Real estate

ASK THE CARPENTER

Pros, cons on installing solar cylinders

Q. When we added on a family room and garage to our Cape-style home, it blocked off much of the light in a section of the house. I would like to put a solar tube in the family room ceiling. This room has a crawl space above it, with a slanted roof facing the southeast. This would give us more light. I’m not interested in installing a skylight.

How feasible is this? What would be the pros and cons of this project? Where do you find a contractor to do this kind of work? Any information would be most helpful.

ANN, Walpole

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A. It’s very feasible. For 10 years, I’ve wanted to install a solar tube in my walk-in closet and a dark corner of a hallway. The reasons why I didn’t concern difficult crawl space/roof access and geometry. It’s too close to a valley in the roof and would create ice dam concerns.

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Solar tubes offer bright, free light. They can even come with a dimmer feature. The newer designs also have a built-in LED light for night use.

They can be expensive to install but probably no more than what a skylight would cost you. If you have old shingles, however, there could be problems. Older shingles tend to be brittle and don’t like to be bent to install new products and flashing. You’d have to replace the shingles that break, and the new ones would not be a color match.

Any contractor who understands roof shingles and basic carpentry can do this project.

Pros

 Solar tubes do not require serious structural work.

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 They deliver natural daylight.

 Free, renewable light reduces energy costs.

 The light is diffused, so it won’t fade your furniture or rugs.

 Unique tubing and extensions allow you to direct sunlight to an indoor area 30 feet away.

Cons

 You can install it only on the uppermost floor.

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 With basic designs, you will need additional light at night and on heavily overcast days.

 Some people see the light as bluish in color.

Q. We did a major remodeling in 2009 of our ’60s-era ranch that included adding a second story and replacing all of the siding with cement clapboards and crank-out windows. The siding and windows are great, but nearly all of the pine trim is rotting. I’m looking at a major expense of replacing it all with synthetic material. The majority of the rot is around the windows and doors, and tends to be at the bottom 4 to 5 inches of the vertical pieces on each side of the windows, but even the horizontal pieces at the top and bottom are rotting. I believe it was installed correctly (primed on both sides), but I called the contractor back to look at it. The contractor said that’s normal, that you can get only five or six years out of the pine boards sold today. I was shocked, so I went to the lumberyard where they came from and spoke to the owner. He said the same thing. I keep thinking of my parents’ 1930s-era house, which still has the original trim intact. What gives?

BOB, Ipswich

A. Lumber back in the good ol’ days was typically harvested from old-growth forest. Today it’s new growth. While I don’t condone the timber methods back in the day, the lumber certainly was better. Also faster processing at the mills (for example, kiln drying) has negative effects on certain species as well.

In my opinion, pine today is not worthy to be used as trim. I would opt for a more insect- and rot-resistant species — cedar or mahogany (or even PVC). That said, my guess is that your window trim did not have the cut ends sealed with primer. The exposed wood fibers in the cut ends soak up the moisture from the window sill and prematurely rot. The biggest reason for sealing wood end grain is because it absorbs liquids up to 250 times more rapidly than other wood surfaces.

Priming and sealing end grain during siding, deck, and trim installation is easy and does little to slow down a job. All it takes is a little paint or sealer.

Most of our exterior wood siding and trim comes pre-primed or finished with at least one coat from the factory, so all we have to be concerned with is the end grain.

Two other things you can do to help protect the house and prolong the life of your trim: Install gutters and adjust irrigation heads so they don’t spray or mist the house during watering.

Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of AConcordCarpenter.com, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to homerepair@globe.com or tweet them to @globeaddress or @robertrobillard.