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May 06, 2017

Finding Talent, a Serious Problem for Homeowners and Trades Alike

Some time ago, when I was removing a historic window jamb for repairs, I discovered that not only was the rough opening wrapped with tarpaper, but curiously there were pennies placed underneath the sill on each side. Upon inquiring with an old master craftsman I know that is an expert in historic windows and glass, he said casually, without much excitement, “oh, I’ve seen that before.” He said, “I’ve seen pennies or copper placed inside the corner joints of historic window sash as well.” So apparently, some old craftsmen understood that if moisture ever got into joints, or under a window, the leaching of the copper from water would preserve any wood from decay. Recently, I attended a seminar about modern “best practice” techniques for installing weather proofing in rough framing openings. It was about teaching the trades in how installing, windows, doors, siding and the like, should be done to manage moisture. They cited today’s building science engineers, modern methods, and promoted various proprietary exterior materials, and weatherproofing products. All, manufactured and certainly promoted by large corporations. It was quite the exciting hubbub, about the latest and greatest, but I failed to see what the big deal was. My dad taught me these techniques back in the early 80’s, and I’ve been using them ever since. Weatherproofing material has advanced, and science can now prove, with numbers and testing results, that apparently, some old master craftsmen in the deep recesses of history already knew.

It’s not often that a home really need’s its entire exterior surfaces replaced, but a few do, or some people just want a whole new look to their homes, or an energy package, or perhaps it’s best with an addition changing the home. So, there are a lot of reasons to replace all the siding on a home, but, with repairs its different, less expensive, less evasive, and still long term quality if done correctly. It does require a higher level of expertise though, because, it’s increasingly outside the realm of what’s being taught in the trades of what “best practices” are in relation to new construction or total replacement of building exteriors. In other word’s a modern day trades person may not have the experience to repair a historic or mid-century modern home with like and in kind methodology. The results of which I’ve personally seen in the many decayed and compromised buildings modern or historic, that we work on. The results are also felt by the increasing difficulty of the homeowner in finding talent to do their home exterior repairs properly.

Another interesting phenomenon with talent that has been developing for years, is the drive to specialize in one thing. The roofer doesn’t do siding, the sider doesn’t do roofing or masonry, the mason doesn’t do flashing, the window installer just does windows, and then, only certain brands, siders might just work with hardi board, but don’t do shingles, and the painter, well, they just paint. The problem here is that all the interfacing exterior surface components between all the specialty contractors and their specific work, get compromised because everyone is figuring someone else is going to do it. It’s a kind of, good enough mentality, and a compromise from longevity. Weather does wreak havoc, though, usually on, the south and east sides of our homes here in the North West, so exterior building science in the trades is incredibly important to teach and learn. It’s also important for the homeowner to find the right talent to fit for their home’s exterior project needs, repairs or otherwise. In my company, Westbrook Restorations LLC, we are primarily focused on older homes, using a mixture of modern and historic building methods, with the goal being longevity. Hence, my brand, Built To Withstand. A typical single exterior project for us usually involves a myriad of repairs or replacements, that might look something like the project we are currently doing in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on a historic home. We are, removing and replacing the shingles on the south and east dormers and gable ends, installing roof to wall flashing where none existed, manufacturing and replacing the decayed wood window sills, removing and repairing or rebuilding the wood window sash, removing and replacing any decayed exterior millwork. All these replicated, with like in kind materials, in such a way that when the home is painted this summer, it will be better than before, but still look original. My company is a full service remodel general contractor, and, we are carpenters with a lot of hands on experience, trained by old school generational craftsman, but also up to date on modern methods and materials. A carpenter, in the true sense of the word, should understand, and be proficient at all things about the home. Able to perform all the tasks that seem to slip away between the “specialty” trades, compromising the home. Specializing in one thing is a kind of typecast, and that’s great, if that’s what’s you need. But if you’re a home owner with a myriad of repairs, replacements, or replications its best to find the talent that can to do it all for you.

Pennies aren’t made of copper anymore, and building technology has come a long way. But that faint voice from the distant past, found in the action of placing a penny, offers a glimpse into the thought of a craftsman. A lesson transcending industry changes, that perhaps, real craftsmanship is learning to work outside the “specialty” box, and thinking about the value, of building our homes, and our trades people, to stand the test of time.

Still making sawdust,

Daniel J Westbrook 

An old pic I found in in my photos. Guess Ive been dealing with the results of this topic for some time now! 


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