Siding questions for 1870's farmhouse. WWYD?

sarahandbrayFebruary 26, 2009

We're in the process of trying to figure out what to do with our old farmhouse--it has the original wood siding underneath 1950's aluminum siding (see pics below...current pic and before aluminum siding). Insulation has been blown in (see little gray holes all over...thanks, PO!), so I know there's some work to be done on the original siding at the very least. Have no idea what kind of shape it's in.

I don't think we will be able to afford fixing the wood siding underneath and getting it repainted all the time. Two-teacher budget, three little kids, more renovations needed on the inside as well. It's a pretty big house (3100 sf on the main two floors with a full attic)--and very tall. We don't feel comfortable doing the painting ourselves, even though our budget is more DIY than anything!

Surprisingly, an old Victorian up the street which was in rough shape, just got vinyl siding--three different colors (white, light gray, dark gray) with scalloping and some fancy trimwork, and I hate to admit that it looks GREAT. I mean, really sharp. Maybe not to a true historian, but it's a vast improvement and looks really clean and sharp. Made me rethink vinyl siding, to be honest.

What would you do with it? I'm getting an estimate next week on vinyl and Hardiboard--pretty sure even the price of vinyl and scalloping/trim with shutters for the 35+ windows is going to make me faint--can't even imagine what the Hardiboard price would be. We're not big into loans and would prefer to save up to do this project in a year or two when we can get a good chunk saved up. Any guesses as to the cost of residing this beast? How about repainting??

If it helps at all, we are not technically in any historic district where colors/materials are mandated. Sure, there are some old homes here and there, but a lot of nondescript 1950's bungalows/capes/ranches all around us as well.

What would you do??

(original siding)

more current picture

Sarah from Albany, NY

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We painted our aluminum siding. Sure I would have preferred to remove it, but that was the best solution given our circumstances (and it didn't add anything to a landfill). It totally updated the look of the house, and it looks as good as it did when whe had it painted five years ago.

Given the decorative shingles, yours is a different story, but I thought I'd pass along another option.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 1:56PM
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Thanks!! I just realized, I think I posted this question a while ago. Don't know why I'm revisiting it...guess because I still can't make a decision!! I wish I could get "This Old House" to come in, pick a project, and just do it for me!! They could have their choice--there's so many!!!


    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 2:51PM
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Hi Sarah,
In all honesty, having another layer of substitute siding added on top probably isn't a good option. The application in 1950 probably was much better craftsmanship (if that word can be used to describe alum. siding) than you will get with a crew putting up vinyl today.
You best bang for the buck is a well-thought out paint job with three colors.
If the alum. is removed, then the vinyl put on, you'd be spending as much as you would to fix and repaint the original siding.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 3:07PM
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Wow - you must have more self control than me. If I knew that incredible original siding was hiding under the aluminum, I would have pealed off at least one "test" section long ago!

Is this your "forever" house? If so, I would personally just save up until I could remove the "new" siding and repaint/restore the original. While you have 3 little kids now, someday they won't be so little and you can probably get a good paint job or 2 out of them before they head off to college. :)

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 4:36PM
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You are so lucky to have such a great old photo of your house! We have the exact same siding and the budget problem as well. Our house is much smaller (1913 bungalow), but I've decided I can live with the 1950's white aluminum siding on the two sides and the back. Our lots are small, kind of long and narrow, so the view from the street is really of the front. What we are doing is trying to restore just the street-front facade and maybe restore some wide trim to the exterior windows (on the sides and back that will be over the aluminum siding).

We've already taken the aluminum siding off the gable above our porch and we decided to have cedar shingles installed (hex and square in a pattern). Funny thing was, when the aluminum siding came off, old shingles in the exact same pattern and configuration were under there! It was so cool! (Our bungalow is a transition victorian in some style aspects - like hardware and these shingles.) Anyhow, we used opaque stain in two different colors of green and an off white on the shingles (we have the dark green roof trim, like you). I think our gable looks great. We are hoping the opaque stain will last longer than paint.

The next project is to "unwrap" the porch, scrape and restore whatever wood is rotted, paint, put some lattice against the new porch "foundation" and put dark green corner boards on the house. That probably won't be until summer 2010 though, because we are currently working on our upstairs.

Anyway, that's how we are going to live with our aluminum siding. Your house is so much bigger than ours... our ideas might not totally work for you, but you could definitely restore the porch rails, add more shutters and even just restore the shingles on the gables, if you wanted to. HTH.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 4:37PM
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Sounds like a great timeline, Kim. I think it would be tough on our house, because you can actually see the way it flares out all around the bottom of the second floor--I think it might look weird with only the front done.

My newest thought is keeping the original trim and scalloping, if they are in good shape and just adding Hardiboard where the siding was. What do you think about that?

