I appreciate your commitment to restoration and the environment. We are trying to see if I can have the siding carefully removed so that it can be re-used but if I can’t at least cedar is biodegradable.

            I agree that a long-lasting paint job of 12 -15 years could change the math on the ROI – and particularly if the price is the same. (I suspect that top quality paint job with that lifespan is going to come in higher – we’ll see.) On the other hand, if I can sell some of the used cedar it changes the math in the other direction.

  17. Last year my wife and I purchased a two story four square house built in 1925. The house needed painting as it had been neglected for years. My son and I painted it this past summer. I was very impressed with the condition the cedar wood was in after we stripped off all the old paint. Primed it and used two coats of white satin. The home looks beautiful.It has hardwood floors, 11 inch floor trim , I don’t think you can find that anymore without a special order and a beautiful open wood staircase. If taken care of this home will last another century.

  18. HELP PLEASE. I purchased a 1924 brick home. Outside of the roof, the only part that is not brick is the section of wood cedar shingles in the back of the house. Welp they are old an now squirrels have eaten a whole in a section about a foot long. I’m going to get it replaced, but my fear is the squirrels eating through the would. What the best siding in this case? The sections is about 6 feet by 12 feet. It’s only the area near the back attic windows.

      1. Scott,

        What do you recommend to insulate between metal and plywood on a new house? How would you vent in the attic to stop the deck from deteriorating?

  19. Hi, Scott. I am wanting to remove aluminum siding from my 1940 cottage-style home in Kansas City. I do have cedar shakes underneath. This is a terrifying prospect, but I do want to proceed. Is there a chance with aluminum that I am going to find rot and termites, or does aluminum allow the house to breathe enough for moisture to evaporate? Thanks!

    1. Lanie, there is always a chance you’ll find all kinds of things hidden underneath, but aluminum does not hold moisture like vinyl. Praying that you find nothing but easy fixes underneath!

      1. Just wanted to offer encouragement to homeowners thinking of removing aluminum siding. We just finished doing this for our 1920 home. There were cedar shingles underneath in remarkably good condition. Only a few mushy ones under the windows and the south side is warped from the heat, but no termites, just a lot of dirt. We did all the work ourselves and it looks so much better even though we haven’t cleaned and stained them yet.

        1. I’m encouraged by the comments on removing aluminum siding. I’ve a Cape Cod style house and want/need to remove the aluminum. Under is cedar lap. Apparently the windows were clad poorly and brick molding is rotting…dust in some areas. I’ve been shaking in my booties to think of what I might find as money IS an object for me. After reading this site, loaded with newfound courage, the aluminum begins coming off tomorrow. What would be best to fill nail holes in the cedar? Wish me luck!

  20. Local installer offering Hardi siding, said due to its rigid nature and the unevenness of house construction, its impossible to get a good even level finished job. They have stopped offering it and went back to vinyl and steel siding.

    1. Sounds like it may not be cost effective for them or they just prefer working with the others. I can install wood siding and hard I siding (both of which are rigid) with no problems here. Maybe they need to have better framers. 😉

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