Exterior Cladding New House Old Soul

New House, Old Soul – Ep. 8 – Exterior Cladding

Foreword by Ian Thompson, Editor

The growing trend of constructing identical, mass-produced houses has sparked concern among many. Instead of building vibrant, diverse communities, we seem to be creating neighbourhoods filled with cookie-cut houses that lack individuality and character. This shift not only contributes to a sense of monotony but also impacts the sense of belonging and community spirit.

These identical homes, while maybe efficient from a construction perspective, largely ignore the many considerations associated with cladding selection. Factors such as cost, performance, overall house value, and maintenance requirements are critical when choosing cladding. The right cladding can enhance the simplest of home’s visual appeal, increase its value, reduce maintenance costs, and improve its performance. However, in the drive towards homogeneity, these considerations are often overlooked.

For those specifying cladding solely based on cost the result can be homes that look cheap and lack character. High-quality cladding materials, although initially more costly, can significantly elevate a property’s appearance and value. Conversely, cheaper materials can give a house a neglected appearance, potentially decreasing its value.

Maintenance requirements are another critical consideration. Some materials may require more upkeep, leading to higher long-term costs. Additionally, climate change is resulting in more demands on our cladding, so also consider the durability, sustainability and performance of your chosen cladding system.

Cladding specifiers and homebuilders have a significant role to play in reversing this trend. They need to balance cost, performance, value, and maintenance considerations with the impact their choices have on the community’s character and vibrancy. It’s not just about building houses; it’s about creating communities with a shared sense of belonging. Designers and cladding specifiers should consider cladding as one of the most important design considerations.

Lastly, local councils and consent departments also have a crucial role in encouraging diversity and individuality in housing designs. By doing so, they can help create neighborhoods that are not just collections of houses, but vibrant communities with unique identities.

I feel we need to rethink our approach to building houses. We need to consider not just the individual factors of cost, performance, value, and maintenance, but also the broader impact on our communities. After all, our homes are more than just buildings; they are the foundations of our communities and a reflection of our shared identity. We must strive to build homes that contribute to the diversity and vibrancy of our communities, rather than settle for uniform, characterless designs that I see more and more popping up.

Over to Brent for his next edition of the New House, Old Soul Series, aptly discussing cladding.

“Exterior Cladding” New House, Old Soul – Ep. 8

The exterior walls of a home need to repel a variety of elements: air, water, and vapor.  Each of them has an uncanny way of trying to find their way through the layers.  What methods of control, in the form of external cladding, have been tried in the past?  What methods have been proven to be the most effective?  Specific builds and materials will be shared along with the purpose behind choosing them.

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Video Transcript:

Welcome back to New House Old Soul today. We’re talking about cladding, okay? Cladding is basically the skin that we’re putting on the outside of the house. It’s really being a student of the past and really understanding the historic precedence and studying the past to make sure you get it right.

Build Original Series hosted by Brent Hall, New House Old Soul sponsored by Stellar floors and the Unico system.

I think Brick’s a great example because brick is one of those historic materials that has really changed over time. For instance, early bricks, okay, were handmade. They were porous. They were not perfectly clean. They weren’t hard-edged, okay, because they were made in molds and handled by hand. And so to see fingerprints on historic bricks is something that happened. The other thing that happened with the historic bricks is the whole idea of building a wood-framed stud wall with a brick veneer, okay, is a 1900s invention. Most houses up until the late 1800s were almost always solid masonry. If they were made from bricks. And so when you have a solid masonry wall, like my building is a solid masonry wall, if you figure a brick is, you know, four inches wide, you have three widths, what they’re called, of bricks, and you have a 12 to 16, 18-inch wide wall that has to be bonded together, okay? And so you can lay up four different or three different walls without hooking them together, and when you hook them together, it’s called a bonding pattern. The Georgian house that we built has an English bond pattern, and there’s a Flemish bond pattern, and those bond patterns are the ways the bricks are laid together, and it changes the character and look of the house. Understanding how bricks are put together, understanding the story of how brick walls were made influences how brick walls look and how they look on your house. This isn’t something that you drive by and go, “Oh, look, they’ve got an English bond, right?” It’s something that you drive up, and you look at it, and you go, “Oh, look, the brick has a texture. It’s kind of interesting. What’s going on with that? Why do I like that?” And so it’s a layer that we’re putting into it, but understanding that tradition right elevates the quality of your house and gives it that old soul.

