HOUSE: Newburgh

Rot and decay (AKA the roof and cornice).

I apologize for the bad quality of these photos (they were taken with a cell phone by a contractor), but to be honest, a higher resolution isn’t going to do our poor roof and cornice any favors.

We had a contractor out on Saturday to take a look the exterior of our house. We’ve known since we bought the house three years ago that this day would come eventually, but now that we’ve finished the bulk of the large interior projects, we can’t put off dealing with the exterior any longer. This past winter was really bad, with a lot of heavy ice buildup and major runoff that didn’t drain properly. The Big Stuff has to be done sooner rather than later, and this is work that we can’t do ourselves.

There are a lot of things wrong with the exterior of our house, but let’s just start with the roof for now. It’s a flat roof (though it does have a slight pitch to it), and it’s not visible from the ground. Neither Evan or I have ever been up on the roof before, and this is the first time we’re seeing photos of it. It’s weird to see such a major part of the house that’s been invisible to us for so long!

The roof itself (pictured above) is actually in decent shape, fortunately. Before the contractor went up, there was some talk about replacing it with EPDM, but it looks like that won’t be necessary.

Sadly, everything else up there is a mess. The decorative cornice in particular is a total disaster. As you can see from the top photo, the level of decay is beyond what can be addressed with scraping and a fresh coat of paint. At this point, it looks like the entire cornice will need to be rebuilt.

The last photo is of improperly installed flashing around the roof line. This is where water has been seeping behind the cornice (and probably into the walls—thank goodness for brick houses with plaster walls!) for many, many years. Coupled with clogged downspouts, broken gutters, and general bad drainage, our house is feeling very, very sad.

Just wait until you see the brick work that needs to be done! And the porch that’s falling apart! Oy. Time for the dogs to find gainful employment!

On a happy note, at least we loved the contractor.

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  • Reply Rose April 13, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    I JUST stumbled across your blog reading decor8 as
    I am redoing a bath in an old home and LOVE the penny tiles you chose!
    Imagine my surprise to find we are neighbors! (I live in Cornwall and work in Newburgh)
    You are my hero because there is so much potential for fabulous homes in Newburgh as you are proving to be the case.
    I am off tonight and plan to read your blog from start to finish.
    Thanks for all the inspiration!

  • Reply Monica April 13, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Double Oy. On a lighter note, you now get to put a stamp on the outside of the house. I am positive that you will do it justice.

  • Reply DawnMarie April 13, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Oh no. I am glad the work needed did not come as a complete shock to you and I am glad you loved the contractor. Other than that, this is the crappy part of home ownership. I am sure you will make it look authentic but with your special flair put to it. I cannot wait to see the progress and final product.

  • Reply AHJ April 13, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    We just had our Victorian townhouse’s roof redone. Oh, the price of living in a lovely old house… on the other hand, you should only have to fix it once.

  • Reply Kirsten April 13, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    If you have a contractor you like, you have won three-fourths of your battle. Seriously.

  • Reply Jess April 13, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    This is inspiring – my boyfriend and I are considering buying an old victorian in a damp climate and, having grown up in the west where brand-new homes are the norm, the thought of reviving a home is slightly terrifying. It’s great to see your progress!

  • Reply Virginia @ Where You Hang Your Hat April 13, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Ah, homeownership. Full of surprises. We just got to have some flashing fixed, too! Woohoo! But it’s still worth the hassle.

  • Reply Corey April 13, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Glad to hear you at least started on a positive note with the contractor.

    I too was looking at my cornice the other day, and noticed it could use some work. Hopefully I can delay for a while though. 🙂

  • Reply Jane @ Beach House April 13, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Oy indeed! I love Spring but the downside is always seeing the stuff that needs to be fixed before next winter. At least you have nice new baths to relax in while the work is going on…

  • Reply Michele April 13, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Oh my, my jaw dropped when I saw the photo of the flashing. Shaking my head – unbelievable!

  • Reply puck April 13, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    we are in the same boat, anna… the cottage of stone needs new gutters and 1x6s put up. steven is going to do the 1x6s and we are having a contractor do the gutters.

    thankfully, our roof can wait. the 60 year old shingles are ok for now…

  • Reply kim de montreal April 13, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Hang in there, you’re not alone. This just comes with being a homeowner. When we have to spend lots of $$$ on the house for the “unsexy” projects, we try to see it as putting money in the bank. It does maintain or increase the value of your property and prevents bigger problems which could be even more expensive.

  • Reply maddy April 13, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Yes, the joys of home ownership. The outside stuff is always a bear. Good luck!

  • Reply lisa April 13, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    If you don’t mind, what is the contractors contact info? I’m always looking for good contacts!

  • Reply Gwen April 13, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Is that the Hudson River I see off into the distance? I didn’t realize how close you were to it. Yes contractor’s can be expensive but your house is your most precious “material” asset and will be worth every penny you put into it and more. How wonderful that you are restoring such a wonderful home to it’s full glory. I have to have some plumbing work done in my basement so I know all too well how painful certain jobs can be.

  • Reply Michelle April 14, 2009 at 4:20 am

    Your poor house. It’s lucky to have someone like you to love it and take good care of it 🙂

  • Reply atm April 14, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Oh, the roofing problem! Even though it will eat up BIG chunk of money, once it gets done, you are in peace for next 10+ years.

  • Reply jaboopee April 14, 2009 at 8:52 am

    poor little roofy, good job its got you as a very caring owner to help sort it out!
    PS ,I’m majorly distracted by what a lovely street you live in .

  • Reply Rose April 14, 2009 at 9:19 am

    reading your previous posts and am wondering if you
    might be able to email me info on the radiator you used in the bathroom and local plummer? Share war stories?

