Since I have some space left over, I'd like to mention a new siding product that I've found as an alternative to aluminum or vinyl siding. Hardiplank is a combination of cement and wood fibers. It is therefore fireproof, insect proof, impact resistant, and will not rot, crack, or delaminate. It is used extensively in hurricane zones. It comes with several types of woodgrain pattern, or a smooth finish. It does need to be painted like wood, but is said to hold paint well.
The material is itself not very much more costly than vinyl or aluminum. Because it is installed like wood siding, however, installation will cost more. My estimate of the labor and materials for installation on two gable ends would be about $1500. I've installed it on my house, and am very pleased with it.
Copyright Doug Boulter, 1997
Even if your home is made of brick, there's a good chance that the gable ends (the triangular ends that cover the attic sides) were covered with siding. And the soffits (that cover the bottom of the roof overhang) are covered with wood. At some point, the house owner gets tired of maintaining or painting these and wants to make a change. The homeowner talks to a professional, often a siding contractor. That's when many homeowners get bad advice. This article will attempt to offer some unbiased recommendations on what you should do. At least I'm not trying to sell you anything!
In Virginia Hills, the gable end siding was made of asbestos, although some of the earliest houses may have had wood. Don't fear the asbestos! It is a type of siding commonly used in the 1940s and 1950s. Asbestos particles do not come off the siding. The technical term is that the asbestos isn't friable. Only if the siding is sanded is it a real danger, although there is some possibility that it might produce particles if it is snapped in two. Until a few years ago, this siding was accepted at most landfills. Currently, you may need a private company to dispose of it in Fairfax County since most solid waste is now burned.
That's a problem for many siding contractors who don't want to be bothered with proper disposal. As a result, they'll offer to install their product over the original siding. That's a bad idea for two reasons. First, nailing into the old siding can crack it, and pieces may even fall off. Second, you'll still have asbestos siding, and that may scare away potential buyers who eventually might buy your home. It's much better to have the siding carefully removed (meaning that it's removed without breaking the pieces). Wetting it down first by spraying it with water is a prudent measure prior to removal.
Under this original siding was an asphalt impregnated felt board that provided minimal insulation and a minimal water barrier. But it was (and is) perfectly fine; that's just the way things were built in that time period. However, it's easy to accidentally punch a hole through the felt board, and sloppy contractors will do a lot of that. They'll tell you that they have to replace the felt board because "it's no better than cardboard." That has a grain of truth to it. The felt board isn't structural, that is, it doesn't make the wall more solid. But the old asbestos siding was structural, so the fact that the felt board wasn't didn't make a difference. The vinyl or aluminum siding that the contractor wants to install isn't structural either, so the contractor should really install plywood and a vapor barrier under the siding. That would increase the cost to you and the time it would take them to do the job, so many don't want to offer you that alternative, especially if they don't have a good carpenter to hang the plywood. If they're installing wood siding or a fiber cement siding product like Hardiplank, those are structural, and either one can be installed right over the felt board.
Because the soffits are covered in wood, the vinyl or aluminum siding salesman will tell you that you can cover it right over with their product. You can. But this also creates problems.
First, it's now thought important for an attic to be vented not just by the two gable vents the houses originally had, but also by a continuous vent along the roof and a continuous vent in the front and rear soffits. If the old wood stays in place, you don't have an opening for the soffit vents, even if the vinyl or aluminum siding has small holes in it for that purpose. Sometimes what contractors will propose is drilling holes through the wood and their covering and installing vents that way. That's ok if they drill a hole in between every pair of rafters, but that looks terrible and is a lot of work, so it's never done that way.
Second, the original wood covering the soffits was painted with lead paint. The easiest way to deal with this is simply to remove the wood. However, if you do remove the wood, you lose some of the structural support for the roof rafters/trusses which in their day were simply nailed on (now they would be held with a special metal fastener).
My solution is to have the old soffit wood removed and replaced with new plywood. A continuous soffit vent should run down the center. Prime and paint with a high quality paint. This is not an expensive solution. If you want something higher end than plywood, use beadboard with narrow (two inch) strips such as you might see on a porch ceiling.
