Common Repair in New England Architecture

 

Before.

One of the mainstays of quintessential New England architecture is the “Colonial” style home. We also see a terrific array of “Greek Revival” homes. Both of these styles may have some common architectural features, including cornice details. I suppose it may be prudent to start with a quick discussion about nomenclature. The “rake” line of a

Things are starting to pull away.

gable wall refers to the trim running up the angle of the roof. In this case, there is a rake overhang. The bottom portion of this particular rake overhang intersects with the fascia and soffit at the eave line and then “returns” back to the wall section away from the fascia and gutters at the eave line. This small and almost flat section is called a “rake return.”

After tucking the seamless lead flashing, we anchored the new frame in place.

The rake return is a detail that very commonly requires a little bit of TLC here in NE. Way back when, these details were often built using antique heart pine, exponentially denser and more stable than the garbage available today. It would have been painted in an

oil based paint that allows the wood to breathe and moisture to escape through the paint. Today’s latex paints don’t afford that luxury, but are much more environmentally friendly. Sometimes, they would cover the rake return with tin or even lead. This would usually last a century…not bad.

Ready for paint.

When Meticulous Remodeling is called upon to repair or rebuild a rake return on a historic home, such as the small roof sections here in Portsmouth, NH, there is generally a need to just rebuild it by the time we get there. If we rebuild it, we’ll always anchor the simple framing to the home and to the other framing members with screws, for greater holding power. There are 2 other very critical components to making sure

No more gaps, and with screws as fasteners, there shouldn’t be any in the future.

this project will be bulletproof for another century. First, we must use flashing that will seamlessly cover the entire surface. Second, we must make sure that this lead is seamlessly tucked up in behind the siding board at the house and tucked up in behind the rake soffit that comes down onto it.

For us, this is virtually impossible

Voila!

to do without removing the existing rake return structure to provide access for us to tuck this special order 16″ lead flashing in behind these adjacent planes without tearing it. Once the flashing is in, we’ll then slide the pre-built frame up underneath it and fasten it to the wall. Next, we add trim- in this case we used pvc trim boards. Finally, we might as well paint everything while we’re up there anyway.

Pigeons…enjoy!

Just in Time for Holiday Entertaining…

The homeowners used blue tape to visualize their idea.

We were delighted to receive an email from an interested customer that found us on Angie’s List with a great idea to improve his holiday entertaining. I met the homeowner in South Berwick to scope out the project and gather some info in order to provide a proposal. He and his fiancee’ have a formal dining room, with access through a cased opening from the kitchen. They wanted to cut a hole in the adjacent, structurally supporting wall that separates the dining room from the living room.

Dining room “before,” as seen from the kitchen.

I was excited about the opportunity to do this project. The customers had a great vision that would fit their home perfectly, their budget was perfectly realistic, and a simple one week project would offer great improvement in how the home serves its owners. What’s not to love?

Dining room “after.”

The first thing we were going to have to do would be to build temporary support walls in order to cut the existing structural wall. The temp walls would also serve as dust protection. We gently opened small troughs in the ceiling drywall on either side of the supporting wall, to determine proper locations of temporary supporting walls. We built the temp walls and stood them to be held by a nice friction fit- no screwing through floors or ceilings. We sealed them up with plastic and we were ready to make a confined mess.

The clients were great to send us these photos of the finished product.

We marked the opening to be centered on the wall and so that the height would match the existing cased opening from the kitchen. Next was removing all the drywall, studs, and top and bottom wall plates. Now it was time to install the new engineered beam and supporting studs in order to carry the load of the floor joists above. The final construction step required installing new sheetrock pieces and taping and mudding to a smooth, paintable finish.

Finished product as seen from the fireplace looking into the dining room.

The clients were excited when we finally took down the temp walls and plastic. They could finally see and feel how half of the first floor was transformed when traffic patterns were dramatically changed in just one week.

 

 

The homeowners decided to remove the baseboard heat and handle all of the staining and painting themselves, thus keeping the budget down to approximately $2,000 for this great project…just in time for Thanksgiving and all of the season’s entertaining. Thanks for the fun project James and Melanie.

 

By John Bradshaw

 

Builder: A Changing Definition

I don’t care for the term “builder” anymore. I recognize that my perspective on this may be miles away from where the public is at. The term brings me such a negative feeling, now, largely because today’s “builders” are building half a million dollar homes that can’t keep water out for a full ten years. And maybe it’s because I’ll talk to my windows dealer or kitchen cabinetry dealer to find out which options are available to meet a client’s needs and they will start by offering the “builder” grade products at the bottom of the crap heap. Sorry, but not really, because it’s true.

It wasn’t always this way. A builder used to be a revered craftsman. As a matter of fact, they would absolutely HAVE to build quality homes. Why? Because a builder didn’t have these new “super materials” to hide behind. A builder used to have to know how to keep water moving out over the face of the roofing and siding. Super materials are things like ice and water shield that can seal out all sorts of moisture, when properly incorporated. Ice and water shield is not entirely new, having been on the market for probably thirty something years. The thing is, though, that a layer of ice and water shield should never, ever be anything more than a magnificent insurance layer. Water should really never touch it, but always be directed out over the face of the shingles, or siding, etc..

