Asked on Aug 04, 2016

Siding and insulation 100+ year old house - any advice?

Susan Joiner
by Susan Joiner
I have an old house that has double wood walls. Wood on the inside, under the sheetrock, then 2x4 support studs and horizontal fire breaks, then wood siding on the outside. I need to replace the siding, and am having difficulty finding wood siding. I was considering going with plywood covered by Hardieboard siding. I have heard that if you try to insulate walls that are designed for dead air insulation you may end up with serious moisture issues inside the walls, but all of the hardware store employees keep telling me that I have to insulate them. So is it better to leave the house as it was built to be? Or take the moisture risk of insulating. The house is on the Edwards Plateau in central Texas.
  19 answers
  • Dian Dian on Aug 05, 2016
    Looks like a GREAT home w/character. I wish the picture had a good closeup shot. A few thoughts for you - Have you considered painting instead or replacing the siding? Sherwin Williams makes a superior exterior paint w/plastic, I believe, as part of the solution. I used it on my house in New England. Prep work is key. Scrape off old paint as best you can, & work on dry surfaces. Read & follow all painting instructions on the label. After 10 years I only need to touch up a few spots - NOT the whole house. I have similar siding, inside & out, to you. I had cellulose insulation blown in 30+ years ago by professionals. NO moisture problems! Speak w/the pros, not store workers. Get written estimates & references on any work to be done. This will also give you useful info should you decide to do the work yourself. Good luck! It's a beautiful building. Enjoy making it your home.
  • William William on Aug 05, 2016
    I agree with Dian! My daughter lives in a rental house about 100 years old. The owner fully remodeled the home. Similar walls as yours. Had blown in cellulose insulation put in the walls from the outside. Scraped, sanded and pressure washed old paint. Primed and painted.
  • Dian Dian on Aug 05, 2016
    Pressure washing off old paint is a good idea, w/some precautions! Practice using the pw on scrap boards. Too close &/or too strong pressure will really damage the siding. Painting requires a DRY surface. Keep this in mind. The SW paint I spoke about doesn't require priming, just a clean dry surface
  • Peggie Love Peggie Love on Aug 05, 2016
    I had wood siding on my house which is from 1980. In 2014 I went around for months to decide what was best. I ended up with new insulation a tax deduction save your info and whatevers; i had new vinyl windows put in and at the end of the insulation they put the green wrap up to protect from moisture, etc and then finished it up with the hardiplank siding. its awesome. you can see my house and the entire process on my FaceBook page; peggie spinner love
  • Our old house was built in 1907- the previous owners had insulation blown in - however some rooms were plaster & lath on the inside and some they drywalled - those walls had a vapor barrier installed. I would definitely call insulation companies - however- be prepared to get various thoughts on what is right & what isn't. When we checked into it when we gutted & drywalled the upstairs we had insulation/construction people tell us YES to vapor barrier and some said NO. We have major temperature swings here though in MN from -20 below to above freezing in the same day, to 100+ in the summer months.
  • Suellen Hintz Suellen Hintz on Aug 06, 2016
    Hardiboard or Hardiplank might not give you the look you want but it's a wonderful I really recommend. We live in Oregon so get lots of winter rain; we've had to replace exterior trim that is actual wood but the Hardiboard has given no problems. I can't really speak to you insulation questions but I've lived in the type of house you've described and it can be uncomfortable and expensive...good luck.
  • Hunter Hampton Hunter Hampton on Aug 06, 2016
    That house is so stinkin' gorgeous I would leave it like it is........
  • Joleary Joleary on Aug 06, 2016
    Don't use a plastic vapor barrier. Just paper faced insulation and you'll be fine. The house can still "breath".
  • Sophia,M.,McConnery Sophia,M.,McConnery on Aug 06, 2016
    Your best bet is to insulate but not use a vapor barrier.This is what causes the moisture build up!
  • F H Young F H Young on Aug 07, 2016
    I'm surprised the walls weren't insulated with sawdust. That and old newspapers covered the walls of most older homes. Have you considered shiplap for the siding? Check out the 108 Mile BC Canada website, The main house has a painted tin exterior. Research your house's history, you may find a photo or even someone who remembers what your house was like when it was new.