My solution for gable end siding would be to remove the old asbestos siding and replace it with a fiber cement siding, which won't need painting more than every ten years or longer. My second solution would be to remove the asbestos siding and felt board, replacing them with plywood, a vapor barrier, and vinyl or aluminum siding.
Given the cost of all these measures, you might want to look at the cost of a good painter for the old siding if there are no problems besides peeling paint.
Copyright Doug Boulter, 2006
Fall is a prime time for painting. But as the days and nights grow colder, and possibly wetter, how long can you still paint outside? What's new with paint? And what will be different if you hire a professional rather than doing it yourself? These are the topics this article will address. Most of what I'm going to say applies to latex (water-based) paint. Unless you have a particular problem or situation, latex is the way to go these days.
The most common sense rule for when not to paint is when it's raining. The paint needs time to dry. How long does it need? It depends on the paint, but it needs to be dry to the touch, and I'd really like there to be 24 hours before it might get rained on. Somewhat surprisingly, if has recently rained and the surface you're painting isn't soaked, but still a bit damp, you can paint that surface if you're using a latex paint. It will thin the paint somewhat, so I wouldn't make a habit of it, but you could do it if you really needed the paint on ASAP, particularly a first coat.
Another issue is the humidity of the air, and particularly fog. A humid or foggy day will both increase time for paint to dry, sometimes by a large amount. If you can, avoid painting on a humid day.
Temperature is also important. While you can get specialty paints that will cure at 35 degrees, most latex paints want a minimum temperature of 50 degrees. It should not only be above 50 degrees when you paint, but also when the paint is drying. Dew may form on the paint at night and ruin the paint job if there's a sudden drop in temperature. Really, really try to paint when it will be above 50 degrees for 24 hours.
And here's the obvious hard and fast rule. Read the label on the paint can and follow the rules it gives you. Better still, read the label before you buy the paint so you'll know in what conditions you'll need to apply it.
A big change over the past few years is that many paints now come with primer in them. As a result, it may be hard to find anything marked as a primer in the same brand as your finish paint. Don't despair! Kilz and Zinsser both continue to make very good latex primers. I regularly use both and like both.
And while this isn't new for paint, much siding and trim now comes primed. Hardiplank siding is just one example. It's well worth buying siding and trim pre-primed, especially if it will be a while before you can get the finish coats on.
The big question is whether you should buy the exterior paint with primer included. Usually, the paint with primer is at least 50% more expensive than an equal quality paint without the primer. Because you're painting bare wood, you can expect the paint with primer to cover a smaller area than the same paint without primer, so it's not an easy calculation. And while you'd have one fewer coat to put on, you might be able to paint the coat on top of the primer faster. I'd say this is pretty much a tossup. Traditionalists might want to stay with the primer.
Painting over new pre-primed trim and siding requires the least work, but that's not to say no work at all. It's a good idea to vacuum the dust off the surface to be painted, or wipe it down with a damp cloth.
Of course nail and screw holes should be filled if you care about the final appearance. Be sure you use a filler that's recommended for exterior use, not just interior.
If you're like 99% of the people out there, you'll wait to re-paint your home's exterior until you can wait no longer. Prep work will be more important. You'll not only need to clean off dust, but also mold and mildew. If the old paint has become chalky, you'll need to scrub or sand it until it no longer comes off on your hand. If the paint is peeling, it will have to be sanded or removed with a heat gun.
You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned power washing. In skilled hands, a power washer is a very useful tool. Blasting away at old siding may be counterproductive, however, if you get a lot of water behind the siding or take off too much of the old paint. I leave power washing to the pros.
I learned to paint with a brush outside, so that's what I do. But it takes longer and is harder work. Pros will want to spray. That's fine. However, understand that under many circumstances just spraying exterior surfaces will give you a lesser quality job. In a good job, the pro will spray the surface and then back brush or roll it to even out the paint, particularly if it's a rough or heavily grained surface. You should insist that your pro do that. You may not notice a difference if it's not back brushed, but other pros will.
What can a pro do better than you can besides the prep? One thing is painting with a sash brush when two colors meet (trim with siding, for example). You might want to mask all edges if you're doing it yourself.
Unless you do mountain climbing as your hobby, the pro will be better and safer working in high places.
