This Garden Art Is For The Birds, And It Needs Your Help

– Posted in: Hardscaping and Projects, How-to
11 comments

I first saw these architectural birdhouses several years ago, in the grocery store, of all places. I resisted them until they went on sale, and then I couldn’t resist at all.

architectural birdhouses
It’s the details in these birdhouses that make them so appealing.

Since I’m not usually a collector, it surprised me how many of these birdhouses came home with me. While I found most of them at the grocery store, I also found them in the home decor section of a few other stores. I have seen them sold online for much more than I paid. I suspect the ones I have are seconds, but they looked fine to me when I purchased them.

The tag that comes with each one emphasizes that they were designed with birds in mind:

I really wanted them to be displayed outside, and I really wanted them to stay looking nice. I did not want them to weather. So I bought a gallon of spar urethane. It promised “exceptional protection from sunlight, rain and moisture, temperature.” Sounds perfect.

I painted on a coat, let it dry, sanded lightly, and applied a second coat. It was tedious work, not my cup of tea. But hey, it was winter, and I was looking forward to displaying them outside.

The results were very disappointing.

Birdhouse chimney delaminated
The plywood of the chimney delaminated.
Birdhouse rocking chair also delaminated
The rocking chair fell apart.
The roof peak is peeling and the “shingles” have mildew.
Birdhouse window showing damage.
This window is delaminating.
birdhouse porch railing showing damage
The porch railing is not faring much better.

This is what I thought would happen if I didn’t apply the spar urethane. They were only outside for the growing season. They did not have to endure the rigors of an upstate NY winter. Looking at this makes me want to cry.

I’m not a crafty or DIY person. I see these results and wonder, what did I do wrong? Did I miss painting the edges where the delamination occurred? What exactly does sand lightly mean? Did I not sand enough? Did I use the wrong grit? Should I have applied a third coat?

What should I do now?

I only varnished and put out about a third of my birdhouses. The rest have been inside, waiting for me to make time to work on them. But clearly I can’t do what I did before.

Readers, I need your help. If you have more experience with these types of things, please give me your advice in the comments.

Should I try the spar urethane again, except pay more attention to the edges, do more sanding, and give everything three coats?

Should I try something different, like automotive clear coat (affiliate link)?

Or how about this stuff?

Or do you know of something that works better?

That takes care of the unspoiled birdhouses. I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth my time to repair and repaint the ones that got damaged. What do you think?

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Beth@PlantPostings February 7, 2022, 10:59 pm

Oh dear. They are nifty little houses, but that’s a shame. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t put much effort into it. I’d just put them outside, as is, and use them as long as they last. Maybe I’d keep a few inside for a little collection indoors. They’re cute, but apparently they don’t hold up to our changeable weather conditions.

Frank February 5, 2022, 8:24 pm

Yikes. How disappointing. That wood laminate used for the trim and chair was absolutely not going to last untreated, and I question if any of the others will last even when treated. Maybe you could find a few covered areas to rehang them, and they’ll last another season or two?
I question the amount of research and knowledge that went into this product. They are very cute though

Brian February 5, 2022, 6:00 pm

Redo the roofs with aluminum or galvanized tin and Caulk the seams. Paint with rustoleum. Overhang enough so water doesn’t drip onto the lower areas.

Wanda February 5, 2022, 12:37 pm

Oh, what a shame. I painted some redwood planters that I had built myself
with marine spar varnish and they barely made it through a second season. And I did use three coats! The people I found to be very helpful and knowledgeable are the staff at professional paint stores. Take a new and a weathered birdhouse in with you and see if they could help. Good luck.

Kathy Purdy February 5, 2022, 12:58 pm

That’s a good idea, Wanda. Our local Benjamin Moore store has been very helpful in the past.

Laura February 4, 2022, 9:54 pm

Please don’t blame yourself. So many items aren’t made to last these days. It’s hard to tell sometimes. As the commenter above mentioned, these birdhouses probably weren’t made of exterior grade plywood. Case in point – my neighbors purchased an $8,000 sofa and waited 6 months for its delivery. It arrived with the upholstery falling off and sewed on unevenly in places. For 8K, I would expect the sofa to come with Julia Roberts or Jennifer Lawrence sitting on it. Again, so many items are cheaply made these days.

Kathy Purdy February 5, 2022, 12:57 pm

I wasn’t blaming myself so much as troubleshooting. But I do feel frustrated that my vision for these birdhouses has yet to be fulfilled and a bit sheepish that they are piled up in a very large box waiting for me to do something with them since 2018.

Patterson Webster February 4, 2022, 4:08 pm

I’m frugal and hate throwing anything away. But I wouldn’t waste any time or money on the ones that are falling apart. I’d junk them. Or use as kindling.

Kathy Purdy February 5, 2022, 12:45 pm

Thank you for saying that so bluntly. Without a strong encouragement in the right direction, I would be inclined to save them in case I had time later and they would just take up space and make me feel guilty. Since the weathered ones are still functional as birdhouses (just not pretty anymore) I might put them in a less traveled place and perhaps birds will find them satisfactory.

TimC February 4, 2022, 3:18 pm

I’m far from expert in outdoor wood preservation, but my guess would be these were not made from marine-grade or even exterior grade plywood, and the slightest bit of water penetration was destined to cause delamination. Given the number of edges/complexity of the structures, it would be difficult to seal all surfaces, including the interior, without submerging the house in a vat of the sealant, with maybe a questionable impact on overall appearance. I wouldn’t be optimistic that repainting the damaged ones will result in a long-term solution. Sorry, maybe a more knowledgeable person might have a solution.

Kathy Purdy February 4, 2022, 3:34 pm

Telling it like you see it is helpful. Maybe I should just give up on displaying them outside.