Well, it’s that time of year again. The weather is warming up a bit as we move into the Spring Season. In the 19th century, before vacuums came into common use, early spring was a time to open windows and sweep homes from “top to bottom” to herald the coming of warmer weather. Your spring maintenance projects can be handled the same way – from roof to foundation. Given that many of you are likely restricted to your homes during the crisis related to the Coronavirus, it might be helpful to think about maintenance as a means to manage boredom and anxiety until some normalcy returns. Afterall, maintenance is preservation for the long haul. Read on for our overview of the benefits of maintenance.

Photo from the National Park Service’s guidelines for maintenance of historic buildings.

 

WHY IS MAINTENANCE IMPORTANT?

I know you have heard us talk a lot about maintenance over the years if you have followed us for any period of time (certainly if you read our blog post on painting your home’s exterior from last week), but we cannot emphasize its importance enough, especially for owners of historical homes: MAINTENANCE IS PRESERVATION. To drive this point home, preservation is defined by the Secretary of the Interior’s standards as:

“to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of an historic property.”

Preservation is also the first step of “intervention” based on the Secretary of Interior’s standards and guidelines. Having a maintenance plan helps to preserve the building, slows the natural deterioration cycle, and helps maintain a budget of planned projects rather than major emergency projects (that can cause hasty decisions to be made that may permanently damage the structure).

 

INITIATE YOUR MAINTENANCE PLAN

You can begin to develop your maintenance plan and schedule by following the checklists in the National Park Service’s Preservation Brief No. 47 “Maintaining the Exterior of Small and Medium Size Historic Buildings.” The goal of the checklist is to ensure that the structure is sound and that water is kept out of the building. Having a regular routine looking at the exterior of the building – during a light rain or after a freeze – can help to determine where the water is coming in and can highlight problems that might otherwise go unnoticed.

 

REPAIR vs. REPLACEMENT

Once the maintenance plan is made, the decision to repair building components that have begun to deteriorate is an important preservation decision. Repairing rather than replacing helps to retain more of the historic fabric of the building (an important preservation goal). As we’ve noted in the past, and as the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Rehabilitation recommends, replacement in kind  is preferable. Replacement in kind means to replace with materials that are the same as what you are replacing: wood for wood, stone for stone, etc. There is a little bit of wiggle room for “compatible substitute material,” such as epoxy. We choose replacement over repair in cases where 50% or more of something is deteriorated, based on guidelines. However, this is a judgment call as there is no hard or fast rule for this. Usually someone who does not work on older buildings or someone that has a replacement mindset will set this bar much lower. Another factor in replacement in kind is the material selection. For example, old-growth wood is much more rot resistant and durable than the second-growth wood available now. We typically use a tropical hardwood or salvaged wood (from an architectural salvage dealer) to ensure that the replacement wood is going to be durable. Make sure the wood components are solid wood, not finger jointed (finger jointing is the process of making smaller wood lengths into longer pieces – most trim and modern window and door frames are finger jointed). This allows water more access points into the wood. And, because modern finger-jointed wood is (usually) inferior second growth pine the deterioration process is accelerated. Ensure that all replacement wood is treated with a preservative (like BoraCare) and prime-coated with an oil-based primer on all sides. If you are using epoxy repair (which we do for smaller repairs and non-wood repairs such as metal and masonry) make sure you remove ALL rotten wood, use consolidant, and then the wood fill epoxy. Most epoxies can be sanded, molded (if necessary), and then finish painted.

 

THE “MAINTENANCE FREE” TRAP

Many of you have likely seen ads for maintenance free products for your home, promising you that you will gain a lot of time by installing their product on your building. Sadly, many maintenance free products are maintenance free because when it comes time to maintain them you just replace it for the new version of the product. This may save time, but it also keeps you stuck in the cycle of replacement: continually buying replacements to keep the product manufacturers in business. Meanwhile, traditional materials are “greener” and more cost-effective in the long run because they are repairable. Cost and eco-friendliness aside, there are other issues with maintenance free products in older buildings. The National Park service’s Preservation Brief No. 47 “Maintaining the Exteriors of Small and Medium Size Historic Buildings” offers the following cautionary notice for historical building owners:

“It is enticing to read about ‘maintenance free’ products and systems, particularly water-proof sealers, rubberized paints, and synthetic siding, but there is no such thing as maintenance free when it comes to caring for historic buildings. Some approaches that initially seem to reduce maintenance requirements may overtime actually accelerate deterioration.”

