When is a home a good candidate for whole house remodeling?

Our beautiful New England towns have some great architecture, and because our housing stock is older than other areas of the country, many require remodeling, a home addition or maybe just a new kitchen or renovated bath. However, some homes we work on have suffered “differed maintenance issues” throughout and may be better contenders for whole home remodeling.





A couple of factors that make this undertaking worth the capital investment:

1.  Is this a diamond in the rough investment? Compared to newer homes in the area, what will be your total expense… keep in mind that when you are involved in the home renovation process, you have better quality control over the work, and can dictate the proper budget for quality finishes rather than settle for builder grade choices.

2. Older homes often offer better, nostalgic architectural details in lieu of the neo-classic lines used to save money today.

3. When you moved in years ago, maybe you thought about waiting for the right time to move on. Now, perhaps you love the home (aside from some of the “ticks”), and the location and/or neighborhood are working perfectly for your family.

Whole home renovations are always a bit different from one another and don’t always involve every room; however, the typical project usually involves adding some more space, as well as kitchen and bathrooms receiving full gut renovation. With that type of capital investment, the entire electrical and heating and cooling systems; as well as the insulation, windows, exterior cladding and roof should all get an update.

In a recent project in the Poets neighborhood in Wellesley, we brought a beautiful 1930s/40s Foursquare colonial (a mix of two styles based on the square stance and the colonial roof-line) back to her glory. The interior received a major upgrade adding on space to expand the kitchen, while adding a master bath. The owners had the plan to renovate when they purchased the home and had already invested in a new very efficient boiler and front stairs. The neighbors were delighted when the brown aluminum siding was removed, and commented that the bare sheathing boards were a welcome improvement even before the pre-stained shingles even adorned the sides.


What is behind all those choices in siding?

What is behind all the choices in siding for your home?  Choosing the highest quality finish materials will not ensure a long lasting façade, however, style, material options, and what’s behind the aesthetic are all very important.  Here are some great tips on what will provide you with a lasting beautiful exterior: Proper preparation and installation are the most important piece, and if there is a breakdown, it is usually a matter of improper installation of the entire system-insulation, vapor retarder, and flashing components with the siding.  The home below underwent a substantial renovation only 15 years earlier, commissioned by the previous homeowner.


Unfortunately, the new owner began to see signs of premature leaks and paint failure.  A very high quality of material was used for the siding, however the metal flashing that was supposed to keep the water out, combined with poor execution on the trim around the windows, resulted in water infiltration. This damage required the replacement of all the doors and windows in the new addition which should have lasted 2-3 times longer!


And as you can see on the after picture above, as a homeowner, you’ll need to evaluate what product and style make sense for you.  For this Wiese Company project, the client selected copper gutters and copper window heads to finish off their exterior remodel. Product selection starts with the architecture… and siding makes a big difference. A Queen Anne Victorian adorned with scalloped and artistic shingles is very fitting, but those scalloped shingles on a colonial gable- not so much (no photos used to protect the innocent). A colonial home will most likely be dressed in clapboards since the home style born by our country’s founding propagated the use due to low supplies of lime for stucco. In many Wellesley renovations, there are 1940 era homes that are clad in Red Cedar shingles- and this works well with the scale of the home with a 5” exposure. Think of this as the duck adage… if it looks like a colonial, don’t try to turn it into a mid-century modern. With siding products, wood siding is still the most widely used in our blue chip communities. When specifying cedar, there are large differences in quality based on the number of knots (which should be none) to how the product is milled (or cut). Clear Vertical Grain Clapboards are quarter sawn and will offer longer life and more uniform appearance. For Red Cedar shingles, make sure they are re-butted and re-jointed.  If you have, or want, a painted home, having the siding pre-primed is essential to a lasting paint job and will pay dividends. I have also seen the use of fiber cement siding take flight. The James Hardie Company started this wave over a decade ago, and with great reviews and a lasting product, they have offered a paintable alternative that looks almost identical to wood with properties that ensure longer lasting paint. With less deforesting and a lower cost, it is worth considering this alternative before making a final decision. We highly recommend that you add insulation to any pre-1970 structure. It is surprisingly affordable, and it is one item that will have an energy payoff in less than 5 years.  You’ll quickly notice how comfortable it is inside your home as well, providing a more stable indoor climate.  

Architectural Transitioning: Part Two

Last month we discussed the first of 3 elements in architectural transitioning from inside to outside- what we see from inside. You can find part one posted below.


