In this business, one of the more interesting results of removing old siding from walls all the way down to the studs is that we see a lot of really nasty stuff. For example, on occasion we run into huge nests of snakes, ants, termites, bees, etc., as well as the decomposed remains of assorted vermin (mice, squirrels, even a raccoon) and even some small household pets. In the months after tropical storm Allison in June 2001 we discovered that many critters tried to survive the flooding by squeezing through small holes or gaps in the exterior siding, but once they were inside the wall they were never able to escape again. You just never know what’s inside those walls.
But today, let me show you something we run into a lot more often but is plenty gross in its own right. A few years ago I met with a lady who owned a two-story townhome inside of Loop 610; she shared a building with several other townhomes so that each homeowner shared the walls with neighbors on each side. As I approached the home I noticed that the building still had the original pressboard siding on it… it was warping and rotting in a lot of places, and some of the other residents had installed very low-quality vinyl siding on top of the old siding instead of replacing it. She walked me through her home and showed me places where water was slowly seeping through the drywall on her downstairs ceiling where it met the front and back walls. Then she took me upstairs, and I immediately noticed that it was significantly warmer up there (even though it was a cool winter day), and there was a heavy, dank, musty smell. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, I didn’t mention it…. but she did bring it up herself. It seems nobody had been able give her a good explanation for it and every attempt to fix it had failed. She had already had her roof and her plumbing inspected for leaks, but none were found. Then she showed me stains and spots where water had run down the front and back walls and into the floor joists, directly above where we saw the water stains in the downstairs ceiling.
That left only one other explanation: that water was leaking into the walls from the outside through the siding, the corner or window trim, and/or the top of the wall at the roof edge. So, we made a plan and began to tear off the old siding to replace it with HardiePlank… and look at what we found:
Look at the pink insulation… it ain’t pink no more! It got thoroughly wet, so it got moldy, and when insulation gets wet, it no longer insulates, which explained why the temperature in the upstairs part of the house was so much hotter. Look at the studs… also moldy and rotten, in such bad shape that they weren’t even solid enough to nail new Hardie® Plank to. Look at the shreds of the old siding just barely hanging on… totally and completely rotten. Is there any wonder the interior always smelled so dank and musty?
Remember, this is a townhome with only two sides to replace, so it is a much smaller job than what is usually involved in replacing the siding on a single family residence. But because the rotten, leaky siding was allowed to remain unrepaired for so long, we had to replace studs and insulation and re-flash every roof runoff area, and what should have been a quick and relatively inexpensive job ended up costing significantly more.
And before you dismiss this as an extreme example, the fact is that it is not that unusual. We see it to some degree every time we find rotting wood and pressboard siding that has been allowed to remain for extended periods… the simple fact is that when water is allowed to pass through the siding and settle into the insulation, especially in this Houston climate, mold and rot WILL progressively damage the load-bearing wood inside the walls. The sad part is that it all could have been prevented, and a lot of money could have been saved, if the siding had been removed and replaced in a timely manner.
In this particular job, we were able to get all of the mold out and clean it up before it spread throughout the house. Once we knew it was gone, we installed new insulation, a quality vapor barrier, and Hardie® Plank siding. A few months later that customer called to tell us that the musty smell was gone, the interior temperatures had stabilized to more reasonable levels, and there were no more leaks inside her walls. In fact, she was so happy she had us replace her windows… but that’s another story.