Looking at the big picture, there’s wood cladding, okay, there’s brick, and then there’s stone, right? Pretty easy. The problem is that the layering of these different details is really the old soul that you want to dial up and make sure that you get right. The Granbury house is a good example. That’s a balloon-framed house, and it has a beveled drop siding on it. I’m a preservation guy, I’m a traditionalist. What that means is that all the other materials that have come behind it, the aluminum siding of the ’50s, the vinyl siding of the ’70s, the Hardy siding of the last 20 years, those are all meant to copy wood. Okay, so if I can put wood on my house instead of Hardy, and I find that there’s people who really quickly want to put Hardy on a historic house, I’m just like, “Time out.” Why? The problem with Hardy is it has a reveal of about, you know, a quarter of an inch, right? Historic, you know, drop siding sometimes has a drop of three quarters of an inch or half an inch. And so that is a very subtle detail. It’s an eighth of an inch, right? But it can make all the difference in the world. If you take the historic house inside it and Hardy it, it’s going to have a monotonous look to it because it’s going to be almost too perfect, right? There’s no undulation and there’s no texture with wood and things like that. And you can go back to the colonial period. They actually face nailed their siding. So the Paul Revere House has four-inch wide siding on it that’s face nailed, right? Talk about texture, talk about putting an old soul into your house. You know, that’s the kind of layering that I’m talking about that can really transform your house and make it look special. I look at the new siding products that are all meant to look like wood. My stake is, look, if we craft really well and if we build the way we should be building, there’s no reason why I can’t put wood siding on a house. Right? Why would I substitute it for something that’s trying to be like wood? Why don’t I just put up wood? And so what that means is that I’m not putting up cheap wood. I’m not putting up wood that’s going to rot really quick. I’m putting it up in a way with air, air behind it and everything else so that the paint doesn’t peel because that would be, you know, one reason why, you know, aluminum siding in the ’50s was so popular because you didn’t have to paint it again. You’re overcoming the maintenance piece. And if we’re building in a quality way, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be a hundred-year product.

And so I am not advocating for new products that are meant to look like old products. I’m not putting on a brick house. I’m not putting a brick tile that gets mortared on. Right? I want real products on my house. And so, you know, part of putting that old soul into the house is exactly what I’m describing, going back with that traditional, going back with the real. So we talked about brick, we talked about their traditions, and I talked about, you know, the English bond and the Flemish bond. And basically, you know, if you think about your brick walls, I got three brick walls here that bonding pattern is me taking a brick this way and bonding the two walls together, right? And so, and then what happens on the face of the brick is you see headers and runners going across there and it breaks up the monotony of a straight running bond. You know, brick color is really important. Brick texture is really important. If I’m building a house from the 1920s, a red-baked face brick is really appropriate brick. So how do you know these things, right? And, you know, I think about a Craftsman or a period Revival house from the ’20s or ’30s, and I know that the cut stone cap, by the way, it was almost always cut stone in the 1920s, right before cast stone really becomes a popular product in the ’80s. That cap on an Arts and Crafts house is four to five inches thick, and most caps that you see today are about two inches thick. Does it matter that much? Well, no, I mean, it’s not gonna, no one’s gonna die, right? But it is that layering in texture and authenticity that’s going to give your house an old soul. So what you’re hearing is me being a student of the past, me going up and measuring the actual size of those parts and pieces so I can get them right. And remember, your mind registers and remembers a lot of things. So when you drive through a historic neighborhood, you are taking these mental pictures in your mind of what those houses should look like. When you go to a new neighborhood and you’re looking at those houses, it just doesn’t look right. You’re thinking about those mental pictures, and you’re saying, “So something’s not right. Something’s missing here.” And it’s these small little details that we’re fixing. So a cut stone sill, a thick cut stone sill on a bungalow Revival house, right, instead of tilted brick, the raked face, right? And you think of houses like Thistle Hill because in that period of time, they had machine-made bricks. So machine-made bricks are very uniform in color, and oftentimes, they wanted this monolithic look on these houses. And so you see the brick all very even and not blended, right? And so if I’m doing a period Revival house or if I’m doing an English-style house or a colonial revival house, I might do a blended brick, right? Because bricks in the colonial period had a little bit of dark color, a little bit of light color, depending on where they were in the kiln. I know I’m blabbing a lot, guys. I know I’m explaining all these things, but I’m hoping you’re understanding that it’s not just a decision, “Oh, pick your wood, pick your brick, pick your stone.” It’s really diving deep into the history and understanding the traditions so that you can get it right.