And if one of the builder’s homes did leak, he was in for it. It would be a big deal because technology and a diverse array of power tools were not there to get him through it quickly. Building and repairing were much more labor intensive. And without ice and water shield to slow the water down, the leak would rear it’s ugly head before the one year anniversary. There would be no insurance company taking the hit, just the builder. These painful lessons are sometimes the greatest for personal growth.

That was how it used to be. Then, what happened to those good old days? Well, I believe that the building boom of the 80′s featured a perfect storm of crap. People had been laid off from their jobs due to a recession. Eventually, the real estate and building markets came roaring back with a vengeance. The big kingmaker this time around was the proliferation of building technologies. We now had all sorts of power saws and nail guns for framing, siding, roofing, and finish work, and ice and water shield to cover one’s hiney on the roof. The net result was that any old Joe was now either a carpenter or a builder.

I remember being just a puppy in the trade in the 90′s. Having a classical education from a 3rd generation, old school German carpenter, even a puppy like me could pick out some of these 80′s garbage houses from the good ones.

Alright, where does that leave us today? Today, being a “carpenter” or a “builder” is well within the reach of anybody that believes it can be bought in a big box store. “Yup, I just got me a new nail gun, a couple of saws, a new truck, a contractor’s insurance policy for $700 and now I’m a contractor.” Well lucky duck! And as far as being a “builder,” this term lost all prominence with the association of “builder grade” product lines. I’ve been hired time and time again to solve rot and water infiltration problems at the personal homes of “builders.”  Their own homes aren’t lasting more than ten years before being stricken with rot.

Nowadays, you rarely see a builder saving some select hardwood trees on the lot for either a little shade or character for the home. Builders don’t bother to learn about how to position the home in relation to the sun, how to orient the interior layout to maximize the sun (like having a sun filled kitchen or breakfast nook in the morning to get your day started), or how to properly incorporate soffit overhangs to allow for solar heat gain from the low winter sun, but still provide protection from the higher summer sun.

A builder, these days, often means nothing more than a guy or a gal with a checkbook, a vision, determination, and a lack of respect for the craft. They buy the lots, pick a home plan from a generic book, and hire the subcontractors and “carpenters” to build it. How do they hire these tradespeople? Well, I suppose if I didn’t know there was any difference I might hire according to the bottom line.

Unfortunately, the craft of carpentry is being dumbed down as well. When I was first learning the trade, a carpenter had to know how to use surveyor’s tools to layout and position the concrete forms for the foundation. He would then frame, roof, and side the building. Next, it was time to move indoors for insulating, followed by interior trim work and finally building his own kitchen cabinetry in place. Now, guys and gals need only know four skill sets: Framing, roofing, siding, and interior finish and cabinet hanging. That would be absolutely wonderful if the guys and gals calling themselves “carpenters” actually had training and experience in these four areas. Unfortunately, we’re becoming an instant gratification nation. Nobody’s interested in paying their dues. If you want to be a carpenter, just buy a nail gun, watch a YouTube video, and just as if a magic wand had been waved over your head…Boom! You’re a “carpenter!”

Although there’s a vast library of material to draw from, there’s no need to get into tons of examples to back any of this up. Indeed, most people that have been homeowners more than five years have some first or second hand knowledge of this.

Are there “builders” out there, today, that are REAL craftsmen and women? Absolutely. Finding them will be a whole other issue; they are such a dying breed. The best advice I can give would be to listen to the counsel of your friends and family. Remember, however, that your friends and family may not be in the best position to judge the competency of a builder. You see, just about every project sparkles the same for the first few years. It’s usually after the first five years that problems will begin to surface. So, those friends and family members that have been using a builder long term, well their endorsement should carry more weight. Most importantly, have patience and speak with long time clients to find out how their homes have performed. and how the builder has responded to any issues arising.

 

By John Bradshaw

 

Plywood ‘vs OSB (Waferboard)

Sometimes choosing the building materials that suit us is a difficult decision. In the case of plywood ‘vs OSB, it’s a no brainer.

The home is a system, exterior claddings, framing and insulation, and interior claddings that all interact with each other on some level. The most important variables playing into this equation are: Air movement into and out of the building envelope (factoring heavily into heat loss), vapor transmission to and from the building envelope, and strength.

Air movement- how drafty your home will be- is the same for either plywood or OSB, theoretically speaking. The most important thing to remember is to properly nail the plywood on the outside walls and roof. That means extra nails at all edges, and adjusting the depth setting on the framing gun from super deep setting for framing, down to relatively shallow for shooting ply or OSB. Otherwise, your nails will blow most of the way through it and you’ve lost strength.

Speaking of strength, there is a difference between OSB and plywood. I’m no engineer, so let me relay my personal experience. I was fresh out of high school in the early 90′s and learning about framing houses on the coasts of Beverly and Marblehead, Massachusetts. We often had to build to withstand hurricane force winds, incorporating shear walls to resist lateral wind pressure. When we built the walls laying down, we had one of two choices for bracing it against the wind (no complaints about Bob Seger stuck in my head right now). We could use plywood and lay the sheets across the studs and stagger the joints every four feet in each successive course of real plywood and the stength of the plywood would brace the wall; or, we could cut diagonal bracing into the wall studs from top plate to bottom plate before sheathing with cheap-o OSB. Hopefully this information gives some perspective as to strength.

