Exterior Restoration

Time to separate the men from the boys...

Out of sheer pity for our neighbors, we have decided to tackle the exterior.  The sheer magnitude of this job makes most all of my previous projects seem easy.  This house was grossly neglected for over 50 years and the exterior paid the highest price of all.  There is much of the exterior that is too rotted to save and will have to replicated/restored before any paint can be applied.  This damage is simply everywhere.  I usually have a "go for it" attitude, but this one really intimidates me.  I have pondered it since buying the house years ago and can honestly say that I have no real plan.  So I decided to just dive in and see what happens...



We found an amazing painting company called Willie's Painting located locally in Union NJ.  I VERY rarely endorse anyone on this site, mainly because I do most of the work myself.  But these guys are just so impressive that I want to throw them a plug.  (Willie's Painting - Exterior & Interior PO Box 3386 Union, NJ 07083.  Call Willie @ (908)624-9010)  These guys came and took this house by brute force.  They worked all day, everyday for a week (Minus Sunday). It was like they were on a mission, and after a week, the paint was gone!  The only parts you see with paint are the ones that I recently replaced that didn't need to be sanded.

What have I gotten into?

Now that the paint is gone, the plan is to spend the next few months repairing all of the damage from the past 60 + years of neglect.  The damage is pretty extensive to say the least.  I think the paint was holding much of the house together.  We are going to have to come up with some creative solutions to fix all of this.  Due to extreme time constraints, I hired a company to rip off and replace all of the cedar shakes from the 2nd and 3rd floor on the East side of the house.  They were all curled and cracked and way beyond repair.  It was amazing the amount of rot beneath.  This hole was big enough for a grown man to climb through.  It's a wonder the shakes were able to hold on that long!  This is just one of many cases of extreme neglect that we have uncovered so far.



This part of the project is actually going pretty well.  The siding guys are doing a nice job.  It is a precarious job because there is no easy place to put scaffolding.  They used pump jacks for the rear section but had to go with scaffolding for the rest due to the side porch and bay window jutting out.  Even with scaffolding, the span across is crazy wide and a good distance from the house.  The upper portions are close to 40 feet up.  I will be revisiting this problem later as we restore those gables you see up there.  Yikes!


In removing rotted clapboard in the back of the house I found more rot so bad that you could just stick your hand right through the wood.  That is interior insulation you see in the corner.  Upon closer inspection, all of the skirting and drip sills (all the way around the house) need to be replicated and replaced.  I am going to be a wood working fool this Summer!


The Really Big Challenge...The Gables

I am totally feeling the pressure when it comes to the gables.  The fact of the matter is that they are the most distinctive element to the look of the exterior of the house.  But they are 40 feet or so off the ground.  (as in four stories...).  I do okay with ladders in some cases, but anything over 20 feet and I am out!  Here are the three that are super hard to reach.  Click to see larger images.


As you can see, once we get past the challenge of getting to them safely. Restoring them will still present a major challenge.  Stay tuned for updates.

The Front Gables & Dormers

Obviously, this is the front gables.  These are somewhat reachable by ladder as we have a sizeable front porch roof.  This makes ladders a possibility.  The gables themselves are in moderate condition.  The brackets need to be removed and cleaned and then replaced.  The carving designs are called "Spoon Carvings"  as this style of wood carving gives the appearance that it was "spooned" out of the wood. 


Anyway, this gives a better perspective of what we are facing when we get up there.  The carvings are caked with paint and it will need to be scraped out with a heat gun and scraper.  Some of the panels are cracked and will need to be repaired filled and sanded.  there are tiny pencil sized molding around the perimeter of each panel that needs to be replaced. 


The first thing was to spend a few hours making a platform that is level and can provide solid footing for the ladders.  The roof has too many angles and when the shingles get hot in the summer sun they become soft and dangerous for ladders...


Now that we can safely get up to the front peak, the real fun began.  Lots of scraping of paint, then wood filler on all the cracks.  Next we had to burn all the paint out of the spoon carvings with a heat gun (a two handed job on a ladder really sucks).  Then sand and fill some more until it is smooth and ready for primer.


  Once everything is in primer, it is ready for paint.  the board on the window allows us better range with the ladders without accidentally sticking a ladder through a window.  the rope you see sticking out of the window is secured inside the attic.  When we put a ladder in the middle (for working on the very top of the peak) we tie it to the house so it cannot move.  This makes those times when you need both hands a little more comforting.  For the record, I am never comfortable up here.  It is a white knuckle ride every time.  We just do what has to get done, then get down.


