Liberty Nature Preserve


A garage?  A cabin?  How 'bout 2 in 1?

Follow us as we build a garage/apartment at LNP


Finally...the siding

Right from the very conception of this project, we knew that we wanted to use some sort of lap siding product.  Every time we started running the numbers and saw the prices of the popular types of lap siding, consideration of using vinyl siding snuck back into the equation....and....every time vinyl got nix'd.  We've come too far and put too much heart and soul into this project to give it a cheesey vinyl overcoat.  Our garage/apartment baby deserves better.

The original plan was installation of a cementitious product like Hardi board or perhaps Certainteed's equivalent product; Weatherboard.  When the time finally came to start to get a bit more serious about siding selection, our research revealed a product developed by Louisiana Pacific Lumber (LP) that is marketed as Smartside.  It is their answer to the cement board products.  As a wholly based wood product, it is much easier to handle and cut.  It carries the same 50 year warranty as the other cementitious products.  Moreover, it is supplied in 16 foot lengths which will minimize butt joints (most cementitious products are only 12' long).  Bonus:  it is a bit lower in cost. 

Wausau Supply has a finishing process called Diamond Kote that yields a baked-on finish that is warranteed for 30 years.  They have a wide array of stock colors (and can also do custom colors), but it was their premium 2-tone finish that really got our attention.  They use a unique process of coating the Smartside (proprietary?) that yields a finish that looks just like a stained wood siding....except it's a baked-on maintenance-free finish with a 30 year warranty.  OK, I must admit that it does come with a cost, but after we receive the sample piece at our home to inspect "the look", we are bowled over and the checkbook begins to vibrate.  The icing on this siding cake is that they offer the trim products in a single-tone, complimetary finish with the same 30 year warranty.    

We calculate about 20 square of wall surface area to be covered (about 2000 square feet).  As prudent, fiscally responsible and frugal consumers, we sat down with the calculators and weighed out the costs for all the options we could think of.  Stuff like:  purchase the basic primed product and paint it ourselves, find a stock pre-finished solid color and save a few bucks, or treat our baby to an incredibly realistic faux stained cedar finish.  Then, the inordinately long 30 year warranty gets thrown into the equation blender as we consider the maintenance costs over time.  In the end, we bite the bullet and go for the top shelf, pre-finished Maple product.  After all the work we have put into this project, we don't want to pull up short on the final exterior touches, nor do we want to have to come back and paint it when installed, let alone the projected need to re-paint after 10 or 15 years, repeat.

The lap siding is 3/8" thick and 8" wide.  The overlap at the top must be 1" min.  We are going to try to maintain this 1" lap to provide a nice, wide 7" reveal on each row.  All the window trim, corners, and soffit trims are the same LP Smartside product, produced in 1" thick sections and a variety of widths.  It is also pre-finished with the same Diamond Kote process, in a solid color that is slightly darker and complimentary to the lap siding finish.  Wausau will not sell retail direct, so we get the names of 7 different distributors that they supply and send out our shopping list.  In the end, the most convenient supply house wins the bid and the order is placed.

The entire order is packaged onto three 16 foot long skids.  We have to split the order into 2 separate pickups due to the bulkiness.  Load #1 arrives in good order at LNP.

    The four pcs on the ground are another good decision.  They are pre-fabricated corner pieces that are 6" x 6" x 16' long and pre-finished in the complimentary trim color.  They will be cut to cover the four lower building corners and the leftover end cuts will be long enough to cover the shorter corners on the shed dormers at the 2nd floor.

Even as we unloaded the trailer and staged the pieces into the garage, we were pleased with our decision to go with the premium pre-finished product.  It really does look cool and realistic.  The satisfaction grows as we complete a few rows of installation.

We discover quickly that the work from the ground moves fairly quickly, but by the time we get to about 6 or 7 feet, it grinds down to a snail's pace as ladders become a necessity.  It doesn't matter; it has to be done and we will treat the job the same way we always do:  pick away until it's done.  At the end of 2 long weekends, we have completed the easiest wall section at the garage doors (easiest simply because it is the least amount of square footage, thank you garage door #1 and #2).  We have also negotiated around all the utility fixtures (electrical boxes and conduit feeds thru the wall). 

