“Mahogany” Window Sill Repair

This is the condition of the pine trim repair after just a few years.

Many of our customers in Rollinsford, Portsmouth, Rye, Newcastle, and Rye Beach, NH, and South Berwick, ME have gorgeous historic homes. Some of these clients are open to the idea of pvc trim replacement for rot prone areas and some would prefer to stick with good old fashioned wood. What’s our official Meticulous position when asked if

The building envelope was well done. My predecessor had used a self adhering and self sealing membrane to keep the water from getting into the house. This is also what the bead of caulking looked like before we screwed the new sill nosing into place.

we prefer to use wood or pvc? Our answer is a resounding “Yes.” We would prefer to use wood or pvc, as opposed to…I don’t know, cardboard.

We can’t escape the understanding that there are many benefits of using pvc to replace rotten exterior trim. We also understand that today’s pine is absolutely NOT an option for longevity. But using pvc trim will never be the same experience, for a carpenter, as working with wood.

This is the profile of the new nosing. The rear notch at the top edge is to account for fitting around a lip on the window unit. The notch on the bottom rear edge is to fit over the siding, properly overlapping. The middle groove on the bottom edge is called a rain drip. This is to create an edge for the water to drip from before traveling further back to the siding.

We recently consulted with a great do it yourself homeowner in historic South Portsmouth, NH. Not long ago, he had replaced window sill nosings on the east face of his home that takes a brutal beating from mother nature, being only a couple dozen yards from the river. The work he did was with pine, unfortunately, so it didn’t take long to rot again. He wanted to stay away from pvc and asked what else we could offer. I suggested the solid but pricey “Mahogany.” I wrap this in quotations because I actually purchased a product called Red Meranti at Selectwood in Portsmouth. The way that I understand it, Red Meranti is not actual Mahogany, although is commonly referred to as Mahogany. Actual Mahogany is increasingly rare due to the strict forestry controls put in place after decades of over-harvesting in South America. Red Meranti hails primarily from Indonesia and Malaysia and is a nice solid, stable, insect and decay resistant choice for a sill nosing application, not to mention dense enough to not absorb tons of water. People often ask about cedar. I stay away from cedar in this application because cedar is a very soft wood and has an open grain structure. In my opinion, cedar readily absorbs water, even though it has the ability to resist rotting better than many species. Red cedar is much easier to work with because it’s lighter and softer and thus doesn’t require pre-drilling, but because sill nosings take a beating, I think Red Meranti’s density and close grain structure make it a superior choice.

Small trim screws through the face for holding power. There IS clear primer on this before installation, and notice the intentional bead of caulking to bond the trim to the bottom edge of the window.

In this instance, we were working on a wall system that was already well waterproofed. All we had to do was focus on doing the carpentry repair in a manner to stand the test of time… and the elements. Once we had test fitted the sill nosings to be splendid, we opted to use a higher-end primer that does a nice job of blocking the tannins from the Meranti from bleeding through the paint down the road. We chose to use a product called Trim Magic by manufacturer XIM. This bonding primer adheres very well and also does a nice job of blocking the tannin bleed. It goes on milky white and dries clear to milky white. The nosings don’t appear to be primed, but certainly are on all edges before installation.

We also tried to do the painter a favor and put a quick coat of white exterior paint inside of the bottom notch before installation makes this very difficult to do.

Today’s breeds of windows don’t really have a sloped window sill or a sill that notches out over the face of the siding underneath. So, even though the building envelope underneath was very well done, we still want to keep the water traveling out over the face of the siding. Because the bottom of the window unit is completely flat, we want to bond the new trim to the bottom edge of the window and stay bonded, so water doesn’t run in behind the nosing. This can’t be done by just a nice tight carpentry fit, so we have to leave a touch of a gap to bond the two with a tri-polymer caulking. Like I’ve said in the past, our favorite caulking is Lexel. By the way, did you know that tri-polymers are self-healing? This is because they stay so permanently flexible and gooey that if a bead of this caulking gets sliced somehow, the two ends will bond back together if they just touch. What’s next, are they going to start making cars that can parallel park themselves, or something?

Yes, we do prefer to do these repairs in wood or pvc. There are lots of pros and cons for each. Sometimes pvc is just a no-brainer; sometimes the pvc doesn’t make any sense. If we’re going to use wood, we just want to think about what species to use for the occasion. Cheery-O!

 

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!

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

 

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

 

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