Upscale and Modern Exterior Renovation: October 2017

5 siding rear after
4siding rear before
3 siding front after
2 siding front during
1 siding front before

If it is time to renovate your exterior, why not put a little more time into an upscale appearance with lasting qualities. Here is some food for thought.

The first to consider is what other parts of the home are part of the exterior cladding that may affect future renovations.  Windows, trim and other items can be improved now or in phases if you plan ahead. The contemporary featured here has some elegant and custom window frames that were original to the home. Custom made and really cool, but many frames had signs of fatigue. Any operable window needed new frames and impacted the interior of the home. The Owner wanted that to be addressed as part of the big picture without major disruption, so we worked on that about a year before the siding.

When it was time to re-clothe the home, it was also time to give the home a fresh undergarment. Calking was done in obvious places as well as some suspect areas where the Owner was aware of air leaks. A vapor barrier was put over the existing and repaired plywood. We use a crinkly “Tyvek Drain wrap” often in lieu of traditional flat house wrap because it has a vertical groove that provides added protection against water by enhancing drainage away from the wall. Because metal siding was part of the install with a vertical cedar, this extra expense was well worth it. The new house wrap that is taped at all the joints provides an all new wind blanket and rain coat.

Add some style! I mean… if you are going to set up staging and pay for the labor and materials, why not talk to a designer about options for your home.  This home is so great, although it had some existing siding elements that screamed 1970’s, like the areas that were sided on an angle… “Marsha? Marssshha!”  There were other beautiful angles and forms that follow a more strict form of 3D art in architecture which were under represented or not celebrated well by the monolithic repeat of vertical siding and single color. When the Owner showed us an inspiration photo with metal siding, we were so excited to design a mix of wood and metal that was perfect for this homes architecture. My favorite items on the project are the dual horizontal and vertical pieces with contrasting neutral bold horizontal planes and the warm natural vertical cedar. And now the door says…”Come on in!”

Happy renovating… and Fall! Ray

How to Avoid Construction Surprises

If you have read my blog, you will know that I believe there are no real surprises in the estimating of construction. There is a thing called inexperience… and that usually results in surprise costs. I had to stop watching HGTV because the programs almost always result in the designer and contractor meeting with the Owner to let them know about an “unforeseen” issue that was going to break the budget. Also in most cases I would wonder why they didn’t know they would need a beam, that they couldn’t move the plumbing without additional expense, etc., etc.

A hidden cost in construction, that shouldn’t be a surprise is rotting sills. It doesn’t matter how expensive the home is, we are constantly finding wood rot behind the front stoop. So much so, that we already know we are likely to find it even when there are no visible signs; and we can find evidence pre-budget. The primary culprit is typically poor coordination between the builder, the person siding or the mason.

In the picture below we were performing an interior renovation in Wellesley. The client had hired a well-intentioned landscape mason to renew the front stoop, making it wider and using natural stone. Because the mason wasn’t familiar with this type of work (connecting masonry to the home), they left portions of a pine water table in place and were building up against it. They were creating a future rot and insect issue as well as leaving some rot that was pre-existing. Fortunately, they were truly interested in doing the right thing and waited for us to get a carpenter there to remove the water table and install flashing.

I know these are not sexy photos- but hopefully it will help if you are planning to replace the front stoop. Below we moved a large granite landing away from a house in Dover getting a new porch. We and found the rot we expected… about 9 feet of rotted sill plate. No problem! 2 hours, 2 carpenters, 18′ of 2×6 pressure treated lumber and NO INVOICE to the client. I can’t wait to show you the beautiful porch that will be here in a few weeks.

Happy renovating, Ray

A Tale of Two Front Doors: A Look into the Past and Present Architectural Odyssey

When I first started visiting homes for an appointment 25 years ago, most of them were traditional colonials with a main front door and a side “service entrance”. It would have been odd for me to knock on the service entrance door back then. That was a door designed for the dairy delivery cooler to be stored, the dry cleaning to be dropped off, and where the housekeeper would enter and exit. In these circa 1950 homes, the kitchen would be just inside so it was easier for the homeowner to retrieve their milk and eggs. But back then, a package delivery, vacuum cleaner salesman and even a close friend would go to the main door to be greeted in the foyer. This all changed as our lives became more hectic and casual and now if I ring the front doorbell I’ll hear from inside, “Can you go to the side door? This one is stuck closed.”

So, why have two front doors on a home built post the invention of the mudroom? I am not suggesting removing one if there isn’t another way into the mudroom or ripping down half the house because you currently have the common side entrance. However; I am still unsure why new homebuilders haven’t received the news that the service entrance needn’t be the welcoming space, and it certainly doesn’t need to be designed in a way that makes it unclear where to enter or redundant.