We lay in a wide bead of cheap latex caulk along the top edge of the top siding course on the unfinished wall at the gable end.  This simple step will keep any driven rain from running down the upper wall sections and getting behind our completed work.  Moisture behind the siding is a no-no and it is way too early to have that problem.  We pack it in to go back home.  This is going to be a multi-trip project and we are resigned to taking our time and doing it the best we can.  Completing this siding installation will be another significant milestone since it will pretty much cork up the exterior and provide room for a deep breath.....and send us inside to start the next battle. 

It's been a few weeks and we wanted to share our progress....or lack thereof.  We actually took a couple of weekends off due to weather and other more important plans.  Wow; 2 weekends in a row!  This is unusual for our pace and we find it a bit difficult to get back into "the groove".'s back to the grindstone.

We wanted to share some of the detail that we are using.  If nothing else, it will help to explain our rate of progress.  Each window has a frame of 5/4 x 4" that is custom fabricated right inside those white garage doors.  It is a slow process, but the result is rewarding.

The 5/4 x 4" stock is the darker brown color and is pre-finished.  We have a stack of them inside the garage at 16 feet long.  In essence, we create a picture frame for each window and then attach it to the exterior wall with stainless steel nails. The stock is painted and sealed on 3 sides; the face and both edges. We do have bottles of touch up paint, but really want to take advantage of the factory finish whenever possible.  This factory finish is much better suited to repel weather.  The only cutting and assembly method that will utilize the factory finish around the entire perimeter is a mitre cut at every corner.  Besides, the mitred corner is a classier look.

Each vinyl window unit has a vinyl nailing fin about 1/8" thick and 1" wide. It runs around the entire perimeter of the window and is how the windows are nailed to the framing surrounding the rough opening. This fin protrusion creates an uneven attachment surface for the siding framework we are assembling, so we have to relieve the back side of every piece of the frame on a router table.

Each siding window frame is assembled, one unit at a time, with glue and the biscuits and tightened together with a long band clamp designed for making pictures frames. We adapted it with another band and got a suitable length to encompass the entire 206" perimeter.


We fabricate the frames so they are 3/8" too wide and 3/8" too tall to allow for a 3/16" gap to squeeze in caulk to seal between the outside edge of the white vinyl window and the inside edge of the frames we just created and installed.

Now, multiply this process by 9 times for the first floor and another 11 times for the 2nd floor (don't forget those 5 foot square picture windows...that will be a real treat), and we can hide behind my insistence on doing an overkill job as the reason for our slower pace.  But, ah yes....the reward.  They look great...period.

Before we close this update, I wanna share the latest "stopping point"....just so ya'll know we ain't totally trapped in our own quicksand of detail....

A few weeks later, a little more progress.  All our work is now done from ladders.  This sucks and really slows things down.  There is a constant recurring blessing that we enjoy and appreciate; that we end each weekend without injury.  Yeah, we're sore and goin' thru ibuprofen like pez candy, but everything is still attached and (somewhat) functional.

One very good decision we made before we kicked this project into gear one year ago; we purchased a nice aluminum scaffold plank and a pair of ladder jacks.  They are a pain to set up and move about, but yield significantly improved working conditions.  I cannot imagine doing much of this second story work without them.

We've also seen temps go from "light jacket" weather to "sweat your butt off" weather

Like I said, "grateful for many safe journeys to the high-wire act"....and even more grateful to have some of the toughest balancing acts done and behind us.  We found that it was much easier for Brett to work outside on the scaffold while Donna played "go-fer" and handed the necessary tools and raw materials thru the windows, no matter which side or end of the structure.  At first I thought to myself "this sucks....I'm out here hangin' my butt off the edge of a skinny aluminum plank some 15 feet off of the ground and out in the hot sun while she's under the roof, out of the sun and safely surrounded by 4 walls.  Then Donna comes to the window to hand me a hammer or somethin' and she's sweating bullets.  (actually, I got corrected on that sweat....women "perspire"....whatever).  Yeah, even with all the windows open and a light breeze, it's gotta be 100+ degrees in there.  OK....shut up and enjoy your tour of duty out on the plank.