I'm just afraid that the wood siding is going to be really damaged, especially from that blown-in insulation job.

How much do you think a house like this would cost to paint? Easily 15K, don't you think??? I guess I *could* do the painting myself--I'm only 31, not old enough that I "shouldn't be up on scaffolding." But I just don't know if I want to be that much more of a slave to this house than we already are. We keeping the original windows--which are great, don't get me wrong--neat wavy glass, pulleys and weights (some work, some don't!)--but a pain to clean, that's for sure!! Luckily, my husband and I are both adament about keeping the windows. Not so in love with the 1950's storms, but they work and we have most of the metal screens, so they're fine. Not beautiful, but fine.

It's so hard when you're on a budget, isn't it? Really--have you ever watched episodes of This Old House? The budgets these "clients" are working with are double what our house COST. For example, it would be great to buy all reclaimed southern yellow heartpine to redo our hallways upstairs--but we bought 16 boards identical to our downstairs floors and it was $800, I think. Seriously? The more "authentic" you get sometimes, the more pricey, that's for sure!!! I always was more critical of other people's "cheap" or not "authentic" choices until I got a big old house of my own. Now my mantra is more to keeping in the "feel" of the old home. I would have LOVED white, inset cabinets in our kitchen remodel, but they were completely cost-prohibitive. So I compromised and got frameless white (but not inset) and a big farmhouse sink and I think the effect is close enough. For 100K, I could have done a bang-up job, though ;)

Anyway, I'm getting two estimates from siding companies just for kicks. Can't hurt--they're free. And I won't let them touch the house, don't worry!! Really curious to see how much siding costs on a house this big. I'll let you know what I find out!


    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 10:26PM
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I did the same as Kim in my old house, which was a 1920s bungalow -- removed the aluminum myself, one side per year, and restored what was underneath. It was a really big job and my house was tiny by comparison to yours. Sarah, if you DO decide to remove the aluminum (whether it's you or someone else who does the work), it would be worth it to schelp it to a metal scrapyard for recycling. I'd be very surprised if you get less than $1,000 for the scrap aluminum.

For our current house, which is foursquare-ish, we had it professionally painted. The painters removed all the old paint with heat guns and then primed and added two coats of paint. That was 4 years ago and cost nearly $30k.

It's always possible that the paint under your aluminum is in reasonably good condition and doesn't need anything more than a decent scrape job before priming and painting though. Is there a place that you could carefully peel back a little of the aluminum and check to see the condition underneath? The worst side is likely to be the south side, so that's the place to look if you can. I believe that a good paint job will last 7-10 years, so it shouldn't be a can of worms of constant upkeep.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 8:35AM
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I'm in the process of removing the asbestos shingles from my 1875ish house, and what an improvement! It needs painting but I'm just working on it gradually. If you're an old-house lover, you'll probably really be happy to have the home's original detailing and integrity revealed. In this economy you'll probably be able to get some good prices from contractors. Also, maybe you could work it out so that only a couple sides get painted one year, and the other sides the next year. I thought about hiring someone to paint the really scary part of my house--the back which is 32 feet up, but I overcame my fears. I just kept going higher and higher, very slowly, and now there's no fear because I've gotten used to it. I wish you well with your old beauty of a house!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 3:34PM
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I'm pretty sure we'll wind up taking off the aluminum ourselves, mainly for the cost and ability to haul it to the recycling center right in the port of Albany only a few minutes away. Totally worth it for that big load of aluminum!!

I have no idea what the estimates to side this monster are going to be, but the siding guy today did say, "Wow, you've got quite a bit of house here!" when he drove up. Uh oh. All I saw were $$$!!!

I just know that when that siding comes off, I am going to want to keep the wood underneath. I'm sure it will be the same feeling I had when I stripped the 8 layers of wallpaper off the bea-u-tiful plaster in our guest room. It just felt like the house could finally BREATHE! I know I shouldn't put so many "human" traits on an inanimate object, but I just felt so much better.

Who knows--we may wind up trying to save it. We have lots of friends and we teach in a high school--so we might be able to recruit some kids to help us for a weekend for summer kid wages. I have no idea. A beer/cookout painting party has been mentioned--and that might work too.

It will all depend on us taking that siding off. But I hate to take it off and not have the money/time to do anything with the siding underneath. Then we'd really be between a rock and a hard place.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 7:59PM
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Have you considered doing it one or two sides at a time? That way perhaps you could afford having it replaced with wood.

Although you said you didn't want to DIY on a repaint, I would reconsider that, too. You guys are intrepid and I assume you already know how to paint, right? LOL!

Since a repaint now (as a holding action while you save up for a removal and replace with wood) would not have the huge, worrying issues of lead paint, then repainting is just basically standing up there and having at it.

