Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Exterior Painting and Restoration of Our Craftsman Cottage

I don’t want to let 2014 end without a post about painting the exterior of our house. This has been the project with no end. Seriously, it has just gone on and on and on. There are still some little, related projects that aren’t done and one big one—landscaping and re-seeding the front yard--but the painting is finished! I can hardly believe it. It’s taken more than 2 years but the house is painted.

Here is where we started. This is our Craftsman style cottage with aluminum siding (which was probably added sometime in the 1950’s) that had been painted (by yours truly) a few years after I bought the house. Here is what the house looked like 10 years ago. The big maple tree has since been removed.

Several years ago (I can't remember exactly how when) we had the worst ice storm I have ever encountered. The gutters on one side of our house were filled solid with ice and the weight of the ice pulled them off the house and caused them to twist and bend. Where they bent, the aluminum split. We had a contractor take a look. He said that way our house was built, there was nothing there to properly attach the gutters to and he would need to build something, blah, blah, blah. It was going to cost a lot and it was difficult to understand how he was going to do it without removing the aluminum siding. At this point we didn’t know what to do and didn’t have that kind of money so we didn’t do anything.

Then, a year or so later, comes a spring storm with very strong winds. Not a tornado, but straight line winds strong enough to take the roof off a car wash about 4 blocks from us and do a lot of damage to roofs, trees, and such in our neighborhood. Our house did not escape undamaged. The wind got behind the aluminum siding and peeled off a couple pieces . The siding was still attached to the house at one end and that long piece of siding was flapping back and forth in the wind. Can you imagine waking up to that noise? Our bedroom was on the other side of that wall and it was pretty scary until we figured out what was happening.

It didn’t make sense to invest a lot of money trying to repair 50-year-old aluminum siding. On top of that we already had the issue with the guttering. With some of the aluminum siding gone we were now able to peek behind it and see that the original wood clapboards were underneath and from what little we could see, looked to be in pretty good condition. We decided that we should probably remove the aluminum siding and try to restore the original wood siding but we didn’t have time for such a massive project.

I can’t remember exactly how long it was, but we just ignored the damaged siding. Since both my husband and I were working really long hours and we only saw the house in the dark, it wasn’t that hard to just pretend that we didn't have a problem. Then in early spring 2012, the brother of one of our friends was looking for some work and offered to remove the aluminum siding and haul it away for a few hundred dollars plus the proceeds from recycling the aluminum. An offer too good to refuse.

Here is the house right before the aluminum siding was removed.

Now, with the aluminum siding gone, we could see more of what we had gotten ourselves into. We were pleased that the wood siding was sound and there was no rotting anywhere. We were also delighted to see that the gables had cedar shingles and that the rafter tails (ours are purely decorative and not the ends of the actual rafters) which are a signature of Craftsman style houses were intact. Also, with the aluminum siding that had boxed in the overhangs gone, the proportions of the house were much improved. Here is a picture with the aluminum siding gone. The storm windows and aluminum trim around the windows is still on the house but you can see the rafter tails and cedar shingles in the gables.

Until the aluminum trim was later removed from the windows we didn't know that the tops of all the window frames had been chiseled off. We did know that the corner pieces of the house had been removed and although we could see where there had been decorative knee braces under the overhangs they were all missing. Much as we expected, the old paint was badly peeled and needed to be thoroughly scraped before any new paint could be applied. Here is some of that peeling paint.

That spring and summer, whenever the weather and my work schedule of 6 days most weeks allowed, I worked on scraping paint. It was going slowly and I wasn’t making any visible progress.  I tried all kinds of different paint scrapers; some very expensive paint remover that was supposed to work miracles (it didn’t); and an infrared paint remover. None of these things speeded up my progress. No matter what I tried, it was slow, dirty, hard work. Later, when I was working on painting our garage, I discovered paint scrapers with carbide blades. I highly recommend the carbide blade scrapers. They are more expensive than other scrapers, but they are worth the money. Change the blades often and be careful because they are sharp enough to shave the top layer of wood off.

By October of 2012, it was clear that I was in over my head with this project. My husband spent some time helping me (he always works 6 days a week so has little free time either) but with our work schedules it was going to take us years to just get ready to paint. During all this time, the house looked terrible.

So the next spring (2013) we found painters who liked to work on old houses, had the skills to do the carpentry work needed to replace the missing elements (not having to coordinate between carpenters and painters was a huge plus), and gave us a very reasonable price. To save money, I planned to paint the garage, back doors, window sashes, and the inside of the front porch myself. We got on the waiting list and started saving like crazy hoping to have the cash by the time the painters got to us.

While we waited, the house looked worse than ever and our next door neighbors were trying to sell their house. I felt so bad. Who would buy a house next door to a place that looked as bad as ours did? So here is what our neighbors had to look at for over a year. This side of our house showed up in their listing pictures.

We waited all summer and into the fall and all that time spent waiting gave me time to agonize over choosing paint colors. I had a very difficult time making up my mind. You can read more about what I learned about selecting exterior colors here and more about how I finally made my decision here.

I know that any color can pretty much be color matched in any brand of paint but the painters use Porter PPG paint and using their colors simplified things. The body of the house is Baritone. The shingles in the gables are Mountain Stream. The window sashes and back doors are Blue Bayberry. All of the blues are from the same card. The white trim is Delicate White. All are PPG colors.

By the time we came up to the top of the waiting list it was late fall and unfortunately the weather was not cooperating. The painters were able to finish scraping and priming but then we had the worst winter we have had in years and there was nothing to be done but wait for spring. I failed to take any in-progress pictures of the painting.

Finally, finally, this spring, 2 years after the aluminum siding was removed, the painters finished. Still, since I planned to do the window sashes and back doors, the painting wasn’t quite finished. The windows had been protected behind the storm windows so they were not in bad condition. Even so, to do the job right and not paint the windows shut was time-consuming. The doors needed quite a bit of scraping and one needed a bit of repair work.

By the end of the summer, I had the window sashes and the back doors painted. We salvaged the storm windows and I gave all of the frames a coat of white spray paint. The storm windows were designed to be part of the aluminum siding but with some generous applications of caulk we were able to re-install most of them. We have a couple that either need some additional work or possibly we will have to replace them.

Here it is before and after. 

Our house has never looked better. As I mentioned at the beginning of this long story, there are still a few things we want/need to do. The foundation was coated with some kind of textured coating that is peeling off so that needs to be re-done. We need new storm/screen doors for the front porch and for the kitchen door. We plan to have the same half-round gutters that would have been on the house originally installed. And, we have plans to completely redo our front yard. All of those will be projects for 2015.

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