Often times, we will see water and moisture trapped behind these maintenance free products causing rot that is unseen until replacement is necessary.

 

FURTHER RESOURCES:

  • Links to our Facebook live video series from last year regarding maintenance of your historical home.

 

  • Link to our Podcast from last year with more answers to older home maintenance questions posed by our listeners. The podcast included discussion of water infiltration through masonry walls, paint-related questions, as well as wood repair and preservation.

This week on the Practical Preservation podcast Jonathan and Danielle answer the older home maintenance questions posed by our listeners.

  • Water infiltration through masonry walls – how it is getting in to the building and damaging the mortar, options to stop storm water, and why is your plaster crumbing
  • Paint – preparation is key, lead paint precautions, traditional paint options: mineral silicate paints, lime washes, milk paint, and oil-based paints
  • Wood repair and preservation – solid wood Dutchman repairs and consolidant/epoxy systems

We enjoyed helping our listeners with their burning questions. Let us know if you have any questions you would like answered on a future Practical Preservation podcast.

Spring is finally here, and it’s time to look around your house to see if winter weather has taken its toll. We’ll soon be firing up our grills and relaxing with friends and family. But, before you can do that, there’s much work to be done.

In the 19th century, before vacuums came into common use, early spring was a time to open windows and sweep homes from “top to bottom” to herald the coming of warmer weather. Your spring maintenance projects can be handled the same way – from roof to foundation.

So, let’s take a walk around your property to make a detailed list of needed repairs. Here are ten useful tips to get your house ready for spring:

  1. Inspect your roof. Harsh winter weather can cause roof shingles to become lost or damaged. Shingles that are cracked, buckled, loose or missing granules must be replaced. A qualified roofer should check and repair flashing around plumbing vents, skylights and chimneys.
  2. Examine your chimney. Look for signs of exterior damage and replace any loose or missing bricks. Have the flue cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney sweep.
  3. Check for loose, leaky or clogged gutters. Clear leaves, sticks, muck and other debris by flushing the gutters with water. Contact a professional gutter cleaner if you are unable to do so yourself. Improper drainage can lead to water in the basement or crawl space. Make sure downspouts are also free of debris and that they drain away from the foundation.
  4. Look for loose or damaged siding. Once you have assessed the need for repairs, spring is also a good time to clean your siding with soap and water from a garden hose.
  5. Fill low areas in your yard with compacted soil. This is especially true near the house. Spring rains can cause flooding, which can lead to foundation damage. Pay attention to puddles of water in your yard. When water pools in these low areas, it creates a breeding ground for insects like mosquitoes.
  6. Check outside faucets. Freezing temperatures can do damage to plumbing; this is especially true for outdoor fixtures. Before hooking up the hose to water your flowerbeds, turn the water on and place your thumb or finger over the opening of the faucet. If you can stop the flow of water the pipe inside your home may be damaged. Contact a professional plumber if you aren’t comfortable with replacing the pipe yourself. While we’re on the subject of watering flowers, check the garden hose for dry rot.
  7. Clean and service your air conditioner system. Hire a qualified heating and cooling contractor to clean the coils and check for damage to the ourside unit. Scheduling an annual service call is recommended to keep the system functioning efficiently. Changing interior filters on a regular basis can also extend the life of your air conditioning system. Also, be sure to vacuum out your floor registers.
  8. Inspect the water heater. Water heaters work twice as hard during the winter to make your home a warm and comfortable environment. After all that hard work, water heaters can accumulate rust or develop leaks. To make sure your water heater is at its top performance for spring, check for signs of leaks or corrosion.
  9. Repair wood trim. Inspect windows, doors, railings and decks now before spring rains do more damage to exposed wood.
  10. Months of exposure to rain, snow and freezing temperatures can do just as much damage to your child’s playground equipment as it can your home. Ensure all outdoor toys are safe by tightening bolts, removing splinters and sharp edges and cleaning off any mold or animal droppings.