Next is vapor transmission. This is slightly more involved. Wood can absorb moisture just fine and, when allowed to properly dry out, can repeat this cycle indefinitely. It becomes a problem when the wood doesn’t have the opportunity to dry out. Therefore, the drying process is critical.

Your home is built almost entirely out of building components that hold moisture. The amount of moisture that they hold depends on: The types of materials used, the amount of humidity created by inhabitants (about 70% of a home’s humidity is from occupants cooking, showering, watering plants, dog dishes, perspiring, etc.), the relative humidity in the atmosphere, and of course the amount of air flow in and out of the home.

To allow the home to dry out, we must allow for slow vapor transmission through the building materials. This is why we should never use a vapor barrier on the warm side of a wall system. We don’t want to block all vapor diffusion. This would cause the vapor to hit that sheet plastic “vapor barrier” and condense, with no where to go. After condensing, the next step would be mold.

 

What we need to incorporate into walls and attic floors are vapor retarders that simply slow down vapor diffusion. We must allow the building and all of it’s components to dry out. So, we don’t use sheet plastic on the inside of the walls. Fine, but what does all this have to do with plywood versus OSB? Well, I was laying down a little building science theory, necessary for understanding the importance when choosing a wall or roof sheathing.

If we want to allow the building to breathe, which is the better choice? OSB is made up of wood wafers and glue, then treated with a film of wax to buy some time for exposure to the elements during construction. OSB has a perm rating (the means of measuring how much vapor will pass through a material) that remains very low and constant. When the relative humidity rises, it continues to allow the same miniscule amount of vapor to pass through it.

Plywood, on the other hand, has a decent perm rating and is able to ride a very nice curve. It is made of real, unpulverized wood layers that are glued together in opposing grain directions with an exterior glue. Because it is real wood, when the relative humidity rises, it’s ability to allow vapor to pass through it rises in kind. It allows the home to dry nicely under normal conditions.

Next, let’s talk about mold. Mold is a fungus. Fungi need food. Wood can be food, especially when sopping wet and beginning to break down. Additionally, when wood is pulverized, a sugar like byproduct is created. This is sugar like to mold. Oh wait. OSB is made up of pulverized wood and glue. The more and more that wood is pulverized down, the more sugary wonderful it is to mold. That’s why mold will very easily grow on the paper facing of drywall in a moist bathroom. OSB is far more susceptible to mold than plywood.

Let’s round this out by talking about the all important bottom line. OSB for wall sheathing can cost less than half of what plywood is going for. Let’s say we’re building a decent sized two story addition requiring 70 sheets of 1/2″ sheathing for walls and roof. At current rates, it would cost $525 for OSB and $1,330 for plywood. Now knowing this building science, who would choose to save the $805 and go with OSB?

Let’s consider two more things: Interior subfloor application over floor framing, and the introduction of red type (roofs) and green type (walls) super waterproof OSB sheathing.

First, the easy one. I always use OSB for interior subfloor applications. For this, we are inside of the building envelope and vapor is not struggling to pass through it. It also is cheaper and flatter for floors, making it a great choice and a green choice.

Finally, let’s discuss the introduction of super waterproof OSB. This is becoming incredibly popular for builders. I will never use it. First, you’re still not allowing the home to dry out properly via vapor diffusion. Second, it doesn’t adhere to the most fundamental of all building principles: Every single building component should be overlapped by the one directly above it in elevation. This utilizes the physics of gravity to keep the home dry and has been successful for centuries.

Then how does this other system work? First, the OSB is coated with some special magic potion to keep water out. Fine, wonderful, remembering that this also means that it keeps vapor in. What about the joints between sheets? Well, this is the kicker. It means that the carpenters must use a special- and expensive- proprietary tape gun to apply the special tape to the seams. That’s where we no longer overlap materials. You see, with plywood or regular OSB sheathing, we apply a rainscreen over the sheathing, such as tar paper or Tyvek, etc.. We overlap this rainscreen, maintaining the most fundamental principle of building. Conversely, the tape that is applied to the special OSB relies entirely on adhering over the surface of the plywood, a non glossy surface.

If you hang out at the lumber yard long enough, you’ll hear other guys asking what to do when their finicky tape gun no longer works properly. They dread shelling out the big bucks for a new one. Yes, these applicators don’t always apply the tape to create a watertight seal. And what if the sheathing has a film of sawdust on it’s face? I don’t know, you tell me. If you pay attention to addition jobsites, builders that are using this new super OSB with the taped seams on a roof with a finished living space underneath are still tarping the roof until they get the shingles on  it. How much confidence do they seem to have in the product they are using on the roof? When roof plywood, on the other hand, is properly covered with ice and water shield and roof underlayment paper such as synthetic tar paper, the building will stay dry during construction every time.

Why would the lumber industry offer a product like this? Because they want to sell to the ever growing demographic of builders that don’t understand how to properly and permanently water proof a building. The lumber industry is dumbing down the products. Yes, we should all write our representatives in congress.

In conclusion, plywood made of real wood is by far the best thing for your exterior walls and roof. It only needs elementary attention to waterproofing details, and will then allow your home to breathe properly. OSB is the best choice for interior flooring substrate.

