Dear Barry,

The plywood siding on our house is rotted in many places. We’re planning to install vinyl siding over it, but we’ve got some questions that need answers before we go ahead. Our first concern is what to do with the existing siding. Removing it will involve a lot of extra work and expense. Should we do this or simply install the vinyl siding over it? If we leave the old siding, should we install some kind of wrap or vapor barrier? And if we leave the wood siding, should we scrape off the green mold that is visible in several places. Finally, what do you think of vinyl siding? –Mark

Dear Mark,

Before deciding whether to leave or remove the old siding, have the rotted material inspected by a licensed pest control operator to determine the type of fungus or mold that is present. It may be necessary to remove portions of the damaged wood to prevent further wood decay within the walls. But vinyl siding typically requires solid wood backing to prevent damage to the vinyl and to provide shear strength to the building.

Don’t assume that the green coloration on the wood siding is "mold." It may be common, harmless algae — something that often occurs on north facing walls or in places where yard sprinklers spray the siding.

As for a moisture barrier: The vinyl siding should be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and in compliance with standards set forth by your local building department. Both will most likely require a moisture barrier. And be sure to acquire a permit so that the work will be inspected and approved by the building official.

Finally, make sure that you like vinyl siding before investing the time, effort and money. It may look good at first glance, but to many people it is regarded as somewhat "tacky" in appearance and flimsy to the touch. Vinyl siding could even be viewed as a less-than-desirable feature when you eventually sell the home.

The most popular and reliable siding product today is Hardy Plank — a lap siding material that looks like wood but consists of concrete. Like vinyl siding, it seldom requires maintenance, but it is far more reliable and resistant to damage than vinyl siding.

Dear Barry,

When we use our gas fireplace, the marble tiles and the wood mantle become so hot that you can get burned if you touch them. The marble has become discolored from overheating, and the grout is falling out at the edges. Our landlord says this is safe and normal and won’t do anything about it. What should we do? –Matthew

Dear Matthew,

The conditions you describe do not sound safe or normal, and your landlord needs to take the issue more seriously. A gas fireplace that is properly installed and working correctly should not overheat nearby materials. Continued heat exposure to the wood mantle or to the wall framing could cause a fire. Therefore, the fixture should not be used until it is thoroughly evaluated by a qualified contractor and until proper repairs have been made. You should also notify the fireplace manufacturer and get their take on the problem.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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