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

 

PVC Window Trim Replacement

An overwheleming majority of New England homes will have to undergo some sort of rotten exterior trim replacement at some point. One of the most common needs is replacing rotten window casings and sill noses, especially on the north and east faces of a home. This article aims to instruct how to replace your exterior window trim with glued and screwed pvc window trim, in a manner that will withstand the elements.

This Portsmouth home needed rotten exterior trim replaced with something that would hold up, being just a few feet from the river.

This home in Portsmouth, NH was in need of these repairs. Although I have no photos, the first thing to be done is remove the existing window casings and sill nose, gently, so as to not destroy the existing jambs, etc.. I use my Fein reciprocating saw to slice through these components, for easier removal. The sill nose must be trimmed flush with the jambs.

After measuring for the new trim and cutting and labeling the new pieces, it’s time to begin the assembly. The first thing I do is to assemble the bottom of each side window casing to the sill nose. In this case the bevel angle is 15 degrees. The glue we use for pvc welding sets up relatively quickly (in about 5 minutes), so we’ll want to start our screws before applying the glue. Because the sill nose (made by Royal Moldings) is only about 1-1/8″ thick, we can screw from the underside of the nosing into the casing. The rest of the pvc trim is Azek brand.

Make sure not to use so much glue that it oozes out.

 

 

 

 

 

This pvc glue also fits nicely into a carpenter’s tool pouch when on a ladder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the solvent we use for cleaning off any excess glue. Clean it quickly because the glue will “melt” into the face of the trim after a few moments. This is also the cleaner we use for wiping down the trim after final installation, cleaning our dirty paw prints off of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Window sill and bottom of casings.

 

 

 

 

 

Predrilling the pockets.

For screwing the tops of the casings together, we rely on what’s called a “Kreg” brand pocket screwing kit from the back side of the casings. We first drill the pocket holes for the screws on the back of the side casings. Next, we make sure we’re using the right trims in the right spots, that’s why we mark such as “TR” to mean Top Right corner of the window. Now start the screws into their pocket holes before applying glue. Glue it up, and then use the special clamp and a backer block to protect the face of the trim during clamping. Screw it together and that one’s done!

We now have a pre-assembled window trim package ready to install.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, we must prep the face of the window jambs and sill nose before applying the new trim. We use Lexel brand adhesive caulk exclusively for anything that has to hold up to the elements. It has tremendous adhesion, uv resistance, and flexibility. The flexibility is key. You don’t want to use an epoxy paste or

Notice we don’t pre-paint the sill. We want the adhesive and the new trim to bond to solid wood, not to a layer of paint or primer.

anything that won’t move and expand and contract with the movement of the vinyl and wood components. We apply this liberally to the sill nose and bottom portion of the jambs.

 

 

By making sure that there is total caulking squeeze out along the entire seam, we can ensure that the joint will keep water out.

It’s time to install the trim. We use screws for greater holding power to stay bonded tight to the wood. The screws we use are made for pvc trim. They use a special driver to recess the screws into the face of the trim. Then you gently tap a matching pvc plug into the hole, and the hole has vanished! We clean up all the excess caulking using mineral spirits and a clean rag. Remember not to leave solvent soaked rags bunched up

These are the plugs.

in the sun or high heat (like an attic during the summer). The rags will spontaneously combust. Instead, drape the wet rags to dry immediately after use.

Wait, where did the plugs go?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the final product.

Once all the plugs are in, we wipe down the trim with the Goof Off, and then install the storm window and it’s complete. The total time for this project (an easy first story window) is under 3 hours. The total cost for this window was around $200. In this case, the critical joint between the new sill nose and the existing sill is hidden from the majority of the elements behind the storm window. If there is no storm window, I recommend checking the integrity of this joint and re-caulking if necessary every few years, just to err on the side of caution. I warranty this project for ten years, but you can expect it to last much longer.

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

 

 

 

An Innovative Custom Interior Carpentry Project…With Video

I am one seriously fortunate guy. Throughout the course of my career, I’ve had the honor of working on some amazing projects. They have ranged the whole spectrum from building custom homes and additions, to jacking an old farm house, to a curved third story deck, to installing an entire showroom worth of high end kitchens and baths, and everything in between. These have all been tremendously rewarding.

But I have to say, the project pictured here, completed several years ago, has been the most fun to date. This is the vision of the homeowner, also a very accomplished woodworker. I got the call from a relative to meet with him to see about helping him clear a hurdle. He had this magnificent vision, and had built and installed the 2 corner cabinets, and hit a bit of a wall. He knew that he wanted to connect the 2 at the top with a soffit and crown molding, connect the 2 at the bottom with a built-in window seat, and the coolest part of all, cut a hole in the floor to allow for a remote controlled telescopic television stand to rise out of the bench seat. He just needed an ounce of additional help to complete this. Count me in! The main reason for wanting the TV to rise out of the window seat- other than the obvious cool factor- was so that the view of the river through the 2 windows behind it would not be obstructed permanently.