This material was largely a result of an education from Joseph Lstiburek, Ph.D., P.Eng., ASHRAE Fellow. He has been widely renowned as an international building science expert for decades. If you want to learn more about building science or cure insomnia I’m just kidding, some of the writings on the site are actually very entertaining), visit his website at http://www.buildingscience.com.

 

By John Bradshaw

 

 

 

Tackle Custom Interior Trim Carpentry in the Winter or Summer?

Our clients have been asking regularly about whether we also do interior work. This tells me it’s time to write a blog post about interior trim work to provide a small sampling of what we can do.

This is an example of woodworking with poplar we did several years ago, during the winter. It has stayed tight with no cracking or bulging. No need to keep caulking and repainting. The “white” lines you see on the crown molding joints are glare from the camera flash.

We’re passionate about all carpentry. To date, our blog posts have been entirely about exterior projects because we feel that sealing water out of the building is job #1. So, when you no longer have water vulnerability, well heck yes we should talk about your interior wish list.

If you’re thinking about moving forward on a custom trim carpentry project, displaying an exquisite vision that showcases magnificently honed carpentry skills is likely one of your goals. That makes perfect sense. And if we’re going to bring your vision to fruition, we’ll want to ensure that it looks and functions flawlessly for a long time to come.

That brings me to the part where we talk about what conditions are ideal for an enduring and beautiful product. First, let’s get the wood species out of the way. If you want a stained product, then choose the species you like. If you want a painted product, then we’ll be selecting poplar to work with, along with cabinet grade plywood and possibly other accessory products. We choose poplar because of it’s availability and affordability. More importantly, we choose poplar because of it’s stability, strength, and straight and smooth grain. Commercially available poplar is not ever suitable for exterior projects in New England though, it turns black and rots easily. But, it’s phenomenal for interior painted woodworking.

Next, wood is hygroscopic, it absorbs or desorbs moisture in effort to reach equilibrium with the relatively humidity. If your home does not have humidity controls here in New England, then we need to understand what the wood is going to do in the future, in response to the relative humidity changes of it’s environment (the home). Barring humidity controls, wood expands as relative humidity rises in the summer, and shrinks when relative humidity drops in the winter. Don’t think that you can fight the “hydraulics” of it, you can’t. You could slow the absorption or desorption by sealing all sides before installing, but this only slows the process. Alright, that’s enough of the technical mumbo jumbo for now…I’m giving myself a headache. Most importantly, proceed with your trim project when the wood’s moisture content and humidity conditions are ideal.

So, as far as ideal conditions, do we want to be building these things during the winter or the summer? Long story short, winter…conscientiously. The wood has already shrunk, in large part, and will not be continuing to shrink. Therefore, you cut, glue, nail and paint the trim during the winter; then, it’s only going to get tighter in the summer. This can be terrific, unless overdone. The wider the boards are, the more they will shrink or expand. If you have boards that are too wide and too dry, they will buckle or cause other components to buckle when they expand in the summer.

Look at this photo. I believe that this trim was installed during the moist summer months, shrank during the dry winter months and exposed a gap at the mitered joint. The gap was filled with caulking and repainted during the winter months when the wood was still contracted. Then, the wood expanded again during the summer months, squeezing the caulking back out of the joint.

How can we help this joint at this point? I don’t know, Bobby-Jo. I suppose I would probably use a better grade of adhesive caulking that stays pliable. I would apply it during the fall, maybe October when the drying has begun. Essentially, shoot for the halfway point between it’s max expansion and max contraction. Then, paint it. You could expect it to be squeezed during the wet summer, but hopefully just form a slight bulge in the paint, and then subside again in the winter, while remaining bonded. The key here is to not use a hard, unflexible product. This would pop out when squeezed during the wet summer months, every time. Hmmm. It’s October now. I think I’ll ask this customer if I may try this experiment and monitor and report back after several changes of seasons.

To wrap it all up, for the sake of your project, please choose to do your custom interior woodworking project in the winter, to ensure tight joinery all year round. For the sake of your wallet also, you’ll want to tackle this during the winter. Why? Well, you may have an opportunity to save a little bit of dough by offering a New England craftsman an interior project to keep him or herself warm during the bitter winter cold. Most elite craftsman are in a minority these days, keeping them in demand year round, but you may have just enough luck to find one looking to fill a winter time slot. Cheers to moving forward with your vision!

 

By John Bradshaw

 

Alternative Paint Prep for Lead Paint

We recently set up in South Berwick to paint 2 sides of this beautiful Queen Anne Victorian that we handle all of the maintenance and improvements for. Painting is not typically what we are called upon to do, but we can certainly provide a quality job.

The best thing to do, of course would be to scrape or grind the paint off down to bare wood. This is cost prohibitive, in this case.

This home/insurance agency is easily 100 years old, and has been very well maintained. It receives very regular exterior paint jobs, so there need not be tons of scraping. This is good news, because for the safety of all, the EPA has begun to enforce very stringent lead paint removal guidelines. Essentially, projects with a lead paint affected area greater than 3′ x 2′ are to be turned into a hazardous waste removal project. I know because we are a Lead Paint certified firm with the EPA.

This has a catastrophic impact on time and budget, but is sometimes unavoidable. The point I’m trying to make, is that if you can accomplish your goals, whatever they may be, in a manner that avoids turning the project into a “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” type of jobsite, the sometimes stressful remodeling experience may be a bit less painful.