The Rest of the Gables

The remaining three gables are where the fun really begins.  The previous owners had a painter skip town when they had to try to paint them.  I going to use the East side of the house as the example as it is the hardest to access.  First, let's talk about the shear height of them.  They are a full 40+ feet up.  To put this into perspective, find a four story building, climb up on the roof, stand on the ledge and look down.  Crazy scary!  Next, how do you get up there?  The siding guys used pump jacks and they could only get to the 30 foot mark.  Scaffolding is out of the question as well.  There is a bay window and a side porch that jut out from the side of the house.  If you built scaffolding it would not be able to attach to the house.  Not safe at all...


Enter the big boys - The bottom line here is that had no choice.  This machine is a 51' fully articulated, 4 wheel drive, two man, boom lift.  This was not cheap to rent at all!  I rented it for 30 days.  So, in order to be able to afford this little monster, I called up my painter and made a deal with him to reduce the price of painting the house if I painted all four gables and all the windows myself.  This means that we need to repair all damage, scrape, wood fill, sand, prime, and paint two coats of paint in four colors on the remaining 3 gables in 30 days.  Oh by the way, I have a full time job.  I have a buddy John Longo working for me part time as well, but this is one of the biggest work pushes we have ever attempted.


This is what only the birds have seen for a very long time.  These are the spoon carvings after we scraped and burned the paint with a heat gun.  In this picture, we have just started to apply wood filler to the weather damaged wood.  There are also small 1/4 round moldings that were beyond repair around the edge of each triangle.  They will need to be replaced.  With such a tight time window, it is looking grim to say the least.  BTW:  Even with a man lift, it is way scary up there!  I'm adjusting slowly, but every time that platform sways a little, I get a few more gray hairs.



Once we got close up, we realized that many of the original architectural elements were way beyond restoration.  We removed the best pieces and reconstructed what was there in my basement workshop.  These pictures show the replacement parts in various stages.  In the end, they were all recreated, then primed and painted before being re-installed.  Just another bunch of tasks to fit into the 30 day window that we have with this lift rental. Once that goes back, it will probably be another hundred years before anyone gets up there again, so we really need to get everything done.


Would you believe, this is what we had to do...

The work on the gables was such a push that pictures were not a priority.  I documented in bits and pieces along the way.  Rather than drag you through the adventure of all four gables, I will use the rear gables as the example.  This is what it looked like on day one.  The wood is severely damaged.  Parts are broken and some are missing.  The overall structure needs to be reinforced.  So, the first order of business is to install steel plates behind the joints and carvings.  One of the gables required 30+ plates. Then the entire gable and the fascia has to be scraped free of any remaining peeling paint.  The spoon carvings are cleaned out with a heat gun and scraper, being careful not to damage the age-softened wood. 


Next comes a world of wood filler.  There is no easy way to do this.  It is done with bare hands.  It is pressed into all the cracks and crevices, then sprayed with a mist of water and smoothed over.  This is tedious work.  The deeper damage has to be filled with multiple coats.  In the end, the entire gable is then sanded again to a smooth workable finish.


Next the whole thing gets a generous coat of oil-based primer.  This is really important.  Without a good oil based primer, we would be back up here in 2-3 years... No Way!


Next comes the colors.  First the white trim and then the blue panels.  Two coats each.


The spoon carvings were next.  These took the most patience and a steady hand.  (which was not easy to come by for the first few days as my hands were shaking from the height)


Each of the triangular carved panels are framed with a 3/8" quarter round molding.  I pre-painted a few hundred feet of the stuff in the basement.  I made up bunches that were cut close to the actual size.  In order to fit the moldings, the work needed to be done at 40 feet.  I made a platform for the lift that I mounted the chop saw to.  I used an angular gauge to figure out the miter angles and started cutting and installing.  This little system made fairly quick work of an otherwise time consuming task.


This is what it looks like with the moldings installed.


This picture was taken just six days after we first started.  Yes, these are the same gables.


Now, let me put the work into perspective (gloat).  We did everything you just read, four times in 28 days!  We also restored the two front dormers and seven third floor windows during this same period.    My friend John worked six long days a week.  I was working my full-time job and did the rest in the evenings and weekends.  I took a week off of work for the home stretch and worked around the clock.  The weather was hot as hell, but it didn't rain at all, allowing us to keep going.  In 28 days we put in 300 hours on the lift.  When John stepped off, I stepped on.  Day after day.  He was racing to stay ahead of me and I was racing to keep up with him.  After the first week, we had a kick ass system that just worked like a well-oiled machine.

The Windows...

This is where I sort of made a deal with the Devil.  While renting that big man lift to restore the gables, I was sort of reeling over how much that rental cost me.  (Need I remind you that we are far from wealthy people...)  I knew that most of the windows were rotted pretty bad and needed to be restored, so I called up my painter and made a deal with him to reduce the price of the paint job (by the cost of the man-lift rental) and I would paint all the windows myself.  This was a task that I cannot even describe, when I say it was daunting.  OMG.  Well, for starters there are 57 windows.  So, we start by scraping all the paint off.  Next it is filled with wood filler and allowed to dry.  Next day it gets sanded smooth and sometimes filled again (where the damage was extensive)


Then we hit it with a coat of oil based primer, then make any last minute repairs that we have missed.