 

Maintenance Plans for Historic Home & Buildings

Recently we completed a maintenance appraisal for the Trinity Church Oxford in Philadelphia.  The church purchased the appraisal to evaluate several key areas they knew needed immediate attention and ended up with not only our recommendations for remediating the emergent needs on their buildings – but a five-year plan for fixing other maintenance needs that were threats looming on the horizon.  Below is the process of how that maintenance appraisal and long-term plan were developed.

historic preservation contractors, historic restoration contractors, historic preservation, historic restorations, maintenance of historic buildings, historic home maintenance

The church purchased our Tier 2 Maintenance Appraisal and scheduled an appointment for us to perform the appraisal.

Chuck and Lois spent a morning evaluating three separate buildings on the church property – the Gathering Hall, the Church, and the Rectory/Archive building.

During that appointment,  Chuck and Lois recorded a detailed assessment and made thorough documentation of the current condition of the roofing, windows and doors, foundation, exterior walls and woodwork, interior features, projections, etc.

historic preservation contractors, historic restoration contractors, historic preservation, historic restorations, maintenance of historic buildings, historic home maintenance

Back at the office, Chuck reviewed all of the maintenance needs he and Lois had documented to compile an itemized list of specific repair work that needed to be done on the building to make sure it wasn’t deteriorating any further.

Next he prioritized which needs were immediate (needing repair in the next 1-2 years), which needs were intermediate (needing repair in the next 3-5 years), and which needs were long-term (needing repair in 5+ years) for each of the areas they evaluate.

The 18-page report was then submitted to the Trinity Church Oxford.

After the Church reviewed our report and worked with Chuck to determine which maintenance needs they could address within their budget, they contracted with us to perform the work.

historic 2

Is your historical building deteriorating?  

Do you need a maintenance plan for your historic home?  

Find out in these four easy steps:

#1: Contact us to decide which maintenance plan tier is best for your building

#2: Purchase the maintenance appraisal

#3: Schedule the maintenance appraisal appointment

#4: Sit back and have a cup of tea while we work our magic and get you’re your report!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maintenance plans are not just important to your historical building, they are absolutely essential if you want to preserve its architectural integrity for future generations to experience and appreciate.

The first step in developing a maintenance plan is having a thorough maintenance appraisal done to evaluate your building beyond the usual brief inspection of a spot or two that many contractors make. These appraisals provide the information needed to develop a maintenance plan specific to your building’s needs.

Maintenance Brochure - inside with bleed

Tier One……..$497

On-site evaluation of property
(Within 90 miles of Lancaster, PA)

Evaluate basic maintenance needs and conditions

Roof (including structure)
Flashing, gutters, downspouts

Any decorative elements
Chimney and/or parapet

Windows & Doors

Foundation
Water infiltration, moisture issues

Structural integrity

Exterior Woodwork Features
Porches, stairs, railings, cornices, brackets, etc.

Exterior Masonry and /or Wood Walls
Condition

Structural Integrity

Written report with recommendations for a Five Year Maintenance Plan
(Pricing included for each recommendation based on the day of the evaluation and is subject to change.)

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Tier Two……..$949

All Tier One features

(8) Eight hours of labor to correct any immediate maintenance issues.
(Material is not included and is provided at cost.)

Written report with recommendations for a Five Year Maintenance Plan
(Pricing included for each recommendation based on the day of the evaluation and is subject to change.)

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Tier Three…$2,149

All Tier One features

(16) Sixteen hours of labor to correct any immediate maintenance issues.
(Material is not included and is provided at cost.)

Comprehensive energy audit by Pure Energy Audits
Pure Energy Audits is historically sensitive and will provide you with an accurate energy audit.  They are not replacement product salespeople tailoring their audit to sell you what they promote.

Comprehensive diagnostic testing includes:
Blower door air leakage testing

Thermal image scanning to detect insulation voids and air leakage
Combustion safety testing of all appliances
System efficiency testing
Moisture and durability analysis
Utility usage analysis

Post-audit reporting includes:
Energy audit analysis report

Prioritized list of retro fit recommendations

Written report with recommendations for a Five Year Maintenance Plan
(Pricing included for each recommendation based on the day of the evaluation and is subject to change.)

 

 

 

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Taken from the Historic Wood Windows tip sheet from the National Trust for Historic Preservation – maintenance is important for all areas of a building to help insure that it will continue to perform without costly repairs. Preservation is maintenance and it is a lot less expensive than replacement.