This is an example of a different means to the same end.

This blog post was an afterthought. Therefore, this pic is after applying the Geocel 2310 brushable sealant to it.

Our clients’ goal: To get an affordable coat of paint on the home in order to beautify and protect, for long term results. This is entirely plausible because the home has been maintained with vigilance. It receives semi-constant painting, thus never getting to the point where it needs a paint overhaul.

There are, however, some areas that could use some sort of extra tlc. This built-in bench is one such area. Can we get a durable paint job without turning this into Area 51? Can we do this even considering the alligator skin type of scaling that’s going on now? Yes, of course we can do this.

There’s a product by Geocel called 2310 Brushable Sealant. If you ask the manager, Pat, at Ricci Lumber, he’s been carrying it for 35 years. I haven’t nagged him to verify this for authenticity or exaggeration, but it’s certainly not a newfangled, untested product.

After removing any visibly loose and unbonded paint, the application of the 2310 product is this: You lay it oooonnnn. Now, I don’t mean that you lay it oooonnnn like bringing your best girl home from dinner at the 99′s, turn off all the lights but one, feel around until you bump into the ipod, and turn on a little Barry White… type of lay it oooonnnn. No, no, no. I’m talking you just brought your lady home from a catered picnic on the beach at dusk. You slip into the living room, snap your fingers and the lights going out seem to simultaneously ignite flaming candles at opposite ends of the room. A death glare is flashed, and before you even focus your Jedi mind tricks on the ipod, Barry White is smoothing himself out all over your living room… type of lay it oooonnnn.

This is the final product…and, of course, we still need to paint the decking underneath.

Buuuuhhhht, I digress. What I’m trying to say here is that this isn’t the type of thing you want to rush through. I don’t want to be doing just a little skim coat. I want to lay it on. This product is so goopy that when you apply it properly, it is rather self-leveling. It also has amazing adhesion and flexibility properties. You don’t want to “lay it on” too thick, however. We’re not pouring a bartop here. When you put just enough of it on, it will fill all those alligator cracks and bond the surface. It is not going to look like a brand new bench, but that wouldn’t fit the character of this home anyway. The disclaimer here is that the “self-leveling” and “filling all those alligator cracks” happens while it is wet and not yet fully cured. Once it is fully cured, it has leveled off some of those things, but not nearly as much as what it would seem when wet. That’s ok, though. The main objective is to bond all of the cracked paint so the new coat won’t be a waste of money.

There is another product available that performs the same job of binding the paint. It’s available at the best paint store on the planet: Central Paint in Dover, NH. It’s called “Trim Magic” by a company called XIM. It’s much easier to spread, especially on a larger surface.

Now you see why I’m called “The Michael Jordan of Painting,” and it’s not because I want you to throw me the brush with the game on the line!

I hope that the introduction of of these 2 new products into your toolbox will help you tackle some painting projects to help protect your charming New England home. Don’t forget to follow all of the EPA guidelines when working with lead paint, to protect yourself and others. Also, always wear your safety glasses, don’t forget the hearing protection, brush your teeth after meals, and put on a clean pair of underwear. By the way, why do we say “pair” of underwear?

 

By John Bradshaw

 

 

 

 

Seeing Red

As you look at the roof, the right portion has been pressure washed already, but the right portion not. You can also see that the butt edges of the shakes that have already been washed will need a quick zip over them with the stiff bristle brush. We don’t want to be too aggressive spraying up at these butt edges. Also notice there are a few small shingles under the bottom of the skylight flashing that we’ll have to re-nail. Plan on a little bit of that.

I was recently contracted by a long time homeowner in Newcastle, NH to go through the exterior of his home and look for problems and areas needing attention in anticipation of putting the home on the market in the spring time. He only spent a moment with me, just long enough to mention that he wished he could get the cedar roof replaced for less than $30,000. Then, he left me to evaluate the home and report back.

This assignment threatens me with an anxiety attack every time (fortunately, I’m not prone to anxiety attacks). I never want to tell clients that they have unexpected problems. This home happens to be just a touch over twenty years old, not an era renowned for fine craftsmanship.

Good news: Nothing more than a handful of rotten trimboards, seal the chimney, clean the moss and lichen build-up off the roof, and we’re home-free. I delight in reporting that the home was very well built.

So, we took care of the rotten trim, sealed the massive chimney, and treated the moss build-up with ‘Wet and Forget’. The problem was that the moss build-up was so entrenched that I estimated that it would not just wash away over time after this treatment.

The homeowner was really concerned about the roof, and rightly so. I eased his concerns a bit by stating that the cedar roof is actually in great shape and has another decade of life ahead. Buh-hut, I also had to offer that roofs, windows, and heating systems are the 3 big ticket items that either turn away prospective buyers or take $ out of the seller’s pocket. He agreed 100% and asked what I could do about it. “Well, we could pressure wash the roof. It would tear off the old and dead skin cells, so to speak, and reveal the beauty underneath. Let’s exfoliate your shingles!” The reason we could pressure wash his shingles is because they are California- Hand – Splits. They’re about twice as thick- and irregularly shaped- as regular cedar shingles. He jumped on board, and then one-upped me, “Then, we could spray the ‘Wet and Forget’ on the roof to prevent future build-up.”