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The Pennsylvania farmhouse is a good example of a house where we went the extra mile to make sure that we had the right look. The problem in Texas is we didn’t have that black stone. We got the stone from Pennsylvania because we needed those colors. We also were students of how they laid up the coining. We are students of how they built the timber frame windows so that the authenticity, right, and really we’re going for, in our new builds, authenticity, historical authenticity, appropriateness so that it looks right and reads right. What we want from our client is when they drive up to the house, they don’t know what time period they are, and it doesn’t look like a new house. It feels like a very old house. And getting your cladding right, I’m asking you to spend an extra day, right, an extra few hours on Google trying to do some research. The reason I have this library and all these books is because I want to understand the precedent. And I’ve got a book over there in Western Pennsylvania architecture, and I pulled that book out for this study to dig into what those houses look like, see how they were built, so that we could build it right. Guys, I could go on and on for another 30 minutes describing the different architectural traditions and cut stone in England. I told you the story or you may have heard me tell the story about the architect from England, Quinlan Terry, who’s building a house in Dallas, and he came over and visited, and they were building the cut stone with 3/8 of an inch mortar joints. And he said, “Stop. You know, you can’t do this. You’ve got to stop.” They had to stop the whole project, and they had to re-engineer the stones because he wanted an eighth of an inch mortar joint in there. Why? Because that’s the architectural precedent. That’s the thing that’s going to help it last longer. And so small little details, the size and scale of these things, I’m encouraging you to be a student of whatever house style you’re trying to build so that you can get it right. That 1908 Italian Revival house with sanguine stats, they were the architects, really high-end architects, really well-built house, beautiful cut stone columns on the entry, beautiful architectural proportions and details, and it was a stunning house when it was built in 1908, and it’s still stunning today because of the architectural integrity and beauty.

I want to show you kind of how they were thinking about things. I’m going to show you the front, which is so awesome, and then the back, where they missed and why they missed and help you understand. And I think it’s pretty obvious to everybody who’s seen it. The front’s awesome, the back is… And so I don’t want you to build houses that are… Right? I want you to build houses that are awesome. And copying the past, looking at the past, practicing the past is going to be the thing that’s going to make the difference. And being a student of the past really does matter and really can infuse that old soul into your new house.