So you don't think I'm a total inconsiderate dork, I did supply a nice fan to help move the air around up there. (it makes me think about one of those convection ovens they advertise early on Sunday mornings....the kind that cooks a 14 pound turkey in 45 minutes). 

All right, then, let's bring this thing up to date again. 

We have beaten thru summer and have arrived at the point where it is no longer necessary to bring 2 coolers with us on our weekend excursions (the second cooler was loaded with water and gatorade to replenish in the heat and humidity).  Having the cooler fall weather also brings shorter days.  All of this is no big deal until we realize it points out that we have been working on this exterior project for 5 months now.  Whodathunk?  I never, in my worst estimation, would have calculated this much time for this facet of the project.  Good thing I never signed up for a contractor's career....I'd be broke. 

Writing all this off as water under the bridge, the upside is that we are on the cusp of completion with the exterior.  I will break down the last few weeks, as follows...

If we had a nickel for every time we had to ascend a ladder, we could consider early retirement.  We just kept at it like we usually do, one nail at a time.  The siding at the tops of the gable ends was not so much of a difficult installation.  It was more of a challenge for the multitude of trips up and down the you-know-what.  We plugged along and got 'er dun.


What's with the vent up at the top, near the peak?

We have taken the time to frame out a vent for the attic area.  It is covered with an aluminum louvre to allow hot air to escape and keep the rain, snow, and wind out.  We have learned from experience with our principal home that this system can pay back big dividends.  The concept is pretty simple.  A fan is placed directly behind this vent on the inside and is controlled with a thermostat.  When enough heat accummulates in the attic area, and this will occur quickly during the summer months, the fan kicks on and blows it out.  Simple physics comes into play because whatever blows out, must be replaced from behind it.  This is where a good job of venting with soffits pays back.  The cooler outside air will be drawn in thru all the soffit venting surrounding the house helping to cool down the entire roof and attic area.  We will be using fibreglas insulation, so those cheap foam insulation baffles will be used extensively to maintain a free flow of exterior air.

Here is a shot from the inside, behind the louvre.

We had to cut away some of the original framing to make room for this portal.  We boxed it in with new framing and cut out the hole.  After the hole was cut open, I spent some quality time carefully covering it with Protocto-Wrap; the same weatherproof tape that was used to seal the windows.  Why?  Like I said, we have been down this road before.  As good as these louvres are at repelling the rain, when Mr. wind fires up and drives the rain, it will and does get past the louvre blades and inside the structure.  Not good!  We milled a 2 x 6 block with a bevel and installed it at the bottom of the framed hole to serve as a rain ledge.  It will allow and rain to run down the Protecto Wrap and then drain back out .  We sealed the outside edges of the louvre frame along the top and both sides only.  The bottom edge is set away from the structure about 1/8" to provide a weep hole and let any driven rain to drain back outside the structure.  An aluminum screen will be placed over this entire opening to stop insects and critters and a frame for the fan will be fabricated and installed.  When we get to that point, we will spend a little more time explaining the details.  This seems like alot of messing around, but it really does make a difference further down the road.  It will pay back later.

The other end was a bit more complicated.  The framing around the bank of picture windows was a project unto itself.  We suffered a few challenging moments, but it turned out very well in the end.  Wrapping the siding around it seemed like cake after that.  I particularly enjoyed how quickly we moved upward when the siding was installed at each side of the windows.  That changed quickly the moment we were above them.  The bottom line:  it's done and looks good.

This leads us to the smallest amount of real estate, but perhaps the largest amount of detail; the small triangular corners at the ends of the shed dormers.  I didn't necessarily dread the thought, but was well seasoned with how the roof and siding stuff installs and knew what was going to be required to pull it all together.  The roof?  Yep, the roof.  You see, there are still some metal roofing components missing, namely the short rake pieces at the top of these triangular detail demons.  Throw in the complications of tying the soffit across the front with some kinda soffit angling down, all piled on top of a critical juncture between the roof and the siding that must be both weathertight AND resistant to rot and decay over time.  Yeah, it took awhile.