Next I cut, fit, and install decorative moldings that extend from the bottom of the window detail to the sill.  Why do this? you ask?  I spend a long time trying to figure out a good way to show off the window molding on this house.  They are really unique and a bit overbearing, so I knew that the paint scheme was very important here.  I decided to paint the Window frame the same color as the house so your eye would not be distracted and would focus on the details.  Now that the frames were going to be the same color as the house, there had to be a way to differentiate them from the house.  So, I added these moldings to create a sort of "frame" for the windows.  Then I used a strong gold color to contrast with the frames to separate the detail.  Painting these 57 windows was a major time consumer.  It was tedious as heck.  Four colors also added to the time as each had to dry before applying the next, in two coats.  This is how I spent the rest of my Summer...


This picture is of a first floor window.  They have little roofs that are tin.  they all needed to be stripped and the moldings replaced  Here you can see the frame color matching the house, with the details highlighted at the top.  While this particular scheme is not original to the house, it was very popular in the 19th century.  I used it primarily to show the window detail without using too many paint colors.  Eastlake stick style homes are usually simple by design and are rarely painted in outlandish colors.

Thousands of repairs...

We began restoring the exterior in May of this year (2007 when this was written)  The goal was to have the house ready for paint by September.  My Painter's were keeping a slot opened for us.  With this deadline looming, there was no time to waste.  So, after we caught our breath from the gables.  We were off to get everything repaired and paint ready.  During this time, I had no time.  I mean NONE!  I didn't even update this web site, I simply did not have the time.  Frankly a lot of things got repaired/restored and I never even took a picture.  It was just nuts.  So, rather than go into detail of what we faced, I thought I would let a picture speak a thousand words (so to speak)

  1. Fill and sand Damaged cedar shakes

  2. Remove rotted shakes and install new ones

  3. Strip, Fill, Sand, Prime, and Paint 57 windows and sills with 4 colors, two coats

  4. Remove & replicate all drip sills and skirting for entire house

  5. Remove and replace damaged cedar clapboard siding

  6. Replace & reline yankee gutters on porch roofs, then seal with tar

  7. Replace old downspouts

Truth be told, there was so much more that I cannot even remember.  I'm hoping I won't remember.  Bottom line, there were times when I felt like the only difference between this house and the Titanic was, that they had a band.


Last Minute Stuff...

In the end, there was still lots to do and no time to do it.  This bay window was my last stand.  It needed to basically be rebuild top down.  I build a new crown and corrected the drainage issues.  The I literally sanded this thing for days on end.  I burned out my palm sander (and my palm).  I won't bore you any further, you have been through enough, just reading this crap, but let's just say this was a challenge.  I was working on this when the painter's came and were painting the other side of the house.  Cutting it a little close? I'd say...


My friend John took on the task of making lattice frames for under the porch.  I just couldn't imagine the house all painted and these big old gaps under the porch.  He patiently went after it and did a great job (as with the rest of the house he helped me with)  But the painter had not agreed to painting lattice, so...


The lattice was then disassembled to be painted.  John used a sprayer to save time.  I never saw anyone have this much fun with a paint sprayer.  After he finished there was some overspray on the lawn.  (not a big deal, I have a crappy lawn)  He offered to go to the store and buy some grass green paint and paint the lawn.  He tried to make it look like he was joking, but had I said yes, I honestly think he would have.  : )


After the paint has dried...

I am very pleased with the final product, to say the least.  The Painters were excellent.  Absolute attention to every detail.  They painted my house as if it were theirs. 


I had some stained glass made up for the transom window.  I also added new period light fixtures to the porches.






I don't advertise or endorse anyone, but I have to make two exceptions here..

My Painter: Willie's Painting - Exterior & Interior PO Box 3386 Union, NJ 07083.  Call Willie @ (908)624-9010

My Contractor: Interior/Exterior - Jack of all trades - Master of all he surveys - John Longo (908)377-9697 http://www.theplastermaster.com/


This is my favorite part.  Our house was placed on both the NJ State Register and the National Register of Historic Places.  This designation doesn't get us anything except a great deal of pride.  The other comforting fact is, should we sell this house the next owners would not be able to do any major remodeling without the approval of the local Historic Preservation Commission.  This also guarantees that the house cannot be torn down, nor encroached upon by the county or state by means of Eminent Domain.  Of coarse, there is a way around any law, but it would slow that sort of thing down quite a bit.  I would like to think it will be here for years after I am gone.


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