Siding and Insulating 125 year old Cottage
April 3, 2014 in Design Dilemma
We recently bought this 125 year old cottage. The home is in Maine and has been used primarily as a summer cottage for the past 25 years. We plan to use it mostly in summer but some in the winter. It currently has cedar shingles. Three sides of the house the shingles are in B condition, but the front has severe cracking, warping, etc.. We were getting ready to repaint but hate to paint over the failing front shingles.
I assume there is little to no insulation in the walls, however the attic is well insulated. I am considering just replacing the front shingles with cedar shingles, or replacing the whole house with pine or cedar clapboard and using 1" rigid foam under the clapboards. We plan to use a solid color stain. Any advice would be appreciated we would like to keep costs down but do it right when we do it.
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April 3, 2014 at 5:29AM   
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Well I have no idea how much this would cost or how much work is involved, but I'd go with replacing only the front with new shingles, as the house looks lovely the way it is, and just beef up the insulation..
April 3, 2014 at 5:32AM     
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Patricia Colwell
Just get blown in insulation, that can be done without disturbing the good siding and re side the front .
April 3, 2014 at 6:20AM     
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Thanks-great idea!
April 3, 2014 at 1:14PM     
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I don't know what the professional way to check for insulation is, you should look it up, but I'd cut a hole in the wall and check before I made any assumption. Try in a closet or behind a bookshelf, so your patch doesn't have to be great quality. Or under a baseboard.
April 3, 2014 at 10:27PM     
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I live in Canada and am renovating a 1920s cottage.
We started on the kitchen with pot lights, vermiculite trickeled
From the ceiling! On the same day we had a look behind
The outside walls by pulling a piece off on the inside wall. There is no insulation I had a company
Come to give an estimate on insulation and removing the vermiculite
The said the only way it can be done properly is to
Take down the inside walls and insulate to include
A vapor guard. Blowing in insulation in my case
Would create a huge problem with mold build up.
Yes, the men in white coats came in and removed, all
Of the vermiculite!!! I'm waiting for the final air test.
I'm not a fan of blown in insulation. In my case some
Was already in the attic and created a bigger problem
By restricting airflow.
Theses houses love us so much!!!! Wishing you lots of luck.
April 5, 2014 at 4:58AM     
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You say that the front cedar is in bad condition. I would be a great time to remove them and see how the wall was built. I am thinking they used 1x6 to cover the studs since plywood was not around at that time. I doubt is there is not a moist barrier. I would check what is needed and what was replaced in the past ie drywall, wiring etc. If there is Knob and tube wiring and iron water pipes you need to plan for a big renovation.
April 5, 2014 at 7:49AM     
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Consider using Enviroshake recycled plastic shakes about the same cost as cedar but lifetime warranty and aged grey from the day of installation. In the walls consider spray foam as it will tighten up the structure and provide air and moisture barrier. This can be done from the inside or outside. Whenever insulating an exterior wall always install a thermo break to prevent heat transfer. As far as siding goes it will depend on the condition of the existing siding. If there is a trace of rot or moisture it may be well advised to pull it all off and replace with new.
April 5, 2014 at 3:56PM   
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Before adding any insulation you may want to hire someone with a thermal measuring "gun" to scan your house. Do it on a colder day when you would have heat on in the house or where the inside of the house is definitely warmer than the outside. That will let you know if you have any insulation in your walls and where it is at. The person I had do it (back in 2001) had never done a house before, only industrial jobs, but it worked great. If there is no insulation, blown in will fall and settle over the years, but if you need to pull wire through the walls to update or move electrical it will be doable. Foam insulation stays in place, gives more complete protection and is impervious to bugs and rot but I hear it can make remodels or re-wiring tough. I'd just replace the front siding for now, go for a low maintenance, rot resistant one. They make concrete fiber shakes (Hardiplank, etc.) that look like cedar, go on in larger panels (fewer seams) and that have color already applied so exterior paint/maintenance is less. Good luck!
April 6, 2014 at 6:11AM     
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Unless you plan to open up the walls for structural repairs, the benefit of insulating existing walls is usually not worth the cost, and can have a very long payback. First priority would be to tighten up the exterior envelope. Weatherstrip windows and doors, caulk any gaps in construction, install storm windows, etc. A blower door test will help you determine where to focus your efforts.