Like most of the steps thru this project, I fussed and fought with it and wound up with a decent ending. 

And here is where we wind up...

And, even at this rewarding point of progress, we still have a good amount of exterior work to do.  Next stop is the soffits along the bottom eaves.  This will include some kind of gutter system.  I started to make a big engineering issue out of installing the soffits along this lower roof line, but got hit by a WTF moment while standing at the top of the ladder and executing a complicated procedure to attempt the installation.  I stopped, realized how simple this should really be, and went back to the home center to pick up some J-channel siding trim.  Yep, it sure made a difference to be doing it right.  Done.

Next stop:  gutters

We have 2 sets of roof lines that could stand gutter installation; the shed dormer up above and the longer stretch of roof below.

Having watched the rain over the months as it runs off the roof, we find that this roof design cures itself of gutter needs at the upper shed dormer roof.  As the rain runs off the shed dormer, it hits the lower roof section  about midway.  Since the lower roof is such an extreme slope, this upper runoff creates virtually no splash and continues down to drip off the lower edge.  We also found that this same roof design is not so good for protectecting the first 2 or 3 siding courses at grade due to the splash that occurs some 8" away from the structure when the sheets of water hit the dirt.  So....the decision is made to put gutters only along the lower roof edge at both sides to capture all the rainwater.  This is the easy part.

The next easy part is color.  Gutters are very functional, but they are not necessarily aesthetically pleasing to the overall look.  While looking at photos of the structure as it stands at this point, it becomes readily apparent that basic white gutters would add a color detail that was not originally intended.

Using the above pic as a perfect example, it's easy to see how one final line of white along the lower roof edge would tie all the other white soffit color together to create a frame of sorts.  Yep, our project will acutally benefit architecturally from the line of a white gutter.  Deal done....almost.  What about the downspouts?  Talk about a color clash, white downspouts would do just the opposite.  After spending all these months meticulously installing our prized siding, how could we destroy that woody look with a stinkin' white down spout?  We considered putting them in the center and running them down next to a white element like the garage doors.  Nah!....would still look awkward.  In the end, we decided to put them where they would normally go; at the corners.  Since the stretch of the roofline is 48 feet at the drip edge, it will require one downspout at each corner to be able to handle the load of a heavy rainfall.  The decision is made to use brown downspouts in an effort to match the chocolate colored corner trim.  Mixing the colors on a gutter system did create some hesitancy, but we take a gamble and go for it.   This mind work ends the easy part of gutter installation.  Now....the hard part.  How are we gonna attach them?

Because of the design of the rafter tails at the drip edge of this roofline, a normal gutter bracket is not going to work.  The following pic was taken just before installation of the soffit panels.

There is no obvious place to install gutter brackets (like a fascia board) and the drip edge of the roof panel is 2" below the only only obvious point of any kind of attachment, the rafter tails.  The only stock gutter bracket type is a strap that is attached to roof deck.  It hangs down and the gutter hangs off the end of it....kinda like a long bucket hanging from a bucket handle.  ICK!....ain't gonna happen.  I gotta come up with something a bit less obtrusive, yet functional.

The best gutter decision is a continuous, seamless gutter.  This gets dimissed because it would require having to hire an independent contractor; money we don't have.  Even then, it still wouldn't work simply because of the mounting issue.  "Necessity is the mother of invention" takes over.

2 x 2 treated lumber, pre-painted
6" landscape timber lag screws
1/2" PVC tubing
PVC gutter components
alot of measuring and cutting

Yeah, it took a long time to install, but in the end, it worked great.  We used the laser level to carefully measure and adjust the length of each PVC spacer to make each bracket drop in elevation as we moved from the center of the building out to the ends.  Once all the brackets are installed, clipping on the gutter runs is pretty easy....the downspouts, too.


Yeah, another short, rough journey, but the destination is very rewarding. 

We are very pleased to report that, at this moment, we are DONE  with the exterior.  It has been 16 months since we broke ground.  It's been a long, hard haul.  The speaks for itself. 

 Although the reward should be rest and relaxation, we are well aware that the R & R prize remains beyond our grasp.  Outside is done?....time to shift to the inside.  Here we go....

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