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Options abound in siding, insulation

Dear Jim: My house has old wood siding which I am tired of repairing and painting. Also, the house could use some addition insulation. Other than installing ordinary vinyl siding, what attractive options do I have? Don H.

Dear Don: There are many new no-maintenance types of siding available and some actually have a layer of insulation already attached to the back. Adding insulation to the exterior is better than adding it inside the walls. Having more building materials and thermal mass inside the insulation envelope of your walls improves energy efficiency and comfort.

Donít necessarily write off using vinyl siding on your home. Over the past decade, there have been tremendous improvements in vinyl siding, both in quality and appearance. Vinyl siding with insulation backing is rigid and the crisp lines and surface detail make it difficult to distinguish from real painted wood siding.

You can completely change the appearance of your house by adding brick, stone or other masonry siding. All of these siding materials are maintenance-free. Many people choose to install rigid foam insulation panels under vinyl siding and use the masonry siding just as trim.

If you prefer a brick appearance for your home, install thin face brick siding. This is available as 1/2-inch thick real bricks which are set in thinset mortar similar to setting ceramic tiles. Using special insulation boards with ridges for perfect alignment ease installation. These bricks are also ideal if you have added standard rigid foam insulation boards and sheathing.

Another brick siding option is installing four-foot-long fiber panels with the thin real bricks already attached. The panels are interlocking and, once mortar is applied between the bricks, they look identical to a real full brick wall. The panels can be attached to any sound nailing base.

Another easy-to-install lightweight siding option uses polypropylene panels. These can be made to simulate hand-laid bricks, stone, cedar shakes, and rough-sawn cedar. Edge detail pieces are available to finish the corners and ledges. Durable fiber-cement siding can also be molded to simulate many siding styles.

Synthetic stone is another attractive siding option. Molds are made from real stones to create realistic shapes. They are made with a lightweight aggregate and cement and use natural stone colorants. They range from only one to three inches deep with a flat back for easy installation over a flat surface.

No matter what style of stones you select, they are designed to fit together properly without huge gaps. When the mortar is finished in the gaps between the stones, they look authentic. Warranties range from about 20 to 50 years on these synthetic stones.

The following companies offer unique siding products: ABTCO, (800) 265-9829, www.abtco.com; Brick It, (631) 244-3993, www.brickit.com; Certainteed, (800) 782-8777, www.certainteed.com; Eldorado Stone, (800) 925-1491, www.eldoradostone.com; and Nailite, (888) 300-0070, www.nailite.com.

Dear Jim: I live in a small condo and the electric water heater is located in the garage. It has an insulation jacket around it. During summer there is plenty hot water, but not during winter. What is wrong with it? Peggy D.

Dear Peggy: Electric water heaters have an upper and a lower heating element, but they are not on at the same time. It sounds as though the lower element or its thermostat is not working. It is easy to replace.

During summer, the incoming cold water is not very cold. When you shower, you need less hot water to mix with it to be comfortable. During winter, a higher ratio of hot water is needed so you run out while showering.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Decatur Daily, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.

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