Installing blown in insulation can be a risk in colder climates due to moisture vapor migrating thru the wall and condensing in the insulation. This can lead to mold growth as well as paint failure on the siding. If you can thoroughly seal the interior finish with a vapor barrier primer, the risk of moisture damage can be reduced. Refer to NPS Technical Preservation Brief #3: Improving Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings,
April 6, 2014 at 7:19AM     
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Adorable home!!
April 6, 2014 at 8:06AM   
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Vanessa Beardsley
Ditto, just dropping in to say it's a charming house!
April 6, 2014 at 8:08AM   
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Good info. We bought a condo built in 1971 in the spring. This winter you could feel the cold air coming up from the floor (crawlspace underneath). The kitchen cabinets we leaking cold air! I am going to get some professionals in here to see what they recommend. My electric bills are going thru the roof! Does anybody know exactly what type of professional I should ask for? We are thinking about gutting the kitchen and starting over and putting in wood floors everywhere. Contractor? HVAC company? other?
April 6, 2014 at 8:49AM   
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Thank you for all of the advice. The previous owner spent a great deal of time and effort restoring the home to its simple charm. If you can see the shutters in the top of the peak, there isn't room for all 4 shutters and it currently has left and right on the left window but only 1 shutter on the right, any thoughts on whether to leave this or change?
April 6, 2014 at 10:04AM   
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Remove the center shutter. That will leave you with two singles on outsides of windows
April 6, 2014 at 10:39AM     
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JudyG Designs
Your house reflects Greek in style. I am on Cape Cod and I would see the three sides with weathered cedar shingles and the front with clapboard, probably white and no shutters.

Clapboard was a sign of prosperity, if the owner didn’t have enough money to do the entire house, the clapboard always went on the front…to show off : > )

April 6, 2014 at 10:47AM   
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John James O'Brien - Design for Inspired Living
dsleep2, shutters are an important detail to get right. They must function, or at least be proportioned and installed as if they could function. Anything else looks fake. Remember that they derive from practical use: movable louvers and direct light and air and reduce (not eliminate) the need for screens. Of course, they help secure a house during storms and when away.

Viable options that retain the integrity of this wonderful property are:
- remove the upper shutters entirely. This is a historically valid option, though may be more common "in town" than in the country where shutters served to secure a house in and out of storm season;
- perhaps you can get estimates/quotes from a local shutter manufacturer/repair firm on folding shutters that can frame your upper windows with a functional shutter.

