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Ask the Builder: Lost building secrets that prevent wood rot

Tim Carter, Tribune Content Agency on

Hours before I began to write this column, I was backing my car into a parking spot at church. Just ahead of me was an older garage on the church campus that was being remodeled. New vinyl siding is being installed, and my guess is all of the trim is going to be wrapped in pre-painted aluminum coil stock.

New trim boards had been installed around the garage door because the remodeler had enlarged the opening. I was aghast to see he had placed the bare cedar trim boards in direct contact with the asphalt paving and the soil at the building corner. In his defense, this garage had been built too low to the ground decades ago.

I think the original builder has just poured a concrete slab just an inch above the ground around the garage. Such a sad mistake (as Queen Cersei says to Lord Stark in "A Game of Thrones").

My sweet wife had walked ahead to get out of the blazing sun as I stopped and took photographs and looked closely at what was going on. As I turned and walked across the macadam driveway, my tiny gray cells started to fire off, asking all sorts of rhetorical questions:

Why didn’t this remodeler use treated lumber for the trim boards, as he undoubtedly knows they’ll soak up water over time and rot in just a few years? The aluminum coil stock will not prevent water from getting to the wood.

If he had no choice but to use cedar, why didn’t he paint the wood on all sides and edges with a minimum of two coats to make it really hard for water to soak into the wood?


Did the church building committee write the specifications for the job, and how could they have missed this glaring error? I’m not on this committee by choice because I’m allergic to drama.

My mind then drifted to how lucky I was to grow up in Cincinnati, surrounded by older homes built by builders and carpenters who treated their trade as a vocation, not a job. They passed down to apprentices decades of building experience and what they knew about how to prevent wood rot.

One building technique you’ll often see in older homes — and I’m referring to ones built it the late 1800s and early 1900s — is the top of the foundation was often two or more feet above the ground. This kept the wood siding well out of the splash zone of falling rain.

This technique also saved money on excavation, as the basement holes didn’t have to be as deep. Tall foundations like this also had room for operating windows to be incorporated into the foundation, allowing ventilation and light into the basement spaces.


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