Four Wood Window Maintenance Tips:
1. Keep exterior surfaces painted (keeping the water out of the wood);
2. Repair glaze – reglaze entire window as needed;
3. Don’t paint the window shut – so that it can operate as intended; and
4. Don’t paint the sash cord.

For more information read “The Repair of Historic Wooden Windows” Preservation Brief Series #9 – www.cr.nps.gov/hps/tps/briefs/brief09.htm

Preservation is retaining what is existing – this can be achieved through regular maintenance activities – saving thousands in potential cost. Once something is lost it is very expensive to recreate it.

The Business Section of the May 20th Intelligencer Journal had an article titled ‘Five home repairs not to postpone’ under the Investors Guide – the point of the article was to encourage small maintenance and repairs before they become big expensive problems. The five tips are valuable so I am passing them along:

1. Storm Water Management – maintain gutters, downspouts, and leader pipes (get the water away from the building, clean out gutters, make sure the soil slopes away from the building)
2. Roof and Siding – check flashing around roof penetrations and siding around door and window openings for leaks
3. Using caulk to seal gaps around pipes and ducts in attic can help insulate and prevent damming – notice I said caulk and not spray foam.
4. Pest infestations – wood eating pests love moist soil and rotting wood
5. Mold and Mildew – check under carpets, under windows, and behind plate covers for mold you might not see
6. Foundation Cracks – 1/4″ or more may be a problem – monitor all cracks for movement – if the building continues to move it is time for a consultation with a structural engineer.

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.

 

The Rosetta Stone – the ultimate translator. Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

 

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…

THE SAFETY AND SECURITY OF YOUR HISTORIC HOME is a crucial component of protecting you, your home, and possessions. Today’s blog post includes typical topics related to safety and security, and how to ensure that your home is protected. 

2 safety issues: peeling paint that is probably lead-based, and worn, slippery stairs.
Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

 

Lead Paint. Lead paint has been used heavily since the 1700s through the late 1970s (mostly any house built pre-1978 is of concern – unless it has been abated). Health risks of lead exposure – a potent neurotoxin – are well-known, and include brain and nervous system damage, hearing and vision loss, impaired development in children, among other things. Follow the steps below to appropriately manage your lead paint: 

  • If you are unsure if your home still has lead paint, pick up a DIY test kit at a hardware or home improvement store.

  • If you know that the lead paint has not been abated, you can still safely live with it if it is undisturbed, as long as it is well adhered. In such cases, it is helpful to encapsulate it under a latex primer and topcoat. Preventing paint failure this way is the most cost-effective method.
  • If you plan on updating the paint, follow safety guidelines, including these:
    • Prioritize safety over speed of removal – people who have opted for speedy techniques have been injured by toxic lead vapors or dust from the paint they were trying to remove, and this dust created by removal is the most common route of exposure to lead. We recommend chemical paint strippers (reduces exposure to lead dust) or SpeedHeaters (an infrared paint stripper with an operating temperature lower than the vaporizing point of lead, that only heats the surface vs. going in between or under work areas, decreasing chance of fire). These methods are less likely to cause injury to person or to the historic fabric underneath than other – including abrasive/aggressive – methods. 
  • If you feel you need professional assistance, hire a qualified contractor who has EPA RRP (renovation, repair, and painting) certification.
    • However, we acknowledge that hiring a professional to strip paint is expensive because it is labor-intensive. Use the 80/20 rule: 80% of work is unskilled or semi-skilled, 20% is skilled. If you do some of the unskilled/semi-skilled work yourself, you can save money and some of the historic fabric. For example, instead of assuming you must remove an entire piece of historic fabric because it is covered in lead paint, such as a built-in, consider taking time to do some of the work, then hire a contractor for the parts that are out of your wheelhouse.  
  • Further resources include the EPA’s website information on lead, here.

Asbestos. Asbestos has been used as a relatively inexpensive and effective fire-retardant material and insulator, and was highly popular between the early 1940s through the 1970s. Unfortunately, this is also harmful if the material is damaged or disturbed it is likely to be harmful, as tiny abrasive fibers are easily inhaled. Prolonged exposure can lead to lung disease or cancer. Signs of damage include crumbling easily, or if it has knowingly been sawed, scraped, or sanded.

