Homeowner needs help with exterior repair
November 17, 2016 4:05 PM   Subscribe

I've spent months trying to get any contractor in this very small town to come button up a damaged area on my home's exterior before winter, without success. I'm resigned to a best-I-can-manage DIY solution, and tomorrow may be my last best chance before the snows begin. Help?

It's not just me, I swear--skilled repair people in this small town are notoriously in such high demand that they can be very picky about what work they'll accept. Trust that I've called, cajoled, and pleaded with every qualified contractor, carpenter and handyman I can find. Most just don't return calls. Two actually came out to see the problem, promised to put together a quote and deliver it, didn't, THEN stopped returning calls. I suspect my problem is a combination of starting too late in the building season to seek help and an issue just too small to prioritize when they're trying to finish much bigger (i.e. more lucrative) jobs before winter. (I can see Canada from my backyard. Nuff said about winter coming.)

But because I have physical and skill limitations, it's a big job to me. Mefites can't help with my physical limits, but maybe you can help me mitigate my skill and knowledge gaps.

Here's a picture of the issue. Health issues kept me away from the house last winter, and I came home in July to find that this cedar siding shingle had popped out, loosening several above and around it. Because of the location, ground level on the north wall, right where snow would pile up on the concrete patio, I assume it was ice damming.

I was ready to just put the shingle back up when I found that the underlying plywood was soft. The bottom framing 2x4 on the slab foundation side seems sound. Until about eight years ago, there was a tall window in this wall, sitting less than a foot above ground level and only about a foot away from a full double sliding glass door. It was showing signs of snow/ice damage at and below the sill, and since the light and view it provided was redundant, I just had it removed. That contractor covered the wall with plywood and new cedar shingles over that. (Back then, I handled the dry wall, taping, and painting inside. Before I reached official old lady status, I did have a few DIY chops.)

So ... I think the "right" way to fix this is to peel back several rows of shingles from the bottom, until the damaged plywood is fully exposed. Cut out the damaged part, replace it with a high quality pressure treated wood, maybe a Tyvek wrap or some sort of flashing (?) to prevent future damming, and replace the shingles. But I'm not going to be able to wrangle a sheet of plywood or hold a circular saw to make a long straight horizontal cut on a vertical wall. I can still swing a hammer, but I don't have the upper body strength or lower body mobility (hip and knee problems) to do a full repair.

For now, I just want to make the house weather tight, at least for this winter, and hope if I start calling early enough next spring, I can get someone to come out and really fix it. If I gather all my tools/materials near my creeper stool, I can manage an hour or two of ground level labor in cold fall weather. What is the best approach? Shall I fill the void behind the soft plywood with expanding foam or is that more trouble than it's worth? Shall I cover it with aluminum flashing or something before I replace the shingle? Is there some other solution or complication I'm not thinking of? The last thing I want to do is make the job harder later for the pro because I did something stupid. As a homeowner, I've paid that price too many times for previous not-as-handy-as-they-thought-they-were DIYers.

I appreciate your wisdom, hive-mind.
posted by peakcomm to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
The problem is the shingles are too close to the ground. It needs to be replaced with cementitious material of some sort. As a workaround, I recommend building a small "roof"/lean-to about two feet off the ground extending out about one-to-three feet. Flash it up under the next row of shingles (just like any other roof-to-siding connection) and it'll keep snow from building up underneath, so it'll gradually dry or at least not get wetter. Should be pretty easy to do with plywood, 2x4s, strip flashing, and plastic as the 'roofing' material.
posted by flimflam at 4:26 PM on November 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't have an answer, but I recommend you google videos. I've found all kinds of good recommendations there.
posted by xammerboy at 4:32 PM on November 17, 2016

Seconding flimflams suggestion of building out a protective section for the winter, you really really really don't want to start opening up a problem like this at the beginning of the wet season. Also perhaps add some wire mesh around the outside to discourage any critters.
posted by sammyo at 4:50 PM on November 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Honestly, you're fine. I'd just replace that shingle and keep trying to get an able body to come and dig into what's going on when the weather's nice again.
posted by humboldt32 at 4:50 PM on November 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

If it just needs to last until spring, a piece of tarpaper inserted up underneath the second row of shingles should work. Overlap the hole by 4" and glue the edges down with caulk. At the bottom, fold out a 4" tab. Hold this down with a brick or two. This might have a problem with wind.

