Whenever we get ourselves into the throws of summer heat, I'm reminded of the DIY siding project we did some time ago that stands as one of our personal "turning points of DIY." If you're equally as ridiculous as we sometimes are in thinking we can handle home improvement items, you may be familiar with the feeling where you come into a project not entirely sure if or how you might be able to handle the job, but on the backside of the hopefully successful project you come away feeling like you can pretty much tackle anything.

While both Wendy and I had similar but distinct moments of panic during this project, wondering why we had taken on far more than we felt capable of, we resorted to the "put one foot in front of the other" methodology in an attempt to calm our fears when we were ready to lose our minds. This is one of those projects where we truly felt we may have bitten off more than we could chew, but in the end we realized we could really accomplish an awful lot in the realm of home improvement. The key here was to take a pretty significant step outside of our comfort zone and just hope it all turned out okay in the end.

If you remember way back to the period shortly after we moved into our house, we discovered some pretty serious termite damage in the wall between our kitchen and sun porch. This termite damage led to a major effort to remove a wall in the kitchen, and ultimately to completely renovate much of the interior kitchen space. Talk about a giant can of worms opening with a tiny little leak.

The thing with this project is that it wasn't limited to just the interior of the house.

The back room of our house is a wood frame addition from roughly 1900. Through the years it was sided and re-sided several times, ultimately ending with a paperboard/masonite compressed clapboard siding that had a bead detail running along the bottom of each board.

Though the bead detail is meant to look historically accurate, and it's something you see frequently on the "colonial" homes around Old Town, its accuracy is for a period of home much older than ours. Not to mention the fact that the siding is actually from the 1970s or 1980s and is actually just crap and falls apart when you look at it.

While that old siding looked okay before we had a discerning eye for such things (primarily as naive 20-something first time home buyers), after we started to learn more about what was good and not so good about houses, we soon realized our house was pretty much a disaster...including the horrible rotting siding and this weird pass through doorway that leaked like a sieve and held water against the house.

After just a few years in the house the water and rot causing us issues in the kitchen also began affecting our "wood" sided addition and it started to completely fall apart.

The kitchen work progressed inside and took quite a bit of our time throughout that winter. We didn't have the funds to do the exterior work when we were working on the kitchen, nor did we have the manpower to launch a separate parallel effort, so we decided to wait until the summer to start tearing stuff apart outside. We also knew that once we started we'd see the shape things were in and we didn't have the experience, time, tools, or materials to launch right into the work. Instead, we did what every blue blooded 'merican NASCAR fan would do -- we slapped a whole lot of duct tape on the side of our house and called it "good enough for now" for the following six months.

Wendy is unfortunately not really a NASCAR fan, and she sort of hates the fact that I am an enthusiast of the sport. As such, she doesn't inherently believe that duct tape can fix anything and everything, and she also didn't find the brilliant simplicity of my duct tape fix to be a suitable long term solution to our hole filled exterior woes.

Wendy's displeasure as it was, our siding sat with duct tape masking the gaping holes until the summer when we undertook a rather massive exterior project that tested our skills, sanity, and the stability of our marriage.

We kicked off the project by removing the weird doorway structure to reveal some damage that touched me to the absolute core of my DIY being. It was obvious there was some serious shit going on inside of the walls. Almost overnight the siding was deteriorating before our eyes, and in these few minutes of demolition I revealed the true terror of our home that nearly had me rocking in the fetal position in the backyard. Luckily I was able to pull myself together before I fell into a vegetative state in our backyard for the next several months, catatonic at the thought of how we might handle these issues after all we had just endured on the interior of the kitchen.

Some of the damage was surely accelerated when we did the work in our kitchen as chunks of the siding and sheathing literally ripped apart as we had to remove 2x4s and other items from the inside of the house. You can see the expanding foam insulation we installed during our kitchen work coming right through to the outside.

What we thought was just a siding issue turned out to be significant damage that went all of the way into the sub structure's sheathing.

Rather than just patching the already rotted siding with similar crap siding, we felt it most appropriate to just strip all of the old stuff off and replace it with completely new, and more historically accurate siding...all with never having even participated in a siding project anywhere at any other point in our lives. What could go wrong?


Once the first layer of the siding was off we revealed the faux brick asphalt shingle siding that was oh so popular in the 1930s-1950s. Why oh why did people have such bad taste for so long?!?!? And why where they still causing me strife 40 to 50 years later?!?!? AND WHY COULD I SEE THE INSULATION INSIDE OF THE HOUSE NEAR THE BOTTOM OF THE OF THE FAUX BRICK?!?!? WHAT IS THIS HELL HOLE IN WHICH WE WERE LIVING?

I gathered myself together to calm my fragile psyche. I was borderline having a nervous breakdown, and Wendy couldn't see me beginning to break. I knew that if I was bad, Wendy was worse, and it was only a matter of time before I would find her trying to drown herself in our little backyard garden pond we'd so proudly installed just a two years earlier. Prior to our kitchen project and this giant clusterf@#$ of a siding project, that little pond project was our idea of old home DIY. This disaster was presented to test our mettle, to initiate us, to see if we were worthy of owning an old home, or if we were simply old home tourists on our eventual home ownership destination. 

Once I collected myself, I started to formulate a plan that would essentially suck away our entire summer. As I began the massive research effort necessary to begin this project I had a few major items I needed to figure out.

  1. What kind of siding should we use?
  2. What additional tools will we need?
  3. How am I going to do the work all the way at the top of the house?

