Home>Discussions>EXTERIORS>The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos
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Jared C.
The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos

We are negotiating a counter offer on a house that was built in 1928. The house has 15 year old vinyl siding and no rain gutters. There are small perforated air holes in the siding under the eaves to let the house breathe. We have noticed some chipped corners on the siding in a few places, but otherwise it looks intact.

We have some concerns, though, and would welcome some feedback:

1) The seller says there are asphalt shingles under the siding. We could see some thick insulating foam between the siding and whatever is underneath. There are no access points for the home inspector to assess the condition of the exterior walls.

2) We found a very small section where the siding has gapped between the trim and roof. We could see old, peeling paint and what may be dry rot. This section is maybe eight inches long and just 1.5 inches high.

3) The house had termite damage. The seller paid $14,000 to have the damage repaired per a Section One clearance. The pest report says the attic was not inspected, aside from looking inside the trap door in a closet ceiling and doing a quick visual inspection. There is vermiculite insulation in the attic which is believed to contain asbestos. That seems to by why they never did a thorough inspection, despite the extensive damage in the joists and floorboards, etc.

4) Because of the termite damage, we are concerned about the exterior walls. If moisture has seeped between the house and the siding, there could be extensive termite and water damage (and mold) there.

5) Our realtor says if we have the inspector remove some of the siding, we are responsible for fixing any damage caused by this should we decide not to buy the house. We do not want to spend any money on repairs for a house that's not ours.

We love this house and are not afraid to buy an old home. We are pretty well versed in the asbestos concern and are willing to pay to have the entire house decontaminated and the insulation replaced. It's a small house, so the cost is not going to be more than $6000. We are willing to do this.

But what about the siding? If they had that much termite damage in the flooring and had to replace some of the original wood flooring and several sections of supports, doesn't it make sense that the exterior walls could be harboring termites and water damage? The inside of these walls are smooth and show no signs of damage, but the outside is a gamble.

I would be very grateful for your feedback. Thank you.

A. Spruce
Re: The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos

I personally would run from this house like my hair was on fire, and I'm a professional! Why would you knowingly take on a headache like this that will undoubtedly become a money pit. The only way that I would consider this purchase is if it were priced so grossly under market value that it could be brought up to current code and liveable spec without spending more than its market value. Even then I'd be hard pressed to buy it.

Jared C.
Re: The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos

Yep, we are leaning in that direction.

But we have no money invested in the buying process yet. So we are taking advantage of this and doing some good research.

What we want to know is . . .

Does it make sense that if there was termite damage under the house, there could be termite damage in the exterior walls? Termites like moisture. Without being able to see the structure under the siding, it's like a guessing game. But we still welcome feedback on this as a learning opportunity.

Why aren't there any rain gutters? The sellers are siblings. They grew up in this house. It has only had two owners. Their dad was suffering from alzehimers and put the siding on to make his life easier. They don't know why there aren't any rain gutters.

We just want a better feel of this situation before giving up on this house.

A. Spruce
Re: The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos

At this point, probably the best money you could spend would be on a contractor to come out and give you his opinion on the property. Give him your list of concerns for him to pay special attention to as he walks the property, this is the only way you're going to get an unbiased, real point of view on the property, as well as cost estimates for whatever he finds wrong.

Why are there no gutters? Probably because the father/siblings didn't want to spend money on the property since the father wasn't long for the world.

Could there be termite damage/activity in the walls, you bet there can be.

Was the house tented and fumigated? If so, are you sure you want to live in it? Those chemicals don't just dissipate and go away, they will forever off-gas within the structure.

Re: The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos

Be glad you posted a question here.

Spruce is so right - run, don't walk.

Any house with 14K termite damage ought be demolished.

Jared C.
Re: The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos

This is exactly what I want to know. We are unfamiliar with termite repairs. So you're saying the dollar amount testifies to some very extensive damage, and since the walls weren't inspected we can count on termites and lots of damage there, too, right?

The vermiculite insulation is another concern. We've learned enough to know you can live with asbestos, but I discovered a pile of vermiculite in a small broom closet where a floor to ceiling brick chimney has been enclosed. I liked the chimney and leaned in for a closer look with my flashlight. There in the beam of my wife's girly pink keychain flashlight was a shimmery pile of debris. It was sitting on the brick mantel between the back wall and the front side of the chimney. I doubt anyone has stuck their head in there in the decades since the chimney was encased in the closet.

Not knowing what it was, I scooped up a big handful and showed the realtor and my wife. A couple days later I realized what I had found. Most vermiculite in the U.S. that was poured into homes as insulation came from an asbestos-contaminated source in Montana. So most agencies and home inspection boards advice people to assume it has indeed been contaminated.

Well, here's the clencher . . .

