Exterior Projects

click to magnify Summer 2005 and it's time to get started on the exterior!

By Fall of 2005 we made the decision that I would perform all the work I could on the house myself - the problem with that idea was trying to figure out how to get started. The place needed everything, so it was very difficult to actually pick one project and get it going (which also explains why we had been fooling around with the yard for 2 years). If a crew of 8 or 10 guys was going to show up and start working, then it seemed it would have been easier to run multiple projects at once... with just me I wasn't too sure how I was going to proceed.

The obvious priorities in my mind were to get a new roof on the place, install new windows, and convert that awful screen porch into additional living space. I was struggling with design decisions though, since I had no intention of just tearing the place apart without knowing how I was going to put it back together. I thought the best thing to do would be to start with the screen porch, since that would have the least impact on our living space and Winter was coming.

Having figured out how much easier it was to build something with plans in hand, I did some work at the computer to try and get a handle on what we were going to do with the outside. I was happy with the way the roof lines worked on the tea house and garden shed, so I thought I'd go ahead and add the same 3:12 extended overhang to our existing 5:12 roof. I also wanted to avoid the classic New England double-hung casement windows, in favor of sliding windows that would lend themselves to the Sukiya style house a little more readily than 6 light double-hungs. Another big decision was the entryway - the existing door that opened directly into the living room was not something I was a fan of - I prefer an actual entrance of some sort, not just stepping through the front door and on to the sofa.

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Some simple plans provided an idea of the new exterior appearance (4 sheets).

The house was built before there were any official set-back rules (or at least before anyone cared about following those rules), so it was sitting a mere six feet from the Western property line. Since the property to the West of our house had simply been a wooded lot until about 2000, it didn't really matter that our driveway was right down the center of the property line... when the neighbors built their house next door they didn't care either and placed their retaining wall next to our driveway, rather than making us move the driveway. Still, I wanted to make it right and get our driveway to the East of our house where it should have been in the first place. I also didn't really want my front door to open up in to the neighbors "back" driveway. We decided to rebuild the screen porch into the new entryway, and use a nice six foot wide double door for the entrance. Since the screen porch didn't have any manner of interior finish framing, I figured we could also build in a nice cathedral / open ceiling for the entryway too.

One problem that still plagued all my grand schemes was the location of the huge hunk of crumbling masonry in the center of the house. The original poorly designed fireplace hadn't been used in years, although I had installed a nice little wood stove in the fire place opening and that had been our main source of heat for a few seasons. Part of me wanted to keep a wood stove, since it's such a wonderful heat source. I'm also not get any younger and heating with a wood stove, or more accurately all the repeated handling of firewood to feed a wood stove, is a lot of work. There's also not a lot of precedence for wood stoves and big masonry fireplaces in the traditional Japanese house.

click to magnify A slight rain delay in the exterior work flow.

Since the location of the fireplace (or lack of a fireplace) would essentially determine the entire layout for the screen porch / entryway, as well as the interior layout and flow for the kitchen and living room, I really got stuck on whether or not to keep the fireplace. As it turned out, my neighbor made the decision for me. My neighbor is a professional plumber and has a good friend that's a bit of a high-end general contractor, and I'd often tossed around ideas with both of them about what I was planning to do on the house. Naturally they both said to bulldoze it and put in a pre-fab, although the GC seemed a little more sympathetic to my wishes to renovate it as a Japanese style house than the plumber did. The plumber mostly performed pre-fab hook-ups for a different GC (I'd even helped him with a job or two on these, and some of the modern pre-fabs are really nice), so he was really an advocate for the pre-fab. Anyway, one afternoon while my neighbor was trying to convince me to get started on something and stop screwing around with plans, I'd explained my trepidation about removing the fireplace but then I had to leave to run an errand. When I returned home about half an hour later, I found my neighbor on my roof with an electric jackhammer and the top of the chimney was in the front yard! I couldn't believe it - this guy had started doing demo work on my house when I was gone. I was more shocked than angry, had a good laugh, and then the two of us proceeded to reduce the remainder of the fire place to rubble. The decision about the fireplace had been made at last.

So there we were - late September and a huge hole in the roof and the living room wall. My neighbor was right about the chimney, and once we had all the rubble cleaned up I was really glad to have it gone. With that decision behind us, we moved forward with the rebuilding of the porch. The hole in the roof was covered with a plastic tarp for the Winter of 2006 / 2007, since I wasn't going to try and rebuild my roof before the weather turned really nasty - the extremely fussy carpentry work the roof would require was going to take a while to get through and I didn't want to rush it. The time line for exterior projects pretty much went as follows:

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July 2010 and the roof, siding, and windows & doors are finished.
  1. Early Fall 2005 - remove chimney and siding from screen porch
  2. Late Fall 2005 - re-frame old window openings for new windows and entry doors
  3. Spring 2006 - strip porch roof, build entryway roof structure
  4. Late Spring 2006 - remove 5:12 overhang framing and install extended 3:12 overhang around entire house
  5. Summer 2006 - strip remaining roof of entire house and install new roof
  6. Late Summer 2006 - rebuild original entryway and front window framing for new windows
  7. Fall 2006 - install siding on front of house
  8. Spring / Summer 2007 - install soffits and gable end siding
  9. Spring / Summer 2008 - install West side and back siding
  10. Late Summer / Fall 2009 - paint exterior and install siding trim
  11. Summer 2010 - install gable end trim

Now in the fifth year of exterior work, we should finally be able to finish the outside of the house. I've been plodding along on the work, doing what I can when the weather is good, then working on interior projects during the Winter months. With paint and most of the trim completed in the Fall of 2009, all that remains is some trim work on the gable ends. In mid-Summer 2010, the gable end trim has been installed and the exterior renovations to the house are complete. Working alone certainly takes a lot longer than having a crew on hand!

Additional house exterior projects, including decks for the engawa and tsukimi-dai, as well as lattice work for two or three koshi-mado on the South and West windows will likely be started in 2010 - who knows how long those are gonna take ot wrap up.

For more information and photos about the exterior projects, please see the specific exterior sections available through the menu.