Restoring and Siding Our Antique Home

This summer we addressed the first of a number of real issues with our house – the siding on the front.

We had lots of problems – worrisome bowing of the exterior, tons of woodpecker holes, dry rot and cold air coming in and out like our walls were a sieve, to name a few. We stripped down the paint on our siding, and discovered that our nearly 300 year old siding on the front of the house couldn’t be salvaged. The front and one side are the only spots on the house where the siding was original. The side of the house we were able to repair and paint because it was in much better condition – it doesn’t get the sun exposure that the front does. You can see what we were dealing with here:

And here:

So, we made the difficult decision to replace what we had to. As we took siding off the front, we discovered that there had been tons of repairs over the years – some better than others! Lots of fiberglass, spliced in wood, modern screws, etc. all mixed in. It made us feel much better about having to replace, since it looked like it had been a long time coming, repaired only in patchwork fashion and that there was a limited amount of truly original material there.

After taking off the boards, we learned a lot of fun, and not so fun, stuff about our antique home (our house was built in 1732).

On the fun side, look at the size of the boards that were under the siding! They don’t make pine like this anymore. We were able to preserve almost all of the original underlayment.

And where we couldn’t preserve it, we were able to replace as-needed, like so:

Also very cool, we saw how builders did things in the 18th century. A layer of pine forms the interior wall, then an entire layer of brick and masonry, then faced with another layer of pine. You can see the bricks under the wood here:

And examples of masonry between boards here:

One of the contractors told me that he sees this all the time, and that a brick layer was put in to protect the house from the arrows and bullets of Native American attackers. I did some research on this and … it sounds like it’s bunk, but kind of enjoyed how this folk tale continues. Much more likely is that it provides at least some fire protection for a wood house, as well as structural stability.

On the not so fun end of things, we learned that a number of the corner boards had separated and needed repair:

And that there was extensive water damage under our bottom windows (in spots this wood was so soft you could dent it with a finger):

And we also learned we had dry rot and that the window frames had pulled away from the house, allowing water to get in behind the siding (which explained the water damage issues under the windows).  You can see how the wood had turned to dust here, and how much air was moving behind our windows, right into the house:

After repairing the dry-rotted boards and reinforcing interior masonry where it had crumbled away, we filled the spaces behind the window and put a layer of felt paper over the pine and under our window frames. Felt paper ‘waterproofs’ the house while allowing it to breathe. We also installed a water table, which looks like this:

The idea is that this lead-covered surround allows water to better flow of the sides off the house, so that it doesn’t get wicked up under the siding, which was a problem before.

Next, the contractors installed primed boards:

Then they did a lot of restoration and repair, especially around the doorframe, which had chipped paint and parts of the dental molding that had rotted away.

And now, the front looks like this!

While it was extremely painful to make the decision to get rid of so many pieces of original siding, once we started taking it off we felt much better. It had been sanded so many times over the years that in places there were outright holes. It had been painted so many times that when paint peeled up it was dropping layers of antique lead paint around our house. And after all those years of repair, unless we fixed it we were incurring real damage to the house. When you own an old place, you know you’re just a caretaker, and your job is to try to make sure it survives and thrives under your ownership. Removing anything original is difficult, but I’m happy to know that we preserved the construction under the siding, and ensured it will last (we hope!) for many years after we’re gone.