A few months ago I came across an article from DWM Magazine (DWM = Door and Window Market) about a lawsuit filed on Oklahoma against Pella Corp by a homeowner that alleged the Architect Series windows have design and manufacturing defects as result they are leaking and causing premature wood rot and damage. You can read the article here: https://www.dwmmag.com/lawsuit-alleges-pella-architect-series-windows-were-defective/
Replacement windows come in a wide range of options and price points – unfortunately paying more doesn’t always equal greater quality when choosing a replacement window (and if you have your original windows they most likely can be repaired and as energy efficient as replacement windows – science backs this.) You can read more here: https://practicalpreservationservices.com/put-replacement-windows-to-shame-what-that-nice-salesperson-doesnt-want-you-to-know/
Reading the article about the lawsuit against Pella I wasn’t surprised by the issue the homeowner had. They had purchased aluminum clad (wood wrapped in aluminum) ‘designed and manufactured to protect the wood’ and I’m sure they also tout the maintenance free aspect of the design. The complaint alleges, “[An] investigation revealed that the defendant’s Architect Series windows aluminum exterior cladding had design and manufacturing defects allowing rain water to drip in to the interior wood and that the rain water dripping in to the interior wood over the years resulted in rotted wood internal destruction of the windows.” This is a common issue when wrapping wood (I won’t even get into the fact that the pine they are using is inferior to old growth wood) and is one of the reasons the Secretary of the Interior advocates for NOT wrapping wood in metal or synthetic siding: https://www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs/8-aluminum-vinyl-siding.htm
“Since aluminum and vinyl sidings are typically marketed as home improvement items, they are frequently applied to buildings in need of maintenance and repair. This can result in concealing problems which are the early warning signs of deterioration. Minor uncorrected problems can progress to the point where expensive, major repairs to the structure become necessary.
If there is a hidden source of water entry within the wall or leakage from the roof, the installation of any new siding will not solve problems of deterioration and rotting that are occurring within the wall. If deferred maintenance has allowed water to enter the wall through deteriorated gutters and downspouts, for example, the cosmetic surface application of siding will not arrest these problems. In fact, if the gutters and downspouts are not repaired, such problems may become exaggerated because water may be channeled behind the siding. In addition to drastically reducing the efficiency of most types of wall insulation, such excessive moisture levels within the wall can contribute to problems with interior finishes such as paints or wallpaper, causing peeling, blistering or staining of the finishes.”
Trapping the water behind the metal and against the wood is the same issue that is being alleged as a design fault in the Pella lawsuit. The lawsuit also alleges that the company had known this was a design defect since 2006 (there had been previous class action litigation). The complaint sums this up, “[Pella] breached its duty to disclose to plaintiff that its Architect Series windows had a substantial risk of leaking because of design and manufacturing defects and that the leakage would result in rotted wood and that after the purchase of the windows defendant breached its duty to inform plaintiff that defendant’s Architect Series windows had a very high likelihood of leaking that would result in rotted wood”.
As I stated previously I wasn’t surprised by the cladding causing wood rot and I do think a window manufacturer should understand this and design to avoid the condition, but most people move every 7 years and if the previous homeowner paid the expense of replacement windows when the windows begin to fail it is a ‘necessary’ cost of maintaining a home and the replacement cycle continues.
COFFEE BREAK RECAPS – Periodically, we will be bringing you recapitulations of our live “coffee break” videos, where Danielle and Jonathan address questions related to preservation and provide answers or brainstorm solutions. These recap posts will include additional information and resources. This month’s recap focuses on rising sea levels’ impacts on historic buildings and possible solutions. Watch below.
- Focus: The ever-increasing threat of flooding to historical buildings and properties caused by climate change (among other things) – after all, water is the enemy of historic structures
- Question: What can be done to protect historic buildings and districts – in a way that is also sensitive to preserving the historic-fabric – from rising sea levels?
- Solutions: Danielle and Jonathan discussed 3 possibilities:
- Make bottom levels of buildings “floodable” as is being attempted at the national level (see resources below for an example) – however, this still puts floors, doors, windows, trim, etc. at significant risk of damage and destruction.
- Consider elevating the building to a level high enough that it is less likely to need to be raised again, and treating the elevation similarly to a “sympathetic addition” – one that is new but whose style and materials are in keeping with the historic fabric of the rest of the building.
- Although relocation of the entire structure is also an option, it may be less desirable than the other options, as it is extremely costly and has other risks.
When it comes to flood mitigation in coastal or water-front communities, historic structures should not be forgotten
– DON’T THROW THE PROVERBIAL BABY OUT WITH THE BATHWATER.
- Our previous podcasts related to this topic, here (building elevation and relocation) and here (rising sea levels and general planning).