Painting is almost always a rewarding job when it's done right. Don't be afraid of it. It's not rocket science, but it does take some skill.
Copyright Doug Boulter, 2013
Let's move outside the house this time and talk about driveways. I've noticed a number of new driveways in Virginia Hills recently, and as many of you have noticed, I've just spent a large amount of time sealing my own driveway. As a result, in this article I'm going to talk about driveways generally and then discuss what I've learned about sealing an asphalt driveway.
Driveways generally come in four types: concrete, brick, asphalt, and gravel. Of these four, brick is the most expensive, but has the potential for the best appearance since it can be laid in whatever pattern you like. Concrete is the next most expensive form of driveway, but if done properly is the most durable. It's appearance can be enhanced by exposing the stone aggregate, by adding different colorings, or by texturing different patterns into the surface. Asphalt is somewhat less durable than concrete, but is also much less expensive. Gravel (technically called loose aggregate) is the least expensive, but also the least durable.
The life of any driveway is determined not so much by the material of which the driveway is made, but rather by the care that goes into the base on which it sits. Any good driveway should sit on a base of gravel and/or sand that will allow moisture to drain down through it and will "give" to allow for expansion and contraction of the soil below. In our area where marine clay makes up much of the soil, if the ground becomes saturated with water, the clay will expand. When it drys out, it will contract. This stresses the driveway and will crack concrete or asphalt not built on a good base.
Given a good base, the biggest enemies of a driveway are water and plants. If water gets into the driveway surface and freezes, the expansion will cause the driveway to crack. In the summer, these cracks will fill with dust and dirt. Plant seeds will find their way into the cracks and grow. The roots will further force the cracks apart, and water will eventually get into the base, causing settling and more cracks. Concrete is far less susceptible to this process than asphalt, and if it is properly poured and reinforced, concrete should only crack under conditions of extreme settling.
Asphalt, by its very nature, needs more protection against the elements. The tar that holds the crushed stone together is not as strong as the cement in concrete. A new asphalt driveway needs about a year to cure. Once the year has gone by, you need to seal your driveway to keep out seeds and water and help hold the surface together. A good sealer is a petroleum based product (like tar) with a rubber-like compound for extra protection. If you hire someone to do the driveway coating for you, be sure they are using a quality product. Many fly-by-night companies coat with used motor oil that has been thinned. This is almost no better than no coating at all. If you pay to have this work done, specify what coating the contractor should use.
Driveway sealer is sold in most home centers in five gallon buckets. Each bucket is supposed to cover about 300 square feet of driveway, but if the asphalt is new and/or was not rolled well and is pitted, the sealer will not cover nearly 300 square feet, perhaps only one third of that.
Like with painting, the secret to sealing a driveway is mostly in the preparation. First, if there are cracks, pull out any weeds growing there and treat with a strong herbicide. Fill the cracks with a liquid crack filler and allow it to harden. On the next day, sweep the driveway clean and put down masking tape to protect any edges or places you don't want sealer. Insure you have picked a good day for sealing. Rain should not fall on the driveway within 24 hours after sealing, and the temperature at night should not drop below 50 degrees. If your weather is acceptable, begin by misting the driveway with a hose so it is slightly damp but no water stands on it. Then open your bucket of sealer and stir thoroughly until you feel no resistance and the material that had settled to the bottom is mixed back in. Then stir three minutes more. I can't emphasize enough how important complete mixing is!
Now take a paint brush and paint a six inch band of sealer around the edge of the driveway. The edge is the part of the asphalt most susceptible to failure. Coat thickly and insure that the sealer gets deep into the rough surface of the asphalt. A helper can do this as you spread the main surface. Pour out a line of sealer, about a half gallon's worth, across the driveway and spread it with a broom, sweeping it deeply into the surface. Try not to overlap too much as the different thicknesses of sealer will cause streaks on the drive. Sweep in all directions, then in one direction to finish. Allow the sealer to dry. You can walk on it after about eight hours, but it should be at least 24 hours until you drive on it.
Copyright Doug Boulter, 1994
Let's say you are undertaking a repair or renovation of your house. What can the public utilities do to assist you with your project? In this article, I'm going to discuss some of the options available to you from to the electric, gas, and telephone utility companies in the way they get service to your house.
Virginia Power wants you to have all the electric power you need to live efficiently and safely. Many Virginia Hills houses, however, have 100 amp electrical service panels which are not adequate to service all the demands for electric power that have come about since the houses were built. If you haven't already done so, you may be considering upgrading to a 200 amp service panel, either because your existing panel can't carry the load, or because the old panel has rusted out due to water damage as I described several months ago.
If you are switching from 100 amp service to 200 amp service, Virginia Power will help. They may change over the cable running into your meter box for free and also run this cable underground for free. Why would you want your service cable underground? First, your house will look better without the unsightly cable running above your lawn and down the side of your house. Second, it will be safer for crews working in your trees or carrying tall objects in the vicinity of the power lines. Finally, your panel will be less susceptible to water damage. Since the power company uses a pneumatic "mole" which burrows its way underground, the damage to your lawn of putting the service cable underground will be minimal.
Even if you already have 150 amp service, Vepco may upgrade you to 200 amp underground service for a minimal charge (about $200 in my experience). Remember, this only includes work up to the outside meter base; installing the new inside service panel and hooking it to the meter base and your existing circuits will have to be done by your electrician at your expense.
If you decide to do this, talk to Virginia Power customer service. They will want to know what electrical appliances you use and are planning to add. The greater your electrical demand, the more likely they are to upgrade you for free after a Vepco engineer reviews the project.
The gas company can relocate your gas meter from your basement to the outside of the house. Before the gas company read meters by radio, this saved the hassle of a gas company representative periodically having to get inside your house to read the meter. It still means that the large amount of wall space that the meter took up will be free for you to use. Finally, it eliminates the source of high pressure gas from inside the house. With the meter outside, the pressure is regulated there, and only low pressure gas is in the inside piping.
Unfortunately, Washington Gas is reluctant to move meters outside for free these days since they can now read the inside ones by radio. And the work isn't cheap. Figure the cost of their digging up a small part of your lawn and moving the meter at $600+. This does not include the cost of changes to the gas pipe inside the house that your plumber will have to make to connect to the new meter outside. If, however, you are thinking about adding gas appliances beyond a stove, furnace, and water heater, you may need to increase the size of your inside gas line to 1" from the existing 3/4". If so, the inside costs will be part of that work.
If you've added no phone lines since your house was built, you may only have one phone line with no ability to add a second. The phone company will be happy to run you a new phone cable underground at a reasonable price. This new cable will contain five "twisted pair" which means that you can have as many as five phone lines turned on. This is also a deal worth considering, especially if you have a home office. Underground phone service will also be essential if you are planning to add a monitored home security system. Since the phone line does not have to be run very deep underground, the phone company will do this work independently of the power company.
I can't guarantee the results you will have dealing with these utilities on the service changes I have described. In my experience, however, they have not been terribly difficult to work with. The changes themselves are well worth thinking about, especially if you are doing a major renovation to your home.
Copyright Doug Boulter, 1996
One of the advantages of a Virginia Hills rambler is not its copious amount of storage space, particularly for lawn and garden equipment. And, since the 1950s when the ramblers were built, many of the old hand tools have been replaced by larger power equipment. If you've acquired a lot of lawn and garden equipment, you need a place to store it. Many people build or buy an outdoor shed to hold a growing collection of power and hand outdoor equipment.
In this article, we'll talk about where you can put a shed and how big it may be. We'll then go on to discuss the temporary sheds you can buy. In the next issue, we'll discuss how to build a shed.
Fairfax County establishes certain requirements for sheds.
Most sheds (commonly called outdoor storage buildings) are designed to avoid the need for obtaining a building permit or meeting setback requirements. A common size is 10' by 8', with the building itself being only 8' high. However, that means that with a sloping roof on the shed, it will only be about 6.5' high at the side walls.
Most sheds are made out of either vinyl, steel, or wood. Better vinyl sheds often have steel reinforcements as part of the frame and the doors. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Vinyl sheds come with warranties, some as long as 15 years. They are easiest to set up, and never need painting. However, they are the most expensive and are light weight.