Re your siding, if you stick with a good quality shake and commit to maintaining the house, you will get a solution that works over decades and if left to gray naturally, you're maintenance costs go down. Individual shakes can be replaced and will blend in over time. Trim, door and shutter details require more frequent painting in any case.
April 6, 2014 at 10:53AM     
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Good information at Green Building Advisor. Also this video from GBA. You may have to join GBA to get articles.
April 6, 2014 at 11:41AM     
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I don't know the solution for your siding problems but this site has lots of info on old home character. Try this site for your questions about the shutters.
April 6, 2014 at 12:46PM   
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1. I just love the character of your house!!! I hope you can find a solution and keep the character of the house. 2. The center shutter upstairs could be removed. The look would change when all 3 are removed. I'd remove the one and look at the house for a week or two. Good luck!!!
April 6, 2014 at 3:57PM     
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Thank you that's a great idea..we love the little house!
April 6, 2014 at 4:20PM   
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I love this house!!!!
April 7, 2014 at 5:45AM   
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As far as shutters, there is almost enough room for 2 shutters between the windows. I would go to a woodworking store talk to the guy behind the counter and ask if he knows anyone that could make some custom shutters the same style as what you have but narrower. Half the people that come in the shop can do it many are retired and this is a hobby. They may not be able to install it but any handyman can do it, make sure you have it painted before installation.
April 7, 2014 at 7:11AM   
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Dear Dsleep2 I think it would be a good idea to get some shutters made to fit between the two windows, and once they were installed no one would notice they were not 'Functional',as a veteran of bargain renovations of very dilapidated houses, a little cheat now and again can pay off...Or. if the shutters Have to be functional, have a carpenter make them with an overlap tongue, which could also solve your problem..
April 8, 2014 at 1:41AM     
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I agree with cinderellaslipper people that go to stores like Rockler and other stores are woodworkers not carpenters they have been making furniture for the last 30 years or more. They have the tools to make a highboy cabinet so making a pair of shutters a piece of cake. I am a woodworker and know that there is a board at my local shop where services are posted. If you measure the space between the window trim of the two windows and the height of the shutters and take a picture of your present shutters they can make it in a day. Most of the people that work there are woodworkers and teach classes on different parts of woodworking. Plus they have wood there be it cedar or redwood that will last decades.
April 8, 2014 at 7:20AM   
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I had insulation blown into the attic space, then installed batts of insullation under the floor (had a crawl space) and put down Visqueen (spelling?) on the bare ground. New windows with a good insulating value can help. As for walls, there doesn't seem to be a way to insulate them but electric for a 2-bdrm 1 bath cottage is averaging $105/month so I'm not considering anything more except to continue replacing the windows as I can. Here's an article on shutters that might be helpful.
April 8, 2014 at 7:28AM   
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Amy D
I did a total rehab on a 100 year old house. The walls were insulated (when the walls were torn down inside), then a winter happened, then the next season I had the attic insulated. The heating bills were drastically reduced when I did the attic insulation... not as much impact from the walls, which surprised me. It was interesting to see the difference since I happened to space out the renovations.
April 8, 2014 at 9:24AM   
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Thanks again for your comments, we have a local woodwork shop in town, I am going to ask them to build narrower shutters. I will post a picture when we are done here.
April 8, 2014 at 9:29AM   
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The Maine Building Company
You've got a great little place there! We have a lot of "seasonal cottages" like this in our fair state. There are a number of ways to insulate or tighten them, but some will cause other complications.
If the attic is well insulated, you may be in decent shape for infrequest winter use. Ultimately, insulating the entire place should probably include window replacement as well. Insulating the walls, while allowing air infiltration through old windows is a tough way to spend money.
You can always do a side at a time with native White Cedar shingles, or other siding products. Using a quality house wrap will help to handle some of the infiltration that you will naturally have.
Enjoy your place!
April 8, 2014 at 9:58AM      Thanked by dsleep2
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Timberlane Inc.
Hi dsleep2, as we have read there are many suggestions about the shutters on your home. The shutters that are currently on your windows appear to be a bit smaller than the proper size, as one of the fellow houzzers suggested. Shutters should measure out to half the size of the window they are surrounding.

We have to disagree with making them thinner as this defeats the actual purpose of the shutters and takes away from your curb appeal. We see far too many homeowners who purchase plastic, vinyl shutters that are too small for their windows. Most homeowners think this adds value to their home, but instead it actually decreases the value.

Since your home is a 125 year old cottage, we would recommend taking a look back at historical aspects of your home. Seeing if your specific home had shutters on the windows and what style. This usually helps a lot of homeowners because they get a sense of historic charm when updating.'

Also check to see if there are any historical guidelines that you must follow since this home is a historic work of art!
April 8, 2014 at 1:58PM     
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I would imagine that your local energy provider offers free home energy audits and could tell you exactly where you need insulation and weather stripping to help with your energy savings. They use infrared cameras and can show you exactly where the problems are and then help with suggestions for how to correct them. Here's a site about the technology:

As for the shutters, I wholeheartedly agree that the size needs to at least give the appearance of being functional. Shutters that are either too narrow or too wide to cover the window just look ridiculous. Even if you just removed the one in the center of the windows, leaving the ones on the sides at least suggests that they may be bi-fold and could open to cover their respective windows. From a distance nobody would be able to tell...
April 14, 2014 at 8:43PM   
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