- The Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines on Flood Adaptation for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings
- The Secretary of the Interior’s New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings for information on sympathetic additions (if considering elevating your home as a “sympathetic addition”)
- The National Center for Preservation Technology and Training’s example of a wet-flood-proofed structure
- Our coffee break guest also mentioned Dominique Hawkins – founder of Preservation Design Partnership – who provides information and workshops on flood mitigation planning. Read some of her documents here and here
A few weeks ago an article was posted to the Preservation Professionals group on Facebook. You can read the article here: https://www.rewire.org/how-discussions-of-neighborhood-character-reinforce-structural-racism/. The article is an interesting discussion of how redevelopment can impact the the neighborhood qualities and characteristics especially in relation to affordable housing. The example used in the article is from St. Paul, Minnesota and the proposed development of a Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant (closed for over a decade). A developer purchased the site and proposed an adaptive reuse with 3,800 housing units of those 20% would be affordable housing. Based on these facts (as I know them) I do not think this is inconsistent with the neighborhood, it is preserving the buildings, and affordable housing is a problem in America that needs a solution. There are studies that mixed income neighborhoods are mutually beneficial (https://www.useful-community-development.org/mixed-income-housing.html). The neighbors lived near an operating auto manufacturer for many years and it do not have a negative impact on the property values and I would assume housing would be less disruptive than manufacturing to the surrounding area.
Locally there is a proposed redevelopment of a former hospital site in North West Lancaster (near Franklin and Marshall College). Reading the numbers of units the developer is proposing (a total of 245 units projected on the low end. With 120 as low-and-moderate income units) will significantly alter this neighborhood. I understand that the developer needs have a certain number of units to make the financials work for the project. Here’s a link to the article from LancasterOnline:
I agree that redeveloping the existing building is positive for the community. The proposed number of units is concerning to me from a streetscape standpoint. They are proposing, “Building 25 to 30 row homes for sale along West End Avenue between West Walnut Street and Marietta Avenue, restoring how the block looked before it became hospital parking.” I am sure there were never 25 to 30 row houses in one city block. There are traditional row houses in this neighborhood (along with larger single family homes – it was part of the first push to the suburbs from Lancaster City). The Sanborn Map below shows the neighborhood with the original hospital building (replaced in the 1960’s):
Squeezing 25 to 30 row house on to a single block will change the look of the neighborhood. The Secretary of Interior Standard #9 states, “New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.” Any proposed new construction should be required to meet these standards.
There is not a one size fits all answer to development and preservation. I remind people that zoning and development decisions are made at the local level. If you want to help shape the development, demolition permission process, or the historic preservation protections you must get involved locally.
THIS IS A RE-POST OF A BLOG WE ORIGINALLY POSTED SEPTEMBER 2012:
*Updates have been made throughout this piece, including additional terms and new links for sources of those definitions.
PRESERVATION TERMINOLOGY: It’s one of the most common barriers between preservationists and those who do not define themselves as preservationists. It is the language we “building-huggers” use. Below, we share a GLOSSARY of some common preservation terms and their basic definitions, as well as real-life examples.
Adaptive Reuse. “The conversion of a building to a use other than that for which it was originally designed, optimally, respecting the historic features of the building” (Source). This definition speaks for itself.
- Examples: Find a discussion of benefits of adaptive reuse here, as well as a podcast about a local adaptive reuse project here.
Conservation District. Somewhat different from a Historic District, “Neighborhood Conservation districts are areas located in residential neighborhoods with a distinct physical character. Although these neighborhoods tend not to merit designation as a historic district, they warrant special land-use attention due to their distinctive character and importance as viable, contributing areas to the community at large” (Source). These essentially focus on preserving community character vs. historic fabric.
- Example: Queen Village in Philadelphia is a designated neighborhood conservation district.
Cultural Landscape. “A geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein, associated with a historic event, activity, or person, or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values” (Source). Simply, it’s a historically significant location evidencing human interaction with the physical environment.
- Example: Regionally, Valley Forge is a cultural landscape.
Easement. “Legal protection (recorded in a property deed) for distinguishing features of the interior or exterior of a property or in the space surrounding a property because such features are deemed important to be preserved. For example, a new property owner may be prevented from making changes or additions to a building, structure, or landscape by an easement in the property deed itself. These are sometimes specified as preservation easements or conservation easements” (Source). Essentially, a property owner makes a voluntary, legal, agreement to permanently protect a historic property.
- Examples: Our previous post includes a discussion of easements and how you can establish one. There are several benefits and incentives to easements, here.
Historic(al) Context. This is “a unit created for planning purposes that groups information about historic properties based on a shared theme, specific time period and geographical area” (Source). Whether buildings, monuments, or other objects or spaces, this refers to the circumstances surrounding the item of focus during its time of historical significance or creation.
- Examples: Historical context is a major point of focus in some of our recent articles, here and here. Current events surrounding monuments to Confederates or other people known for enslaving people also warrant discussion of historical context.
