The exterior fabric of a structure provides a weatherproof skin and often provides decorative
features. Usually made of wood or masonry, exterior fabrics come in a wide range of shapes, sizes
and materials. All require maintenance and repair over time and care should be given to those
Wood Siding and Shingles
Yellow pine was prevalent throughout the SE coastal states. They had resin that hardened and
remained in the wood permanently after the tree was cut. They were made up almost entirely of
“heart” wood which was dense, strong and very resistant to decay, water damage and termite
infestation. Dade County pine is a subspecies and even denser than its northern kin. The original
groves of these trees were extensively harvested and all but eliminated. Structures with this old wood
are particularly sought after.
Cypress was also used extensively. Growing in or near water, this wood was also less resistant to
problems of moisture and decay
Wood siding types yield a large variety of visual effects. Most is applied in horizontal band;
occasionally it was applied vertically. Wood shingles were applied in single laps and double or ribbon
courses. The ribbon course application is prevalent in Bungalow and Prairie styles. Cedar or
redwood were often left to weather naturally, but it is more common that they are painted. Wood
siding and shingles can last indefinitely of maintained properly. The gentlest means possible must be
used to clean the wood to prepare for painting. Harsh and abrasive methods should never be used.
Several companies began to market asbestos shingles. The Johns-Manville company marketed an
asbestos siding shingle with a raked surface and asbestos clapboard with a wood texture. It was
fireproof, resistant to rot and termites and had easy maintenance. Many homes built from the late 30’
s till the early 50’s have this siding. While no longer manufactured, it is dangerous only the fibers
Masonry refers to exterior finishes which are brick, terra cotta, concrete and stucco.
Stucco is a plaster-like material composed of Portland cement, sand and lime. It was particularly
popular in Florida because it required little maintenance, could be tinted with color and applied with a
variety of surface textures, and could be applied over concrete block, hollow clay tile and wood lath.
Features, such as brick corbelling, terra cotta detailing, decorative stucco and brickwork including
modeling, tooling, bonding patterns, joint size and color, are important to the historic character of a
Stucco problems usually begin with hairline cracks which can expand and allow water to intrude.
Gentle cleaning is key and painting should be given thought so as to not obscure detailed features.
The Secretary of the Interior has standards for recommended maintenance and repair of the exterior
fabric of a historic building. [FUTURE LINK HERE]
While this topic applies not just to the exterior walls (but also to roofs, window frames, railings and
more), most often requests are submitted to replace original roofing materials with a newer material
or wood siding with cementitious siding or fiber-cement siding like HardiPlank). These requests are
usually not recommended or approved. Among the materials not recommended are foam-backed
stucco, aluminum and vinyl siding, and liquid siding. While these materials can deteriorate easily, it is
often necessary to remove historic details for installation.
Before there was a historic movement in South Florida, many homeowners and property renovators
applied vinyl and aluminum siding – in many cases completely encapsulating a Spanish Revival of
Craftsman home in these materials. Thankfully, most of these have now been re-renovated, the vinyl
or aluminum removed and the original exterior finishes repaired.
Florida Historic Homes