Wood Siding on Historic Homes



Wood siding is the most common type of exterior cladding found on older historic homes and most is lap siding of some form or configuration.  Lap siding refers to horizontal boards that overlap the next lower board so that they shed rainfall like the overlapping feathers of a duck.  Lap board comes in a variety of profiles.  Three of the most common profiles on turn of the (20th) century homes are beveled, ship lap, and #117 "novelty" siding.  When installed beveled siding looks like straight unrelieved overlapping horizontal boards.  Ship lap has a curved cove cut along the top edge of every board creating a more three dimensional appearance.  #117 lap board, often incorrectly called novelty siding,  has two symmetrical tapered curves or domes milled in every board.  #117 lap board was the preferred siding for many Prairie Style homes as it provides dressy curb appeal while adhering to typical Prairie Style love of horizontal lines.



     #117 wood siding                                        Repaired and replaced.  

Scraped wood is old/primed is new         

All types of siding have their advantages and disadvantages.  Wood is a very forgiving material to work with if it is maintained properly.  A small irregularity or blemish on wood adds character when similar marks would look like damage on other types of material.  Also, repairing wood can be easy.  Compare replacing one board to replacing one brick especially in the middle of a wall and the advantages of wood will be obvious.  That being said, wood like any thing requires proper care or maintenance.  Wood siding must be caulked and painted regularly.  Cutting corners on maintenance will dramatically shorten the life of wood siding.  This necessity is even more dramatic on older homes where the siding may not have any moisture barrier or insulation behind it.  A crack or deteriorated area on such wood guarantees further water and pest penetration into the home and more costly damage.



       #117 siding installed                                    #117 siding primed

If your wood siding has deteriorated from age and exposure, here are some useful guidelines to help decide if repair or replacement is needed.  If your siding has relatively small checks, cracks, and splits, it may only need caulking and paint.  Larger cracks may need wood filler applied and sanded.  Keep in mind that most homes built before 1978 have lead paint.  If the paint is peeling and needs to be scraped, it would be beneficial to hire an expert painter that is familiar with lead paint remediation.  During remediation, the painter will take off as much as the old layers of paint as possible without damaging the wood.  When done prepping the siding should look like bare wood again.  During this process, the careful painter will have placed drop cloths over the ground and landscaping to prevent lead contamination of the soil.  Remember to document this stage.  Take photographs of your home on all sides showing that all the old lead contaminated paint has been removed and have the painter document this on his official invoice or letterhead.  That documentation will be a great selling point if you ever list your house for resale.  

#117 siding painted yellow with white trim

If the wood siding has large areas of damage and deterioration, replacement of those areas is likely to be needed.  If you can put a probe such as a screwdriver or a finger through a board, that board is too damaged to repair.  If there are enough boards like that, whole sections of the siding may need replacement.  If the total area of your home's siding that needs replacement exceeds thirty percent of the exterior surfaces, you should consider replacing all of the siding.  Total replacement will cost more than a patchwork of repairs, but it may not cost as much as you might imagine and the benefits are striking.  First, the original siding was almost certainly not installed properly.  Remember that depending on the age of the home there may not be any insulation or a moisture barrier installed.  Adding insulation where it is absent always pays for itself.  A properly installed moisture barrier will prolong the life span of the siding dramatically.  Secondly, the cost of additional material will be partially offset by reduced labor especially if you need to strip and repaint the old siding.  If you remove the old siding, you save all the labor for stripping old paint and you will not have the same concerns about lead contamination of soil and landscaping.  You may also save some labor from not having to finesse and trim new wood in and around old wood.  It may take less time to put up all new siding than it takes to match new wood to old.  A note on installing new wood siding:  it needs both a moisture barrier and a drainage or ventilation plane installed.  Plastic house wrap is the standard moisture barrier installed today.  A drainage or ventilation plane is created by installing vertical furring strips or a plastic mesh over the moisture barrier before the siding is attached.  This creates a vital air gap so moisture can drain away from the wood.  Finally, the impact of all new siding will restore your old house to its original glory if you use the same type of material as was used to build your house back in the day.   


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