The City Point Craftsman: episodes 1-4
The On-going Restoration/Rehabilitation of the 1871 Lane-Hubbard House, 84 Second St., City Point
Episode 4: Trompe-l’oeil Porch & replacing more house sill
Episode 3: Finishing the Exterior Paint & Restoration (almost)
(Summer/fall 2009, 2010)
Episode 2 (in 2 parts): Restoring/rehabbing the 1871 chimney
(summer & fall of 2010)
Episode 1: CONTENTS
What will & will not be covered
Definitions: rehab, restore, preserve, reconstruct
The antique window, antique door controversy
Some exterior repair & paint prep techniques used thus far [with numerous photo illustrations]
[Before reading on, you can click this link to learn a bit of this house’s history: http://www.webjam.com/1871_lanehubbard_house_84_second_st_city_point ]
Chapter 1: What will & will not be covered
Because of the plethora of do-it-yourself [DIY] TV programs, books, websites, etc., it’s not my intention to duplicate what you already can find elsewhere. So I’ll try to limit my descriptions to specific techniques used on this particular house. Occasionally I’ll discuss a topic on techniques covered elsewhere, but give my very opinionated take on it. At other times I’ll explain my own peculiar way of doing something, simply based on my experience [or lack thereof!] or trial and error [LOTS of error…]. My hope is that you’ll find enough here that’s unique, to make what follows worthwhile. Even if you’re not insane enough to want to tackle this sort of work yourself, being knowledgeable about proper techniques will help you determine if a hired painter or carpenter is actually doing what he or she should be doing.
This is basically about historic restoration work. It’s not meant to be judgmental re. those who prefer to modernize old houses. Rather, the intention is to be a resource and inspiration for those who have an interest in traditional [albeit very labor-intensive!] house restoration. Obviously my personal preference would be that City Point rival Mystic Seaport or Old Sturbridge Village in retaining the original look of its many 19th century homes. But I also realize that most homeowners need to choose the least expensive option when maintaining a house. Also, given the fact that the majority of houses in New Haven–City Point included–are owned by absentee “investors”, rental profit is the bottom line. Rents need to cover at least the mortgage, and then some. [Been there, done that…]
But for those of you who have an interest in the traditional home construction and maintenance crafts, I hope you will enjoy this series on The City Point Craftsmantm.
Chapter 2: Definitions–preservation, rehabilitation [“rehab”], restoration, reconstruction
Just so we’re using terms consistently, let’s look at the National Park Service’s definitions. Click the following link and scroll down the page:
Consistently and strictly applied, one generally only encounters a true “restoration” in museum houses. And even here, some rehabilitation/modernization usually takes place, e.g. with the “mechanicals”: plumbing, electrical, heating.
As you will see below, the work on the Lane-Hubbard House has involved lots of restoration, some rehabilitation, a little “imaginative” reconstruction and some alterations. This is not a museum house, but a private home. So, for example, we did install modern bathrooms & a modern kitchen [but without making noticeable exterior alterations], and to accomodate 20th-21st century usage some interior partitions were altered [albeit in such a way that most people can’t tell]. In addition, the “mechanicals” were almost completely replaced 20+ years ago [which means they’re rapidly approaching “antique” status!]. I also try little-by-little to keep up with modern code improvements [even though legally this is not required unless you’re doing major renovations or putting on an addition, etc.]. E.g., in my spare time I occasionally replace one of the circuit breakers installed in the 1980s with a state-of-the-art “arc-fault-interrupter” breaker: not the sort of thing you’d notice if you were to drive by or pay me a visit!
In future episodes of this series, I’ll cover some interior issues, but this episode will focus exclusively on the on-going exterior work. As you will see, the emphasis here will be on the restoration work.
Chapter 3: Whose standards?
Click the following link for a detailed explanation of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards [often referred to by preservationists simply as “The Standards”]:
Click this link to see examples of the Standards properly applied [“Yes”], and the Standards not followed [“No”]:
[Lots of other useful information on that website, by the way. Also be sure to check out the “Historic Restoration in City Point” page on this website: scroll down to “Resources”.]
Needless to say, it’s impossible to produce consistent guidelines that apply in all situations. Also, there’s an element of personal taste and judgement which inevitably comes into play. [E.g., some of the examples given above under “Yes” I personally think were not appropriate, particularly what I consider to be their rather bizarre examples of “discreet” skylights.]
Now, closer to home, let’s look at the regulations of Historic Districts in NewHaven. Click the following link:
In the left column, click “Article VI. OTHER DISTRICTS”, then scroll down to “Section 54. Historic District.”
[This page of www.cityofnewhaven.com frequently is offline, so if you can’t connect, try again later. It’s in the City Plan Dept.’s zoning regulations section.]
