PermaStone Part 2
Painted wooden clapboard buried under broken away PermaStone cladding. (photo by meeliflulous)
by Arthur T. Rollin
What a pleasure it was to read the responses to my last post. It seems that not only do folks notice and recognize PermaStone, but they really are interested in finding out how to remove it! I plan to delve a bit more into that process in today’s write up but first would like to practice some preservationist due diligence. In many cases, an encapsulating layer of reasonably waterproof (albeit aesthetically questionable) material may be the best thing for protecting anything historic and wooden behind. If you aren’t sure you have the time, money or DIY skills required by the demolition process, it’s probably best to do some waiting, saving or professional help-seeking first. That caveat stated, let’s get our hands dirty!
Do you find yourself reading this post because you’re the aesthetically dissatisfied owner of a PermaStone home? Well, you have two options – and the easiest is to simply leave the faux stone in place, and move. If installed properly and maintained the material really does live up to its marketed reputation, and folks are warming to the appearance of the stuff. It’s starting to acquire a certain mid-century kitschy appeal. The Mad Men effect, perhaps? If you aren’t won over and want to stay put, fear not. PermaStone can be removed.
Don’t forget to first investigate the proper approvals and permits required by the city (and landmark district, if you live within one) and don’t rush the process. Your PermaStone has likely been in place for more than 50 years and hasty removal may cause some damage in the long run. That said, this job requires little experience and a few simple tools.
As with most restorations it’s best to work first in an easily accessible test area, such as around a window on ground level. Sturdy leather gloves and eye protection are strongly recommended and estimating the proper amount of time to finish the job based on your test-demo will go a long way to keeping the project from devolving into a nightmare.
Begin by chipping at a seam with a hammer and chisel until you’ve exposed the substrate behind. You can score manageable portions with a chisel and gently lift them towards you with a pry bar. If you see steel mesh use caution because it’s likely applied directly onto clapboards or shingles. You may be surprised at how heavy this fake masonry actually is, and a receptacle stronger than contractor grade garbage bags will likely be necessary for disposal. A small dumpster or carting service should probably be arranged. If you can afford it, a scaffold system will accelerate the process by allowing a few people to work at the same time.
If you find you have a panelized system, your work may go more quickly, as seams are inherent to the application and the modules were sized for easy installation. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t rush the removal process also because original details may still exist on the facade. And here’s a big tip – while using a pry bar, protect the substrate material with a sacrificial piece of plywood behind the bar to minimize dents and dings.
Since it’s likely this effort will take a few days (depending on how big of a project you’ve taken on) you may also want to be prepared with a tarp or other waterproof sheeting material. Protecting any and all exposed historic surfaces from the elements before they are properly refinished will go a long way towards reducing work and expense as your restoration project advances. If decorative elements like window sills and lintels were removed years ago during the installation process, you may find exposed penetrations in your facade, which you’ll want to quickly seal from weather. You may find some interesting surprises, such as original windows and doors that have been completely covered over. Remember to photo document your finds, as it’s far easier to reference a photo than to replicate details from memory later on.
Modern engineered clapboard over faux-stone cladding presumably over historic wooden shingles. The works!
If the DIY plan isn’t exactly your speed, be prepared to call the pros. As you’ve already read, the demo process isn’t exactly a complicated one. Most general contractors will have on staff a crew who are skilled with the tools and equipment required for removing your faux stone. They are likely also quite well versed in the extent of permitting required. You don’t need a specialist necessarily, but if you suspect there may be some worth-while architectural elements buried and would like to restore them in-place, you may want to speak with a contractor who comes recommended and has done this sort of work before.
Note the tarpaper underlayment, metal lathe reinforcement and multiple layers of cementitious buildup.
One commenter asked how much the removal of faux stone costs and the question had not fallen on deaf ears. Unfortunately, since projects of this sort vary so widely in size, scope and complication (in addition to the fact that contractors play these estimates pretty close to their chests) a hard number was impossible to come by.
I did a little digging and found a few folks who’ve contracted this work in the past. Using their examples, and factoring for inflation and the general extra-costliness of (de)construction in New York, I think I came up with a good estimate. For an ordinary two-and-a-half-story, South Slope style, wood framed row house and expecting the majority of its hypothetical front facade to be clad in faux stone, one might plan to pay a minimum of $5,000 for careful demolition and carting away of the debris.
I hope this post inspires a few homeowners to break out some tools and see what items of interest they have buried. As I’ve written, removal isn’t a complicated process and doing it yourself can save some significant money. Never feel hesitant to call a contractor though, especially one that comes with recommendations. They would be happy to draft an estimate for your specific project and they won’t charge for that.
Also, feel free to contact me for more information. I’m here to help and would love the chance to photograph your project to feature on the site!