Magazine

Expert Home Advice | Autumn 2015

Expert house care advice from the oldest and largest heritage organization in the country. The clapboards on our old Cape are in terrible shape. I’m considering replacing them with vinyl. Beyond the general aesthetic issues of having vinyl clapboards on an old Cape, are there other things I should consider before going this route? R.K., […]

By Yankee Magazine

Oct 21 2015

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Historic New England’s Cogswell’s Grant House (1728) in Essex, Massachusetts.

Photo Credit : Courtesy of Historic New England

Expert house care advice from the oldest and largest heritage organization in the country.

Historic New England's Cogswell's Grant House (1728) in Essex, Massachusetts.
Historic New England’s Cogswell’s Grant House (1728) in Essex, Massachusetts.
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Historic New England

The clapboards on our old Cape are in terrible shape. I’m considering replacing them with vinyl. Beyond the general aesthetic issues of having vinyl clapboards on an old Cape, are there other things I should consider before going this route? R.K., Pittsfield, MA

Vinyl siding may seem like a cheaper, no-maintenance alternative to wood clapboards. However, there is a conspicuous visual difference between vinyl siding and wood clapboards, and when vinyl is used to cover existing clapboards, it changes details at the house’s exterior and could cause problems where it abuts doors and windows. Vinyl requires regular cleaning and is prone to fading, puncturing, and cracking. Properly maintained wood siding can last centuries. Damaged vinyl becomes challenging to replace and you’re stuck with the existing, faded color! Also, vinyl can conceal a host of moisture-related issues beneath its surface, including mold and rotting wood framing. Finally, in the event of a fire, vinyl puts off poisonous fumes. Rather than installing vinyl, we often suggest that homeowners only replace their most deteriorated wood clapboards or replace one elevation of the house at a time, rather than trying to replace everything at once.
I have an old Colonial with a stone foundation in which some of the mortar has cracked and fallen out. Snow and rain can get into the wall and I’m afraid the problem will get much worse without some repairs. What’s the best way of fixing my foundation? L.S., Woodstock, VT
As you mentioned, moisture in or outside of a building can cause major structural issues over time, so identifying the source and location of water at the foundation wall is imperative. Harmful moisture always finds a way in, even with solid mortar and a seemingly water-tight barrier. The first step should be determining whether the missing mortar is the only source of water entry. If so, then re-pointing the masonry joints will help block permeation. A qualified mason experienced in repairing historic buildings will be familiar with the process of re-pointing and can ensure that historically appropriate techniques and materials are used. The new mortar should match the existing in color, texture, and tooling, and never be of a harder material. Soft, historic mortars are not compatible with harder, more modern mortars such as those of masonry or Portland cements. In addition to re-pointing, moisture can be directed away from the building by clearing vegetation away from the roof and building, grading the soil to move water away from the foundation, and regularly cleaning gutters and downspouts.
I love the look of the old windows on my house but hate how inefficient they are. Is there an affordable way to “tighten” them up or do I need to bite the bullet and buy replacements? K.C. Lancaster, NH
Drafty windows give old houses a bad reputation, but since the mid-1940s, a tried and true friend in the fight against interior breezes has been rope caulk, still as effective today as it was when the J.W. Mortell Company of Kankakee, Ill., patented “Mortite” in 1942. Baby boomers will remember the smell and texture of the pliable gray tape, “a good plugger-upper” according to early ads, which unwound to fill gaps and cracks around old windows. It worked like a charm to quell icy drafts and is still a cheap and effective way to quickly reduce air infiltration around a rattling window sash. Closing the sash locks on your windows is another simple, but sometimes overlooked, part of getting ready for winter. To operate properly, windows should be locked into place. Brand new windows come with two sash locks but you can always remove the old center lock, move it over and add another to double your chances of keeping chills at bay. Got a question about an old house you need answered? Submit your questions to Historic New England at: yankeeplus@yankeepub.com. historic-new-england-logo-400-blue