Since the city zoning regulations in section 54 only regulate what can be seen from the street, theoretically one could have an “historic” neighborhood that’s little more than a movie set: pretty facades, with who-knows-what behind. Then there’s the contentious issue of enforcement. Since the city doesn’t send out an inspector to actively search for violations of historic district regulations, enforcement requires that residents report violations. If you don’t like the guy next door because his dog keeps you awake at night, then you’re likely to pounce on the opportunity to report his slightest violation. On the other hand, if you have an amicable relationship with your neighbors–and want to keep it that way–you’ll be more inclined to quietly look the other way when those not-very-historic-looking vinyl windows suddenly appear next door. And the “replace like with like” principle doesn’t touch issues such as historical paint colors–even though opponents of historic districts often claim [erroneously] that they’ll be subject to “the good-taste police”. [I once recall reading about a woman who didn’t like the fact that her neighborhood had been made an historic district, so in protest she painted a mural of Bozo the Clown on the side of her house: perfectly legal, at least in that particular district.] Another problem with New Haven’s ordinance is that the emphasis is on preserving the status quo, rather than providing incentives to reverse nonhistoric-looking alterations made to buildings over the years. Thus, if a house had asbestos or vinyl siding on it before the area became an historic district, it’s likely to stay that way indefinitely. Another weakness with the ordinance is that it does not deal with the problem of “demolition by neglect”. Where land values are high, if an historic structure impedes a developer’s plans for the site, often he’ll simply let the building slowly fall apart until the town building inspector orders it demolished for safety reasons. Absentee landlords who wish to maximize rental profits likewise can tend to defer maintenance. Finally, there’s the average homeowner who simply can’t afford to maintain their house. A quick stroll around the historic district portion of City Point [i.e. the portion of City Point South of I-95] will reveal that historic district status doesn’t effectively address any of these issues.
Which brings us to the Lane-Hubbard House: what standards are being applied here? In a word–MINE! I lean towards the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, but when I do make an alteration I try to make it difficult to notice. [This is in contrast to current thinking among preservationists that alterations or additions should harmonize with the original, but be noticeably distinct from it. Examples of this approach include the additions on the right side of the Ives Memorial Library & on the left side of City Hall, both facing the Green.] In choosing the exterior paint colors, I tried to match the original “body” color [i.e. main color on clapboard siding], but then turned to historic examples of other homes of the same style & period when I deliberately departed from the original paint scheme of my house for the trim and exterior doors. [I also pushed the boundaries a bit, modeling the paint scheme of larger “Italianate” homes, acknowledging that a simple “Italianate vernacular” home like this would have had a simpler paint scheme: I felt that the neighborhood could use a bit of extra sparkle to give it a much-needed psychological boost.] Both inside & out, I’ve always tried to salvage the original “fabric” of the house: woodwork, plaster, hardware, lighting, etc., only replacing what was simply beyond repair. When adding decorative elements to the interior that are not original [e.g. wallpaper, light fixtures, some trim work] I tried to stick with reproductions from the approximate period of the house’s construction or, in the case of lighting, the period of the surviving light fixtures dating from its initial “electrification”.
This house is not in the historic district portion of City Point, so those regulations are not applicable. Nevertheless, I actually go well beyond what that ordinance requires, since my historic-oriented approach applies throughout–not just what you see from the street. Part of my motivation is that I love old things [hence the “history” emphasis on this website–although that’s also largely fueled by the fact that those are the parts of this website that receive the most comments and reader contributions]. I’m also motivated by the fact that simple “vernacular” houses like this are a rapidly vanishing species. So much emphasis and funding goes towards preserving “landmark” buildings and former mansions of the well-to-do, that simple “worker’s” homes like this are routinely demolished or altered beyond recognition, and few people seem to notice or care [or even know that the house that just disappeared was over a century old]. Thus my sense of “historical stewardship” compels me to try and preserve at least this one example of a small City Point 19th century vernacular.
So if this seems like a rather eclectic and unique approach towards working on this house, it’s because it probably is!
Chapter 4: The antique Window, antique Door controversy
First, some important links which examine this issue in detail:
Believe it or not, the windows of the Lane-Hubbard House were a source of personal anxiety for 20 years. As explained above, my approach is to retain original elements whenever possible. However, because the bottom sash of each window had been mutilated back in the 1920s [see explanation under first photo above], restoring them would have required careful disassembly, stripping off the paint, installation of new mullions, reassembly. Because the upper sash still had their original “wavy” 19th c. glass, the rebuilt lower sash would not have matched unless I purchased “reproduction” glass. Finally, I would have had to purchase nonuser-friendly interior storms, since standard exterior storm windows would have obscured all of the expensive work mentioned above, making it rather pointless. And, contrary to studies found on the above links or elsewhere on that site, my personal experience was that thermal replacement sash cut our heating bill in HALF. Also, most sites promoting preservation of original sash omit mention of the fact that opening and closing old windows is a primary source of lead dust infiltration in old homes. Finally, because the Lane-Hubbard House is not in a historic district, nor does it have a “restrictive easement” [aka “restrictive covenant”] on the deed [limiting what exterior alterations a future owner may make], after all that expensive sash restoration there would be nothing to prevent a future owner from installing inexpensive white vinyl windows: hardly a good match for what’s being done to the rest of the house’s exterior.