  • Reply Anna at D16 April 14, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Rose: The radiator is a Runtal Omnipanel. I will email you the name of our plumber!

    Gwen: Yes, that’s the Hudson River! The City of Newburgh sits directly on the west bank of the Hudson.

    atm: If the cornice is rebuilt (and maintained) properly, it should last another 100 years at least… (the roof is fine as-is)

  • Reply coral April 14, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Oh, these big, expensive, completely unglamourous projects are a joy aren’t they? It’s not like after you cough up the cash you can invite your friends over to admire your new downspouts!
    On the plus side, as a do-it-yourselfer it is fun to come home from work and find progress was made while you were gone.

  • Reply Adam April 14, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Anna, are those two chimneys functioning?

  • Reply Anna at D16 April 14, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Adam: The chimney on the left is functioning and needs to be rebuilt, re-flashed, and capped. The chimney on the right with the vines coming out of it is defunct, as is another other up there (not pictured).

  • Reply Adam April 14, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Well, your functioning one looks better than mine did. Is that the only part that is exterior or does it run down the side of the house? Are you just going to cap off the non functioning ones, or are you going to try to utilize them again?

  • Reply Adam April 14, 2009 at 10:56 am

    I guess looking at the picture again that there is no way any more of that chimney is exterior from it’s location in the roof.

  • Reply Anna at D16 April 14, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Our house is attached, so the chimneys just run between the walls of the houses in the row (there’s no “outside” on the side of our house!).

    Those other chimneys serve no purpose — the functioning one is for our furnace, and that’s all we have use for. The old ones were used to ventilate the original kitchen hearth and the gas line in the living room. I’m sure they’ve been blocked off since the advent of steam radiators!!!

  • Reply heather April 14, 2009 at 11:56 am

    You are lucky that you found a contractor you like – it will make it all so much easier. Also, the fact that you don’t have to do it yourselves means that you can sit back and actually relax for a change!
    I’m dreading auditioning house painters in the near future. We already did the roof but I can imagine the painting is going to cost a fortune too.
    I love seeing when someone plans to repair what is already existing (and not just cover it up with a cheap fix.) I wouldn’t expect any less from you but if you saw some of the houses I’ve seen… ick!

  • Reply maya April 14, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    your house is amazing, inside and out.. and i love the fact that you are slowly redoing it, as it should be!
    we are planning to buy a house (we are moving from LA to NY!!) and i need to start my research of how o find a victorian house that wasn’t harmed (mostly, i mean by “creativity” of its owners..)
    its great that you have a good contractor, we probably will need one to! but we will be moving to LI.

  • Reply Brigidanne April 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    As you know Public Enemy #1 for a House is…Water.

    I’d also like the name of the guys who worked on your bathroom. (email me)
    Who is the contractor your considering?

    Advice: Since you’ll have to go to ARC (Architectural Review Commission) for approval put all the exterior improvements (rebuilt cornice, paint, brick repointing, porch, etc.) even those that may be years down the road on the application – save yourself some time and fees.

  • Reply unha April 14, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Dogs can have a job babysitting our kids. ^_^ (they love dogs) I’ll pay top market price in mommy’s little helper : Dogs industry.

  • Reply Kara April 15, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Anna, have you looked into NY state historic tax credits? They might apply to your restoration work on the house and save you some money!

  • Reply Anna at D16 April 15, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Kara: Yes, we have, and we’ll hopefully be able to advantage of them. Unfortunately, the credit isn’t very much unless you’re spending a LOT of money on the rehab project — in order to get the full 20% credit, you have to spend $125k (yikes), and the minimum expenditure is $5000. So we’ll see what happens…

  • Reply Liberty Street April 15, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Hi Anna,

    We are closing in on buying our house in Newburgh. Our greatest challenge is finding a good contractor – do you mind emailing me the name of yours?


  • Reply Anna at D16 April 15, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Emailing now! 🙂

  • Reply eM April 15, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    it always makes me happy when old houses find people to love and care for them

  • Reply Monica April 16, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Oh yes, new roofs. At least you are putting yours on and will enjoy it. We had to re-roof in order to SELL our house!! Triple Oy!! 😉

  • Reply sonofcontractor April 16, 2009 at 5:16 pm


    Question for you. Have you thought at all about these PVC-based moldings and trim on your roof? Was talking to my pops (by the way, he follows your blog and said if you ever want a job as a contractor…!) and he hasn’t worked with this stuff yet but has talked to a number of guys who say they swear by it. It is plastic, waterproof, will never rot, is bug resistant, etc. Plus, apparently, it can be painted. Just an idea. I have some roof work to do and am looking into this. I saw one job where you just couldn’t tell it was plastic. I’m just saying…

  • Reply Anna at D16 April 16, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    SOC: Email me your father’s contact info! Can’t hurt to have him come by for a quote. 🙂

    We are definitely considering using a wood composite material for the trim. Our house is one of for identical in a row, so we need to match the existing cornice exactly — the composites can be molded to match the original piece by piece. They would bake the color(s) on when it’s made, but it can also be painted in the future. The wood composites are considered acceptable for historic renovation (we’re in an historic district), so it’s definitely an appealing material option.

  • Reply sonofcontractor April 16, 2009 at 9:00 pm


    Actually, you misread my note. My pops thinks you would be one heck of a contractor. Just in case this whole design thing doesn’t work out. 🙂


  • Reply PhillyLass April 27, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    Yikes! I’m still a renter, and I often fantasize about buying of South Philly’s sweet, but ramshackle old Victorians and fixing it up. But not only do I have no home improvement expertise, I have no idea how to find a reliable contractor.

    Any advice on getting the right home improvement professional lined up?

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