Historic District. Related to, but not the same as a Neighborhood Conservation District (see above), “A geographically definable area that possess a significant concentration of buildings or sites that have been united architecturally or historically. Individual buildings in a district need not be individual historic landmarks; they can derive their significance in association with the district. A district occasionally also comprises individual elements separated geographically but thematically linked by association or history” (Source). In other words, this is an area where older buildings are considered significant or valuable for architectural or historical reasons.
- Example: There are a number of historic districts here in Lancaster, PA.
Historic Fabric. “The physical material of a building, structure, or city that is historic” (Source). Not literally referring to fabric/textiles (although it could!), fabric in this case is just the original physical materials making up a historic structure.
- Example: The historic fabric of a property is what makes it relevant to preservationists and lovers of history – check out our archives.
Historic(al) Integrity. This is “the authenticity of a property’s historic identity, evidenced by the survival of physical characteristics that existed during the property’s historic or prehistoric period” (Source). Preservation is more than saving a building – even if a building remains standing, it may not have the same meaning if the most important parts of the historic fabric are gone, aka it loses its historic integrity.
- Examples: There are potential consequences to lost historic integrity, as noted here. The National Park Service discusses this in greater detail here, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation discusses the importance of this aspect for seeking National Register Status, here.
Historical Significance. “Having particularly important associations within the contexts of architecture, history, and culture” (Source). This may refer to a building’s or other object’s direct association with historically significant or important people, events, or information, or even something that affords historically significant information.
- Examples: The National Register discusses more details about historical significance here. The National Trust for Historic Preservation provides clarity and suggestions for interpreting and determining historical significance for those seeking National Register Designation here and here.
National Register of Historic Places. “The comprehensive list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects of national, regional, state, and local significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture kept by the National Park Service under authority of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966” (Source). It is the official list of historic places and objects deemed worthy of preservation.
- Examples: You can find a list of locations in Pennsylvania on the list here. The National Trust provides information on how to apply for this status, here.
Period of Significance. “The span of time in which a property attained the significance for which it meets the National Register criteria” (Source). Historical properties may witness or survive many potentially significant events, but generally one specific time or event determines the property’s significance and eligibility for the National Register.
- Example: The Eisenhower National Historic Site in Gettysburg, PA represents a property made eligible for the National Register due to the significance of a later period in its existence; namely, only once it was purchased by President Eisenhower.
Preservation. “Focuses on the maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and the retention of a property’s features that have achieved historic significance” (Source). Preserving something means protecting and maintaining the historic features as close to the original as possible – this is the heart of what we do!
- Example: The National Park Service discusses preservation in detail here.
Reconstruction. “Reconstruction is defined as the act or process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features, and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location” (Source). Sometimes missing or damaged-beyond-repair aspects of a historic property need to be totally reconstructed using the same methods and materials to get as close to the original as possible.
- Example: Pennsbury Manor outside of Philadelphia is a well-known example of a complete reconstruction.
Rehabilitation. “Rehabilitation is the process of returning a property to a state of utility, through repair or alteration, and makes possible an efficient contemporary use while preserving those portions and features of the property which are significant to its historic, architectural and cultural values” (Source). This process basically makes something useful for contemporary use or living while retaining or protecting the most important historical aspects” (Source). This is basically the same thing as adaptive reuse (see above), although, unlike adaptive reuse, rehabilitation may include projects that are more likely to use properties for the same (or similar) tasks as the original use.
- Examples: This silk mill is still being used for production, but with a new product.
Restoration. “Restoration is returning a site to its original form and condition as represented by a specified period of time using materials that are as similar as possible to the original ones” (Source). Closely related to Reconstruction because Restoration sometimes involves reconstruction methods, but with the added specification of restoring a property to a particular time (which may involve removing evidence of other periods).
- Example: Here’s a complete restoration project we were involved in.
Section 106. “The Section 106 review process is an integral component of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966. Section 106 of the NHPA requires that each federal agency identify and assess the effects its actions may have on historic buildings. Under Section 106, each federal agency must consider public views and concerns about historic preservation issues when making final project decisions” (Source). This applies only to agencies affiliated with the federal government (who are proposing projects that may impact historic properties), but as a member of the public, it allows your involvement to voice concerns and ask questions.
- Examples: The National Park Service and the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation go into more detail here and here. More information for the layman is available here from The National Trust.
SHPO. “State Historic Preservation Officer –an official within each state appointed by the
governor to administer the state historic preservation program and carry out certain
responsibilities relating to federal undertakings within the state” (Source). You may hear this acronym pronounced to sound like “Shippo” – it may refer to the Officer or the Office in each state for historic preservation.
- Example: Here is a guide as to what State Historic Preservation Officers do, and here is the link to the SHPO (office) for Pennsylvania.
