“Maintenance Free” means “Unrepairable”

“Maintenance Free” usually means “Unrepairable.” These two photos are of the same material, “Insulbrick,” one stored for decades in its original packaging and the other installed on a building and exposed to the elements for several decades.

Insulbrick is a fibreboard sheathing coated with tar and added granular material, similar to asphalt shingles. Despite its name, it has a low thermal resistance value and provides minimal insulation. It has no insulating value once water penetrates the joints and saturates the fiberboard backing. Moisture retention on the wood surface below it can lead to rot or carpenter ants. Being tar based, it is flammable, and some types contain asbestos.

As you can see, this material loses its color and structural integrity over time. Eventually, it will disintegrate and fall off the building. There is no way to repair it once it starts deteriorating, and any replacement pieces will be evident due to the color change.

These photos illustrate the problem with cheap and fast “maintenance-free” products. They are not as long-lasting as traditional materials and frequently create (and hide) serious issues. They may create the illusion of “low maintenance” for a time. But they are only delaying it, making it more complex and expensive in the long run.

“Restoring Your Historic House, The Comprehensive Guide for Homeowners” addresses how to deal with such materials.

Signed and personalized copies of the award-winning and bestselling 720-page hardcover book are available from the author in our online shop, YourHistoricHouse.com/shop/.

© Scott T. Hanson 2023

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