Reducing maintenance with new siding and windows

Q.  You have written that we should take the cedar shakes off before re-siding. Would it be more insulated if the siding is put over the shakes? As a widow, I would like to eliminate maintenance. I would like to replace the windows also so there is no upkeep. Vinyl or aluminum?

A.  Cedar-shake siding is quite irregular and makes things difficult when trying to apply vinyl siding smoothly. You will get more insulation if the shakes are removed, and 1-inch thick rigid extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation is installed directly over the sheathing.

If your question is whether to have vinyl or aluminum siding put on, the decision is very much up to you and the local market. Vinyl siding represents the bulk of the installations nowadays and, when properly installed by experienced workers, it is a good and long-lasting, maintenance-free siding.

So is aluminum, although it is not as popular as it was decades ago, and you may not find it available in your area. I would urge you to insist on XPS insulation (blue, grey, green or pink) instead of accepting the type of thinner fold-up material some installers will offer you; it is not as effective an insulation, but the dealers like it because it goes up faster.

The windows are also somewhat of a local matter — whichever is most popular in your area: aluminum or vinyl, just make sure that it is a top-quality product. I have worked with clients who had bought lesser-quality vinyl windows, and were beset with cold-air infiltration as the vinyl shrank in cold weather — a tremendous loss of energy. The windows may have looked like they were tight in the store, but they did not perform well once installed.

It is recommended that you get three estimates from reputable contractors, but the most important thing you can do is choose a contractor who has an excellent reputation for quality work, presents you with a clear and detailed contract that stipulates the type of material to be used, a start and finish date, and who follows up quickly on any punch list items (they are almost unavoidable in construction.) Ask for several references of people whose jobs were done recently, one and two years ago (two names for each category), and call them.

Keep in mind that choosing the lowest price is often not the best in the long run.

Do not agree to pay anymore than 10 percent at contract signature with the balance due at satisfactory completion. Anyone who asks you for half or more of the money “to pay for the materials” should arouse your suspicions. Also check with the Better Business Bureau and the consumer protection division of your state’s attorney general to see if there are any unresolved complaints against the contractors you are considering.

Getting best value when replacing siding and roofing

Q.    I am soon having my split-level house re-roofed, while also installing new siding and gutters. The enclosed picture (below) shows my home, which faces South.

904 Ironwood

When the contractor strips off the old (original) aluminum siding, he will be injecting Airkrete into the wall cavities all around the house (also the brick). The lower roof on the right (East) side of the house covers a cathedral ceiling which is over the front living room and a few steps up, to the dining room. The far North side of this lower roof covers the kitchen which has a regular 8-foot ceiling.

The contractor will also be injecting the Airkrete into the cathedral ceiling, and adding additional blown-in insulation above the kitchen. There are two can vents over the kitchen area. Airkrete will also be injected into the walls and ceiling in the attached garage.

On the top roof, you can see the front gable vent, there is also a matching gable vent on the North side of the house. There are also four can vents on top of roof. I have a 1500 cfm. powered attic fan on the East side of the top roof.

Fifteen years ago, I re-insulated the attic using Owens Corning R-25  batts (I think it was called Easy Touch. Has a thin sheathing all around the batt). First layer laid in the floor joists, 2nd layer laid perpendicular over 1st layer.  I also installed soffit vent chutes in all rafters at the soffit area.

For the siding, my contractor will be installing Mastic Structure foam-backed Dutch lap siding over Tyvek housewrap. For the roof, he will be installing GAF Timberline Architectural shingles with 6 feet of ice and snow shield.  The 4-inch gutters will be replaced with 6-inch gutters and downspouts. The wood railing and posts above the garage will be replaced with Azek board material.

I would greatly appreciate your opinion and suggestions to make sure this is being done correctly so I can get the most value for the money I am investing in this major renovation. My location is a Northwest suburb of Chicago. Thank you.