Standards and Guidelines. “The Standards are neither technical nor prescriptive, but are intended to promote responsible preservation practices that help protect our Nation’s irreplaceable cultural resources. For example, they cannot, in and of themselves, be used to make essential decisions about which features of the historic building should be saved and which can be changed. But once a treatment is selected, the Standards provide philosophical consistency to the work” (Source). The standards (Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction) are what the Secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service recommend, to hopefully homogenize treatment of historical properties and sites nationally. The guidelines (here) provide more detailed information on execution of the standards.
- Example: The National Trust provides more information on how to interpret these.
An interesting end note:
The term “historic preservation” is unique to the U.S. and is a relatively new term – it originated in the 1960’s in response to an urban renewal planning movement that would eventually fail. Other English-speaking countries use different terms like “architectural conservation”, “built environment conservation”, “built heritage conservation” and “immovable object conservation”.
Tell us your thoughts…
What other preservation terms do you find confusing?
Are you still unsure of what the terms defined above mean?
What is the preservation term that endears itself the most to you?
How do you clarify confusing preservation terms?
What is the most commonly misunderstood preservation term you run into?
Let us know in the comments below…
BATHROOMS – or whatever you call them, as they have many names – are a necessary part of our lives, but we often take them for granted. Bathrooms did not always exist as a dedicated room, and the conglomeration of fixtures and practices that occur in these rooms today, as well as the design of these rooms, are a result of many societal and technological changes. Understanding the history can help you better appreciate (or create) your own historic or period appropriate bathroom.
Illustration of early 20th century bathroom from the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company. Image Source: Wikipedia’s Entry on Bathroom.
Bathrooms: History and Evolution
Bathing and specific elimination practices (e.g., toileting) have been around in some form since humans have existed on Earth. However, more sophisticated practices – including devoted bath houses and use of bathtubs – began as early as 3000 B.C. in what is now Pakistan, with the Indus Valley Civilization, and continued with the early Greeks and Romans. In those times, people focused on purity but not necessarily health and hygiene, and water was seen as a cleansing element for spiritual and physical purposes. So powerful was the belief in water’s protective spiritual properties that communal baths were sometimes kept separate from domestic living spaces to protect the living spaces from evil spirits. The Romans especially valued bathing as a way to relax and revive themselves, as well as an outlet to commune with others. However, the wealthy also often had private bath spaces. (Source).
The oldest-surviving bathtub dates to 1700 B.C. and was located in a palace in Crete. (Source).
In ancient times there were also some primitive flushing toilets, although many public toilets in Rome were anything but private and did not necessarily flush. (Source).
In addition to limited private toilets, many ancient Romans were relegated to using primitive, communal items before the invention of toilet paper. (Source).
In the Middle Ages, public bathhouses continued to be used, and soap first came into production. Other items such as combs, tweezers, and mouthwash were also in use. (Source).
Contrary to popular belief, people in the Middle Ages valued bathing, particularly steam baths. Baths were generally public baths and men and women communed together; although, women covered their hair for “decency.” (Source).
During the Renaissance, private bathrooms became more popular. However, fears increased about disease, associated with water, and bathing was discouraged in favor of focused washing. Clean linens were thought to be sufficient to pull toxins from, cleanse, and deodorize the body, and women during this time toiled over washing. (Source).
In 1546, King Henry VIII ordered the closure of public bathhouses, as these – specifically, their water – were blamed for the 7 plagues that occurred in England over a 200-year span. (Source).
Public toilets were used by the lower classes in the Renaissance and often placed on bridges over rivers, the “sewage system” being that debris would float away in the river. In the countryside and in some private city homes privies existed in sheds or cellars, usually consisting of seats situated over cesspits. Portable chamber pots were the preferred means of elimination by the wealthy and royal, and were simply emptied into the streets. (Source).
The first flush toilet was invented by Sir John Harrington in 1596, but was not widespread until nearly 3 decades later – the wealthy and royal preferred chamber pots be brought to them, and not to walk to a room only for toileting as it would be considered immodest. (Source).
By the 18th century, daily bathing was still uncommon. However, in England the wealthy were able to have taps put into their homes allowing for private bathing, thanks to a massive irrigation project. Otherwise, most of the bathroom rituals we use today were still done in the bedroom, which usually included a basin and washstand (and often a chamber pot). (Source).
The shower was invented by William Feetham in 1767. (Source).
By the 19th century, houses were beginning to be designed around usefulness of each room. The discovery and dissemination of information about germs and hygiene was more widespread in Europe and America, and many homes of the middle and upper class had bathrooms – as bathing was considered necessary for good hygiene – while mass showers existed for the poor. The Industrial Revolution also facilitated mechanization in the bathroom, including gas water heaters for hot-water production. (Source).
The 19th century saw major changes in private bathrooms in the home, including flush toilets in the 1850’s, and the electric water heater in 1889. (Source).
In the late 19th century more was discovered about infectious disease and bacteria, and previously wooden bathrooms transitioned to porcelain and enamel surfaces, with more exposed pipes that were “easier to clean,” tile and linoleum replaced wood floors, and drapery was significantly reduced, and this continued into the early 20th century. (Source).
