GBA Logo horizontal Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter X Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Picture icon Hamburger Icon Close Icon Sorted

Community and Q&A

Durability problems: Keeping paint on an historic house?

ohioandy | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

Our local historical society maintains an 1843 farmhouse as a museum. For the last fifteen years it has been unoccupied, except for occasional guided tours (monthly?) and two big day-long festivals annually.

Exterior paint lasts only a few years, and the society has asked me for suggestions on steps to take that might prevent paint from peeling so quickly. Anybody on this forum ever worked with something like this? I assume there’s a vapor problem, or worse.

The context: CZ 5, northwest Ohio. The house has had NO envelope improvements aside from replacement of some of the clapboards. The wall stackup is… ready for this?… clapboards over timber frame, infilled with riven oak lath packed on both sides with a mixture of mud, horse manure, horse hair and straw. The inside surface of this infill is plastered, and restored quite nicely. So the clapboards that are difficult to keep painted are, in fact, right next to a 10″ thick wall of mud, and are touching it in many places. The clapboards are not tightly installed everywhere. Overhangs are modest. In the last 10 years, an HVAC system has been installed, but it runs only to temper interior conditions, not to maintain strict museum levels of temperature and humidity. Peeling paint trouble predates the HVAC.

The society is NOT willing to gut the walls. They will consider removing the clapboards in order to install a membrane if that might help, but would not consider adding an kind of substantive rainscreen gap since that would mess up trim lines.

Explanations are welcome. Suggestions even more so. Thank you!

GBA Prime

Join the leading community of building science experts

Become a GBA Prime member and get instant access to the latest developments in green building, research, and reports from the field.


  1. ohioandy | | #1

    I forgot to mention: the basement is, indeed, very damp. There are about 20 VERY leaky double-hung windows with no storms, so it's fair to say the house is also VERY leaky.

  2. user-2310254 | | #2

    Maybe this This Old House article will provide some answers. Sounds like it could be cheap paint, too many layers of paint, latex over oil, or some combination of the above. Personally, I would look for a local painter who has experience with historic houses. He or she should be able to assess your farmhouse and suggest a solution.

  3. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    Steve's suggestions -- perfect prep work and oil-based paint -- are good ones.

    In addition, I suggest the following:

    1. Address the damp basement by adjusting the exterior grade, handling water that comes off the roof, installing one or more sump pumps (if needed), and / or installing polyethylene over the floor. For more information on this work, see Fixing a Wet Basement.

    2. Install siding wedges (also called clapboard wedges). For more on siding wedges, see these links:

    Before people understood the need for a rainscreen gap

    What is a siding wedge?

    Siding wedges - available at

  4. ohioandy | | #4

    Great advice, thanks Martin and Steve. The ThisOldHouse article is very helpful--I think the problem is definitely related to haphazard prep and painting over the years.

Log in or create an account to post an answer.


Recent Questions and Replies

  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |