Friday, October 18, 2013

Keeping Timber Homes Dry Means Attention to Detail


Few things discourage me more than an All Blacks loss or a poorly designed wastewater treatment plant than seeing preventable water damage to a timber framed home. As a lover of old homes, I know that water is the ultimate enemy of wood, and all efforts should be taken to exclude water from direct contact with timber. These efforts include both proper flashing and sealing of the exterior skin of a structure, and adequate splash backs and sealing around interior plumbing. In both cases, hundreds spent on prevention will save thousands in repair bills.

Repair to rotted corner boards.  

In my opinion, this is one of the major strengths of the New Zealand Building Code, brought on with all likelihood in response to the legacy of Leaky Homes. During our renovation, the building inspector was very strict about ensuring a completely waterproof shell, and rightly so. I’ve written before that the most sustainable home is the one that does not fall down in an earthquake, burn down in a fire, or rot from water damage. These are three of the major emphases of the Building Code, and I think building inspectors provide a valuable service in making sure these high standards are adhered to.

As a DIYer, I also benefited from some of the ‘tricks-of-the-trade’ advice offered by our building inspector on some of his visits. I know for a fact that our home is more durable because our inspector did his job properly. Mind you, building consents are by no means cheap, but I believe they will pay for themselves eventually either in terms of the long-term durability of the structure or in the resale value, as a complete inspection comes with a Code Certificate of Compliance.

Flashing a sill.  

All of that said, there appears to be an abundance of homes slowly rotting away across Castlecliff and Gonville. I’m not saying that these are the only suburbs with disintegrating housing, but these are the neighbourhoods I frequent. Often times while riding my bicycle from my home near the river mouth to centre city, I toodle along looking at houses. I am particularly drawn to very good design and detailing and very bad design and detailing. I am, however, aware that toodling along on a bicycle staring at houses can be mis-interpreted as “casing the joint.” I swear I am not a burglar, just obsessed with water damage.

I’ll say this again because it is so important: spending hundreds on preventing water damage will save thousands in repair bills. It is exactly like changing engine oil regularly – paying a little saves a lot. Same goes for insulation!

So, if you are the owner of an old, timber home, and particularly if you are a landlord who owns many old, timber homes, please have a look at your properties and check the flashing around doors and windows, as well as the external corners. You’ll see in the photos an example of the many scribers I made to seal our home against wind-blown rain. 

Making and painting scribers.

The scribers pictured are made from treated pine that was cut with a jig saw, primed on both sides and the ends, and then painted twice before nailing in place.

Scribers in place.  

Also pictured are some details of a repair job done to my parents’ home (built in 1828) near Boston. You can see that the four lowest weatherboards (we call them clapboards in New England) have been replaced on the left, along with the bottom portion of both corner boards. 

Rotten wood has been replaced, and flashing added. 

Additionally, a new flashing was added at the bottom to protect the sill. Although this repair job cost thousands of U.S. dollars, the builder did a good job to prevent this type of water damage happening again. 

Peace, Estwing

4 comments:

  1. We just discovered that whoever put in our back path neglected to leave a ventilation gap so all the piles along that side of the house have rotted out. Nice!!!!! So much for us ever getting a working bathroom :( On the good side at least the piles are only 6 inches high and the floor joists are ok. Our siding is not very good but we were hoping to replace some of it soon - probably with colour steel as none of us likes to paint at great height and we aren't getting any younger either. With all that, I still love our 1912 house with its lacework veranda. Just wish somebody had done their repairs and paths properly.

    viv in Dunedin

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    Replies
    1. Yes, almost always cheaper in the long run do do things properly in the short run. Sometimes being cheap is expensive!

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  2. Wood is, indeed, a prime choice for homeowners not only because of its affordability, but also because of its sturdiness. Unfortunately, wood is organic, and once water seeps inside, may weaken it. Kudos for taking the measures of protecting your wood! Just remember in case of water damage with your wood and other parts of the house, there are experts that can give a helping hand.

    Gail Wallace @ Emergency Flood Masters

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