This process alone took us quite a bit of time. This is another situation where the television shows make it all look oh so easy. The tools are right there on site, the materials roll in on the beds of trucks as they're needed, and there are already complete scaffolding set ups just waiting for the workers to jump on them. Why can't it be so simple in real life? Why must I spend more time researching how to do a project than actually doing the project? And why can't I magically find a lumber mill that will just say "I have about 2000 feet of that siding you're looking for sitting in the back that we'll give to you for about $40." It just isn't fair.

Hold onto your hats, folks, because next week we'll be diving into the several month-long process of how we tackled this nightmare, and can now add "scaffolding" to our list of essential tools. This project ended up testing our DIY prowess in every possible way, and we can't wait to share the good, the bad, and the really ugly siding with you...faux bricks and all. 

Have you ever had some serious water damage that caused you to do a siding project? Like I said, they make it look so simple on TV, but I want to hear real life harrowing tales of this sort of project, not what I see on the tube.

Comments 14


7/19/2013 at 10:15 AM
Buildup. :-)
7/19/2013 at 10:15 AM
7/19/2013 at 4:32 PM
I would have thrown myself from the Key Bridge. Carry on.... :)
We considered this approach. Though the Wilson Bridge is far more convenient and is the one Wendy most typically considers plunging from when sick of our projects.
7/23/2013 at 10:52 AM
Good to know! I'll map it for when I have to drive my Mother up to the German Consulate's office next week.... One of us might be going over.
7/20/2013 at 12:34 AM
Six years ago, my husband and I bought an 1875 farmhouse that is the ugliest house in the best neighborhood in a little town in Pike County, PA. One of its biggest problems is that it is covered in these awful 1930s asphalt shingles. Aside from looking bad and covering up what were once perfectly good wood clapboards, the asphalt shingles act like a sponge and attract water and keep it in, causing the house to stay nearly permanently wet on the outside. Once we figure out the water filtration issues from the stone foundation and dirt floor basement, we'll tackle the siding. Trouble is, my husband wants to do vinyl and I want cedar clapboards or cement siding. Your blog is one of my favorites and I look forward to each new post. I found you guys on a search about restoring rim locks. We have all the original doors and rim locks, which was a major factor in our decision to buy. Keep up the great work!
Just from your brief description, your house sounds awesome. As far as the water through the stone goes, check out this post we did a while back. www.oldtownhome.com/2012/6/7/Ask-OTH-Dusty-and-Dripping-Basement-Walls/ Sounds like some repointing may be in order, and perhaps the installation of a French Drain.

As far as the siding goes, I'd definitely do either wood or composite, but not vinyl. We're purists a bit, so went with wood, but the composite looks good and will significantly reduce long term maintenance.
7/20/2013 at 7:47 AM
The classic sweep the problem under the rug.

I manage the low-income grant program for the DC Historic Preservation Office. We do about five of these re-cladding projects a year. They're the most satisfying because they always uncover festering problems. Whether it's taking off vinyl, aluminum, formstone or asphalt brick we almost always uncover damage caused or hidden by these "miracle" products. Like the time we took the formstone off of asphalt brick off of c. 1900 wood siding to find a giant termite colony happily munching its way through the framing studs and sill plate. The house was only a few years from disaster.

We call these fake sidings Salesmen Specials because they almost never were installed for a good reason. No architect or building professional was involved in installing this junk, just a salesmen convincing a little old lady she would never have to paint her house again.

In our experience, the condition of the original wood siding needs some minor repair and a new paint job. The rot we find is typically the result of the Salesmen Specials trapping moisture in the wall system, usually near leaking/overflowed downspouts.

Can't wait to see the Part II of this story, but I have a good idea where it's heading.
Yes, the Salesmen Special is a 100% accurate description. I can't believe the number of asphalt brick houses that must have been around these parts over the years. It's crazy!

I can't believe how many formstone buildings are still around, and why people haven't all stripped it away! Also, how is it even considered historic? If I ever bought a formstone house, especially one where masonry is being covered, that's the very first thing I'd be removing.
7/21/2013 at 1:18 PM
Posts like this, and the ensuing series, are why I love your blog. I'm just amazed at the amount of work and money you've put in to renovate and restore this old house. And it makes me ever so grateful that my house's stucco is ever so easy to fix. :P Although, when the kitchen was renovated, we tore down to the studs and found them rotting because of moisture from the sink. I thought that was bad, but nothing like your siding issues.
So glad you enjoy these types of posts. They're also quite fun to write as they allow us to look back on projects and understand things that we did right and wrong.

There's nothing quite like finding that your studs have been rotting due to a leak. It's such a crushing feeling.
7/26/2013 at 6:40 PM
Ahhh, Insulbrick... very popular from that time period.

"Insulbrick is a paper based siding material with an ashpalt coating made to look like real brick from a distance. Because it is coated with asphalt, it does not breathe very well and acts as a vapour barrier on the outside of the building." "Insulbrick carried an UL rating for fire suppression and had an insulating value of R 1.3. It was easy and quick to install."

That last part is exactly why they installed it, cheap way to protect your exterior. However it is also exactly why it now causes such grief to current homeowners... a house needs to breathe! Putting a vapour barrier on both sides of your side walls traps it around the wood of the structure, making it less structurally sound and tasty to bugs. Which is why some mortgage companies won't insure houses with the damn stuff on it.

The sins of our fathers...
India McQuarrie
2/28/2022 at 10:12 PM

Did your faux brick siding have asbestos?

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