So the final choice was a compromise: wood thermal replacement sash [not replacement windows] with vinyl jamb liners. The sash have what manufacturers refer to as “real divided glass”, which is rather misleading, but distinguishes this type of sash from windows that have a flat fake white grid inserted between the layers of glass. “Real divided glass” in fact is constructed the same way: two large pieces of glass for each sash and, for an extra fee, argon gas inside, low E coating on the outside. However, the “fake mullions” consist of 3 layers: a wood grid on the interior, metal grid between the 2 layers of glass, and a [plastic!] grid on the exterior. From the street, the effect is rather convincing: the appearance of individual panes of glass. The only thing that is missing is the wavy look of antique glass [and, for a significantly higher price, I actually could have had that, as well]. The mullions are 7/8″ wide, which is identical to the original [although the interior wooden grid has a flatter profile that the original].
There also is a distinction between replacement thermal window and replacement thermal sash. Replacement windows come preassembled in a mini frame on all four sides. This is the easiest option to install and the most weather-tight. Replacement thermal sash, on the other hand, require fitting new jamb liners, then installing each sash. Getting them to fit tightly in an antique opening requires innumerable adjustments and shimming. And the end result is rarely sealed quite as tightly as a factory-assembled unit. Nevertheless, the replacement sash option does provide a more traditional look, because the sash will be a bit wider [and therefore more “original” looking] since the sides are resting against a thin liner rather than a new frame, and the bottom sash closes onto the original window sill [rather than on the mini-sill of the preassembled unit]. To make the vinyl jamb liners less noticeable, I painted the exterior [but not interior] portion with the same acrylic paint used on the rest of the exterior window trim. This probably would make the manufacturer cringe, but only the upper sash travels on the jamb liner’s exterior, and we rarely open those. Because these new sash cut our heating bill in half, the additional savings we might have experienced with replacement windows likely would have been negligible.
The end result can be seen in the “After” photos above. [And, at this point, I won’t be offended if you’re saying to yourself “He spent 20 years suffering angst over his windows??? This guy needs to get a life!”]
Needless to say, given my preference for saving original features whenever possible, if the original bottom sash had not been mutilated, I simply would have stripped off the paint, repaired & repainted them as needed, and installed interior storms. [For a rare, beautiful example of restored 19th century windows–without exterior storms hiding them–go take a look at 81 South Water Street. You need to see it up close to appreciate it.]
DOORS are, at least for me, another matter entirely. I simply have not seen a replacement thermal door that does not look like a modern thermal door. Panels invariably are raised [to accomodate the foam insulation inside], and glass inserts are surrounded by a large, unattractive [in my opinion] chunky-looking fake moulding. In-stock models invariably are some variation of a 6-panel Colonial Revival door: hardly a convincing substitute if one seeks to retain the 19th century look. [The version with the “half wagon wheel” window on top has become so ubiquitous that it has attained cliche status.]
So with the doors, my more fanatical approach won out. Ever after [at the time of this writing] 138 years of use and weather exposure, the front door is quite sound. The upper left corner is warped, but this does not affect its function. The new weatherstripping follows this angled portion of the door, so there is no air leakage. A “full-view” storm door provides additional insulation [although it would look more attractive & traditional with no storm: an obvious compromise was made here]. Also, a sheet of unbreakable polycarbonate [Lexan] was screwed to the interior where it’s not noticeable, providing yet another insulating layer as well as burglar deterrence. [Lexan also was installed on the interior of windows.] Of course, there’s no such thing as “burglar-proof“. Yet Lexan is less aesthetically objectionable than window bars, serves the same function–and just as effectively. Perhaps most importantly, it keeps the neighborhood from looking like we’re fearfully hunkering down for an alien invasion: not the sort of message we want to project if we’re all doing what we can to improve the neighborhood. This house’s original “six light over two panel” entrance door, at one time one of the most common “vernacular” entrance doors in New Haven, has become increasingly rare as the vast majority have been replaced with modern thermal doors over the past two decades. Thus I felt it was imperative that this one be preserved.
Chapter 5: Some exterior repair & paint prep techniques used thus far
[photo captions; photos still need to be added]
all 2008. Old paint removed, clapboards that were damaged beyond repair have been replaced.
oops! This is what the Paint Shaver paint removal tool does if it hits a protruding nail head. However these splits can be repaired. Since the wood is very sound here, a repair will be easier than replacing the clapboard.
Because the dryer vent was in the way, this bit of paint will be removed with a heat plate. Note the vertical lines in the old paint: caused by build up of too many layers of paint. Only solution is to strip it.
A closer look. The new clapboards are lighter.
The head of each one of the old iron cut nails needs to be primed with an aklyd stainkilling primer. Otherwise rust will bleed through the acrylic finish paint within months.
Old damaged clapboard removed. Most DIY books, websites, etc. suggest sliding a saw up underneath clapboard above to cut nails holding upper edge of clapboard to be removed. However, I find it more effective to use a nail set to drive these nails [i.e. bottom nails of clapboard above] deep into sheathing behind clapboards. Use a small prybar to gently lift bottom edge of clapboard to be removed, then pry out nails loosened by doing so [being careful to not damage clapboard below; cusion pyrbar with a scrap of wood.] Gently slide out old clapboard. Slide finger under edge of clapboard above to remove any obstructions to installing new clapboard.