A.    Everything you are having done seems fine. The only comments I would offer are as follows:

  • Power roof vents have serious drawbacks. Unless there is enough net, free ventilation area (NFVA) in the attic itself to satisfy their CFM rating – which is seldom the case – they will draw conditioned air from below. This is a waste of energy both summer (assuming that you have central air-conditioning) and winter.
  • A better approach is to insulate the attic as you did, and make sure that you have adequate passive ventilation by means of continuous soffit and externally-baffled ridge vents. You also must have an uninterrupted air flow between the soffits and the ridge.
  • However, if there are no moisture problems in the attic, it would indicate that the two gable vents are doing the job, in which case there is no need to change anything.
  • Roof can vents are not effective, and it is best to eliminate them in favor of the passive ventilation described above. But, as mentioned above, if you have no problem, don’t change anything.

Otherwise, you are doing fine. I am glad that you are replacing residential gutters and downspouts with commercial ones; it’s a winning combination.

Re-siding a house with either aluminum or vinyl

Q.    My wife and I plan to re-side our 50-year-old house. It currently has wooden shakes and we are considering either aluminum or vinyl siding to remove the need for painting. What type of siding would you recommend?

In your recommendation, could you identify the desired features of the siding and address such concerns as temperature variation, wind, repair and maintenance. How would I avoid damaging either type when an extension ladder is placed against the siding?

Since my wife has seen and likes the shingle-type vinyl siding, I wonder if that pattern also comes in aluminum.

A.    Either aluminum or vinyl is fine. The popularity of each is often regional. Vinyl is better in an industrial area but it can break and crack if struck during freezing temperatures. It expands and contracts less than aluminum with temperature changes. If properly installed, wind should not be a factor with either siding.

You will have more choices of patterns with vinyl than you will with aluminum. And do not lean ladders against either, as it will damage them. You should seriously consider installing 1-inch- thick extruded polystyrene rigid insulation (XPS) under either siding on a smooth sheathing. This is your best chance to increase the R-factor of your walls.

Vinyl siding that looks like cedar shakes

Q.    I have what I hope is a simple question. My wife and I will be re-siding our 15-year-old cape next spring. We wish to use a ” realistic” looking vinyl cedar-shake siding. A year ago I sent for some samples from 3 different companies. We chose Nailite brand siding because it looked closest to the real thing. Do know of any other manufacturer of this type of siding that may be even closer in appearance to natural cedar shakes? Maybe something new to the market?

A.    Nailite siding has had quite a number of problems with color retention. Many claims have been filed with them and the results have not been very satisfactory. Nailite filed for bankruptcy several years ago..

Other popular choices include Cedar Impressions from CertainTeed or Restoration Shapes from Wolverine (which is also a CertainTeed company). But perhaps you have already checked their lines. Whether or not you find these other sidings closer to natural cedar shakes is a personal judgment.

Installing vinyl siding over Masonite

Q.    I’m going to have vinyl windows and vinyl siding installed on my thirty-five-year-old ranch home. The Craneboard siding I’m having installed has nailing slots for attaching to the existing Masonite siding. How important is it to attach the nails to every stud, which are on sixteen-inch centers?

The reason I ask is because although there are many slots in the Craneboard siding, they are not on sixteen-inch centers. It will therefore be impossible to nail each stud in the center of a slot. I’m told that the nailing will still be satisfactory since many nails will go into the existing Masonite siding as well.  The house will be Tyvek-wrapped first.

My second question is whether it is a good idea to use Great Stuff for sealing between the existing Masonite and the foundation before I have the vinyl siding installed?  I’ve found some air leaks and insect entrances into my crawl space and thought it would be good to seal this gap. I’m concerned whether there is any reason to leave this open so that any moisture can exit.

A.    I assume that, by Masonite siding, you are referring to hardboard siding applied over some type of sheathing. To get a better job, it is best to remove the hardboard siding although it is not necessary, unless required by your local building code officials.

However, if the siding has a deep profile, you may need to apply shims under each course in order to obtain a straight installation. The nailing slots are so close to each other that there should not be a problem lining up the siding to hit studs, but if the sheathing is plywood or particle board, not being able to nail into studs should not be a problem.