Wood sheds are essentially kits that allow you to assemble the wood components. They rarely have warranties, are more difficult to assemble, and require painting and maintenance. However, they are less expensive than vinyl sheds, have better visual appeal, and allow you to make modifications, particularly on the inside to devise your own hanging storage methods.
Steel sheds are the least expensive, but require constant maintenance to prevent rust - even the pre-painted galvanized versions. The steel is very thin, and it dents or scratches easily. They may come with a short warranty.
Remember, the price of the shed does not include window kits and base kits. While you can do without windows, you will probably not want to set the shed on bare ground. Unless you want to pour a concrete slab for the shed, you'll want a base kit, about 25% of the price of the shed itself.
If you have a wood shed, you'll want to raise the base off the ground. This is often done by supporting the wood base with cinder blocks half buried in the ground, giving you about a 4" lift, or with various sizes of pressure treated lumber. The key here is making sure that the base is level and sturdy before starting construction of the shed. Also be aware that the area under the base will be an excellent home for all kinds of wildlife. Alternately, you can dig out 3-4" of soil and fill with crushed stone, which makes a good base as well. If your shed is at ground level, be aware that you may have to install gutters to deal with roof runoff.
If you want to add electrical power to your shed, understand that you will have to pull an electrical permit. It may also affect the type of shed you can build or buy.
If you've decided you'd like to build a shed instead of buying a prefabricated one, you can create something more substantial that better meets your needs. You may also be able to build more cheaply than if you buy.
The basis of a good shed is its foundation. A good concrete foundation, build right, will last a very long time. It should sit on at least 4" of crushed gravel and be at least 4" thick. While you can do the concrete work yourself, it will be easier to hire a contractor to pour it.
If you're going to build a shed that is made of wood, a good idea is putting one course of concrete block around the perimeter and filling it with concrete. This will keep your wood framing off the concrete at ground level, and, if you're using wood siding, will keep water splash off the bottom of the siding and will keep it from rotting. This first course of block should be filled with concrete and anchor bolts for the sill plate should be embedded in the concrete. Your concrete contractor can do this for you.
Remember that if you're going to put wheeled lawn equipment in the shed, it would be helpful to have a concrete ramp to cover the difference in height between the pad and the ground where the shed door will be.
Finally, if you think you might ever run power to the shed, have your contractor embed conduit in the concrete so you can run an underground power line to it and get the wire inside without having to drill through the slab.
You can make your shed completely out of masonry, a layer of brick outside a layer of concrete block. This will make a sturdy, but expensive shed. Instead of the interior layer of block, you can build wood framing and have a brick mason face it with a layer of brick. This is called brick veneer and will look nice at a reduced cost. Or finally, you can build a wood frame and use vinyl, wood, Hardiplank, or other siding. This is the easiest and least expensive approach.
I'm going to assume that if you want an all masonry shed, you'll have a masonry contractor build it for you, so I'll talk in detail only about wood framing. Your framing should be made from 2x4 lumber. There really is no need to frame in 2x6 unless you are going to insulate and heat the shed. You should lay out your vertical framing 18 inches on center. Sheath your framing in ½inch plywood or better and cover it with 15 or 30 lb. roofing felt to keep out the water. You'll either attach your siding over this, or you'll use brick ties to connect the brick veneer to the framing.
When it comes to the roof, you can either buy trusses or stick frame it by hand. A good idea is to match the pitch of the shed roof to the pitch of your house roof so that the two will seem to go together. It's always a good idea to use metal ties to secure the roof rafters to the wall top plate. This won't take much additional time, but will keep the roof from blowing off, even in very, very heavy winds.
Use a minimum of ½ inch plywood to cover your rafters or trusses. Leave or cut about an inch at the ridge for a ridge vent.
There's really no reason to use anything other than fiberglass or asphalt shingles for the roof. Again, they should match the shingles on the roof of your house. The shingles should be nailed (not stapled) on over roofing felt, and you should install, or have your contractor install, metal drip edge at the edges of the roof. Cap the ridge with ridge vent, and ensure that there are soffit vents to let in the air that will be vented out the ridge vent. You may also want to install some vents low in the walls to let air circulate from bottom to top. Consider gutters to prevent erosion of the ground around the shed.