If any obstruction prevents sliding new clabpard into place, you need to pull it back out, & locate/remove obstruction. Sometimes if it’s a nail fragment, etc. that’s impossible to remove, you can put a small notch in top edge of new clapboard to get around obstacle. Bottom of such notch must still be well above–& concealed by–bottom edge of clapboard above, to prevent water infiltration.
Water is enemy # 1. Clapboards need to function just like roof shingles: rainwater continually passes downward from one clapboard [or shingle] to next, with enough overlap that the water doesn’t wick back behind clapboards. All old iron nail heads primed with stainkilling primer.
If a clapboard or trim piece only has a few damaged spots, it’s cheaper & less work to repair it with liquid epoxy primer, then epoxy putty. Window trim under shutter hinge hole was split on every window. In addition to repairing this as shown, I also reinforced this by driving a stainless steel finishing screw into edge of trim piece.
After old paint has been removed, all repairs completed, sanding everything smooth & spot priming nails, a tinted alkyld primer is applied, working it well into the wood fibers with a brush. [Can’t do this propery with a sprayer or roller.]
Eave corners on rear of house had completely come apart. Repair required mutiple steps. Starting from the bottom of the corner, each component had to be glued with exterior-grade wood glue [Titebond II], clamped to let glue set, & while clamped exterior deck screws were used to reinforce glued joint. To provide surfaces for clamps to grip, pieces of wood had to be temporarily screwed onto various surfaces, then removed when repair of that segment was completed. You can see one such piece of wood in this photo. Another piece had been screwed to the underside of the eave, so the clamp had 2 surfaces to grip.
The crack in this clapboard is small enough that it’s easier to repair it rather than replace it.
The crack is gently opened & exterior wood glue [Titebond II] applied. Excess is wiped off.
Wood glue must be clamped to set properly. In this case, a hole is first drilled into the bottom edge, taking care that the 2 parts to be glued are perfectly aligned.
A stainless steel ringshank siding nail is then driven into the clapboard edge, clamping the glued pieces together so the glue sets properly. The glue–not the nail–is what ultimately will hold this joint. the pre-drilled hole must be large enough to prevent the nail from splitting the wood, but slightly smaller than the nail shaft so the nail will grip.
After priming—but before applying finish acrylic–all vertical joints and top edges of trim pieces must be caulked. One should NOT caulk bottom edges of clapboards or bottom edge of trim, since these provide “escape routes” for entrapped moisture in wall cavity. Old houses must be able to “breathe” while preventing moisture infiltration. Otherwise, paint will peel. Blemishes visible after priming are puttied with MH Ready Patch.
New handrail block after priming. I milled this on my table saw out of cedar, following the same profile as a wooden window lintel: slight downward slope on top, with small lip on back that slips under clapboard above. Block is fastened securely to stud behind, so new railing will have solid surface on which to be fastened. [Disturbing common practice today is for “licensed contractors” to fasten railing directly to siding, compromising water-repelling “envelope” of house; and who knows whether or not the fasteners securely hit a stud.] When I replaced door trim & examined adjoining clapboards, I could find no evidence that original back porch had a railing.
The topmost piece of trim, just under the edge of the roof, had separated from the roof deck in some places. Before caulking I had to drive 3 1/2″ deck screws through roof into top of moulding to pull it together. Holes in roof were then repaired by sliding a piece of flashing under shingle, then holding it in place with UV-resistant butyl flashing tape [Pella SmartFlash].
applying the primer
More priming & puttying. It’s October, 2008 & I’m getting a bit anxious about the weather. Primer can only be exposed about 2 months max, because it’s not intended to hold up to weather and UV exposure. Temperature must be 50 degrees minimum and surface VERY dry. Any dew must be completely evaporated. [This, by the way, shows how the rear entrance originally looked: no canopy.]
The fun part begins! Applying the acrylic finish coat. Note rubber bumpers added to top of ladders to prevent gouging/denting wood. The plastic tips that are installed on top of ladders by manufacturers are worthless.
he acrylic dries quickly, so it’s important to plan application carefullly. Only do a piece of wood that can be completed in a few minutes. Otherwise, an unsightly overlap mark will result. This is easy to do when working between windows, but for a uninterrupted long stretch above or below windows, I paint only 3 or 4 clapboards at a time, quickly moving the ladder from one corner to the other. When those are finished, I lower the ladder one or 2 rungs, and repeat the process in the oposite direction. I keep a putty knife in my pocket to flick off drips that have fallen on surfaces below, before painting over that spot. Blemishes visible after first coat of acrylic are puttied with DAP Fast ‘N Final Lightweight Spackling.
After priming, all vertical joints are caulked. The large depression in corner board [caused by many years of downspout/leader leakage + lack of ventilation behind same] required additional filling.
To prevent this problem in the future i.e. to provide ventilation space between downspout & corner board, I placed a plastic chair leg floor protector on the corner board. When the downspout is reinstalled, this will provide a 1 inch space, but will not be visible.
Another view of spacer for downspout.