However, if the sheathing is the soft non-structural fiberboard commonly used decades ago, the installers will have to be sure to hit the studs, or the fiberboard sheathing will need to be covered with ½-inch CDX plywood.
Crane Performance Siding, like all vinyl siding, needs to be installed loosely so it can move with temperature changes. The nails should be placed in the middle of the slots and not driven home for that purpose — a 1/32-inch gap is specified by the manufacturer.

By all means, foam or caulk all cracks between the foundation and the first floor framing; these cracks are not only a source of considerable heat loss but also points of entry for all sorts of wildlife. These cracks are not where moisture should be controlled or vented out. If the crawl space floor is bare dirt, it should be completely covered with 6-mil plastic.

Re-staining a house

Q.    I read your blog and would like some advice on staining my house. I am staining the outside of my house and I don’t know what kind of stain was used. I don’t know if it was oil-base or latex but it is all peeling off. I would like to use latex stain. I am pressure-washing and scraping all the loose stain.

A.    If the stain is peeling, it must be a solid-color stain or paint. Semi-transparent stains penetrate and do not peel. Since you are only removing the peeling coating, you won’t be able to use a semi-transparent stain as it won’t match the existing still on. You can use latex stains over oil-base stains as long as the oil-base stain or paint is not chalking. Run your hand on it to find out; if you get a residue, it’s oil. Power-washing should get rid of any chalking.

If you are removing all of the existing coating, you’re free to choose what you want. Since you have not told me what kind of siding you have, it’s difficult to suggest what is the right stain to use.

Improving insulation in walls while re-siding

Q.    I want to increase the insulating value of our siding on our Cape Cod home. Another feature would be to gain extra sound proofing. Right now, we have regular vinyl siding — but not all continuous lengths.

I am thinking of removing the present siding then covering the house with some of that “pink” material to get added insulating value. Then cover with a heavier vinyl siding with foam backing. In addition to the above, should I add a vapor barrier? Any other suggestions, for example, caulking?

A.    What you plan on doing will definitely accomplish your goals — 1-inch extruded polystyrene (blue or pink) is the best thickness to use, combining efficiency and practicality for the siding installation.

However, you do not want to install a vapor retarder on the cold side of an exterior wall in climates where the heating season is greater than the air-conditioning season (in the deep south, vapor retarders should be installed on the outside – the warmer side – of exterior walls.)
No caulking is necessary; properly installed vinyl siding trim pieces will take care of draining water.

Covering asbestos siding cheaper than removing it

Q.    My wife and I purchased a 2600-square-foot duplex home and just completed four years of indoor restoration. Now it is time for the outside of the home, but we have a problem; we have asbestos shingles (12×18 inches each) on the outside of the home.

We would like to restore the outside of the home now but are unsure of our options. How expensive might it be to eliminate the shingles and replace and/or restore the clapboard siding below? Someone told us that we could use strapping around the house and attach vinyl siding that is high quality and very realistic instead, while leaving the asbestos on the home. Is this possible to save money?

One concern is the windows will look too recessed, so is there a way to add framing to make them less recessed? We are open to options and have even dreamed of going with cedar shingles, two different types of vinyl siding for the first and second floor for architectural effect, or just plain grey vinyl siding.

A.    If you decide to remove the asbestos shingles, it should be done by contractors trained in the removal and disposal of this material according to local laws — an expensive option.

However, the clapboards beneath the asbestos shingles are sure to be full of holes and may even be split or cracked.

You do not have to remove the asbestos shingles. They can be encapsulated by covering them with vinyl siding; this is best done by strapping the walls every 12 to 16 inches.
There is very realistic cedar-looking vinyl siding called Cedar Impressions by CertainTeed. The recessed-look on windows is actually quite attractive and helps conserve energy by protecting the surface air film from the wind. (That may seem confusing but it is too long to explain here.) It all depends on who does the job, how experienced they are and how sensitive they are to aesthetics.