A somewhat better way would be to use a thin aluminum or galvanized steel sheet. Insert up underneath the second row of shingles and overlap each side approx 4'. At the bottom cut off flush with concrete. Use a brick to hold in place.
posted by H21 at 4:52 PM on November 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

Ask the apprentices? They might be less picky.
posted by danceswithlight at 5:58 PM on November 17, 2016

Does your town have a swap shop group on Facebook? That's often a good place to find unlicensed handymen. Can your neighbors recommend a roofer instead of a contractor?
posted by annathea at 6:35 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Other folks have addressed temporary fixes, but for a more permanent fix, try googling 'emergency home repair' or 'homeowner assistance'. From a quick look, it seems like many states I can see from about to get buried in snow home in Canada have financial programs to help homeowners with emergency repairs. For example Minnesota has many listed here. While the finances might not be your hurdle, they may be able to help you find resources/contractors who can/will help you, or some have non financial criteria as well. Your local red cross or similar agency may also have some resources for home owner assistance. Is there a seniors center nearby who have a 'fix it club'? Sometimes service clubs will also take on small projects, especially if you have a connection to them, and have folks who are 'handy' and have experience in the trades. Good luck with this!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 6:42 PM on November 17, 2016

Jeez, I'd just cover that with sandbags and leave it until you can get a pro to fix it.

(I have experience, in Ontario, with the aforementioned 'homeowner assistance' and am sadly laughing at the idea that that would be a useful avenue to pursue. What the CMHC offers is very different from what's in that paperwork. Any mention of the office I dealt with is basically anathema to contractors because they make you get multiple quotes {which you've already made clear that you can't get} and then may or may not get funding, a rather long time down the road if you do, and if they do fund it it's on a "here, you're next in the queue, can you start tomorrow?" basis. Of course the contractor can not. I have been pursuing this for, oh, three years now; nothing has come of it. You can check out the CMHC stuff here.)

The interior of the house is not damaged, right? Maybe lay down some tarps over everything before piling up sandbags. If sandbagging is not within your physical abilities, it is at least within the abilities of an unskilled teenager with a vehicle who would happily sort it for a modest amount of cash.
posted by kmennie at 6:57 PM on November 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Heavy plastic sheeting (or cut up some tarp) and waterproof tape. Google if that's a problem in the cold where you are.

Hey! Shouldn't there be some sort of tar paper or other water or vapor barrier between the shingles and ply wood?? Was this done right in the beginning?
posted by jbenben at 7:17 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

You don't want to tarp in a wall like that on the outside. It'll trap moisture in the shingles and wall and cause them to rot. If you do need to cover the wall with something use a vapour permeable material like Tyvek or a generic housewrap.

I'd nail that shingle back up and then if the sheathing still feels mushy do as was suggested and install a temporary lean to to keep the snow off. A simple sheet of 1/2 pressure treated plywood screwed on the wall 3' up would be fine unless you get more than 3' of snow accumulation in the winter. Your lumber yard would cut it to length if less than 8' and you can simply over lap pieces if more than 8'. Essentially you just need to prevent the wall from being wet all the time.

PS: flimflam is correct in that wall assembly is destined to failure by it's design. Either the grade has to be lowered 6-8" or you have to come up with some sort of wall assembly that isn't harmed by and won't wick water. Currently your wall sheathing is wicking the water up into the wall assembly causing your problem.
posted by Mitheral at 7:32 PM on November 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

There was a segment on Ask This Old House in the last season or two that covered making siding shingle repairs. You have the basic idea down, but the segment gets into more of the practical issues. You can probably find it on the website or the PBS app. If you can treat the plywood with something to help dry it out before repairing the shingle it should keep the sheathing from becoming a more serious issue between now and spring.