Don't scrimp on the cost of a good door. It should be at least 36 inches wide to get equipment in easily, and should be heavy (wood or metal) and have a serious lock to prevent theft.
Windows are optional. While a window can let in light and air and make the shed more aesthetically pleasing, it also lets people see what you have stored in the shed. If you do install a window or windows, it would be a good idea to use obscure glass.
Copyright Doug Boulter, 2004
It looks so inviting. Lounging in a steaming hot tub on a cold winter's night with the family or with friends. Feeling the tub's jets massaging your back, legs, and shoulders as water bubbles up around you or a mini-waterfall pours from the top of the tub. Unless you know someone with a hot tub, however, that's not going to happen unless you buy one for yourself. So should you?
First, let's clear up some terminology. A hot tub is actually a wooden tub, while the colored plastic tub you're thinking of is really called a spa. While hot tubs are more a West Coast phenomenon, here in the East spas are the big sellers. I'm going to talk about spas.
First you'll want to know what a spa will cost you. A basic spa with room for six people starts in the area of $4000 to $5000. That's for the shell, the enclosure, the pipes and pumps, the heater, and the insulation. What that doesn't include is the installation.
First, spas have to sit on something. That's usually a deck or a concrete pad. If you have a pool and the concrete deck is big enough, the spa might be able to sit on the deck. More than likely you will either need to get a concrete pad poured or your wood deck reinforced to hold the weight. Figure at least $1500 for this work.
Then you'll need an electrical hook up for the tub. This will have to be a 220 volt line with a special circuit breaker (GFCI). If the spa will be close to your electrical panel and the electrical line won't have to be buried, you might get away with $500. If it's a long run of buried wire, $1000 might cover it. If there's no room in your electrical panel for the circuit and you need a new panel, that may run you $800 to $1500 (in this area, plan on the higher figure). You may also need a GFCI-protected outlet near the tub and GFCI protection for outdoor lights near the tub. For better figures, consult with an electrician who routinely installs tubs.
Of course you can get very fancy. You can get a larger spa or one with more features (more jets, built in stereo, etc.) And do you want an enclosure for the spa, like a gazebo? Do you want to bury it in the ground like a pool? All these things will add significantly to the cost.
There are three main costs of operating a spa – the water, the energy to heat the water, and the chemicals to keep the water clean and safe to be in.
Water is probably the least expensive item. A typical six-person spa holds about 300 gallons of water. In this area, water and sewer charges are less than a cent a gallon. How often you should change the water depends on how often you use the tub and how many different (i.e. strange) people use it. Showering before getting into the spa will help extend the life of the water. Two to four months is what most owners do, but you might want to change it more frequently.
Chemicals and test strips may cost you $120 per year, but that really depends on how diligent you are keeping the spa clean and how often you use it.
Electricity to heat the spa will vary, but spa manufacturers claim that their spas will use about $10 of electricity per month when the outside temperature averages about 60 degrees. Figure $20-$50 per month for at least six months of the year when the average temperature will be less than that.
For long term expenses, think filters and spa covers every 3-4 years, and an initial cost of some spa tools (skimmer, siphon cleaner, etc.).
Finally, expect to use a small amount of your time twice a week to check the chemicals and keep the spa clean.
The six-person spas we've been talking about measure about 7 feet x 7 feet. You really need at least 24", and 30" is better, to walk around three sides of the spa, and 18" on the other side. Be sure you have that much, or you'll need additional construction.
Should you invest in a cover lifter to make taking the cover off the tub easy? In my view, the $75 you might spend on a lifter is well worth it.
Given the low prices of gas these days, and probably low prices in the future, you might consider using gas to heat the water in the spa if you have gas coming into your house. Anticipate a higher cost of equipment and installation yielding significant savings on ongoing energy usage.
Should you put your spa inside? While there are advantages to doing that, you will have to protect the walls, ceiling, and floor from water (think tile or waterproof paint) and add a fan on a humidistat.
Finally, if you have health issues, you should ask your doctor about spa use. And despite the party atmosphere of a spa, it's not a good idea to drink and soak.
Copyright Doug Boulter, 2012