wood siding installation

Top Five Questions A Builder Should Ask Before Wood Siding Install, But Often Don’t

1. Did the architect or designer plan for proper drainage and exposure in the house plan drawings?

When an architect designs a house, decisions are made at that stage that affect the lifespan of the wood siding. Not having a lot of wood on a south wall that is going to get hit with rain, snow, wind, sleet and hail is a big factor because that south wall will need to be maintained twice as much as any other wall.

When we talk about drainage, you have to plan for drainage behind the wall and you have to plan for drainage of rain to come out and over the siding and not down onto it. There are a few light fixtures and things of that nature that direct the water to each side which will concentrate it and run down and literally wash the stain right off the siding.

So, having an architect be aware of how to plan for wood, to maximize its life, helps you and your customer avoid pulling your hair out after the fact.

2. Am I up-to-date on the installation differences involved with using sustainable wood, which equates to younger trees?

Since the sustainable forestry initiative, we’re planting as many trees as we cut. And the wood products we use come from younger and younger trees and perform differently.

The size change of cedar is very minimal on older trees. It can be a lot more on a younger tree. The planning for the wood to change sizes when it goes to the job site from the mill is important with a younger tree. The size of the pattern that any lumber yard or mill will actually create, from nominal to actual, can vary from mill to mill and you will need to know the exact size and be able to calculate the shrink factor.

With sustainable woods, they are not as rot resistant so they need to be stained on all six sides and prepped properly. They need to be stacked with air flow all the way around the board for at least nine to ten days before you install so that the size changes of the greatest degree can take place while the wood is on the ground.

There are several differences installing today’s wood than the wood grandpa used to install.

3. Do I have room on the job site for stacking and acclimating the wood?

Referring back to the last question, when you get your wood, you have to spread it out in layers and run a sticker between the layers. A sticker is a cross-hatched piece of wood that allows a gap between layers to allow for air flow around and between the wood layers. As you can imagine, this process takes a lot of space.

So, before you order wood, it’s important to realize you absolutely have to let it acclimate or it will change sizes and cause problems on the wall. And if you are going to let it acclimate properly, you’re going to have to plan for where you’re going to acclimate it. The number one questions is, “Do you have enough room on the job site?”

4. If I use a sub-contractor, does my sub-contractor have up-to-date wood installation experience?

I had a customer who was a GC, they consulted with me for several months and ordered the wood from me. The GC was my customer. Throughout the course of this consulting I actually spoke to the homeowner several times.

The wood was delivered, the subcontractor hired by the GC was installing and the homeowner called with concerns that the sub was hitting the siding with a hammer and leaving hammer marks. He was also putting nails in so that you could see them. And he was doing a lot of things that the homeowner said he didn’t know if he was supposed to deal with or if they were even issues.

I took a look at the pictures the homeowner sent me and it literally was the worst siding installation I had ever seen. The sub-contractor had no idea how to install wood. The saving grace for the homeowner was that he had inspected the siding install just one hundred and fifty square feet into installation and called me. I was able to get the sub on the phone and tell him to stop.

I called my customer, the GC, telling him the sub was hitting twelve dollar per square foot wood with a hammer and he needed to talk with him. The contractor had a discussion with the homeowner and they agree to part ways without installing the siding. This was all because wood took longer than other tongue and groove installs.

These guys were used to tacking flooring or slamming and jamming things together and you cannot do that with wood. If your sub-contractor is not a take-pride-in-your-work kind of guy, the chances of having problems that will be epic in costs to fix increases exponentially. 

5. Did I account for all of the extra handling required with a wood installation in my bid?

Wood takes more handling and prep than almost any other siding product. Wood is a project of pride and love and not one of convenience, speed or ease of maintenance. The people who insist upon using wood love it. And they love it so much, they go to extra expense for it, and they accept the extra hassle of wood.

They’ve got to maintain it and they want it done right. And with wood, there’s at least double the prep time and it’s a slow process. It is a craftsman’s job not a hack job. We’ve had installers at commercial job sites try to install this like they did gypsum. The architect calls us and it’s our job to go to the job site and explain to the installers that they have to slow down and take their time.

We had an epic job in Alexandria, Virginia. It was a two hundred thousand dollar wood siding package for a hugely visible yacht club right on the water. I became aware that the subs had no idea how to install siding. Against the rules, I privately called the general contractor and told him that I’ve already been through this on a commercial build. I told him these guys will cause you more problems and cost you more money trying to learn how to install wood on the job site than if you spent four thousand dollars and brought my expert craftsman wood guy to be on the ground when the wood lands.

The reason he was on the ground was so that he could show these guys from the onset how to properly take care of wood and how to properly prepare it. He was there for three weeks. And he said once he got them to take pride in their work and slow down to make it look good and to get it right the first time, they didn’t need him anymore.

He showed them several tricks that are not in the install guides. Tricks that old-time wood guys who have done thousands of installs and have forty years of experience in the field know, that other people don’t. He also gave them tips on how to optimize the wood installation, saving money. And he gave tips on how to actually make money on the end of the installation by maximizing the cedar yield.

All of this information is in the videos I spent time making because it wasn’t feasible to get my expert craftsman in the field for everyone who asked for or needed advice. All of the things my craftsman did, including proper wood handling, tips and tricks people don’t know, and the most frequently made mistakes are covered in these desktop videos.

Final thought. I cannot tell you how many times a customer has told me their installer has thirty years of experience and then I get called. The installer did not read the instructions and was doing things incorrectly from the start. Just because you’ve been installing wood for thirty years does not mean you’ve been installing wood correctly for thirty years.

Make sure you understand the wood install clearly and understand the significant amount of additional preparation required. I would say a wood install will take twice the time and cost twice the hours of basically any other siding that you can just jam and slam. You cannot jam and slam wood!

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