Got a Bad Case of Ceiling Cheese? Ask Your Doctor if New Siding is Right for You.

Can I tell you something…personal? You promise you won’t tell anyone? I know, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and plenty of people with Old Houses have this condition. But still, it’s hard to admit: We’ve got a bad case of CEILING CHEESE.  

Yes, right there, just above the bay windows in the front room. We knew about Ceiling Cheese last year when we bought the Babushka House. We replaced the roof, patched and painted over the Cheesy Patch and moved on to other projects.

Original Babushka-Era Ceiling Cheese

But then the Spring rains came, and the Cheese grew back. After a round of heavy storms, the Ceiling Cheese bubbled up into a rusty orange rash; more like a Pont-l’Évéque than a dry, aged Manchego:

DSC_0083 (2)Turns out it wasn’t the roof that was leaking, it was the World War II-era siding: a dreary gray “Insul-Brik™” asphalt sheet siding, applied over another layer of brown Insul-Brik™  asphalt siding, which was itself applied over the original clapboard during the height of the Ottoman Empire.


This summer, our so-called siding absorbed so much moisture it sprouted mushrooms*:

Our contractor said that re-siding the whole house would cost more than a year of out-of-state college tuition at an accredited Midwestern University**, which we could not immediately afford. However, for the cost of a semester at the local community college, we could replace the siding JUST IN THE FRONT.  Fixing the front would not only plug the leak, it would ease the shame we feel every time a distant relative or old high school friend punches our address into Google street view*** and sees this:


Google Street View, baby, we’ve changed. Can’t you give us another look?

The work crew arrived first thing Monday morning, when those of us with easy jobs enjoyed a day off.  The whole family huddled in our bedroom to watch the workers pound away.


While we were excited by the prospect of a fresh face for the Babushka House, eight hours of incessant hammering on your little wood frame cottage feels like a Localized Zombie Apocalypse.  Because zombies really like banging – they certainly don’t know how to pick a lock or impersonate a Utility Worker to gain access to your house. Zombies are much more likely to climb up to the roof of your front porch and bang on your bedroom window, just like this gentleman:


Since Zombies don’t use ladders or insulation, we can feel safe knowing these are really Siding Workers

As the afternoon wore on, we listened to the workers bang and bang, and occasionally shout at each other in Polish. I begged Scott to tell me what they were saying.**** Even though all his grandparents are from Poland, the only words Scott knows in Polish are Yes, Aunt, Butt, Sex, Cold Beer, Happy Birthday and something like “Go Home and Go to Bed,” which is an unforgivable insult in Poland, or at least on the South Side of Chicago.  Scott was able to confirm that the workers said “YES” several times. Which was mildly reassuring.

Two days later, the work was done!

Now when I invite friends (or pizza delivery drivers) over, I get to say: “Look for the blue house with the yellow door.”

And if those friends overstay their welcome, I say, “Itz da dumo spatzch!” Which I’m told is Polish for, “You smell like ceiling cheese.”

———— endnotes ————
* Cheese? Mushrooms? Wrap our house in puff pastry and you’ve got a delicious vol-au-vent!
** To my non-American readers: Here in the states, education and health care are not basic rights but commodities to be bought and sold, like corn or toilet paper.   Most of us would like to change this system, but right now we’re all busy eating peanut butter, which is very messy and time-consuming.
*** That’s right, I know all about your internet creepin.’
**** If you overhear people speaking in a language that you don’t understand, they are almost certainly saying bad things about you.


14 thoughts on “Got a Bad Case of Ceiling Cheese? Ask Your Doctor if New Siding is Right for You.

  1. Hey Clare. Looks fabulous! Love the color. So happy for you! But … err … I just have to point out the obvious: if those old layers of asphalt siding were trapping moisture, I am afraid the new vinyl siding just seals it in. Shouldn’t they have torn off the old siding first? Please tell me I’m wrong.


    • Technically, I think the old layers were constantly trapping new moisture. The old moisture was the cheese (water leeching through the plaster.) After a little more cheese the moisture should be more or less gone.


      • Yup, that about sums it up, Joel. One of the advantages of living in an old frame house is that it’s actually much less likely to trap moisture than a newer, air-tight house. You’ll never find black mold in an old house, it’s too drafty. Which is SORT OF reassuring.


  2. I too live in a blue house. Welcome to an exclusive club! I hope the new siding does the job for you. Sadly, I have to live with perennial mildew in the Wet season; there’s not much I can do about 70% air humidity. But at least I only have to put up with white blotches, your cheese was a much more aggressive member of the fungus family!


    • I’ve always loved blue houses. I don’t know why. White siding always looks a bit dirty and the beige/brown end of things is just too… TAN. I love the contrast of the dark siding with the white window trim. Chicago is pretty dry most of the time; or at least dry enough that mildew is never a problem in older houses. Especially since we’ve got hot air blowing through the house from November through March. Do you have to use a de-humidifier, or just put up with the mildew?


      • There isn’t a humidifier in the world that can deal with 80% humidity at the peak of the Wet. I use DampRid crystals in the linen cupboard, keep the aircon on in the main living and sleeping areas to suck most of the moisture out, and live with the rest, doing a regular wipe round with a weak bleach solution.


    • I’ve totally lost all my street cred. We’re no longer the spookiest house on the block. Now I might actually have to start locking the doors when I leave in case someone thinks I own things worth stealing. I just can’t win.


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