It’s December, and the eave is finished. Fortunately, acrylic paint can be applied when the temperature is in the upper 30s.
An important detail when doing a “period” paint-job: the trim color goes on the edge of the trim piece, not just the face. Notice ventilation space behind downspout.
A reproduction of the original shutter hold-back hardware. [If I live long enough, I’ll install reproductions of the original 19th century “Connecticut Style” shutters.]
The bottom trim [water table] will be painted later. First, I need to demolish this concrete stoop, which was poured right up against the wood, making it impossible for it to remain dry. [Original back porch likely was a simple wood stoop, with no railing. I’ll likely find more clues when concrete is removed and concealed bricks–or what’s left of them–can be examined. Very damaging to use portland-cement based products such as concrete or ready-mix mortar in contact with 19c. brick: topic for future episode.]
I also need to reset these corner bricks before painting the water table. The top course of brick needs to be recessed behind trhe wood, but an inept repair job here left the bricks protruding beyond the wood, trapping moisture under the bottom edge of the water table.
First, some painful history: shortly after purchasing this house in 1986 we hired a carpenter to add two windows to the rear of the house. I then used a heat gun to strip that side–took 2 months!–then repainted. I did everything wrong that one possibly could do wrong: put alkyd primer on wet wood, made NO repairs, etc., etc. Needless to say, it started peeling within months. A couple of years later, after reading numerous books on “how to paint your house”, I stripped the front with a heat plate. This went a little bit faster. And, armed with a bit more knowledge, the result was much more successful. Unfortunately I fell off a ladder from the second floor and broke my arm before finishing that side. It took about 15 years for me to gather the courage to be able to get up on a ladder again. Meanwhile the work I did complete on the front held up fairly well. The only peeling took place at some clapboard ends where they meet the corner boards: I hadn’t caulked that joint [although, if I had followed the proper sequence of tasks, that would have been caulked before I broke my arm]. Thinking I would never get up on a ladder again, we hired a professional painting co. [licensed, insured, BBB member] to do the job several years ago. They showed up one day with a power washer, with which they did extensive damage to the house and left a huge mess of paint chips all over my neighbor’s driveway which they didn’t clean up. So we canceled the contract & I resolved to tackle the job myself. Besides reading yet more books, I now had innumerable internet sites to study [not an option 15 years ago]. Some authors disagree on details, but after much reading, talking to long-time employees at Painters Supply, and even calling the paint manufacturer’s technical department, then making some “informed choices”, what I describe below is how I proceeded.
This is a summary of the sequence of tasks which I personally follow, leading to the final coat of paint:
- Paint failure can be caused by lack of proper prep or lack of proper application. But the primary cause of paint failure is moisture infiltration. So this needs to be dealt with before bothering with any of the steps that follow. Things to take care of before proceeding:
- fix any leaks in roof or flashing;
- be sure gutters & downspouts are cleaned out & working properly;
- be sure attic is ventilated either with i) gable vents [ideally combined with gable fan controlled by humidistat set at 50% + thermostat set at 120 degrees] or ii) roof ridge vent PLUS soffit vents [not an option if you’re going for a traditional look]. Do NOT combine elements of these 2 systems, e.g. don’t add a roof ridge vent + gable vents: this will pull humid air up from each end of attic but will prevent air from flowing across attic, which is your ultimate goal: this is what keeps moisture from condensing on attic insulation and framing; to maintain a traditional look, it’s often possible to convert attic windows into gable vents by simply replacing glass with insect screening & hardward cloth, stapled to the back side of sash [see photos above];
- do not insulate eaves nor block cold air [e.g. with insulation] from entering eave overhanging sides of house: otherwise ice dams will develop, slowly wrecking roof and causing moisture to enter exterior walls;
- install vent fans in bathrooms and at kitchen stove–and use them; [I recently replaced fan wall switches in bathrooms with digital timer switches: fan is turned on at start of shower and continues to run for a set period after leaving bathroom–ideally until humidity in bathroom drops below 50%.];
- if you have a clothes dryer, vent it to the outdoors;
- fix moisture problems in basement and run a dehumidifier in basement during warm weather–set it to go on when humidity reaches 50%: this prevents moisture from condensing on cool surfaces, [e.g. foundation, pipes] and will keep moisture from migrating into exterior walls. [Your basement also will smell better: no mold/mildew];
- if running humidifiers in Winter to prevent uncomfortably dry air, keep humidity between 30% and 50%–no higher, or moisture will condense on cooler exterior walls, despite insulation. [I keep digital hygrometers throughout the house to monitor humidity level, especialy in Winter];