You definitely don't want to cover it with anything that will trap moisture while it is still moist. If the most damaged area is small enough that you could manage to wrangle a piece of plywood large enough to replace the damaged section, Home Depot and Lowe's will both make rough cuts of plywood you purchase to your specification. You could even do it in several sections if need be. You'll want to cover the seams with a self sealing membrane. Actually, that close to the ground the bottom few feet of the wall should probably have a membrane wrap.

I'm thinking the underlying problem is really that the shingles were installed incorrectly from the get-go. There should be a mesh layer underneath the shingles that allows air to circulate behind them to allow them (and the sheathing) to dry out should the underside get wet somehow. The vapor barrier is (or should be) for energy efficiency more than protection of the sheathing.

In any event, if the sheathing is in good enough shape to take nails, just fixing the shingles should get you through the winter without any serious damage to the house.
posted by wierdo at 9:31 PM on November 17, 2016

Thanks, everyone, for all the helpful thoughts and input. Some of the resources suggested are just not available in a small, relatively isolated rural community, but the ideas may help future readers.

Anyway, when I got into it it looks as though there is tarpaper UNDER the plywood sheathing. Can't think why it was done this way, but I guess the fact that the work failed after less than 10 years might be considered proof on its face that it wasn't exactly best practice. I see no evidence that weather or critters have penetrated to the interior ... but frankly, there's a very full 7' solid oak bookcase against that interior wall and I'm not moving it to look closer!

Adapting your many suggestions to what I had on hand, I tucked a small sheet of lightweight aluminum under the loose shingles above and on either side of the one that came off. Then I replaced the shingle over that, re-nailing it and the others using galvanized finish nails. Finally, I took a 3'x2' corrugated plastic sign, wedged it under the edge of the third layer of shingles and piled some bricks along the bottom on the patio to hold it in place. It's open on either side, but should keep most of the snow accumulation away from that area of the wall. I feel good that this should hold until spring without any more damage.

Now I'll spend the winter trying to cultivate the good will of a bunch of guys who didn't want to give me the time of day this season. Sure wish I was better at playing "helpless little old lady." ;)
posted by peakcomm at 10:33 AM on November 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you did just fine, peakcomm. I'm impressed by your resourcefulness! Good luck in the spring!
posted by areaperson at 10:51 AM on November 18, 2016

Well done!
posted by humboldt32 at 3:29 PM on November 18, 2016

And just in time. Just got a weather bulletin -- we're expected to get up to four inches before Sunday morning!
posted by peakcomm at 6:11 PM on November 18, 2016

Sure wish I was better at playing "helpless little old lady." ;)

Ply your neighbours with sweet baked goods, stews, pies, breads, etc. This will make clear that you are a 'helpless little old lady' and one who one wants to have in their debt. My small town is littered with DIY types; I have health problems -- the DIY types turn out to be easily plied with homemade meals.

As for how you advertise for that sort of thing: is there a Facebook barter (or even buy/sell/trade) group for your area...? I once listed a bunch of things for sale on a FB for-sale group and said "have joint problems, and need some very simple handyperson stuff done here -- would be happy to trade." Got a nice neighbourhood dude over for the afternoon who FIXED ALL THE LITTLE THINGS. I wasn't even selling anything he wanted, but I am a regular for-saler and he knew it, so now he just buys stuff off me for token amounts, and all is well.

A neighbour installed a dishwasher for me -- a plug-in dishwasher where, it turned out, there'd been a hardwired dishwasher. He was good buddies with an electrical inspector. Cost of dishwasher installation: good hearty breakfast. If your neighbours figure out you are a 'helpless old lady,' they will come; you just need beer and eggs florentine or something like that.
posted by kmennie at 1:14 AM on November 23, 2016

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