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Weather-Proofing TOH's Timeless Home

With new windows, siding, and roof shingles, This Old House's Timeless Home take cover from the weather

Pushing the Envelope
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At the Timeless Home job site in Atlanta, the air is clacking and buzzing with the sounds of staple guns and electric drills as general contractor Jason Yowell eagerly unwraps the latest delivery: a 500-pound cardboard package wrapped in plastic, containing an 11-by-7-foot picture window that will soon grace the living room and afford a panoramic view of the surrounding woods. This recent arrival is just one of the 49 aluminum-clad, double-paned windows scattered about the inside of the house, and Yowell is anxious to get them in. "With all the rain we've had lately, the sooner I can plug all the holes around here, the better," he says.

Without properly installed windows—and siding and roofing—no wood-frame house will last very long. A structure depends on these materials, carefully layered, to form an “envelope” that protects its supporting framework, and, ultimately, its inhabitants, from the ravages of the weather. Yowell says good workmanship is critical at this stage because water will quickly find its way past a poorly built exterior. "And you'll end up spending a lot of money trying to fix the rot, the mold, and any other damage that may result."

For architect Jeremiah Eck, who designed the Timeless Home for This Old House magazine and the Masco Corporation, a building materials supplier, the envelope is as much an aesthetic concern as a functional one. "The materials enhance the character of a house," says Eck. To realize his vision of a contemporary residence cloaked in a mantle of tradition, Eck chose both time-honored and man-made products. This being Atlanta, close to some of the biggest clay deposits in the country, brick was the logical choice for covering the basement-level exterior walls. For the first and second floors, Eck specified shingles and board-and-batten siding made of durable fiber cement. And on the roof, he chose deep green shingles molded from recycled plastics to look just like slate. “The big question in all house construction today regards the preservation of natural resources,” says Eck. “These new materials reflect a classic look, but with up-to-date technology behind it.”
At the Timeless Home job site in Atlanta, the air is clacking and buzzing with the sounds of staple guns and electric drills as general contractor Jason Yowell eagerly unwraps the latest delivery: a 500-pound cardboard package wrapped in plastic, containing an 11-by-7-foot picture window that will soon grace the living room and afford a panoramic view of the surrounding woods. This recent arrival is just one of the 49 aluminum-clad, double-paned windows scattered about the inside of the house, and Yowell is anxious to get them in. "With all the rain we've had lately, the sooner I can plug all the holes around here, the better," he says.

Without properly installed windows—and siding and roofing—no wood-frame house will last very long. A structure depends on these materials, carefully layered, to form an “envelope” that protects its supporting framework, and, ultimately, its inhabitants, from the ravages of the weather. Yowell says good workmanship is critical at this stage because water will quickly find its way past a poorly built exterior. "And you'll end up spending a lot of money trying to fix the rot, the mold, and any other damage that may result."

For architect Jeremiah Eck, who designed the Timeless Home for This Old House magazine and the Masco Corporation, a building materials supplier, the envelope is as much an aesthetic concern as a functional one. "The materials enhance the character of a house," says Eck. To realize his vision of a contemporary residence cloaked in a mantle of tradition, Eck chose both time-honored and man-made products. This being Atlanta, close to some of the biggest clay deposits in the country, brick was the logical choice for covering the basement-level exterior walls. For the first and second floors, Eck specified shingles and board-and-batten siding made of durable fiber cement. And on the roof, he chose deep green shingles molded from recycled plastics to look just like slate. “The big question in all house construction today regards the preservation of natural resources,” says Eck. “These new materials reflect a classic look, but with up-to-date technology behind it.”
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Siding 2
Photo by Jeff Von Hoene
After nailing down a strip of black vinyl flashing over the bottom of the rough opening, two of Dennis Schrenk Jr.'s crew fit a corner window into place. The aluminum-clad frame is plumbed and leveled before the crew secures it to the sheathing
Putting on the envelope of the house began as soon as the framers nailed down the last panel of oriented strand board (OSB) sheathing. Building-wrap contractor Rex Nelson and his four-man crew then unfurled 9-foot-wide rolls of a breathable, woven-plastic housewrap and stapled it to the raw OSB. According to the manufacturer, this layer reduces heat loss and drafts by covering the cracks around windows and doors and between layers of wood framing, exterior sheathing, and floors. Working their way across the face of the house, with staple hammers and 3/8-inch galvanized staples, the crew overlapped each course by 2 to 4 inches and taped the seams with 1 7/8-inch-wide polypropylene contractor's tape. They wrapped right over each of the window openings, then cut an X from corner to corner and tucked in and stapled the resulting flaps inside to cover the sides of the window jambs. While attaching the wrap, they reinforced it sporadically by hammering 1¼-inch nails with 1-inch-size plastic heads. “Without the plastic-capped nails, a big windstorm could pull the wrap off the house,” Nelson says. “They provide the extra level of strength needed to secure the wrap.”

