Restoring a Historic Home is More Than Skin-Deep

This 90-year-old home in the Boston area called for a face lift.

March 31, 2003


Before applying new siding, Feinmann Remodeling prepared the house to avoid future moisture problems. After the vinyl siding and the original clapboard siding were removed, damaged structural members were repaired and replaced. Then Grace Ice & Water Shield, a self-adhering, waterproof barrier, was applied around the base of the house on the sheathing. "You can nail through it, and it will seal," Don Hawkes says. As Feinmann progressed up the side wall, workers applied a layer of 15-pound tar paper. For the next step, nailing vertical furring strips to the sheathing created air spaces 3/8 inch thick between the studs. At the bottom and top, a corrugated vent strip covered with screening was installed. "It allows the air to flow through without the problem of bugs," Hawkes says.

This 90-year-old home in the Boston area called for a face lift. The homeowners wanted to maintain the character of the house by retaining original details. But there was more to restoring this house than met the eye.

The house had been neglected for at least 20 years before the current owners bought it, says Don Hawkes, project manager for Feinmann Remodeling Inc., a full-service design/build company in Arlington, Mass. At some point, the house had been re-sided with vinyl siding over the original clapboard wood siding. The front porch had been remodeled and screened, detracting visually from the house. Metal roofing had deteriorated over time, resulting in water leakage through the house's side walls and causing structural damage. Carpenter ants had damaged many areas.

"We found areas where there had been leakage - rotted sheathing, rotted studs, rotted sills," says Hawkes. "The house is located on the shore of a small lake, open to wind-driven water. Because of the exposed location, we wanted to avoid future moisture problems." Feinmann used a channeled siding system to prevent moisture problems (see caption, page 18). In this system, the siding is furred out from the sheathing to create a channel through which moisture can drain or evaporate.

Although there was moisture damage around a number of windows and doors, the clients wanted to keep the original sash. Feinmann replaced the damaged areas, reglazed the sash and installed new storm windows. The company replaced exterior trim, moldings and a bracketed soffit around the perimeter of the roof. New wood gutters were installed in keeping with the house's original character. A leaking slate roof was replaced with asphalt shingles. Flat roofs were replaced with EPDM rubber membrane roofing.


Trim detail also was designed to allow air to vent out. Western red cedar pre-primed clapboard was attached directly to the furring strips. The clapboard was pre-primed so that the edges were sealed. Everything was primed and sealed before the finish exterior latex paint was applied. "The main thing is to solve the moisture problem," Hawkes says. "It is a fairly labor-intensive way to do it, but through long-term maintenance costs it pays for itself in areas of extreme conditions. The additional labor and material costs added about 15% to the cost of the job."

The front porch, which runs the width of the house, was rebuilt. "We ripped the whole thing off," Hawkes says. It had been built with materials that were not pressure-treated, and the decking was in bad shape. The original stone piers were retained and repaired. The portico columns and railing also were rebuilt.

In all, the exterior restoration of the 5,000-square-foot, three-story house cost about $100,000. "Basically we removed everything and started from scratch with essentially new materials," says Hawkes.

In renovating the historic home, the company had to get approval from the town's historical commission, which dictates strict guidelines for construction. But Hawkes says the group is more concerned about maintaining the character of the original house than in banning modern materials. "The commission is sensitive to the homeowners' needs," he says. In keeping with the strict procedures and in order to demolish the front porch, Feinmann had to demonstrate that the structure was beyond repair and needed replacement.

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