That small broom closet is also the air intake for the central cooling and heating system. I just pieced the puzzle together and now consider the entire house a health hazard. I'd love your thoughts on this. I called several people (contractors, inspectors, abatement pros, etc.) and they all say the same thing: it can be remedied but at a great cost, and if the vermiculite seeped into the broom closet it could have also seeped into the walls. We will probably be forever unearthing the stuff when we expand rooms, knock down walls, etc.

It's sad because it's a lovely house. Although we're glad for the education and all we've learned, we are also disappointed that we have to walk away.

A. Spruce
Re: The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos
Jared C. wrote:

I just pieced the puzzle together and now consider the entire house a health hazard. I'd love your thoughts on this.

I don't think you're far off the mark with this sentiment. While each piece of this "puzzle" is relatively inconsequential, you put enough of them together and you start to understand why even a professional would not buy this property, at least not one with a conscience or any degree of self preservation. I think you've made the right decision to walk away. There will be other homes in better condition to choose from, good luck in your quest, and don't be afraid to come back with questions before you purchase.:cool:

Re: The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos

Ifs- and several if them.

IF they will sell at a price which will cover a complete exterior wall sheathing demo with replacement of say 1/4 of the studs and new sheathing with siding of your choice....

IF you are willing to have that kind of time and money involved (and the above will take weeks or months of DIY).....

IF you so much want the location and nothing else comparable is available....

IF you're ready to incur losses beyond your projection just to get the property...

If you're willing to bulldoze it if it's that bad and then start over...

Then buy the house. It may take a lot of work, but in the end you will have the exact house you want since with that much demo-renovation changes come easy.

Failing ANY of the above- keep looking elsewhere. There's just too many unknown "ifs" going on here.

I might take it if it were almost free (and I can fix anything) but that's as far as I would go. Even I don't want to spend the best part of my next 2-3 years spare time to get an almost-free deal on a house I couldn't move into within a short time. I'd deconstruct what I could, demo the rest, then start over as a sure-fire way of having something worthwhile in the end.


Jared C.
Re: The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos

We are heading back to the town and doing another round of house hunting. It's really hard walking away from something you love. We can DIY some of this stuff ourselves. But it's the time factor and expense that we can already tell is going to get out of control.

Assuming the vermiculate is asbestos contaminated, as much of it is in the old homes, we will never fully get rid of it in our breathing space. There are big gaps under the baseboards. Some quarter rounds were put down here and there, but throughout the house are gaps to walls that may have leaking vermiculite from the attic insulation.

Anyway, now that we've gone through a pretty touch learning experience with this house, I wanted to ask about stucco homes. I'm not fond of them, but the right house could sway us. My concern is that stucco doesn't seem to be much different than siding in terms of not really knowing what you're getting. The entire house is essentially hidden from sight, except for window trim and eaves.

What are your thoughts on this? The big clue that the other house had hidden problems was the $14,000 in termite damage, cracks in the siding, and the lack of rain gutters. What should we be aware of with stucco?

A. Spruce
Re: The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos

When looking to purchase anything, rule #1 DO NOT fall in love with it before you own it. Make sure that it suits your needs and that you would be happy to own said object, but do not fall in love with it, to do so, you lose your perspective, and if you show your hand, your "love" could cost you a good deal more money, either in purchase price or in "love blind" unforeseen issues.

On to your new questions. I personally am not a big stucco fan, though I've grown to appreciate it as an extremely low maintenance and durable surface when it is the old 1" thick, 3 layer plaster system. This "new" crap being passed off as stucco is the worst thing since vinyl siding to be wrought upon us. This "new" system, called EIFS, and its derivitives are garbage, prone to all manner of cracking, leakage, and failure. EIFS is usually pretty easy to spot, as you'll see checkerboard cracks over an entire wall, the cracks are the joints between the foam insulation panels. Another issue with EIFS is that it's a very thin skim coating over the foam insulation, the slightest bump will puncture it. Builders like it because it's relatively cheap and fast, municipalities love it because it adds insulation to a structure. Unfortunately, it is a very poor exterior coating choice. Again, the original 1", 3 layer stucco system is very durable and beneficial, it is EIFS that is at issue.

Jared C.
Re: The Mystery Behind the Vinyl Siding — Termites, Water Damage and Asbestos

Very good to know. Thanks.

I can't stand stucco, but if it's on a 1940s charmer, and everything else checks out, it's worth considering. I'm glad to know about the newer stucco. Sounds like a headache.

I would rather buy a vinyl clad house than stucco. It's easier to see what's going on underneath. But really I can't stand either option. In our price range, though, we're going to have to make some compromises.

One house on the list for tomorrow has dreaded popcorn ceilings. Yep, asbestos again. But there are many redeeming qualities, and it's my understand we can have that sc****d down and a the ceiling resurfaced.

I have no idea how much that would cost, and it's not something we want to do ourselves. It would have to be done before we move in. I'll have to get an estimate on what that would cost on a house that's no more than 1300 square feet.


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