The late 19th and early 20th century’s concerns about disease also resulted in the introduction of second bathrooms – “powder rooms” – or half-baths often on the first floor, near the entrance, so delivery people could wash their hands and prevent bringing germs into the home. (Source).
As the 20th century moved beyond the hygiene movement, and the public was exposed to two world wars, glamorized interiors featured in movies, and a greater increase in population and technological advancement, people were more interested in having fully-equipped bathrooms that served functional needs as well as offered respite. The growing middle class was also able to afford these luxuries with mass-production enabling affordable products. (Source).
The 1950’s realized en suite bathrooms, as well as separate bathrooms for the children. (Source).
As people have continued to associate bathrooms with comfort and escapism, the number of bathrooms per person in each household have steadily increased, and bathrooms continue to be an important part of each household. (Source).
Bathrooms in Your Historic Home
If luck is on your side, you may acquire a historic home with a period bathroom still in place, although this is rare given that bathrooms (and kitchens) usually were the first “victims” of updates to historic homes, and are some of the most modified and modernized rooms. Depending on the old bathroom’s condition, there may be significant work to do. Because of the last few decades’ emphasis on college education and continued focus on mass-produced items that are generally not repairable and have short shelf-life, skilled labor and trades people have dwindled, so repair may be more difficult. However, increased demand for historic features has also resulted in more reproduction options available, many of which are up-to-code. Sometimes it is necessary or preferred to create a new bathroom, either modern or styled to a chosen time in the house’s history. Regardless, it is important to always remember that water is the enemy of a historic home, and any modern updates must account for this. Below are a combination of suggestions from Restoring Old Houses by Nigel Hutchins, and Restoring Your Historic House by Scott T. Hanson.
It is important to remember that water is the enemy of historic homes, so all plumbing should be in good condition and well-maintained to prevent water disasters.
Restoring an old bathroom. General period plumbing knowledge is important in old bathrooms. Many old homes have extant period plumbing fixtures and these were designed to be repairable – just be sure they are adapted to meet modern codes and standards. A knowledgeable plumber and flexible code officer can be helpful with this. (Hanson, p. 374). Old plumbing fixtures and features should be examined for breaks and other damage and replaced with copper or plastic where necessary; return traps and vent stacks should be cleared; worn gaskets and washers should be replaced; and entire systems should be flushed and pressure checked (Hutchins, p. 179). Some shops and companies specialize in repair of such fixtures (Hanson, p. 375).
If something is missing, beyond repair, or simply cannot be adapted to meet modern code requirements, it is recommended that you look for antiques (often through salvage, but again these must be adapted to modern codes), or options among the many reproductions on the market. It is highly recommended you compare the quality of the originals to the reproductions, and buy as high quality as you can afford. This will more likely prevent failure and subsequent disaster from burst pipes (Hanson, p. 376; Hutchins, p. 178).
Rural residents have even more unique circumstances, including utilizing wells for water sources and septic tanks for waste disposal. Hutchins (p. 179) recommends that people in the countryside check their old wells for rotten covers, bacteria in the water, and how well they refill. Many old wells cannot accommodate modern needs and new wells must be dug, which are expensive – it is recommended a homeowner budgets accordingly.
Antique toilets also need to meet modern standards, even if they are antique. Hanson (p. 374) notes that some communities have strict water ordinances, and toilets from times past were designed to use much more water to flush (and thus fully clear the bowl) than is allowed by modern code. In some cases, an extant toilet can be grandfathered in. In other instances modifications to the tank such as stacked bricks or a tank liner can decrease water – Hanson warns, however, that because of the original design, this decreased water may not be sufficient to clear the bowl. High tank toilets are generally more successful because of the additional velocity they allow water when it travels from tank to toilet.
Antique sinks also generally require modification to meet modern standards. Sometimes, antique sinks and counter tops simply need cleaning; marble sinks and counter tops can be cleaned with paint cleaner and steel wool, although deeper stains may require fine sandpaper and muriatic acid (Hutchins, p. 179). Hanson (p. 374-375). Problems usually stem from the size of drain holes and the spacing of faucet holes. An old sink that is missing the 2-hole drain stem can present a conundrum, as salvaged parts may be hard to come by, and it does not match modern pieces. Sink bowls of various materials may have these holes widened to accommodate modern needs. If the traditionally-separate hot and cold faucets are missing, reproductions can convert the hot and cold into one, and still visually represent the original time period.If a required overflow drain is missing, modifications can be made to retain the antique bowl; Hanson recommends connecting the bowl to the above top with a gap in between, and putting a modern bowl below to catch overflow. This of course should always be checked with local code enforcers.
Period tubs or showers can often be restored with epoxies – or homeowners can purchase “new” antiques and restore those, if needed (Hutchins, p. 179). Similar adjustments may need to be made to the plumbing parts as were noted for sinks, above.