- when redecorating, paint all interior walls & ceilings with vapor-barrier paint [e.g. LTX Vapor-Barrier Primer], to prevent moisture migration into wall cavity. It’s particularly important to do this if you have “blown-in” insulation in walls: otherwise it will slowly absorb moisture. [Of course, all this fussing about moisture migration and ventilation wasn’t an issue when this house was built back in 1871, because it had no indoor plumbing–therefore no showers–and no insulation to slowly become saturated with moisture. Also the absence of weatherstripping, storm windows & caulk provided significant, continuous “air exchange” with outdoor air: i.e. it was drafty. It’s the addition of modern plumbing fixtures, as well as insulation & sealing of air leaks that makes indoor moisture control critical, particularly in an antique house–regardless of whether it’s painted or vinyl sided. Modern homes partially control this problem by havng “house wrap” (e.g. Tyvek) stapled over the sheathing, but under the siding. This product prevents air and moisture infiltration from the exterior, but allows moisture in wall cavities to slowly migrate outside. Of course, the latter function is negated when the builder staples thin foamboard panels over it before installing siding, a practice I’ve witnessed countless times: further proof that just because someone is a “licensed contractor” doesn’t mean they actually know what they’re doing. In an antique house, properly caulked & maintained clapboards prevent water infiltration–but not all air infiltration–and the tiny space below each clapboard allows trapped moisture to slowly escape without taking the paint with it. To prevent cold air from entering the living space of an antique house, one must caulk gaps in interior trim along outside-facing walls, e.g. where baseboard & floor meet.] Now we’re ready for step 2:
- Strip off old paint using a Paint Shaver Pro. [I only had to use this on the left and right sides, since the front & back had been heat stripped years ago. If existing paint is sound this step can be omitted.] You can see a video of this machine in use at www.paintshaver.com I do NOT recommend their HEPA vacuum: it’s overpriced and ineffective. When mine died, I replaced it with a Ridgid wet/dry vac, sold [with a lifetime warranty] at Home Depot, for $70. The HEPA filter cost an additional $30. It’s a much quieter, better quality machine. However, the vacuum hose needed to reach the highest point of the house down to the vac is sold in custom lengths by Paint Shaver, and is compatible with the Ridgid vac. The Paint Shaver is rather heavy, so to prevent the extra downward pull of the vacuum hose, I used duct tape to fasten the hose to the top of my ladder, leaving enough slack to move the tool. Needless to say, safety goggles, respirator & leather gloves are mandatory. I also keep a hammer & nailset handy, to remove or drive in any protruding nails as I go, because if the Paint Shaver catches a nail head, the clapboard will split. I also wear a Band-it on each forearm to prevent or relieve “tennis elbow”/”golf elbow”, i.e. tendonitis of the forearm flexor/extensor.
- I use a heat plate or heat gun and scraper to strip anything that the Paint Shaver can’t reach: ends of clapboards, mouldings, etc. The heatplate is safer & preferred, since it doesn’t blow heated air into wall cavities. However, for some things, such as mouldings, the gun is easier because you can focus the heat better. When using these, the garden hose is ON and at the base of the ladder before I begin. [And yes, I’ve had to use it to put out glowing, smoldering wood a few times.] When I finish using these tools, I hose the area down, just to make sure nothing is smoldering, particularly in any crevices near where I was using the heat stripper, and I check the area repeatedly for an hour or 2 before packing up for the day.
- Now I can see what needs to be repaired or replaced. I’ve finished 3 sides of the house so far, but only had to replace wood on the rear, South-facing side. After 138 years of daily UV exposure, much of the wood fibers had broken down, causing many of the clapboards to be split beyond repair. When we hired a carpenter 23 years ago to install 2 new windows on the rear side, he used 5/4 pine, rather than cedar, for the trim. This began to deteriorate shortly after installation. The carpenter also said that nothing could be done about the fact that the sills of the new windows were about 1 inch thinner than the originals. [What he really meant was that there was nothing that he could do about it.] So I replaced numerous clapboards, the pine trim of the “new” windows & their sills, and the side trim of the back door. I purchased the clapboards from West Haven Lumber, because they allow you to pick out the pieces you need, and stock a variety of lengths. [Home Depot & Lowes only sell them in bundles, and only 1 or 2 lengths.] I also special-ordered the 5/4 cedar [clear i.e. no knots, planed both sides for correct thickness] from West Haven Lumber. [They couldn’t remember who their supplier was, which delayed the order a day or 2. So if you ever need to order 5/4 cedar, tell them their supplier is Coastal Forest Products.] The original trim is 5/4 [actual thickness = 1″] X 3 3/4. A modern 5/4 X 4 is only 3 1/2 wide, so I had to order 5/4 X 6 and rip it down on my table saw to 3 3/4. [Most people wouldn’t have noticed the missing 1/4 inch–but I would.]
- Next I repair what is damaged but salvageable. One of the photos above illustrates repairing a split, using exterior wood glue. I also use Abatron Liquid Wood, followed by WoodEpox [http://www.abatron.com] for rebuilding large gouges or replacing a small missing piece. [This step must be preceded by several rain-free days: wood must be very dry before using epoxy products.] On the West side of the house, a 3-foot section of the eave moulding was missing, so I removed a piece and made a mold of it, using a kit purchased from a craft store [Michael’s or A.C.Moore]. I made a couple of resin casts, then installed them with deck screws [first cutting a required miter into one piece that would be installed at the rear corner]. Unlike wood, resin won’t “give” at all, so the pre-drilled screw holes had to be slightly larger than the screw shaft, & a hole to countersink the screw head predrilled as well. [Of course, you can barely see this moulding, because it’s hidden behind modern aluminum gutters. Re-creating the original “Yankee” gutters–albeit with more durable materials that the originals–is on my eventual “to do” list.]
