Let ‘er rip

the affected area -- right wall is the bath

As I mentioned in my previous post, as a result of our energy audit, we learned that replacing wood siding with vinyl and a thin layer of foam insulation would not make a significant improvement in our energy usage, which helped Dan and I make the decision to repair/replace the siding on the front of our old house, rather than go the vinyl route.

rotten trim above the granite block foundation --what lies beneath?

huh, that's an interesting big-ass hole in the sheathing!

One question we did not have an answer on is which choice is greener in the long run?  Yes, vinyl is awful to produce, and many of the siding/vinyl chloride industry leaders will probably have a toasty spot in hell for their environmental transgressions (along with the lead industry), but really, is paint much better.  Anyone recall all the problems with lead paint, and how the paint industry fought tooth and nail to prevent laws which would remove lead from paint (and other products).  As my dad owned a hardware store and sold a lot of paint, I well remember the battles of the early-mid 70s over lead.  And is paint today any better?  Yes, manufacturers are now making “greener” low VOC paint, but even still, what is the paint manufacturing process like?  How toxic is it, what is the safety record of the industry?  What about the production of the chemicals up the food chain that go into paint?  I just don’t know, but will be asking my environmental toxicologist colleague when I get the chance.

I hope I look as good when I'm 220 years old

And then there’s the short life span of paint.  We completely painted our house 8 years ago, and have been painting a side or two at a time –weather permitting!– in the summers since then.  Driving to buy the paint and materials needed, which is shipped from who knows where, painting, washing the brushes, and doing it again.  Again and again and again.  Evil vinyl siding has a much longer lifespan.  Aesthetically, vinyl is infinitely less appealing, but on the other hand, I ain’t getting any younger, and one of these days I’m not going to be able to paint the place myself.  And which is really the greener choice?  As far as I’m concerned the jury is still out on the low VOC paints, at least for exterior usage.

OK — looong preamble there to the work of the day, and yes, it was WORK.  We won’t be removing all the siding on the 2 front walls of the house, but the bottom 4 courses on the ell wall, and all the siding on the main house wall.  The main house wall is the outside wall of the primary bath, so this is a great time to get all the siding off, add a layer of moisture barrier, and make a nice new hole for the fan vent.  We’ll be adding a vent hole on the ell wall for a kitchen vent (hallelujah!).

Amazingly, considering the age of the siding, the large (now gone) rhododendron that kept it wet, and the cold, sunless northeast exposure, we had only a little rot on the bottom few rows of siding, and the lowermost course of sheathing.  The sheathing was original to the house, a big wide board of rough cut lumber.  We’ll repair the sheathing, add insulation, typar wrap, spray foam sealer, and flashing, then cover it all back up with wooden siding that is painted on both sides for added protection.

Once all that is done, we’ll remove more plant material (sob) to about 3 feet out, and the plants there will all be herbaceous perennials that will die back in the fall and winter to give plenty of air space.  In the area between the garden and the house, we will lay down industrial strength weed block and cover that with gravel to improve the draining and prevent splashing onto the siding.  Given what we feared, this turned out to be a project well within our capabilities.  We were lucky.

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9 Responses to “Let ‘er rip”

  1. The Mom Says:

    If you’re going to replace the siding anyway, why not use cedar shingles? They’re wood, and don’t need to be painted.

    • Ali Says:

      If we had decided to remove all of the siding shingles might have been an option, but good quality shingles are hard to find and very, very expensive. Perfect being the enemy of good, we opted for good and made the decision to do what we could both afford and do ourselves — clapboard siding.

  2. Annie's Granny Says:

    We have the same problem with the two lower boards on two sides of our house, where the shrubbery has trapped the moisture in over the years. Our problem is that we have 12″ wide siding, and cannot find that width any more. It just doesn’t make sense to replace all of our siding, when 90% of it is in good condition. If I did replace it, I’d opt for Hardie Board. We put that on our shed, and it’s great. Water doesn’t damage it. I do wish it came in 12″ widths.

    • Ali Says:

      We’ve thought about Hardie Board, and if we ever do completely re-side a house, we might opt for them. Too bad you can get them in 12″ wide boards. Any way to use two small boards done in such a way to make it look decorative and on purpose?

  3. Christine B. Says:

    We did the energy audit last year and are finally waiting for our refund check…hooray! Plenty of plant material trampled up here too, trying to put foam insulation under the fireplace bumpout. I still get nightmares thinking about all those piles of gravel and soil where the garden was the day before. Still, it’s nice when everything is done.

    Christine in Alaska

    • Ali Says:

      I bet you appreciate the sealing up part. We’ve used 3 cans of foam so far. I love the description on the can that says “removal from skin must be by mechanical means.” Hello, dermabrasion!

  4. Ayse Says:

    One of the major drawbacks to the foam/vinyl route is that it traps moisture against your framing and rots out the house. Old houses are meant to breathe, and when they can’t they rot.

    And the vinyl equation is not nearly as hard as you might think. The paint itself is generally environmentally inert — even something like lead is only an issue if you eat it, and even then primarily an issue for children and fetuses. Yes, adults can get lead poisoning, but the level of lead contamination you need for an adult to have issues is crazy, and there’s nothing like that in modern paint. When you consider that vinyl lasts maybe 20-25 years before it starts cracking and needs repair or replacement (even the stuff they claim lasts longer doesn’t), and paint should last 10 years and even then you’re not dealing with nearly the same volume of material… vinyl loses on all counts. Plus it’s made in a toxic process and continues to be toxic for years after it is installed.

    • Ali Says:

      Ayse, thanks for weighing in. I had a chat with my toxicologist friend and she basically said the same thing. Vinyl is just one of the most toxic manufacturing processes out there. I am happy we opted for clapboard siding and paint, as I love the way our old house looks. We’ll tighten her up a bit and leave more space between the foundation and any vegetation which should help a lot with rot issues.

  5. jeannie177 Says:

    In retrospec…It’s up to what you need to make it safe, warming, not an eye sore, and what you think is the right way for you.

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