Creating a new bathroom (period appropriate or not). Hutchins (p. 178) provides several general plumbing points when creating a bathroom space. He indicates that plumbing should not be run on exterior walls because of insulation difficulties, and sufficient venting is necessary for plumbing. He also states that other considerations should be made if converting a non-bathroom into a bathroom. For example, one must consider if there is enough head room for a shower, if ceiling beams below (if on an upper floor) will be impacted by plumbing pipes, and if the room has wood features, how those features will be treated to protect them from moisture penetration.
Laundry features should also be considered. Although not inherently part of a bathroom in most cases, Hanson (p. 377) also points out that given most modern private homes have laundry areas or rooms, and many of these are now being moved from the basement level to first floors, caution is warranted to protect historic interiors. For example, Hanson notes that typically-cheap hoses often result in burst pipes and indoor flooding disasters. These issues can be prevented – or at least mitigated – by replacing cheap hoses with high-quality woven stainless steel washer hoses, and installing overflow trays with drains for added protection, according to Hanson.
Modern people may be less modest than people of the past, but the bathroom and related activities can still be a taboo subject for some. For others, it’s simply taken for granted. But we must remember how essential bathrooms are to our physical and mental health, hygiene, and relaxation. As such, it’s important to treat and maintain these spaces well, particularly to protect the integrity of our historic homes.
For further resources and reading:
- For restoring or creating a period appropriate (or not) bathroom in your historic home, we recommend these books: Restoring Old Houses by Nigel Hutchins, and Restoring Your Historic House by Scott T. Hanson.
- For buying fixtures and other products: this site, and this site.
- For more reading material and design ideas: this site.
Stay tuned for a similar post on another vulnerable room in historic homes: THE KITCHEN.
KEEPING YOUR HISTORIC HOME COOL IN SUMMER is an essential part of living comfortably today. But, how was it done in the past, and what can we do now? We’ve outlined the history and applicable steps for you.
1880’s photo of a British home in India. Image source: Wikipedia’s entry on Punkahs
Historic Cooling and Passive Cooling
Older buildings (primarily those built prior to the mid-twentieth century) were built to be energy efficient and are the quintessence of passive cooling. Fuel was not easy to obtain or manage and it was not cheap. Many people today are surprised to learn that the biggest energy usage has been attributed to buildings built between the 1950’s-1970’s, according to GSA. Below are several features and methods used in the past that you can still successfully use today:
Homes built between the 1950’s-1970’s have been proven to use more energy than buildings before that time.
Cross Ventilation. Cross ventilation was frequently used. Cross ventilation refers to a passive way of supplying air to, and removing air from, an interior as a result of pressure differences from natural forces. This requires one opening for air to come in, and another for air to go out. Windows – particularly double -hung – are one way of accessing these natural forces. Open a lower window on the cooler side of the home, and an upper window on the warmer side of the home to be most effective. Tall, single-hung windows are also appropriate for allowing more air into the home. Opening as many windows (and doors and hallways) as possible will multiply the benefits. Other features that aid this natural cooling process include door and window transoms, undercut doors, window and door screens, louvered shutters, and shotgun and dogtrot/center hall-style architecture (both of which have windows or hallways front to back or side-to-side to allow for natural airflow).
The image above is of the John Looney House, a classic dogtrot-style home, attributed to photographer Chris (last name not listed), as found on the Wikipedia page on Natural Ventilation.
Thermal Mass. Thermal mass – a building materials’ ability to store heat – can also play a significant role in passive cooling. A house with thick (especially stone-based) walls can act as a conduit for passive cooling via thermal mass, if nighttime temperature is cool enough. Ideally, the building/wall material will cool overnight, allowing for cooler daytime temperatures because it will only slowly warm over the course of the day (and release that warmth at night).
The image above of a stone mason is by flickr user diamondmountain, as found on the Wikipedia page on Masonry.
Shutters. Louvered shutters (those that are constructed with overlapping uniform slats of wood set into a frame) allowed air circulation and privacy. They allow for air flow while blocking direct sunlight and heat.
The image above is of a louvered shutter we built for the Hampton National Historic Site.
Porches and Awnings. Porches and awnings both act as blocks from solar radiation, resulting in cooler internal temperature. “Sleeping” porches to sleep outside during warmer summer months (popular in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods) were another way to enjoy a cooler experience.
The image above is of the porch at the historic Harris-Cameron Mansion following Keperling Preservation Service’s porch restoration.
Shade Landscaping. Shade trees are an obvious aid for a cooler home. Shrubs, bushes, and groundcover are also beneficial; they can provide shade as well as absorb heat radiation and cool the air prior to it reaching your home (unlike a paved yard-space which is more likely to reflect heat). These plants can also shade existing pavement to decrease heat.