A day later, framing contractor Dennis Schrenk Jr. was back on the site, looking over the many different shapes and sizes of windows he would be installing over the next few days. After successfully working through the difficult, multileveled framing job, he recognized right away that he was in for another challenge. Eck's initial design called for casement windows throughout—the kind that crank open on side hinges—but his final plans specified a less costly mix of casement, awning, and double-hung windows, accented in several places by fixed-light transoms. These would all be aluminum-clad—wood frames covered in aluminum with a baked-on enamel finish. Also, because Eck insisted that all of the windows on the first floor had to line up with the frieze board and that the tops of the windows on each of the other floors be held to the same height, there was no margin for installation error. “By lining up the windows to the eave line, which is consistent all the way around the structure, we can make the roof a stronger visual reference point and create a calmer feeling for the house,” says Eck.

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Siding 3
Photo by Jeff Von Hoene
The aluminum-clad frame is plumbed and leveled before the crew secures it to the sheathing by nailing it down and taping the perforated vinyl fins that come attached to its exterior.
One of the first windows Schrenk and eight of his men installed was the big picture window in the living room, which overlooks a terrace below. Before lifting the framed glass into place, they first nailed a strip of black vinyl flashing over the rough sill and down about 8 inches over the face of the housewrap to protect the framing even more from water infiltration. Then, five men inside the house angled the 11-foot-long window out through the opening, where three men perched on a scaffolding outside helped straighten it and tip it into place. The crew inside inserted shims on all sides between the framing and the window until it was plumb and level, then anchored it in place by hammering 1½-inch galvanized roofing nails through the holes in the perforated vinyl nailing fins that surround the aluminum frame. For the final touch, Schrenk's crew covered the vinyl fins with the same contractor's tape used on the housewrap. “The tape covers the holes and protects the inside of the window from being exposed to moisture,” says Schrenk.

Once the windows were in, and the 4-inch hardboard trim was applied around them and to the corners, siding contractor Martin Shackelford could begin nailing up the first course of fiber-cement shingles. Fiber cement, a mix of wood pulp, sand, water, and portland cement, is resistant to insects, won't rot or burn, and holds on to paint years longer than wood. And while this product looks like painted cedar and is installed in the same manner, it can be as much as 30 percent cheaper than No. 1 blue-labels, the best-grade of red cedar for sidewalls. Still, it presents a few difficulties for installers. Cedar snaps with a quick score of a utility knife, while fiber cement has to be cut with a circular saw or electric hand shears. “Fiber cement is very dusty when you cut it,” Shackelford says. “You have to wear a dust mask.” Also, it's so hard that many contractors, including Shackelford, use a nail gun to drive nails into it.

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Siding 4
Photo by Burt Welleford
A worker hoists a stack of fiber-cement shingles up to siding contractor Martin Shakelfod. Although more durable than traditional wood shingles, fiber cement requires a careful installation technique. "Unless the nail gun is set right, nails will blow right through," says Jason Yowell.
Before the first shingle could go up, however, Shackelford had to install a water table—a horizontal trim detail that directs rain away from the wall.

Resting the first course of shingles on the water table, Shackelford arranged the 6-, 8-, and 12-inch-wide shingles in a pleasing, random way and left a 3/16-inch gap between them before shooting each one with a roofing nail, 8 inches above the butt. For the next course, he measured 6 inches up from the bottom edge of the starter course on each end of the wall and snapped a chalk line between those two points. Using this line as a guide, Shackelford started the process all over again. This time, though, he made sure that the vertical joints between the shingles did not line up with the joints in the first course. Doing otherwise, Shackelford says, “could invite a leak.”

On the house's gable ends, where Eck wanted board-and-batten siding, fiber cement again filled the bill. Shackelford nailed 12-foot-long panels of the material over the wrapped sheathing, then covered the nails and the vertical seams between the panels with 2¾-inch-wide battens of fiber cement. “I make sure there's a seam right in the middle of the gable so that one batten strip goes right to the peak,” says Shackelford. “If you don't do it this way, the strip might not line up and it would look unbalanced.”

Meanwhile, masonry subcontractor Pragedis Ehavez and a crew of four men mixed a batch of mortar cement, sand, and water in a portable cement mixer as they prepared to lay brick over the 10-foot-high basement walls.

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Siding 5
Photo by Burt Welleford
A string stretched taut between them creates a level reference for each course. After smearing about an inch of mortar on top of the previous course, Ehavez presses each brick into the slurry by hand until its top edge is level with the reference string. Although newly fired, these bricks are individually crafted in wooden molds to give them an antique, white-washed look.
To keep the brick courses plumb, Ehavez's crew had already set up and plumbed 8-foot-long 2x4s vertically at each end of the foundation and stretched a mason's twine taut and level between them. Using this line as a guide to keep each course perfectly level, two-man teams, working from opposite ends of the wall toward the center, started laying the first course of brick on top of the foundation footing. With quick scoops of their trowels, they laid a mortar bed, then pressed the bricks into position, tapped them level with a trowel handle, and cleaned off any excess mortar. “It's hard work,” Ehavez admits. “Our four-man crew can lay about 2,000 a day, and there are about 10,000 to be laid here.”