Sounds enough like a winning plan, now we just have to execute. When wet, the roof is like a ‘Slip and Slide’. We would have to use roofing harnesses and walk it with the pressure washing wand to clean it. We started a pool to see how many times I would slip and eat cedar shingles on day 1. Only twice, and they weren’t half bad. It was actually pretty rewarding to turn a client’s old roof into a new roof. But, it was mind-numbing work.  Not that the work I do is rocket science, but every now and then it’s nice to have a non-cerebral day. I only wish I had chosen a better last song. The last song I listened to in the truck was Def Leppard, now stuck in my head like the guy in the x-ray that didn’t see the javelin coming.

This back side of the garage roof took me about 5 hours to wash. This is after drying.

On day 1, it took me 5 hours to pressure wash a section of roof measuring approximately 30 feet wide by 16 feet up. It took an additional hour and a half to spray it with the “Wet and Forget” to keep moss and lichens from building up again. Remember to test out which tip to use with the sprayer so you don’t tear apart the soft cedar, and try not to spray uphill too much, this could cause leaks, obviously. Also, keep in mind that cedar turns gray in the sun, no matter what. So if you’re thinking it’s going to look like brandy spankin’ new forever, you may want to rethink that.

This is the front side of the garage after washing. We usually ask clients to at least shut their car doors before pressure washing above.

If you’re thinking about doing a project like this, please remember that a bit of pre-planning can go a long way. Don’t let Def Leppard pour sugar on you all day long! Enjoy.

 

By John Bradshaw

A Great Trick Learned from a Master

When I was a younger apprentice and journeyman carpenter, I always tried to work for the finest craftsmen I could, even when it meant leaving money on the table. I’m fortunate to have had 3 years of learning from one of the best carpenters I’ve seen, Brian Leavitt. This simple trick is straight from him.

Repairing cedar shakes can be a little tricky and time consuming. They are woven and overlapped and it can be a real chore to dissect them in a manner so as to be able to weave new ones back in properly. I’m not going to get into all of the particulars for cedar shake repairs, just offer a tip.

Once upon a time I was working under the tutelage of Brian and weaving cedar shakes back together on a wall right at eye level on a deck that’s used for lots of entertaining. Brian said, “Do you know how to slip a new shake in under an existing one and nail it so you don’t see nails on the face of it?”

“No, I don’t.” And as a matter of fact, I thought he was messing with me (I am super gullable). How could this be? Sliding a new shake in underneath the course directly above it and no face nails? No way.

Photo #1- This is the new shake to be installed. I have access to nail the left side of the shake at this point, but can still illustrate the trick for hiding nails with the left side of this shake.

Photo #2

Yes way. As in Photo #2, you’ll start by holding the new shake about a quarter of an inch lower than the rest of the same course of shakes you are trying to continue. Next, use some small tool like the mini pry-bar I used to hold out the existing shake that sits over the face of the new one to be nailed. Then, start your stainless siding nail up at a slight angle and as far up under the existing shake as you can. Drive the nail flush with the face of the shake. Use a nail set to help if needed.

When you finish the steps illustrated in photo #2, you’ll have what looks like photo #3. From here, all you have to do is hold a block of wood to the bottom edge of the new shake and tap it up with your hammer until the shake sits in line with the rest of the course as in photo #4.

Photo #3

Photo #4

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are now ready to abandon the old method of face nailing repaired cedar shakes, at least in high visibility spots. There are a couple of other things to take note of, though. First, this repair will be 100% complete when the cedar shakes are pressure washed to all match and hide the fact that any work was ever done. Second, the understanding of how to look at a cedar shake and determine which is the face and which face to nail to the wall is a dying, yet simple art that you should know.

Photo #5- Left face should be facing out.

In photo #5 the camera is looking down the butt edge of a shake. As seen here, the cup faces to the right. That means that the two edges of the piece of wood already curl to the right side forming a “cup”. We always install shakes so that the cup faces the wall. So from this view, the face on the right will face the wall. This is in anticipation of future wood movement. When wood gets wet and dries out, it cups to the side that it dries to. That means that a cedar shake’s 2 edges will turn away from the wall and cup toward the sun. If the shake was installed so that the cup was already facing that way, then this new movement will have such an impact on the shake that it will very likely split and cause the shake above it to pull away and move and just start it’s decline. This is very easy to avoid with just a fraction of a second of extra effort to look at the shake before installing it. You may now proceed well armed for battle, thanks to Brian.

 

By John Bradshaw

 

Let’s Play Hide the Plywood

 

This is from my initial assessment.

In photo #2- Do you see the same problem I see?

I was called to a home in Rochester (actually I was emailed to visit this home)to examine recently revealed rot and offer solutions.This home has a second story roof overhang that is almost four feet deep. The homeowner started to find some problems when he ripped up the cement pad that was underneath the entire overhang. The columns had entirely rotted at the bottoms – the home was built before pressure treated wood- so we replaced them. We also replaced all of the fascias with pvc trim and installed seamless gutters and leafguards to manage the water. This proactive homeowner also found some soft and punky plywood after removing some of the siding, himself, to see what was going on.