Other Methods. Homeowners of the past also employed other practical ways to cool their homes. According to an article from New Orleans Architecture Tours, homeowners modified interior design and decoration by exchanging heavier draperies for light linens and lace (which could double as window screens). Thick rugs could be replaced with grass mats. Furniture was covered by linen or cotton. They also adjusted food preparation and meal location; preparing foods with minimal cooking to avoid heating the home unnecessarily, and having more picnic meals outdoors.
Image of the painting “Ready for the Ball” by artist Sophie Anderson, from the Wikipedia entry on Hand fan.
How to Cool Your Historic Home Today
There may be no need to reinvent the wheel. If you are lucky enough to own a historic home, particularly one whose old features are intact, a practical preservation method would be to use one or all of the time-tested passive cooling methods noted above. This will not only honor your home’s heritage and historic fabric, it will also save you money over the long-term, and benefit the environment. However, we acknowledge that practically-speaking, sometimes passive cooling alone is not sufficient. Below are several modern options that can effectively cool your home and simultaneously have minimal impact on the integrity of your home’s historic fabric:
Time-tested passive cooling methods can save modern homeowners money and be energy efficient.
Window and Portable Units. These are a classic, generally economical option, though there are cautions for historical homes. Window units may not easily fit into old windows due to size differences and inconsistency in some older windows. They also put significant pressure on sills and walls due to their weight. The water drips often created by the cooling system can also cause damage to the window and surrounding walls. Portable units can also sometimes leak, causing damage to historic floors.
Targeted Cooling. Mini-split systems are a ductless, targeted form of heating and cooling. The indoor unit is mounted to the ceiling or wall and the cooled refrigerant is pumped in via refrigerant lines that run to the outdoor unit. These may be ideal for difficult-to-cool areas of the home, particularly additions or enclosed rooms that do not have ductowork. However, beware that they require drilling through the wall of your home for installation; once this is done, it is hard to undo. Further, these are not low profile, so visually, they disrupt the flow of a historic interior and exterior.
High-Velocity Cooling. SpacePak and the UNICO system are high-velocity/low impact systems. They work similarly to central air, but are about 1/10 the size of a traditional central air system. Both require ducts, but they are small and the vents are minimally-intrusive. They are generally installed in attics/upper floors to allow cooler air to drop down. These are less disruptive, more visually-seamless options than the aforementioned cooling systems so they are better at maintaining the integrity of a home’s historic fabric, and frequently recommended by preservation contractors. Listen to our podcast with UNICO here.
There are several passive and active options for cooling your historic home. Arm yourself with knowledge before you decide what options are best for your home and your budget.
For further resources and reading:
- The EPA provides a detailed resource on energy efficiency in old homes here, and we also discuss energy efficiency here and here.
- Read about a historical landmark’s retrofitted HVAC here.
- Learn more ways people stayed cool before air conditioning here and here.
- Learn about the advent and evolution of air conditioning here.
PART 4 PRESERVATION MONTH 2020 SERIES
LAST WEEK WE PRESENTED PART 3 on the Economic Benefits of Preservation. Part 4 of this series focuses on substitute materials. “Substitute” may not be the first word that comes to mind when we think of preservation, and anyone who knows us knows that we try to preserve, maintain, and repair existing structures and features whenever possible. However, the use of substitute materials in building is not new (even George Washington used wood painted with sand to simulate stone). And, although one of the primary goals of preservation is the retention of original materials – preserve, maintain, repair, and replace is the “order of operations” according to the Secretary of the Interior – sometimes replacement is necessary when the preceding steps are no longer an option. Read on to find out more about deciding when and what substitute materials to use.
REPAIR OR REPLACE:
It is easy to think that if the look of a historical building is maintained and the appropriate types of materials are used, that the building has been successfully preserved. But preservation is not just about preserving how something looks, it is primarily focused on preserving how something is so that it remains as original as possible for future generations.
The National Park Service considers repair preferable to replacement, to save as much of the original material and historic fabric as possible.
- REPAIR. The following are some of their reasons for repair vs. replacement:
- Cost. It may be more costly in some cases to use substitute materials, depending on the situation, so using the original material (even if it is harder to find) may be more cost-effective in the long-term.
- Durability. Substitute materials are typically less durable than original materials, rendering originals far superior. Do not fall for the “maintenance free” trap.
- Skill and knowledge. If you or the person doing the work on your building are not knowledgeable about original or substitute materials and their appropriate installation, you might run into several issues that make problems worse. A typical example of this is old brick and new mortar.
If repair is not sufficient, the National Park Service reports that the purpose of replacing is to “match visually what was there and to cause no further deterioration.”
- REPLACE – The following are 4 circumstances described by NPS as warranting replacement:
- Availability of material. It can be difficult to find a good match for historic material, particularly masonry materials due to uniqueness of color and texture. Also, some material is unavailable or may take too long to arrive, in which case a good substitute should be considered.