Below is a home we remodeled last year (before and after). The doors are literally feet apart and I have never been more confused about where to knock. In the re-design, the family enters 3′ farther away than before, still has an entry from the back and garage, and the house looks so much better! Mostly because the Owner has a great taste and picked a great new color! :)

Happy Door Shopping! Ray

new home exterior wellesley

Before

exterior remodel wellesley

After

How to Improve Your Home’s Efficiency

Energy performance should be a discussion in any home renovation where there is an opportunity to make improvements in energy consumption and improved comfort. While it should be part of the conversation, the outcome may be that additional insulation in a small sub-component of the home could actually be a bad thing to do.

Good building science works well when different components are assembled with synergy. In the 70’s during an energy crisis, insulation factors were significantly increased without simultaneously modifying the components it worked with. This resulted in premature exterior paint failure from vapor trapped in the structure, and required ventilation retrofits to make the system work “better”. 

I have also seen the “green movement” in building science morph into a few camps based on ideology instead of a simpler health, and energy science. If you want to improve the energy performance of your home, start with increased insulation value while accounting for the rest of the building system. Second, change all the lighting in the home to LED.  This will reduce excess heat in the summer and will reduce your electric bill right away with a short term payback. The third place to look is the heat plant. If you have older low efficient heating and cooling equipment, the change in efficiency from 80% to 94% will show up right away. Last but not least… if you are doing an entire exterior make-over… replace the windows. One at a time this doesn’t really change things. If you want to know what to do next… INSULATE MOREJ!

Here is a project we just completed in Wellesley. As part of a kitchen expansion, we did a complete exterior (and interior) make over. With blown in insulation in the budget along with all new windows, we discovered that a less effective insulation (about R9) had been installed by the last owner when they installed aluminum siding. We couldn’t get more insulation in the cavity so for the price of the blown in budget (about $5k) we suggested a one inch foam board to provide a thermal break. This pretty metallic red board does more than add 25-40% more to the insulation factor, but delivers a contiguous external thermal blanket that reduced hot and cold spots. This project with attic insulation and a new high efficient gas boiler shows the proof is in the pudding. Check out the comparison of last year’s energy report that came with the EverSource bill and the recent report!

The pictures of the home show the 3 phases of the exterior renovation (paint starts in a month or so).

Step one, strip to bare sheathing boards.

Step two, install a vapor barrier with 1” of foam board (they did finish the whole house… I showed up during that for the photo).

Step three, we sided with Hari Plank siding and Azek trim for a long lasting and beautiful low maintenance exterior that can be painted every 10-15 years.

What’s Under That Old Siding?

In the picture below, this is a typical 1940’s home in a Wellesley neighborhood we have done a few projects in. As part of a whole home renovation, we are going to put on a new roof, new siding and replace all of the exterior trim and windows. When we are done, it will be better than new!

Our firm has removed and renovated siding from homes that are CIRCA 1760, and unfortunately; also homes that are only a few years old because of faulty product or installation. I often get asked about what to expect once the siding comes off, or hear that someone told them they won’t know until after the siding comes off. 

The reality is that it is very predictable with an eye on a few items. A good exterior inspection will shed light on repairs that were made or if there was a lot of deferred maintenance. If the home is on the historic end of the spectrum, it will look close to the photo of the 1940s home except the boards will be less uniform and there will be larger gaps. On a home like that, as long as the wear and tear are typical we expect to replace about 10% of those boards before re-siding and if the home is in rough shape, we will be re-nailing the sheathing and probably some of the framing. The renovations of the homes that fall in the 1940 category are about the same. These homes were built post war with pride and are not really that old in the renovation business. If a previous owner neglected the home, we would probably find some insect or water damage (about 2-3 days of labor from a carpenter to repair).

It’s the 1975 to present day houses that are the more troubling ones to work on, mostly because the issues are born more from a dollar driven new home construction and use of poor materials. It will likely be plywood below with rot from leaking assemblies and rotted trim. The sheathing will need to be re-nailed because there were not enough nails to begin with and larger sections will need to be uncovered.

One of the questions most asked is whether the siding under vinyl or aluminum siding will be salvageable. Although I am an optimist, the reality is that these homes were usually over-sided because of an issue with the original siding. Additionally, there will be nail holes all over the original siding. If you are planning for a full exterior renovation, my advice is to budget for the original siding to come off so you don’t end up in worse shape when the vinyl comes off. Happy renovating! Feel free to contact us if you are in need of exterior remodel to see how we can help!