Why I sheath houses with pine boards

Bob Vail_credit Lee Burnett.jpg

Most builders opt for plywood or oriented strand board (some versions of which are manufactured in Maine) in sheathing the frames of new homes.  But pine boards are the traditional option and they offer some advantages. Cumberland builder Bob Vail explains in this story co-written by Lee Burnett.

I’ve been building houses for 35 years.  I’ve always used boards. My first job in high school – I was just starting out. We used boards in the concrete forms. When we were done, we tore them off and used them on the house. That’s the way it was done back then.

Quality: With boards, you’re going to get a better job. It’s hidden. Same as insulation. You only get one chance to insulate. It’s money well spent, but you’re not going to see it. I can say it’s stronger. It’s twice as thick. But I can’t back it up with science. In my gut, it’s stronger.

Cost: It’s a little bit more, but in the average house, it will disappear.  I’ll make it up somewhere else. I can show you the cost difference in a shed, but in a whole house, I can’t. It’s like, ‘show me the cost of the front door,’ It’s there, but don’t worry about it. In a shed, I could make it show up.

Ease of handling: If you’re up on the roof spinning four by eight sheets of plywood, any kind of wind at all, you have to be anchored down.

Layout: Diagonal sheathing is a great way to strengthen a home. It ties the sill right up to the ridge. You don’t need bracing. Boarding a house makes it a lot quieter. It has a way of absorbing the vibrations.

Rough sawn lumber: I don’t use it.  I might use rough sawn boards on a shed. But there’s a variation in thickness, that’s no good. I want boards to be dimensionally accurate. I used boards dressed three sides.

Interior application: It’s an excellent choice. It’s attractive. You can hang things from it without damaging it like you would with drywall.

 Supporting local jobs: I like that. I live in Maine, the most forested state in the country. Why not use Maine wood?

 Personal satisfaction: I love building with boards. I get a lot of satisfaction. It’s the greenest product in the world. You slice it, put it up, you’re good to go. There’s no glue added. Customers love it. The house I’m building now for a senior VP. He brought his president here. He couldn’t stop talking about it. He said he had to have it. Nobody who ever sees it is ever offended by it.


Sustainable, renewable resource: You go down to the lumber yard and they’ll want to promote their wood that came from New Zealand and I think to myself, my God, you’ve got to truck that thing, ship that thing from New Zealand to Maine? There’s just something fundamentally wrong with that.

 Spreading the word about pine boards: I don’t see others doing it this way without some education. The lumberyards aren’t pushing it. If it were me running a lumberyard, I’d have a wall framed up, so you could see the difference.

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