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Question DetailsAsked on 3/26/2017

Best siding for 150 year old home

I just inherited a home built in 1888 from my mother. It was built by my great grandfather and has always been in our family. It is located in North Michigan. It seems to have the original wood siding from when the house was built. There is no rot or water damage and its too cold for termites (ever).
Should I try to clean and repaint the original wood or would it be better to put vinyl siding over it. Keep in mind Northern Michigan is very cold and i don't want to lose insulation. I will also be replacing all of the windows so that isn't a factor in 'fitting' the siding.

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First thing to consider - and bear in mind throughout the exercise - is whether you intend to live in this home for a short time, "forever", or sell it soon - that should control how much upgrading (if any) you do, and how dramatic the work is to be. Especially when taken in consideration of current comparable home costs in the area, because that old a house may have substantial market value only if kept in roughly original condition (with onlyi necessary and certain types of convenience refurbishing) - in many cases for a major remodel to more modern configuration and standards a teardown is the economic and resaleability (is that a word ?) answer. A Realtor can help with this assessment, as can the real estate appraiser you use to appraise the house for estate tax purposes.

Also, while hard to avoid from an emotional standpoint, in many cases people inheriting the family home feel obligated to keep it in the family forever, even though that does not fit in with their life plans or life It is generally recommended (commonly to deaf ears) to only do with it as you would with a house you already owned - not to invest more in it than it means to you, because your ancestors would undoubtedly not want you "shackled" with an old or out-of- house if that is not the or location that fits your life and ambitions, and especially not if unsuited to your family or located inconveniently or prohibitively far from your workplace. I have seen a number of people who would not "give up" the family home, when ordinarily they would not even have bought either that or age house today, or even lived in that area because of life or commute distance or such. In some cases, they kept and rehabbed the family home as such an expense that they spent pretty much the entire inheritance (and sometimes more) bring the old family home up to the way they remembered it - only to find it wasnot worth what they put into it, and that they had not gained any benefit or joy of use from the inheritance - certainly not what their ancestors intended.

And if your career in one where promotion or moving up with a new job periodicallymeans moving to a new area, as many do, fixing this place up beyond the bare minimum needed to sell it (which may be not at all if a potential teardown situation) may not be a good idea, or may be only if you are prepared to become a landlord to renters which it comes time for you to move, which in an older home could be a stressful thing with a lot of unknown maintenance costs down the road to handle from a distance, and since a much older home commonly means renting at a discount to the market, which then commonly means aless desireable kind of tenant and even more non-resident landlord issues for you to take care of.

One other thing to bear in mind - in many areas, the amount of rehab or remodel work you can legally do without redoing the entire thing and bringing it up to current code (either for a particular system like electrical or for the entire house) is limited to say 50% before you are required to bring the complete system or house up to code - so there is a point where your investment jumps suddenly from a substantial but manageable rehab/upgrade to a total remodel and commonly to a gut and total rebuild, which can break the bank in many cases.

Depending on how many times this house has been remodeled and how recently, you may have serious issues with VERY old electrical, water supply, septic (possibly cesspool rather than septic and leach field, for instance), sewer line, foundation, roof, etc issues - even disintegrating mortar in stone foundations, corroded gas and sewer lines, etc - so a thorough investigation and assessment of condition of ALL systems and components up front is probably advisable before going ahead with any but emergency repairs, even though that might cost $1000 or more by the time you get architect and structural engineer, electrician, plumber, HVAC contractor, etc to go through it.

For instance - you intend to replace windows, but before doing that determining if the existing wall systems and insulation are adequate should come first and be remedied before the new windows go in. Ditto to the siding as you noted - if new siding, the window install should be integrated with that so the water barrier and flashing and such can be properly sequenced for optimal water protection and insulation, and commonly it is more convenient to install and paint windows/doors and siding in a certain order. Also, generally, reroofing should be done before residing or changing windows out just to redue the chance of damaging the new installs - especially if there is any chance the roof needs structural repairs.

If no siding damage (and I would have a look taken in under it a place or two to be sure what the board backsides and the wall interior look like), I would personally clean and refinish it - preferably (if going to clean down to bare wood) with a penetrating oil-based stain rather than a paint because stain tends to promote longer life. Bear in mind, if painted, staining with acceptable results may not be possible unless a heavy-body opaque stain is used, because of the penetration of the existing paint (especially if oil based) into the wood making stain penetration inconsistent. And note that even if paint worked for the existing house for 150 years, it might not now because the original paint was quite likely white lead based - extremely long-lived and very effective at preventing rot and insect attack from the outside, but modern finishes legal for use on houses do not provide that level of protection now - so more frequent repainting will likely be needed (commonly every 5-10 years with average paints though with proper prep and multi-coat painting you can get 20 year range at least for the field paint, though trim tends to be more in the 7-15 year range in most cases before it has to be repainted to avoid having to scrape andsand significant areas.

Given the age and location of the house, it is also quite possible that it was built of Western Red Cedar or Redwood (the Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and Candian Pacific and to lesser extent Central Pacific/Union Pacific and Western Pacific Railroads shipped a lot of those east from their timber holdings in the west to generate revenue for expansion during the 1880's-1900's - or your great-grandfather may have chosed to use the best available materials when he built. So it could be you have about the best wood possible for long life, and no reason to replace it. Certainly, if it is not (except maybe at isolated bottoms of trim pieces and such) punky or soft or splitting badly, I personally would not replace or cover it unless you really need to upgrade the insulation and the exterior is the place you need to do it (as opposed to say stripping plaster or interior boards and spray-foam insulating the wall interior).

For the area you are talking especially (though I don't like vinyl siding anywhere), I would not choose vinyl siding - too prone to cracking in the severe cold in your area. If you choose new siding, assuming the existing is lap siding, I would probably recommend same-sized concrete lap siding (possibly insulated) over new air-permeable water barrier in your environment. If looking for maximum energy efficiency (walls may be VERY poorly insulated right now) then you choices are upgraded wall cavity insulation or stripping the siding off and putting on wood sheathing then closed-cell board insulation covered with water barrier sheeting and a new lap or vertical panel siding would be the normal approach.

I presume you are going to have an architect or general contractor working with you on the rehab - because you will undoubtedly have concerns about and want inspections of the water supply, drain line, electrical, HVAC systems as well as a general structural/foundation look-see, so they should be able to give you a good picture of where you are at on current condition and approximate cost for minimal "refurbishing", for substantial remodel/upgrade, and for full "to current standards" gut and rebuild options. An AWFUL lot will depend on whst type of maintenance it has been getting, and whether major systems like electrical and plumbing have been upgraded over the years or not - you might have extruded lead water pipe and asbestos or cast iron drain pipe with "knob and tube" wiring if original materials, or anything newer - including almost certainly (unless fairly completely stripped and remodeled in the past 20-30 years or so) a lot of lead-based paint and asbestos containing materials - though the more "original" or near-original it is, probably the less likely asbestos is in quantity because prior to WWII it was commonly used only in chimneys, fireplaces, and boilers/furnaces - around the 1940's is when it started showing up in large quantities in flooring, sealants, paints, concrete siding, roofing, wall insulation, duct insulation, and the like.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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