- I then switch to the Paint Shaver’s sanding attachment, using the # 50 grit sanding disks on the most weathered wood, # 80 elsewhere. [Although I didn’t need to strip the back, I did use this sanding attachment on the back of the house.] When this task is done, the 138 year-old clapboards look like new.
- Final sanding is done with a quarter-sheet finish sander. [This was the only prep that had to be done on the previously-painted front.] This gets rid of most of the circular marks left from the Paint Shaver disk sander and smoothes out the epoxy repairs. I use a fine grade of sandpaper to go over any new wood, to remove the “mill glaze” which would prevent primer from penetrating completely.
- If there is still any wood that is gray from weathering [e.g. slightly cupped clapboards that can’t be sanded completely], I brush on a mixture of 50% boiled linseed oil + 50% paint thinner. I also brush this mixture onto any exposed end-grain wood, e.g. where clapboard and trim meet. I brush it on until the wood stops absorbing it. There must be several rain-free days before doing this step: wood must be very dry. This pre-treatment of potential trouble spots helps the primer adhere better: wood end-grain & gray wood is highly absorbent, so saturating it with this mixture prevents moisture absorption, which would affect primer adhesion. [You don’t want to put this mixture on the whole house, because it will just sit on the surface of wood that is neither weathered nor end-grain.]
- Each time I perform the preceding steps, I press on the clapboards at the studs [i.e. where the vertical row of nails can be seen] with my hand before moving the ladder to the next stop, checking for loose spots or popped nails. I keep handy a drill, hammer, 2 1/2″ stainless steel rink shank siding nails, nailset. If I find a loose spot, I predrill a hole about 1″ above the original nail, using a bit slightly smaller than the new nail’s shaft, then drive in the new nail. Usually this will cause the old iron nail to pop out more, so I gently pry it out, resting the top of the hammer on a scrap of wood so I don’t dent the wood when using the claw to pry out the old nail. [If you don’t pre-drill all nail or screw holes, the wood likely will split: not worth taking the chance.] On rare occasion, the new nail simply will not “catch” the stud. In this case I use a stainless steel finish screw, which attaches the clapboard to the sheathing, rather than to the stud.
- The last prep step is to hose off all sanding dust with a garden hose–NOT a power washer. The latter will drive moisture deep into the wood pores and even behind the clapboards, and can actually gouge the wood. After using the garden hose, I wait at least several days for everything to dry completely. At this point I become a weather-junkie: I check the weather forecast on 4 different internet sites to make sure there is absolutely no chance of rain, before proceeding. I also make sure any dew has evaporated before proceeding: I feel the wood with my hand & check metal or plastic surfaces on that same side of the house, e.g. my car, the electric meter, the grill, the garbage can.
- Finally I’m ready to prime! First I use a stain-killing primer on the head of each iron nail. Otherwise, rust stains will bleed through the finish paint. This also is used on any knots [although there are very few on this house]. I used Zinnser Cover Stain, Interior/Exterior, Oil Base [or, more correctly, alkyd base. Linseed Oil based house paint has not been manufactured for many years, but people still use the term “oil-based” to refer to alkyd paint, since both use paint thinner rather than water as a solvent.] Zinnser also makes a shellac-based version, but personally I only would use that for bleed-through on a previously painted surface, not bare wood.
- When the stain-killer is dry, I then prime everything using Benjamin Moore Fresh Start Exterior Alkyd Penetrating Primer. [This is their top-of-the-line primer.] I apply it with a brush, and vigorously work it into the wood grain, as well as into gaps such as where clapboards and trim meet. Other application methods [sprayer, roller, pad, etc.] simply cannot accomplish this as well, so after all the preceding work, now is not the time to wimp out. The primer is tinted to the finish colors, but still will be quite a bit lighter than the finish color. It’s not necessary to be exactly precise about where each tint of primer goes: i.e. it’s OK if some of the trim-tinted primer overlaps onto the clapboards & visa versa. Coverage must be complete, but not so thick that the surface dries long before what’s below, which will result in blisters. The South side is particularly vulnerable to this because of the steady sunlight. [Blisters also will form if the wood was not dry enough.] Before starting with a new can of paint, I remix it with a paint mixing paddle attached to an electric drill. I also take a hammer & nail and punch several holes in the indentation into which the can lid fits, so any paint that gathers here will drain back into the can. I open cans with a paint can opener–not a screwdriver–so edge of can won’t get bent. I reinstall lid with a rubber mallet for same reason. When finished for the day, I use a Paint Saver lid that fits directly on the surface of the paint inside the can: otherwise alkyd will skin over in a few hours even when the paint can lid is on. I use cloth–not plastic–drop cloths. Plastic is dangerously slippery and will fry plants beneath it if sunlight hits it.
