We bought a plywood house in Portland. It sounds worse than it is. In this temperate climate, houses covered with a single skin of painted plywood are not all that unusual. But what made sense in the 1970s doesn’t make sense in today’s energy-conscious environment, and we bought the house knowing we would be house-wrapping it and covering it in good siding before long. Our windows were all ’70s vintage too–aluminum sliders, with poor sliding action and terrible insulating quality–so replacing those was part of the plan.
What is cool about upgrading a single-skin plywood house like mine is that you can treat the house like new construction with standard plywood sheathing. Pop out the old windows, nail new ones onto the plywood, and then cover everything with house-wrap material and your siding of choice.
I wrote about the window replacement in an earlier blog, so now here is everything you need to know about HardiPlank siding. When it comes to siding, you have three basic choices, a wood product like cedar, which looks beautiful but needs regular painting or sealing to last; vinyl, which looks OK, lasts OK, costs the least, and needs only the occasional power-wash; and cement fiberboard, which lasts forever potentially and can be made to look like any type of shingle or clapboard. I’ve had vinyl before and didn’t like it. It feels cheap and cracks easily and melts when the grill comes too close (dumb move by me).
James Hardie is the leader in the fiber-cement field, so I went with them. Their siding used to have a so-so reputation for rot-resistance in rainy regions like mine, but now they formulate it differently for different climates, so those problems seem to be behind them. Builders also realize that HardiPlank needs an air gap behind it, so they either attach thin wood strips underneath, or this cool new house wrap called HydroGap, which creates its own air gap.
Here’s an important tip: If your siding installer hasn’t done a lot of HardiPlank before, get a new installer. There is a learning curve to this stuff, from the air gaps below to the expansion gaps between and the nails on top.
The HardiePlank website is amazing, by the way, letting you choose your house style, then cover it with whatever siding and trim styles you want, in endless combinations of colors. That’s how we designed our look.
The other thing we did was choose HardiePlank that was already painted. Most people choose the primed product and have it installed and then painted, but the factory paint job is baked on and rated for 25 years (vs. 8-10 for hand-painted) so I went with that. It cost a few thousand bucks more, about the price of one extra paint job, so it will pay off in the long run.
The trim is real cedar, which we painted. Even though the siding was already that nice pewter grey we wanted, there was lots of stuff to paint grey, like the gutters and eaves! I hired a friend for that high-ladder work–no thanks!
The following pictures tell the rest of the story.
Now here’s how the siding went on, with some important tips along the way.