  • If undisturbed, it does not pose a threat, so the best tactic is to leave it undisturbed. This is generally the only step you can safely DIY; damage or disturbance requires professional intervention.
  • If you are unsure if it has been damaged or disturbed, have it inspected by an industrial hygiene firm.
  • If the inspection confirms that it needs to be addressed, contact an asbestos abatement contractor.
  • The EPA also has information on managing asbestos, here.

Porches, Balconies, Railings, Steps. These areas pose several potential safety issues, especially when exposed to the elements. They function not only as safety features but also as highly visible decorative elements, according to the National Park Service (NPS). Depending on when they were built, they may have less protection from and be more susceptible to insect damage. A damaged or missing porch apron can allow moisture or animals under a porch, leading to problems of a weak and unstable foundation, and bio-hazards. Also, limited maintenance or mere ageing may lead to unsound areas for walking, increasing the chance of people slipping and falling. It is important to check for obvious signs of damage or danger, including rotting, broken or loose features, bite marks, cracks, mold and mildew, uneven level, and unusual sounds or give when weight is applied. 

  • If you determine there is damage, depending on the type and severity, you can attempt to rectify it yourself utilizing information from NPS and our many blog posts on porches (here). First and foremost, keep in mind that preservation of as many elements as possible is always the first line of defense, before considering replacement. 
  • A simple fix for step surfaces exposed to moisture (and therefore posing increased slippage) as suggested by NPS is to add grit to the wet paint during application.
  • If you determine animals or insects are present, you may consult your homeowners insurance in finding exterminators or a professional pest removal company. For mold and mildew removal, wear protective gear and cleaning standards as recommended by the EPA, here
  • Hire a qualified contractor for more complex needs.

Structural Problems. This is very similar to the above topic, but may also include entire foundations, walls, and roofing support. It should go without saying, but structural problems are an entire-house problem. But, they also are generally salvageable and should not be considered a lost-cause. It’s important to be aware of and look for common causes or signs of structural problems, including overgrown vegetation, house features leaking water or other sources of too much water like flooding or springs, damaged or missing roof tiles, and cracks or bulges in walls, uneven or difficult-to-open or close windows and doors, as well as sagging, bowing, cracked, or sloping floors. 

  • If plants are the problem, simple actions such as pruning crowns and roots of the plants can help prevent further issues
  • Depending on the type of water damage, you may need to replace roof tiles, or clean gutters and pipes
  • Utilizing general facade maintenance, such as the methods suggested by NPS or our blog (here) can help guide you
  • Many problems will likely require hiring a structural engineer

Fire. Fire is a major threat to historic homes, and permanently changes the historic fabric, if the building survives. The biggest risk of fire is actually during restoration, when tools can overheat, chemicals can mix together, etc. Along with fire comes smoke and water damage. 

  • Do a cursory inspection for potential fire hazards.
  • Plan an escape route.
  • Keep fire alarms and fire extinguishers throughout the home, and escape ladders in upper floor rooms. Sprinklers can be a great addition if your budget can afford them, as the new systems are designed to do less damage to historic fabric on installation, and certain systems are specifically designed to suffocate a fire without damage to historic fabric. 
  • Keep important items and documents in a fire-proof safe.
  • Be especially careful during the holidays, when holiday lights and extension cords pose major threats.
  • If smokers are present, set limits on when and how smoking can occur, if at all, on the property.
  • Inspect chimneys for damage and keep them clean.
  • Inspect wiring. Knob and tube wiring can be functional, if in good condition and if they are not overloaded. However, if something needs to be updated and we recommend upgrading electrical panels from fuses to circuit breakers.
  • Ensure that contractors and other workers follow strict safety guidelines to prevent fires.

Security. Security is a concern in every home, and there are several things you can consider for your historic home.

  • Consider having layers of protection, the first layer being physical security. This should include deadlocks and bolts, preferably low-profile so as not to interfere with the historic fabric. Windows should be maintained, including their locks. If your home still has functioning historic shutters, these can add additional protection. This may also include historically-accurate walls, fencing, and gates. 
  • Another layer may include electric alarms and detection. Wireless alarm and camera systems are preferable for historic homes to decrease damage to historic fabric.