In photo #2 you’ll see that the major problem I identified was the lack of elevation between the finish grade under the overhang and the wood framing, plywood, and siding. The current building code calls for a minimum of 8″ of exposed masonry between finish grade and framing and plywood. This is to protect the home from water damage and insect damage. With the extra wide roof overhang, there is little threat from water, but major threat from insects. The reason there was no prior insect damage was because the concrete pad was poured right up to the siding. When you’ve seen the devastating damage an underground colony of termites can silently wreak on the framing of a home, you evaluate these situations from a different angle.

In this drawing that I scanned and included with my original work proposal you’ll see 2 things: First, the solution that I’ve been using for a few years now to solve this type of problem; and second, my pre-K art skills not so proudly on display! The foam gasket and the bead of caulking work together to try to form an airtight seal to keep the bugs out. Additionally, we’re wrapping the bottom edge of the plywood with ice and water shield in order to hide the plywood from the insects. I’m no entymologist, but I assume that insects will be far less likely to begin nibbling away at petroleum based products like ice and water shield. The foam gasket must be buried under the ice and water shield. I’ve seen carpenter ants eat away an entire wall’s worth of 1/2″ foam board that lay directly under the siding. The only evidence remaining to prove that it ever existed was the foil facing.

Photo #3- We could stand to add some insulation, since the wall was opened up anyhow.

Photo #4- Insulation beefed up and ready to continue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo #5

In photo #5, we applied the 7/16″ x 1″ wide foam gasket to the bottom edge of the back side of the plywood. We then began to wrap the bottom edge in ice and water shield. What I did was to gently pre-slice the paper on the back side of the ice and water shield so that I could stick it to the back of the ply and to the foam, but leave the protective paper on the part that will wrap up the front face of the ply.

In photo #6 you’ll see the back edge of the ply wrapped with ice and water shield up and over the foam gasket.

Photo #7

In photo # 7 this is the installation of said plywood panels. Notice I ran the ice and water shield past the first piece of ply, so that I could have good overlapping with the next piece. The process calls for smearing the bottom edge of the ply into a thick bead of high grade caulking. In this case, the local lumberyard didn’t carry Lexel brand caulking (in my opinion the most bad posterior caulking available), so that means 2 things: First, we used Phenoseal translucent caulking (goes on white and dries translucent); second, Ricci Lumber needs to think about opening a satellite location in Rochester, or I need to plan ahead and schedule for them to deliver my sundries along with the lumber order next time. Phenoseal is also amazing, it has my 110% confidence.

Photo #8

 

In photo # 8, note that it’s important to nail the bottom edge of the ply approximately every 6″. Also, remember to set the depth of the nail gun so that the nails don’t just blow 1/2 way through the plywood.

 

By John Bradshaw

Photo #9- Peel off the remaining paper and stick the ice and water shield to the face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo #10- Finish the prep with more ice and water shield tucked all the way underneath components that are directly above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo #11- Pvc trimboard installation with hidden fasteners. We also installed proper flashing above the trimboard and replaced siding above that. All that’s left now is touch up paint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finished product from the road. The homeowner can finish his hardscaping now, sorry Rich.

In summary, when repairing rot in New England, or elsewhere, we must evaluate whether standard operating procedure will suffice. In this case, just nailing up plywood would handle the repair, but not protect the home for the long term. Invest the extra effort to think about and evaluate what forces will be working against the project in the future. Then, find or create the solution that will stand against these forces. It’s an investment you will not regret.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Rot Repairs Using PVC Trim Boards

While having the pleasure of working in a beautiful neighborhood in Newcastle, NH recently, I was approached, on separate occasions, by 2 friendly neighbors. Both of these gentlemen were astute “Do -It- Yourselfers” in want of information. All of the homes in the neighborhood were built about 20 – 25 years ago and are beginning to have some of the same issues. They’ve got roofs that are starting to show minor problems, roof boots that have dried out and cracked, windows that have exceeded their serviceable life, and generalized exterior rot. Both neighbors seemed to want to see how we handle some of these things, and determine for themselves whether there is anything of value they might be able to take from it.

Because I want this blog and this website to be a resource, I figure I might as well share my approach to some of these things that people seem interested in learning about. In this case,

This is the bottom trim molding before.

the front door threshold had been replaced at some point with a pine threshold. It rotted at the corners, where the storm door side tracks sit on top of it. Also, the door surround had been patched with new pine in places, and it too was in need of attention. Originally, I didn’t think about writing a blog for this project, so the beginning pictures could have been better.

 

 

 

In this third picture, you’ll see the short section of pine that was used for a previous patch. The predecessor chose clear pine instead of primed finger jointed. Very conscientious. He/she also cut an angle at the top of the piece which created what we call a scarf joint, or some would call a weather cut. This is important. The patch had also been primed on all sides, including the scarf joint at the top. This is even more important when using wood.

But the patch, beginning at the top right corner, had begun it’s rapid descent down the drain anyhow. How come? Well briefly, (I’ll save the real meat and potatoes of this one for another blog post) because pine available today for exterior projects is complete garbage. Be as conscientious as you want, it’s still going to fail prematurely, everytime.

Step one: Drive screw with special driver (no pre-drilling).

So,I chose to replace these vulnerable components with pvc board and trim. Nothing comes without it’s pricetag, however. And these products have their pricey tag.