- Availability of craftspeople. There may not be as many skilled craftspeople as there were in the past. However, there are people available, and it is important to make every effort to find someone to make the replacement as accurate as possible.
- Poor original material. Just because something is historic does not always mean it is of good quality. Some materials were poor, naturally incompatible with their building, or have inferior modern substitutes. Examples of such materials include historic soft sandstones that are prone to erosion, or poor quality modern tin coated steel roofing. These might be replaced by precast concrete and terne-coated stainless steel, respectively.
- Code-related changes. One example is buildings in earthquake zones, which are now subject to laws requiring that heavy overhanging masonry and unsecured urns be re-anchored or removed. Appropriate replacements include lighter replicas (although this may interfere with National Register status and loss of Federal tax credits for rehabilitation).
- Replacement in-kind. This is a gold-standard level of replacement, and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for treatment of historic properties indicate this is the first choice when things are damaged beyond repair (e.g., replace “marble for marble, wood for wood”). We’ve discussed this in the past as well.
- Replace with substitute materials. The National Park Service outlines the Secretary of the Interior’s points on how to address this. They suggest that if replacement in-kind is not possible, substitute materials may be considered. Circumstances warranting substitute materials include:
- Original materials have performed poorly
- No source for original materials
- Craftspersons are not available to replicate the historic element in its original material
- Current code requirements do not permit the use of the historic material.
STEPS TO REPLACEMENT:
- Is replacement necessary? The Secretary of the Interior’s standards encourage assessing if replacement is necessary (see steps outlined above in this article, as well as the replacement types).
- Assess amount/location of replacement material. The standards state that the amount and location of replacement material must be evaluated in relation to the building’s historic character – which NPS defines as a combination of its history, materials used, and degree of craftsmanship. The degree of contribution to character by the building feature in question may require a closer replacement match, compared to another building part that contributes less or is not as visible or distinctive. Excessive reliance on substitute materials is cautioned against.
- Consider appropriateness of substitute material. The standards state that the appropriateness of a particular substitute material must also be considered in regard to its appearance and other factors, such as the location of the application, and the known physical compatibility of the substitute material relative to the historic material. Substitute materials must closely match the original feature. They must also be physically and visually compatible in context of nearby features and the entire building (e.g., new mortar does not work with historic brick due to physical incompatibilities).
Although this is our final post in the PRESERVATION MONTH 2020 SERIES, we hope that you will continue to put preservation first every month hereafter. To get you started, you can find further, more in-depth information on substitute materials from the following resources:
- National Park Service’s Technical Preservation Services standards for substitute materials
- National Park Service’s Technical Preservation Services standards on building exteriors
- National Alliance of Preservation Commission’s Spring 2019 Quarterly Journal on Alternative Materials for Historic Buildings
- Our piece on choosing replacement materials
When your historical home was originally built, the process was simple. You bought some land, hired some contractors, and raised the building that met your budget and design needs. Work on an existing building was simple: you hired someone to do the work.
Today the process is a bit more complex. Work of any kind on a historical home can involve multiple government agencies who grant and oversee construction and occupancy permits and sometimes even a historical board or commission who guides the restoration process and approves any changes, the materials, and methods used to make those changes.
(Not to mention the various building codes your project is subject to and the exceptions and regulations that govern construction projects involving historical buildings!)
Of course, there are plenty of horror stories about the HYSTERICAL Review/Commission/Boards. Knowing how to navigate the process helps to eliminate the potential aggravations (having a preservation contractor or design professional does not hurt either).
Typically, any property within a historic district or conservation area must be reviewed by a Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) or historic commission (there are over 439 historic districts just in Pennsylvania).
Usually the work the historic review boards are concerned with is the exterior (visible from the street) (included but not limited to):
• Replacement of doors and windows;
• Removal, enclosure or repair of porch;
• Replacement of roof;
• Cleaning and pointing of masonry;
• Addition of a roof deck; and
• Addition to the property.
The board also reviews demolition and any new infill construction within the historic district. Contact your local municipality to see if your property is in a historic district.
Usually you need the historic commission approval before a building permit can be granted.
If you are proposing a radical change that would alter the building significantly it is recommended to consult with the Historical Commission staff before you get to far into the design process.
Simple projects (requiring repairs and replacement in kind) using the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards as guidance and usually be approved at the staff level (without the necessity to go before the entire board for an approval hearing).
More complex projects that require building plans (blueprints, specifications – usually prepared by a design professional) can also be submitted for approval at the staff level provided the proposed changes use the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards as guidance.
Projects that are less sensitive to the historic nature of the property are reviewed by the entire board (with recommendations by the staff using the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards to explain their reasoning). The entire board then debates, hears input from the community, and then votes to approve or deny the proposed changes.
If the plans are denied they can be revised based on the input from the board (and then resubmitted for approval) or the decision can be appealed to a higher level (in Lancaster City, it is the City Council).
Hopefully this demystifies the historic commission review process.