Jerry Nelson: Lessons learned from DIY siding repair

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Image of the author.

Our house gained some lumber during the string of storms we endured this spring.

Sadly, the new wood didn’t involve the spontaneous construction of that sunroom my wife has always wanted. There was certainly enough timber available for such a thing, albeit in the form of trees downed by the wind.

In the aftermath of this spring’s derecho, we were gratified that our house sustained only a broken window and a bit of damage to the deck. To our amazement, the terrorizing tempest also managed to stab a stick into the upper wall on the south side of the house.

This was accomplished without inflicting any further damage unless you want to count the blow to the house’s image. The stick sticking out of its side looked similar to a perch that one might install on a homemade birdhouse. Instead of repairing the house, I could have painted a black circle above the stick to create the illusion that my wife and I are living in the basement of an oversized bird condo.

But that would never do, mainly because the stick would likely become a conduit for outside weather to make its way in. After our insurance adjuster adjudicated things to our satisfaction, I contacted a carpenter to see if he could tackle this little job. Then I waited to hear back from him. And waited. And waited some more.

Frustrated, I called another carpenter. And another. And another. I have yet to hear back from any of them.

I understand that builders were as busy as a one-armed man hanging wallpaper before the storms ravaged our region. At this point, they probably have jobs booked well into the next decade. But still, it would have been nice if they would have at least had the courtesy to call back and say, “How about never? Does never work for you?”

I have worked on siding before, so I understand the principles involved. But there was also the principle that our insurance was supposed to take care of the damages.

These two principles remained at odds with each other until I couldn’t stand it anymore. The house had to get fixed before winter arrives and snow and ice begin to use the stick to wick their way in. Plus, nobody would believe the birdhouse illusion anymore by then.

So, I dragged out the ladder and hauled myself up to the site of the impalement. Our dog, Bella, paced back and forth at the foot of the ladder. She was obviously concerned about this new and bizarre activity by her master, no doubt worried that if something were to befall me it might have a negative impact on the number of doggie treats she receives.

Bella wasn’t the only female who was anxious about my acrobatics.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” my wife called out from the safety of the lawn.

“There’s nothing to it,” I replied. “You just have to use this little doohickey to unsnap the bottom of the top strip, then pop the nails out.”

“I don’t mean that. What if the ladder tips and you fall?”

“Then I guess it will be up to you to make sure Bella gets her treats.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it!”

A branch detached from its tree by the May 12 derecho impaled the siding of South Dakota columnist Jerry Nelson's home.

After removing the damaged siding, I could see that the hole that the stick had made was quite manageable. In this case, “manageable” means “easily filled with a squirt of spray foam insulation.”

After the hole was foamed and covered with duct tape (duct tape, I have found, can fix almost anything), I was ready to install the new siding. This was the part where it would have been handy to have another set of hands. I’m sure that Bella would have been glad to help, especially if involved receiving one of the tasty nuggets that I always carry in my pocket.

The unsteadiness that’s inherent to all ladders wasn’t the major problem. The biggest issue with this part of project was the way the wind caused the new piece vinyl siding to whip around. There was no point in waiting for calm weather; it’s always windy here in South Dakota. On still days our chickens fall over.

By hanging off the ladder and using both hands and one foot, I managed to slip the new siding into place. It only took a minimal amount of cursing and cost just one bloody knuckle.

The south side of the house looks almost as good as new. But I’m not getting into the siding repair business. Because dispensing doggie treats has me booked well into the next decade.

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.