Additionally, they must be used with the utmost care and attention to detail, or suffer the wrath of buyer’s remorse.

The brand I use is Azek. A 1 x 12

Step two: Set pvc plug.

comes 18′ long and can shrink as much as 3/4″ lengthwise depending on ambient temperature. Typical wood boards shrink and expand with changes in

moisture, and in greatest fluctuation across their width (the 5-1/2″ width for a 1 x 6). Pvc boards shrink and expand with thermal changes, and in greatest fluctuation along their length (18′ for a typical board that is uncut). Therefore it can be entirely expected that if you install an 18′ 1 x 12 that butts into 2 perpendicular wood surfaces on an 80 degree day in the sun, and then come back to visit (this is where being a remodeling carpenter with repeat customers becomes priceless) during November on a

Final step: Gently tap flush with hammer.

40 degree day, you will probably see a gap at each end approaching 3/8 of an inch!!!!

But, with a whole bunch of awesomeness (I’m actually dusting off the tops of my shoulders while typing) these problems can be averted. I’ve built a deck, during the summer, with 1 x 8 trimboards totaling 39 feet joined together. I went back for another stage of construction during the winter, and none of the joints had opened a whisker.

I was very reluctant to use the super-spectacular new virtually invisible fastening method for these products, but with a bit of coaching from some of the younger guys that were more open to these things, I fell head over heels. The screws are made by Cortex. You just sink ‘em deep with no pre-drilling, and then tap in a pvc plug with your hammer. Boom! Nothing ever happened here. Stainless finish nails can sheer off under the right expansion and contraction conditions.

The glue we use for pvc joinery.

What about glue? We should use the Azek brand glue that Azek specifies, right? Wrong-o! This pvc is cellular pvc, similar to being blown up with air like a marshmallow. It’s not dense like pvc pipe. So, Azek specifies a light body pvc cement because it will not “bite into” their trim board too much and thus compromise it, according to them. I’ve seen this proprietary glue fail time after time  (could I please get Cyndi Lauper out of my head now!). I use a medium body pvc cement, preferably in a squeeze tube to fit neatly in my tool pouch. It “bites into” the trim board enough to hold the joint through the changes in seasons. This allows me to create exterior trimwork that water will never have the opportunity to infiltrate. It can join layers of trim on adjacent planes and at perpendicular angles. A trim product that doesn’t absorb water and adhesives and techniques that ensure tight joinery for years to come. I mean, what’s next? Are they gonna come out with commercial free radio stations or something?

Joining the upper wood with the new, lower pvc. Notice the Gorilla glue squeeze out.

The next thing to think about, with regards to this repair project, is joining the new pvc trim patch to the existing wood trim layers. I chose to save the upper portions of the wood trim that weren’t compromised. they will be out of the snow and rain, and I know we can elevate our game to keep water out of these joints. First, the lower product that would be catching all the water will be pvc. Second, we will use relatively small pieces for these patches so that the percentages that they will shrink with thermal changes will have a miniscule practical effect. Third, when we bond them to the wood we will use the best adhesive ever for this application…next time. I loathe making mistakes, and both times I’ve had a hard time reconciling it (laugh with me). However, I chose Gorilla brand polyurethane glue for this particular application, and then second guessed myself. To satisfy the second guessing, I did a test joint with a piece of wood joining to a piece of pvc trim. The next day it was no good. The glue didn’t bite into the pvc and  I was able to force the joint apart with some effort. One of the reasons that I chose this glue, however, was because of it’s expansive properties. The other was because of it’s insane ability to bond to wood. Boil it down, and the glue I chose did not properly bond the two pieces. It did, however, expand to fill the entire joint 100% and form an unbreakable bond with the upper wood part of the joint. So, the wood end grain is well sealed forever, and the pvc trim board underneath it should not contract beyond a hairline. Lovely.

For the longer pvc trim boards, I made new nose pieces at the top that sit underneath the wood trim (For this whole paragraph, I have no pics…this blog post was an afterthought). I applied a heavy bead of Lexel caulk and then screwed these small pieces into the upper wood trim. I then applied a nice bead of pvc cement to the top butt edge of the long pvc board before butting it into this small pvc trim detail. Because we used the proper fasteners and adhesives, this perpendicular joint will not fail.

It’s alright to use stainless finish nails when using small components. Further, the nails are only going to be carrying the load until the glue sets up in five minutes or so.

The last thing to remember is to account for whether or not your pvc trim is going to be painted. It doesn’t have to be, but machine marks must be eliminated. They leave tiny pits that allow algae and mold to build up in. Raw edges, if unpainted and unsanded, turn almost black with these growths. Finely sand or paint all exposed cut edges. Also, paint doesn’t stick to sharp corners, so ease the outside corners of your work with a piece of sandpaper. Lastly, paint doesn’t stick to shiny pvc trim very well. I know, your painter and paint retailer will contradict me. That’s fine. I’ve been in the position to come back around to a project 6 months later, to see how the paint held up. The right paint, according to the manufacturer, didn’t stick. I now recommend gently scuffing the entire pvc surfaces to be painted to remove the “shine” from the board, beforehand. It is a price to pay, but remember that the new pvc trim will hold paint FAR longer than wood will, due to it’s moisture stability.

Finished product…before being painted to match.

By John Bradshaw