Exterior Walls: Introduction

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The shell of your house, the exterior, is by far the most important part of it in terms of low maintenance. That’s why this section bulges formidably fatter than the others. If we could design books for low maintenance, the pages of this section would be made of tougher paper than the rest, because they are the ones you will thumb through most often.

At a party, four building contractors were asked which kind of house exterior they thought gave the best low maintenance, per dollar spent.

“There is no such thing as a low-maintenance home,” the first one said, jokingly. That was the last thing they agreed on all evening.

“I suppose, per dollar spent, an igloo in the Arctic would win first prize,” a second volunteered. “Three trained people can build a nice one in a couple of hours if there is plenty of wind-packed snow around. And the walls are unbeatable insulation, both for sound and temperature.”

“Give me a cave anytime,” said a third. “Now that’s low maintenance.”

Then they got down to serious arguing.

“All things considered, a natural wood siding that requires no painting is the best for the money.”

“Yeah, until the woodpeckers drill holes in it like they are doing in some wooded areas.”

“Stone or brick lasts forever and never needs paint.”

“Well, brick just might need a sealer coating. Besides brick costs too much.”

“The only reason brick costs more is that most builders gain their experience as carpenters, not masons. Because they have to hire masons and because wet crews are so dependent on the weather, they just automatically jack up the price more than the materials justify.”

“Hoo, boy. You sound like you’ve been talking to the Brick Institute.

“The best siding for the money would be native lumber [ oak, pine, locust, or any wood that holds up fairly well in the weather]: rough-cut vertical board and batten, nailed on green from the sawmill, and stained after it dried out a little. But vertical board and batten isn’t popular right now.”

“A lot of this board and batten is oak, and carpenters don’t like to work with oak even though it nails fine when green and is much more durable than pine.”

“Watch the Amish if you want to see the best homes for the money. One I know just built a new home. Redwood siding and a roof of standing seam galvanized metal. Can’t beat that for low maintenance. But it doesn’t look stylish.”

“What have you guys got against aluminum siding? The new baked- on colors don’t fade like they used to.”

“Just pray it doesn’t hail and dent it all to hell.”

The argument was still in progress at 2:00 A.M. But there was one more question that was most illuminating. What kind of houses did they live in? Coincidentally perhaps, all four lived in brick houses.

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Updated: Thursday, March 5, 2009 12:22