10/24/2010

Coastal House Problems In Lamoine

This dormer had to have all the trim and siding removed and ice and water shield installed. Rain blew in and dripped from the first floor ceiling.

This post is for anyone considering building or buying a house on the shore along the Maine coast. It may well apply to any windy, water exposed location. I work on mistakes made by builders and homeowners. First, save your heating/cooling money for heating only; or rather for heating and more insulation. Air conditioning really isn’t necessary unless climate change drops on us like a bag of rocks. Look at the historical weather data here and compare it to where you live. The few uncomfortable summer days (2 days over 90°F in 2010) can be dealt with by closing up the house or at most, a single window unit. Heating systems are marketed to be elaborate and expensive, but the more you insulate, the smaller and less complex your heating system needs to be.

Next, I suggest covering the whole ocean side with ice and water shield, not just Typar or Tyvek. Especially important is to use it where a second floor is recessed from the first floor roof like on a dormer. Imagine standing with a power washer and spraying your ocean side, that’s what a November or December storm is like. Horizontal rain.  This happened to me while I was building my house, I was lucky to see the effects before any damage resulted. The water shot right through my Typar housewrap.

I have not had a problem with ice dams on the roof, but I have seen quite a few on other houses. A friend had to install ice melting cables on a brand new addition because the builder didn’t use ice and water shield all the way up to the skylights. Again, I would use as much of the stuff as I could afford, especially on the ocean side and especially around any heat-leaking penetrations, right down to the eves. Don’t forget the valleys.

Windows: Don’t skimp. Andersen 200 series isn’t meant for shore exposure, 400 series is. I heard this from an Andersen representative. Friends with 200 series have leaks.  Also, look for a window company which warrants it’s windows against seal failure for as long as possible. This is the seal between the two panes of glass, and is especially important for skylights.

Siding: I loathe vinyl, but I can’t claim it underperforms if ice and water shield is used underneath on the ocean side. We have red cedar bevel siding and keep it up with Cabot solid color stain. The stain was applied before installation so the back side is protected. One coat lasts 5 years, 2 coats last 15. My next paint job is scheduled for 2024, I painted last year. I expect the south side will last maybe 11 years while the north side will go for 18. If you are considering cedar shingles, make sure you like the look of curly, discolored shingles. It may not be for you. Finally, avoid like the plague finger-jointed primed pine trim. The lumber yards still sell it, but it is a disaster waiting to happen. It will begin to rot out in 4-5 years. Builders still use it.

Architects love to get creative on the ocean side. They like huge windows and lots of dormers and intersecting rooflines. I like to tell people to imagine an overturned bowl and to try to build a house as close to it as possible. Think of the surface to volume ratio. Think of a big roof area toward the south for collectors or photovoltaics, with an ideal slope. Minimize windows on the north side. Build double walls to get in more insulation. I did double 2X4′s and filled the space with 8 inches of fiberglass. Put your garage on the north side. Consider three season rooms and porches that can be closed off in the heating season.

Some day you might do this

Not heating in the winter may be thought of as an option for vacation home owners. Realize, there will be consequences if you turn off the heat for the winter. The dew point will move inward, meaning that moisture will condense on interior walls, on clothing in closets and other confined spots like on the backs of couches. You will arrive in the spring to a strong mildew odor. Vinyl flooring will shrink and pull away from the walls in low temperatures. Plastic tubs will do strange things too. A little forethought would remedy this. Avoid plastic. Open closets and pull stuff away from walls. Keep a dehumidifier set to keep the air dry. Tell the plumber to slope pipes for easy drainage.

Finally, plan on a variety of energy options. If the price of heating oil becomes outrageous that pellet stove in the parlor will be welcomed. Will your heating system work if the power goes out for three days? It happens. Consider a standby generator. It needn’t be the automatic variety, just enough to run the fridge, the water pump, heating system and a few lights. I have a battery power back up for my computer that will last for two days. Our heating options include oil, solar, propane, wood and electricity.

I don’t mean to make it sound like living on the Maine shore is a struggle for survival, but there’s a certain satisfaction to having prepared for the worst, especially when the November gale is howling outside and you are warm and cozy on the inside.

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