- Despite what the can says, this primer needs 48 hours to dry. Then all vertical joints, as well as the top joint of all trim, must be caulked. [Caulking is done AFTER priming, but BEFORE applying finish paint.] I use DAP Premium Elastomeric Latex Sealant, which has a 50 year warranty. [But clear version is not recommended: it has a high shrinkage rate.] It’s essentially the same thing as elastomeric paint [e.g. StopPainting4Ever Spray-On Siding or Finalcoatexteriors]. I’m not yet comfortable with the idea of covering the whole house with a thick layer of this stuff, because I don’t know what the long-term effects are. E.g., will it trap moisture behind the clapboards, eventually leading to rot? [This, incidentally, is the very long-term effect of aluminum & vinyl siding, confirmed by various studies.] But caulk should NOT be able to “breathe”, so this stuff is perfect for keeping moisture out of vertical openings. I have a sponge & pail of water hanging on the ladder. As soon as I caulk a section, I smooth it with the damp sponge & rinse the sponge in the pail. The bottom edge of clapboards and trim is NOT caulked. This allows any trapped moisture to escape without pushing the paint off with it, yet keeps rain out. [On the South side of the house it also gives harmless, beneficial lady bugs a place to spend the Winter.]
- Nail holes, gouges, etc. are puttied using MH Ready Patch [= alkyd based].
- Now I’m an artist! The finish paint! I use Benjamin Moore Moorglo Soft Gloss 100% Acrylic, with life-time warranty. [This more closely mimics the gloss of traditional oil paint, than does a satin or flat finish paint. A modern practice often recommended by paint dealers is gloss on trim, flat on body, but this does not produce an historical look.] Body [clapboard] color: HC [=”Historic Color”] 97 Hancock Gray [which actually is a shade of olive green & approximates the original color]; Trim: HC-23 Yorkshire Tan; Red accent: 09626 Classic Burgundy. The green on the porch floor and doors was custom matched to the replacement sash, using Benjamin Moore Porch & Floor Urethane Reinforced Alkyd Enamel. [This floor paint needs to be mixed with Japan drier, following directions on Japan drier can: otherwise it takes forever to dry.] All of the cans of one color of finish paint that will be used on one side of the house are first mixed together in a 5 gallon pail with a disposable liner, using a paint mixing paddle attached to an electric drill, to avoid the slightest tint variation between cans, then poured back into the original cans. [Don’t need to worry about this with the primer.] Acrylic dries quickly, particularly on the South side, so to prevent overlap marks, I don’t start a piece of wood unless I can finish it quickly. For a long run of clapboards, e.g. between floors, I start at the corner board and only do about 3 at a time as far as I can reach, quickly climb down the ladder, move it over, continue, repeat until I reach the opposite corner. Adjust the ladder down a rung or 2, & repeat in the opposite direction. [Who needs a treadmill when I can get my aerobic exercise this way?] I keep a putty knife in my pocket to flick off any dried drips of primer as I go, to maintain a smooth surface. And EVERY time I move the ladder I bring the paint can down with me. [Forget to do this once, and you’ll never forget again…]
- To avoid dripping onto previously finished surfaces, I first paint just the eave, face rafter and attic window trim [trim color]. The next day: the eave mouldings [body & red color]. The next day(s): all clapboards down to the 2nd floor window sills [body color]. Next day: 2nd floor window trim. Next day: remaining clapboards. Next day: corner boards, first floor window & door trim, water table.
- Any defects that are still visible I then touch up with DAP Fast ‘N Final Lightweight Spackling, then repaint according to this products directions. [IMPORTANT NOTICE: the fact that my entire stock portfolio is invested in the various companies that sell or manufacture the products mentioned above has absolutely nothing to do with my mentioning them. Ha, just kidding. What stock portfolio?..]
…all related to the Lane-Hubbard House, will include
Painting the last side; The new back porch; Repairing/restoring the 19thc. doors; Repairing/restoring the masonry; Chimney restoration & relining; Nineteenth century pine floors: historic treatments; Adapting the house to 21st c. living while preserving historic integrity.
written on 20-Apr-2009
christopher schaefer [editor] says:
Since I’ll soon be commencing work on the final [driveway] side of the house, I thought readers might like to know what I’ve spent so far on paint, cedar clapboards & trim, exterior screws [deck & stainless steel trim], stainless steel nails, epoxy [liquid & putty], mold-making kit & casting resin, sand paper & sanding disks, caulk, pigeon spikes [on edge of back roof], materials for back door canopy & new light fixture:
$2,798.00 I already have the paint for this last side, but need to buy more epoxy putty: c. $100.
I also need to rent a jackhammer to demolish the concrete back porch and build a new, more traditional-looking back porch–more of a stoop, actually. Since that will be a total replacement, I’ll need to follow modern building codes, e.g. regarding railing height, footings, ledger, etc. But I’ll try to create the impression that it’s original. Estimated cost of that project: unknown… Then I need to do something about the deplorable driveway, restore the stone chimney cap & copper flashing, restore the brick foundation, put “Connecticut-style” shutters back on the house, etc. etc. etc. ….]
Will Baker [http://www.institutelibrary.org] says:
My head is going to spin when you and Joe and Alek start talking this weekend. I’m incredibly glad you and the Institute Library have connected.