Is it the ladder work that's stalling you? Then I would consider buying some scaffolding to make it easier, and feel safer while you're doing it. After you've done with the paint job, you could resell the scaffolding, though I predict you'll find it handy to have and want to keep it. There's still some ladders involved even when working with scaffolding, but it does make it much easier to work on.

Your house is the same height as mine and I can assure you it looks far scarier from the ground than when working up on good (at least Type II) ladder equipped with a stand-off bracket.

I started work on the slate roofs of my house last fall and even though I feel pretty comfy on ladders (being a former volunteer firefighter), roof work required some getting used to. But it's surprising how quickly I adjusted.

One thing, though, I find moving and raising ladders sturdy enough for all-day work and long enough to reach gable peaks, requires two people. In a pinch I can do it by myself, but it's by far the hardest thing of the day's work, and always dicey as it's at the extreme edge of my strength.



    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 8:01PM
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I guess I'm just at the point where I'd really like to hang out with my little kids before they grow up ;) I really love our old house and the little quirks, but I don't want to be a total slave to it. I don't want to spend my summers up on scaffolding painting my house, to be honest with you. I want to be with our kids and dog up at our camp upstate or at the town pool or visiting friends--not painting. I think we're just going to do a wait-and-see thing at this point--I'll see what ideas the siding guys come up with (and their prices), see at what point we're ready to take down the aluminum and assess what's underneath.

The cost to professionally paint this monster has got to be astronomical, though. Back in 1955, my grandfather-in-law paid a man $800 to ONLY paint the trim green. Not the rest of the house--just the trim. What is the 2009 equivalent of $800 in 1955?? A LOT!! I'm guessing upkeep is the reason he had it sided in aluminum in the first place--probably not because the wood was in rough shape.

This is an agonizing decision that I won't make lightly, that's for sure. I do know that if the wood is in terrible, unreparable shape, we will not be residing with wood. That is a given! But if it is in good shape and I fall in love with it once it's unsheathed from it's aluminum casing, I may be back here with pictures of myself up on 20+ feet of scaffolding, painting this thing--probably with my husband down below, shepherding our kids around the yard with their bikes and scooters.

Only time will tell!! (Inside has to get done first...then we'll worry about the outside!!)


    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 1:57PM
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Boy, a really tough decision. I would rip off the top layer and redo the original layer, but if it's in bad shape you risk having to redo it all or sections of it. Could be a big cost. Does your town have any funds or low interest loans for restoring old properties -- worth checking out. Do you have any handy friends who would help for less than what a contractor would charge -- and really help, I mean? Have to get creative with an old house in this economy!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 3:09PM
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Even though this post is very old, I wanted to mention one consideration is insulation. When I took the fake plastic brick facing off my used to be front porch, I found the old wood totally junked. I wouldn't have been able to salvage it if I would have wanted to. My 1880 farm house is also sided in aluminum siding. The old siding had masonite backer boards which I am sure helped insulate. The insulation I've been able to find in the walls has shifted to the very bottom of the house in effect leaving my walls empty. I wasn't able to find siding to match the old aluminum so the new part is slightly different but you can't even tell. Even me, knowing where it is, can't see it without counting.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 10:48PM
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The siding looks good from the picture, although I would try and install old porch railings like the original. Also there are no gutters on one side. Do you have a problem with water? This is an old message. How did it turn out?

    Bookmark   October 27, 2012 at 8:29AM
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I'm still here!! After SEVEN quotes for vinyl siding, we decided to take off the aluminum (don't worry--all loaded on a trailer to be recycled for $$!), we just didn't have the heart to cover it back up. We are 2/3 of the way through having it painted. Of course, Sandy looks like it's bearing down on us starting Monday, but there's not much we can do about that. Hoping and praying our original windows (with old storms off and new storms waiting in the garage for installation after painting!) will hold up.
I will post pics ASAP--for some reason, you can't upload pics from an iPhone to these threads (why??).
LOVING the original detail and so glad with our choice. 95% of the 150-year old wood was was in good shape.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2012 at 8:42PM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

Oh, how lucky! I preferred the "before" look.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2012 at 9:46PM
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Hope you are OK after the storm. If you are, please update with details/advice when you can. Congratulations on your restoration project! I love to follow your posts because our houses and goals are so similar. Did you have to restore a lot of details that were hacked off to make the aluminium an easier fit? Our house lost its victorian brackets when it was sided. I'm hoping to recreate them with a scroll saw. We'll see.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 6:03PM
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We are 100% fine. Upstate fared worse in Irene but Sandy really ravaged Orange County on south to NYC.
I promise to update with pics soon--nothing was really cut off for aluminum siding except a couple of inches of scalloping near the roofline for flashing. Still not sure if we'll be 100% done with painting before winter closes in though...

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 9:06PM
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