How I learned to stop worrying and love my ever expanding scope of work.

I’m defining “stop worrying” loosely.

Here’s the deal. We decided that a good thing to do next was frame out supports for the new ceiling in the back bedroom (which I gutted bare). Then we realized that this framing will need to be attached to the back wall, where I’ll be pulling out one crappy window, cutting some wall out, and putting in two really nice windows. Because the studs in that wall go all the way to the roof and we’ll be moving them around to change the window opening, the windows need to go in first.

So, to start putting in the windows, I set about chipping away the stucco on the parts of wall that we’re cutting out. And getting up close and personal with that stucco let me see just how badly it was put on. You see, it’s fairly new, and underneath it is asphalt shingles. Yes, the type that usually goes on rooves. Not that pretty, but it got the job done. There were special asphalt trim pieces for the corners and to make a decorative windowsill and a fascia that the WERE NOT REMOVED WHEN THE STUCCO WENT ON. This means that there were huge bumps in the stucco around the top, corners, and windowsill area. It was then patched at some point with a second layer, not of stucco, but of bonding cement, which is a different color and texture. In some areas the stucco is so thin that the metal lathe it’s installed on was rusting out and staining the surface of the walls. The concern here is not cosmetic. In other areas it was put on so thick that it sticks out beyond the flashing at the roof! This means that water can get into and behind the stucco. Fun. Now also, they put stucco right on top of asphalt. This is like making a salad and putting vinegar on after the oil; putting water based materials over oil based, you won’t get a good bond.

Now, the plan was to patch it up the best I could around my awesome new Marvin Ultimate windows (that I bought for a third of their retail value on craigslist) but spending this much time with that wall made me realize that it really should all come off and be done right, from scratch. Let’s have a look at the mess:




So, under the stucco are three layers of asphalt. Under the asphalt is the original circa 1905 sheathing, half inch thick boards with quarter inch gaps between them. I suspect that the original siding would have been cedar shakes. I could put plywood over this to air seal it, but I’ve decided instead to use rigid foam as sheathing, and then use vinyl siding over that. Vinyl siding is not my favorite, but it’s easy to install and lightweight, both advantages with the foam. I would say it’s cheap, but I’m highly tempted to use the kind which looks like cedar shakes, which looks much more realistic than regular vinyl siding and costs twice as much. Since it’s a small area, the cost doesn’t really matter, and after all I’m going through I’ll get what I like. Now if the previous owner had done what normal people do and put vinyl siding over the asphalt shingles, I would have never changed it or cared. Isn’t it funny how that works?

To accommodate how much the foam will thicken my walls, I’ll be building plywood boxes inside the window openings, which will stick out beyond the framing of the house and hold the windows. The rigid foam can be installed around this, and so my windows will be at the outsides of the walls, giving me deep window sills inside. I’ll put building paper over the original sheathing (to comply with code and provide an extra barrier against water). I’ll let it wrap over the top of the plywood box, and also put some kind of flashing inside the box for the window to sit on. I’ll wrap the sides of the box in building paper also.

The underside of this bay is the real guilty party, I think. Apparently this is a cold room in every house on the street. I’ll cover both the walls and the bottom with the foam to make a bowl shaped airtight, insulated seal. Maybe I should drill a hole at the low point in case water gets in. The bottom is covered in a plywood siding that I plan on leaving in place. Under that is stucco or plaster on wood lathe, and I don’t want to know if it’s beat up. I’ve taken enough down already.

Over the rigid foam will go 2×4 furring strips to create a gap between the siding and the foil face of the foam. Apparently this air gap helps water get out and also creates an extra barrier against heat transfer because the insulation is faced in shiny foil. The outer window frame will be flush with these strips. They will butt against the sides and top of the window, but not the bottom. There, I’m installing an Azek (PVC) “historic sill) which will carry rain water away from my house and give it a look similar to what it originally had until about 70 years ago. This will be tucked in underneath the sill that’s built into the new window so that rain water can land on it and keep going away from the house. Then I’ll be installing wide Azek trim around the window with a back band or decorative piece at the outer edge of it. I’ll put flashing at the top, which will make a mini metal roof and once again keep rain away from my window. It’ll have more efforts to be waterproof than the original windows, but it’ll look like this. This is the house behind me, where one window still has the original trim.


The trim will have a J channel, which means it will be cut away to stick out over the cut edges of the vinyl siding. This looks nicer than the trim that’s made for vinyl siding, and is a whole lot easier than putting up old fashioned siding and using nice carpentry techniques to get all the joints tight. If it were on the front of the house I might suffer through that. But if it were on the front of the house I probably wouldn’t be altering original window openings.

So the plan is to frame out for the windows and install them, and then I’ll strip off all the old crap siding from the bay as quickly as I can, and then put up the building paper or Tyvek or whatever I decide on. Since I’m covering it with rigid foam I think I’ll save money and use tar paper. I’ll put two layers of the insulation so the joints can be staggered, which will improve airtightness, and I’ll tie it into the foam on the underside. I also plan on installing rigid trim on the corners and underneath the siding to give it a finished look and avoid the fake look of the vinyl corners that no one will ever see unless they look straight up when standing in my back yard. Oh, and it’ll give the neighbors behind me a nice view.

I was worried about how this would all get done, but now the plan is that I will get the windows in, then get the tar paper and rigid foam up at my own pace. Then the 1×4’s can go in, but I’ll wait to put the siding up until after I get a new roof so the roofer can put in a nice fascia for me.

Now I have to settle on what colors to use. I have very little interest in redoing any of this once I do it. Oh, but a glimmer of hope for the future: when the awning came off this window, it brought so much more light in that I stopped dead in my tracks in the living room. It made that much of a difference coming across the bedroom, into the hall, and down the stairs. I think once the awnings come off the front, I’ll have a very sunny house. And then even better with the two tube skylights I plan on putting in! Oh and here’s the awning, right before I smashed it:


Now if you have any experience with home construction and can give me feedback, please please please do.


4 thoughts on “How I learned to stop worrying and love my ever expanding scope of work.

  1. curt

    Now that’s a reno! Chad – you’re going about it the same way I did mine. I put the windows in 1st and the siding over after. Do your windows have nailing fins – like new construction windows? If so, you may want to use a 2X frame around the openings instead of plywood. I used 2X6 on the old walls which were 2X4 – this let the window sit proud of the siding and have a solid surface to mount to. This was before deciding to sheath the whole house with plywood – I should have done that 1st. I used protecto wrap around the openings, and also a sill pan – which is way overkill. The space between the foam and siding is the rainscreen – which is a very good idea. I’m using rainscreens under the cement siding and the veneer stone cladding. It will be code in a few years in our neck of the woods. Looks like you have a great project! I know what you’re going through.


  2. Ruth

    Chad – that really is heavy work! It is always better to work from a solid foundation – but its hard to remember the end goal through the process! I love seeing different building structures from the US.


    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      And the funny thing is, nothing about my house is anything close to the way most American houses are built. I even talked to a pretty established home builder who does renovation work and he’s never seen a 5 foot cantilever like mine before, yet they’re common as mud on small Philly rowhouses.


  3. Pingback: Getting started with the siding | Chad's Crooked House

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