  • Mandy Brown Mandy Brown on Aug 07, 2016
    Depending on the condition of the wood siding, you may have to replace. Can't tell by the picture, but if the remaining paint has lead in it then you may be required to remove it. Some localities won't allow you to scrape lead paint or cover it up. Also, the wood may have dry rot that you would not want to cover up either. And before they had fiberglass insulation houses were built with the double wall construction and plaster walls. Now, contractors use Tyvek house wrap as moisture barrier on the outside to protect the plywood and either fiberglass (the pink kind) insulation between the studs in the interior walls or foam. For older homes they may drill small holes and blow insulation in the voids and attics. Hardiplank is a great product. They have come a long way since it was first introduced. They now put the color throughout the board so it doesn't fade over time and since it's impregnated with cement, it withstands weather and high winds providing an extra layer of insulation and it's no maintenance! It's best to get some advice from reputable contractors. Ask people you know who've had work done to get names of a few in your area. Good luck!
  • Patricia Antolic Patricia Antolic on Aug 07, 2016
    I think you should just use some paint. I love the look of your house as is.
  • Johnchip Johnchip on Aug 07, 2016
    If you are happy with the house, temp,etc.. as is, Have the siding taken down, remilled if needed and replace any damaged boards. You might find just flipping the boards inside/out give you what you want. Most backsides of the boards will likely be in good shape. That much wood is expensive and you could save a bundle while keep authentic to the house build.
  • Marilyn Zaruba Marilyn Zaruba on Aug 07, 2016
    I would pick the brains of some insulation and siding people if I were you. Tell them what you are doing. Most contractors are more than willing to help a person out like that.
  • Patty Patty on Aug 09, 2016
    We had a 100 yr old home and of all the homes I have lived thru the years that was my favorite. The only place we had to insulate was under the floor because it was built up on brick pillars, then we laid a moisture barrier on the ground. Then we put insulation in the attic, no need for moisture barrier up there. That house was the easiest house we ever owned to heat and cool, it even had the original wavy glass windows. I loved everything about that old house and I really regret selling it. My husband was in construction for 30 yrs and he said that house was so well built that there was no need to have insulation put into the walls, we had original hardwood floors and during the winter I could go barefoot no problem my feet didn't freeze to the floor. I hope when you get everything done you want to do you can enjoy and love your home as much as we did. One more thing if your siding is in decent shape I would just do some sanding and caulk real good with good caulk, then paint, I would be willing to bet that siding is in a lot better shape than you think. Good luck and please post pictures when it is done,
  • D D on Aug 29, 2016
    Leave the house as designed!!! My husband and I have restored 5 Old Homes, 1830-1920. Insulating walls in an 100+ year old is begging for issues. You can get your siding milled for less then you think. Everyone freaks that our 1880 has no attic insulation, but it was designed that way with it's slate roof. And people, are you going to chew the wood? Stop the noise on lead paint!!! Please, RESTORE the house as it was intended. Call an Old House expert, your local hardware people are great for new homes. However, next they will say you need new windows! !!!
  • Nellie Nellie on Oct 29, 2016
    Wood logs would make it a log cabin. I have seen this on some homes in mountains in CA.
  • Suzanne Pickens Suzanne Pickens on Dec 01, 2016

    Normally, in relatively temperate climates, insulating the floors and ceilings, preferably without a vapor barrier is sufficient. Most problems come with blowing insulation into the walls which leaves the house with no breathing room and almost certain moisture problems which can cause paint failure and moisture buildup within the walls. This is particularly true if you are replacing the windows with air tight units. You might want to research information put out by the National Park Service in the form of the Secretary's Standards for rehabilitation and associated topical bulletins for information specific to the age of your home. Hardieboard is an acceptable replacement, but make sure you really have to replace the wood in its entirety -- repair and selective replacement may be your best and most cost effective option.