The second element of Architectural transitioning between the built and natural environment is what lies between the exterior wall and the natural items. When you step outside you have a landing point. An example of this mental transition compares to a weary road trip, when you stop to stretch your legs- after disembarking the car, we tend to spend a moment to feel the blood rush back into our legs, and take in the surroundings. This same feeling, even when done very briefly is an important transition that allows us to feel the change of space without abruptness and to have a context. Compare it to sitting down with your significant other to enjoy a glass of wine after a long difficult week and that initial moment you realize the time is yours. Feeling the change of environment can be an instant relief. Having the ability to bring those elements into your home is as therapeutic as it is functional. This transition is best accomplished with a patio, a deck or a walkway depending on the location of the transition- seeing this landing from the inside provides a sense of transition rather than not having a small safe zone before our feet hit the grass, and a place that allows us to transition back in if we need to set down a box to open the door, or simply wipe our feet.


Lastly, Is the transition on the outside that compliments the architecture. Picture yourself standing outside on your lawn facing the home. If the grass simply went to the door, a few concerns would come to my mind. You would have no place to rest and enjoy the space if the grass is wet. Also the home and the lawn may look like they collided with no rhyme or reason, and there would be no gradual step in height to soften the architecture. This is why shrubs on the perimeter offer a soft landing for the natural environment, and a covered entry provides relieve to a large blank wall that may rise 2 or more stories. The use of a trellis, portico, table and umbrella all will offer some form of scaled architectural transition. Whatever your needs may be, if you take the indoors and outdoors into consideration when you are working on either side. The finished product will create an environment that you can enjoy no matter what season it is or what side you are on.

Trim: An essential detail

Days are still warm but the nights grow steadily colder, bringing to mind the winter to come and the need to prepare our homes for severe weather. Many homes in this area carry strong references to New England’s architectural history, from the simple cottage style of Capes and saltboxes built by early settlers to the elaborate Georgian-inspired structures that began to appear in the early 18th century. Homes built in the Cape style are typically trimmed with simplicity, reflecting the colonists’ need for shelter that could be constructed quickly and expanded easily as families grew. Later dwellings mirror the region’s growing wealth and preoccupation with status, and have trim details that reflect an interest in English fashions and architecture.

Architectural Detail of Exterior Trim

Architectural Detail of Exterior Trim

Regardless of the style of your home, trim is an important detail, and can be the first area of your home to show signs of wear and susceptibility to our harsh climate. Ornamental lintels over doors and windows, fascias that cover rafters and support gutters, soffits that join roof surfaces and walls, and frames that surround windows not only complete the appearance of a home, they also seal out moisture and wind. Traditionally wood has been used for this trim, but new composites offer easier maintenance and can reduce the effort and expense of upkeep. Here at the Wiese Company we often use PVC trim when and where the budget allows starting with the areas most susceptible to water damage. The beauty of this material is that it doesn’t rot like wood but can be painted and looks just like wood trim once painted. Two products we use, from manufacturers Fyphon and Azek, feature a cellular construction that is strong and similar in density to the white pine often used for trim. These materials resist rot, damp and insects, are easily cut and installed, have excellent insulating properties and are available in a wide variety of styles to complement the architecture of your home. Trim is more than a decorative accent; for New England homes, it is an essential component of a building’s insulation. The next time you look at your cracking soffits and sagging wood window frames, consider upgrading to composite trim materials. With soaring oil prices and predictions of a harsh winter to come, ensuring your trim is tight and weatherproof is a solid investment in your home’s value.

Trending in decks!

Top 5 trends in deck materials are changing the landscape- literally.

  1. Tropically deep tones for the materials on the floor, gaining popularity on interior floors, this trend is moving its way outside. Mahogany is still a favorite in our area and staining this is popular to maintain that deep chocolate finish as well as protect the wood from the environment.
  2.  Plastic Decking is taking market share from some of the composites. This is primarily due to the fact that it does not stain, scratch or develop mold spotting according to the manufacturer.
  3.  Railings are changing as well, from fantastic maintenance free systems that have the same beauty of a finely crafted painted rail, to cables and metal balusters that improve the view to the back yard.
  4. Hidden fasteners are becoming more common, both because homeowners are willing to spend more for this improved aesthetic and the increase in manufacturers that have improved the quality as well as reduced the price and labor requirement.
  5. What products are green? If you want a green decking material, choose a product that uses recycled materials and does not require annual staining.