Painting and Repair Advice for an Old Post and Beam House

Scott Gibson

I have a very VERY old house in Bedford, MA. Part of it dates to the 1690s, part to mid-1700s, and part to the 19th century. The sill and siding is rotten in one area. I'm looking for someone particularly knowledgeable about old post and beam structures to repair it. If you have any suggestions for someone who works in the Boston area, I'd be most grateful. We'll also be having the exterior painted. Should we go with oil-based paint or latex?

Rotten sills and siding are common problems in older wood-framed buildings, especially one more than 300 years old. A gradual accumulation of soil and debris around the foundation, missing gutters, or splash-up from rain can all take their toll. Eventually, decay sets in.

When you peel away the siding, rot can be more extensive than you imagined. What looked like a simple job has a way of morphing into something more complicated. As you already know, that's one of the joys of owning a very old house.

Finding a Preservation Carpenter

So your desire to find someone well versed in post-and-beam construction is smart. It sounds like you have a historically valuable property that's worth taking care of.

Any good carpenter should be able to handle the kind of repair you're talking about, but one with special training would be your best bet if you wanted the repairs to be in keeping with the original construction of the building--both in terms of materials and construction techniques.

A rotten section of 8-by-8 inch sill could be repaired with built-up dimensional lumber and metal connectors available from any lumber yard. But if you want the real deal--meaning similarly sized wood plus the mortise and tenon joinery to put everything together--hire someone who's been trained for it.

Lucky for you, Bedford, MA is not far from Boston, and that means not far from the North Bennet Street School. This is a unique institution that's probably best known for its furniture making program. But it also teaches a number of other trades, including carpentry. You can read more about the school at www.nbss.org.

I would call the school and ask whether there's a referral list of Preservation Carpentry grads. You can be assured they are well trained.

Oil Paint or Latex Paint

As to your question about paint, go with latex. Some professional painters out there still like oil-based paints for some applications, notably interior trim. It flows out smoothly and cures to a hard finish. But water-based paints have all but pushed oil-based paints off the shelves.

Manufacturers are putting their research and development money into water-based finishes, in part because the government is clamping down on the volatile organic compounds in oil-based finishes. In time, oil-based paints will be hard to find. Water-based paints dry faster and are easier to clean up. They also produce flexible paint films that are better at coping with dimensional changes in wood siding better than oil-based paints. That means they last a lot longer outside than oil-based paint.







Search Improvement Project