So it went for the next 50 courses, until the gray slurry started to harden. Then the masons went back to smooth and pack the joints with an anchor bolt and brush away the leftover bits of mortar. To make this wall, they used a running bond, the simple pattern in which the middle of every brick is placed directly over the vertical joint below. But on the final course, just beneath the water table, Ehavez's crew turned the brick perpendicular to the wall and packed enough mortar underneath to make a sloped cap called a rowlock. “This brick rowlock, combined with the wood portion of the water table, marks the transition between the base and middle of the house, between the ground and the shingles,” says Eck. “This transition is just as important as the transition from the middle of the house to the roof with the eave line.”

High above the brickworkers, Felipe Vela's crew was preparing to put on the roofing. They had already nailed 30-pound roofing felt over the OSB sheathing and flashed the dormers, the valleys, and the base of the chimney with 20-ounce copper, secured with copper nails. “Copper can last a hundred years before you need to do any maintenance,” says Eck. “When it weathers and turns from brown to green, it will give the house an older feeling.” At the eaves, copper installer Alexander Pustilnik nailed down the copper drip edges and covered all but 2 inches of them with self-adhesive waterproofing membrane. “It creates a waterproof seal around any nail holes that puncture it,” Yowell explains.

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Siding 6
Photo by Burt Welleford
Alexander Pustilnik attaches copper flashing along the eave to cover the gap between the rook sheathing and the fascia board
While copper protects the vulnerable intersections on a roof, most of its surface will be covered with 12-by-18-inch squares of man-made slate. These recycled-plastic rectangles (whose primary ingredient is the same material used for dent-resistant automobile bumpers) replicate slate's rich colors and rough texture, but at just one pound per square, they are about 80 percent lighter than natural slate, making them easier on the crew's backs and the roof's framing. And at $2 per shingle, the faux slate is half the price of the real thing. Installation is quicker, too, as the material can be cut with a utility knife. Vela likes the fact that the shingles have molded-in circles showing exactly where to place each of two nails, and alignment marks to help keep the courses straight and evenly spaced. The manufacturer gives a 50-year warranty. “Originally I wanted wood shingles,” admits Eck. “But the product we chose looks just as crisp.”

As the roofing crew finishes up, Yowell takes a step back to review the progress they've made over the last few weeks. Not only is the Timeless Home safe from the weather, it's beginning to acquire a special look. “It's nice to see the mix of materials finally coming together,” says Yowell. “The house is finally showing its curb appeal.”

For more information please visit The Timeless Home.
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Siding 7
Photo by Burt Welleford
Copper drip caps are crimped along their length with a metal brake before installation
Where to Find It

Architect: Jeremiah Eck
Jeremiah Eck Architects Inc
Boston, MA
617-367-9696

Builder: Jason Yowell
Metropolitan Design & Construction
Roswell, GA
770-402-6368

Civil engineer: Terry Boomer
BH&D Engineering Inc
Woodstock, GA
678-445-9489

Framing contractor: Dennis Schrenk Jr.
Hallmark Building Group
Lawrenceville, GA
770-231-0257

Siding contractor: Martin Shackelford
Shackelford Construction
Flowering Branch, GA
770-932-1426

Roofing contractor: Felipe Vela
Felipe Vela Roofing
Marietta, GA
404-213-5491

Insulation and copper: Quality Insulation
Atlanta, GA
770-448-7005

Housewrap contractor: Rex Nelson
Correct Housewrap Inc
Suwanee, GA
404-867-3918

Masonry contractor: Marian Pirvu
Sunrise Stucco Inc
Atlanta, GA
404-867-9220

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Siding 8
Photo by Burt Welleford
Roofing Contractor Felipe Vela tacks on the faux-slate roof shingles.
Shingle siding: James Hardie Shingle Siding
Hardiplank and Harditrim used for the board-and-batten style
888-542-7343
www.jameshardie.com

Housewrap: PinkWrap by Owens Corning
Toledo, OH
800-438-7465
www.owens-corning.com.

Windows and doors: Casemaster casement and French casement windows, Clad Ultimate double-hung and picture windows, awning and corner windows, inswing French doors all by, Marvin Windows and Doors
Warroad, Minnesota
888-819-2470
www.marvin.com

Roofing: Authentic Roof 2000 by Crowe Building Products Ltd
Hamilton, Ontario
905-529-6818

Brick: Normandy/17th Century Collection by Boral Bricks Inc
Atlanta, GA
770-645-4500

Engineered wood trim: PrimeTrim
Georgia-Pacific Corp.
Atlanta, GA
800-284-5347

Copper materials: Copper Development Association
New York, NY
212-251-7200
www.copper.org

Ridge vents: Certainteed
Valley Forge, PA
800-782-8777
www.certainteed.com
 
 

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