This is an early house because it’s built before 1920, solid masonry, right? So this house, along with Thistle Hill, along with my office, is all that solid masonry construction that is kind of an old way of building, right? And so we’re going to see some challenges and stuff. I’m going to show you inside some of the problems with that because there’s actually some structural clay tile in there, which is really early for that product in this house. But really what I wanted to show you is the problem, okay? And so you cannot, if you think about cladding on an exterior house, you know, it’s wood, brick, stone, right? Stucco traditionally was a product that was a lifesaver in that you had a brick or stone, it starts to weather, you stucco over it, right? There are some traditions of putting stucco right on stone. I can grease in some different places like that. But tradition in America is that stucco isn’t necessarily something you start with, right? It’s usually something that’s a repair material. Stucco here, as we can see on this house, is kind of that anti-old house deal because what they’ve done is they have they put a new material, but they put stucco, which can be considered a traditional material, but the execution of it is terrible. Execution, guys, is like maybe the most important thing you learn from the New House Old Soul. You can say, “Well, we just put brick on it,” okay? Well, how did you put brick on it, right? There’s ways that brick and the mortar is raked, there’s ways that the size of the brick, there’s all kinds of executional details, right? Moulded brick that we’ve forgotten today and we kind of just pass by. And so execution is a huge deal and what they did here, the execution of that stucco was done in a very contemporary way. It’s done in a… way. And so you have these plywood boxes, it’s basically what that is. It’s a plywood box for the column, it’s a plywood box for that entablature, that panelized molding that’s put on top of it. There’s no precedent for that. There’s no historic precedent anywhere for that. So when you are copying the past, there are ways of executing this that could have made it so much better. So now what we’re left with is on that addition over there, we’ve got columns that stick right up against the bottom of the porch. We’ve got this addition here, and we know clearly that they’re additions. The quality of building on the front side of the house versus the quality of building here is ruined because it wasn’t executed properly. It wasn’t executed with the same focus on an historic and traditional details. And really, guys, the other main lesson from this whole series is be a student of the past, be a student of these historic building details so that you can practice them. Trying to build like they did will teach you a lot, right? When you look at it and say, “Well, I’ve got to build this entablature up,” but look here, like these Corinthian columns, straight tubes, no entasis going up into an entablature, that’s not a full entablature, right? The balustrade, those columns don’t sit over top of the balusters. Watch my video on how to fix this that’s on the Build Show on YouTube. So if they had practiced the past, if they had been clear students of the past, they would have fixed this. I don’t mean to spend all this time out here talking about this, but I’m telling you, the execution and being a student of the past really does matter. Really will make you a better builder. Really will elevate your game because you’re gonna have to go, “Wait, if I was going to do exactly that, how would I do that? How would I execute those details? How would I build like that again?” And your bar will be raised as you learn to build from the past. So speaking of being a student of the past, there, when you dive into that, I’m just telling you, it’s a deep, deep lake. It is an almost infinite lake of information and details that you can extract and learn from. The base of this rotunda, okay, we’ve talked about putting rustication in. What’s rustication, Brent? Rustication is when there is a heavy modular stone on the base of a building that gives it visual strength, so it looks like the top can be carried by it, okay? That’s the layer, guys, of information and opportunity, okay, that if you want to build better, if you want to build beautiful things that are timeless, you’ve got to be a student of the past. And the rustication is just one example of the many different opportunities, and I think “opportunity” is the right word, of making this better, learning from the past, guys, being a student from the past causes you, okay, and caused me to read books. “Hey, I don’t really understand that concept. What is that concept?” You dive deeper, then you get into it and go, “Oh, there’s all these different traditions for doing rustication. Oh, look, and they used to…” And all of a sudden, you’re diving deeper and the French used to do it this way, boom, and the Americans used to do it this way, boom, right? So more and more learning, more and more information you can gain will really help you get that old soul into your new house.

Execution, guys, right? Look at this, okay? Look at that childish, uh, way of getting these two pieces together that they’ve mudded over with all this mortar, and these lines are all messed up. You know, this is the kind of execution you want to avoid, right? This is what shows you that it was done in the last 20 years. Look at the way, you know, the base connects to the column. It’s just poorly executed. And this is an example of trying to copy the past but executing it in a bad way. Not only is the column a tube, and it should have emphasis, but the way they’ve constructed it, the way they put it together, cheapens it, right? It just makes you go, “Oh, yeah, this was done later because you can see how cheap it is.” Execution, especially when we’re talking about cladding, you know, really determines longevity, sustainability, you know, how well our buildings last. And so when you do things like this and we see the cracking and we see what’s going on here, we all of a sudden are looking at this and this has been here 10 or 20 years. It’s nowhere near going to last as long as the things on the front of the house that have been here 110 years. And so building quality, especially when we’re talking about cladding, executing details well, good build signs so that, you know, a house works right, it’s not only the cladding that you choose, it’s the execution of it, the things behind the wall that will really determine, you know, how long our buildings last, how well we build. Execution, execution, execution. So let’s go upstairs. We demoed out this shower, and you’re going to actually see some of the guts of this exterior wall, and we’ll talk about that as we consider cladding.

Guys, so cladding, right? It really does matter. It really does make a difference. We’re in the inside of my building right now. This is the brick wall with three widths thick that has been bonded together. Getting those details right, being the student of the past, not practicing modern traditions on old houses or on your new house because it stands out. You immediately recognize it. That photo in your brain of what was it supposed to be versus what’s being done is not right. And so you sit there and you go, “Hmm, something’s not right, something’s off.” And a lot of the myth happens because you aren’t looking at the past. You aren’t looking at those authentic details and literally going and measuring them, going and looking at them and studying them so that you can get them right. All right, guys, so cladding, it really does matter. I hope you learned some today. Hope I didn’t talk too long about these traditions, but the traditions really matter, and the traditions are the old soul that, if you want to infuse them into your house, you need to be a student of the past. You need to be a student of these details so that you can get it right. You can nail them and get that old soul into your new house. I’m Brent Hull. Thanks for watching.