We started by formulating a joint game plan to finish the corner cabinets and then move towards tackling the other objectives on the way to reaching the big goal: Hitting that remote button and seeing the flat screen ascend in all it’s glory.

We built the face frames for the cabinets, and he had astutely pre-planned to have the bottom exposed shelf and subsequent nosing line up perfectly with the window sill nosing to tie everything together at that level. It’s funny, he calls himself “Just Ye Olde Homeowner,” but foresight like this makes it crystal clear that he knows exactly what he is doing. We then cut the hole in the floor after planning the particulars of the seat. Of course we had to do some minor re-framing in the basement, but no big deal. We made some raised panels and raised panel doors, and then built the seat to connect the two cabinets.

The last step was to wait until the cabinets and all of the layers of trim had been painted and cleaned up, before installing the hardware.  We were like a couple of little kids waiting ’til mom and dad got their cups of coffee before we could rocket down the stairs to see if Santa came. Finally, the day came. And what a memorable day it was. We had BOTH gotten Red Rider BB guns!!! The only caveat: He gets to keep his Red Rider, while mine simply morphed into a memory and a goal. I think the greatest part, though, is listening to him explain how this project has changed the way they use the home. It seems that the library has lost it’s use as a media center and now serves as a cozy retreat to read by the fire. How can you beat that?

 

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

 

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

 

The Most Common Roof Error I See

Photo #1- This home in Portsmouth features an outside corner to the immediate left of the trash barrel that is exactly the scenario most likely to be done wrong. The inside corner that’s just a touch up the roofline is also a common culprit.

Photo #2- If you click on this image to enlarge it, you will see there is a gap between the copper step flashing going up the roof line and the horizontal copper apron flashing.

You may have learned by now that I’ve never been known for brevity. This blog post, however, should buck that trend a little bit. Why? Simple, because this common error is very easy to identify and resolve. So easy, in fact, that it doesn’t make much sense why these things are almost never done properly in the first place.

The scenario is this: Any time an out side wall corner or an inside wall corner comes down to intersect with a roof plane, assume it’s not flashed properly. Now, this does not mean that it leaks, necessarily. It may not leak due to a proper insurance layer of ice and water shield underneath the shingles. Conversely, the lack of water signs inside the corresponding portion of the home does not mean that it is not leaking. Wood, especially real wood as opposed to “particle board”, has the ability to absorb water, and then dry out. This can happen over and over again, as long as it can dry out. Or, The initial plywood and framing components that are coming in contact with the water that is infiltrating are sometimes not able to properly dry out, and thus rot. The components that lay below these “first absorbers” will get wet, but not necessarily beyond their saturation point. If the lower levels of wood are absorbing the water without exceeding their saturation point, the water may never make it to the drywall layer to display to the homeowner that damage is being done. This explains how a home can be taking on water without showing signs of it on the drywall, for instance.

Photo #3- Just a simple piece of lead flashing to transition between the planes.

What is the error at these corner/roof intersections that is causing these problems? Well, the lack of incorporating nice, wonderful, beautiful, malleable lead flashing into the mix. Am I in love with lead? Maybe just a trifle, but hey, what’s not to love? Standard aluminum step flashing runs up the abutting cheek wall that the roof shingles butt into. And aluminum can sometimes also be used to flash the siding down over the roofing at those wall planes that run parallel with the shingles. But what aluminum cannot ever do is to turn that corner seamlessly. Lead, however, has the ability to hit all these multiple planes seamlessly. Mmmmmmmmm.

Photo #4- This is a home in Hampton. Look how easy this stuff is to spot, yet home inspectors rarely pick up on it, even though this home has stained drywall in the garage underneath.

Photo #5- See the close-up of the hole there. Simple to identify a lack of lead.

It’s comical the things that I sometimes see. I will pull apart these layers to correct and end up seeing layer after layer after layer after layer of aluminum flashing. Each one torn right at the crux of the corner, every time. So, the predecessor’s solution for recognizing that the flashing was tearing: Keep throwing more layers at it. Awesome.

These are flaws that are easy to identify, simple to fix yourself if you’re comfortable on a roof, or inexpensive (unless there is widespread rot) to hire a professional to solve. It may only cost $200- $300 to un-weave some shingles, remove a corner board, install some lead flashing, install a new corner board, and weave the shingles back in. The most difficult challenge you may face might be finding the professional that knows how and when to incorporate lead flashing. Here’s a catchy little reminder when vetting a repair contractor: Find someone with a passion for flashin’. No. I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon.

I must leave you with one last tidbit of information. I mentioned that aluminum can usually be a good flashing choice for the planes that don’t need to wrap around a corner. When it’s not a suitable choice is when there is copper in the vicinity. Copper is ranked higher on the Galvanic Scale of Nobility and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, copper and water runoff from copper interact with aluminum and cause the aluminum to rot right out. That’s also why aluminum is no longer acceptable to use as a deck flashing, because pressure treated lumber is treated with copper. Now you’re prepared to go tackle this one, safely of course.

 

 

By John Bradshaw