Jeffrey Marshall, the president of Heritage Conservancy in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the organization’s mission and work conserving and preserving a combination of natural and cultural heritage resources in Southeastern Pennsylvania. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Jeffrey’s background combining his lifelong loves of nature, history, and architecture with his graduate studies
  • Heritage Conservancy’s function as a non-profit organization in the Southeastern PA region, focused on dual aspects of community and cultural heritage: conservation of open spaces and natural resources and preservation of historic buildings
  • Educational outreach by Heritage Conservancy, including Jeffrey’s “Sherlock Homes” old house detective character, aiding homeowners in “investigations” of their old homes’ histories via consultation or research
  • The conservancy’s work assisting owners of old homes and buildings with applying for National Register status and obtaining conservation land easements or historic preservation easements
  • Challenges and trends in these fields, including decreased interest in conservation and preservation of local cultural heritage and greater numbers of new residents without local roots, resulting in an increased need to teach more community members why local cultural heritage is important to everyone

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

YouTube

Linkedin

General contact information

Follow their News & Events webpage or follow them on Facebook to find out about events and new projects!

The conservancy and Jeffrey believe that we are all custodians and caretakers of our collective and local cultural heritage, and it’s important for individuals to do what they can – even if you’re not in the Southeastern PA region, contact them for suggestions on taking action in your own community.

Lindsey Bennett of KIZ Resources, LLC, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the company’s tax credit transfer services. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Origins of the company – originally named for the Keystone Innovation Zone Tax Credit (KIZ) – and their focus on state and federal tax credit transfers for businesses
  • Their specialized services assisting businesses located in historic buildings to enroll in and benefit from the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program, as well as federal preservation tax credits
  • Qualifications for the preservation tax credit programs, including that the applicants must have income-producing buildings, the building must be on the National Register of Historic Places, any renovations must follow the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic rehabilitation, as well as some other stipulations
  • Other services provided, including assisting clients with selling tax credits, the Keystone Innovation Zone Tax Credit, and Neighborhood Assistance Program, among others
  • Challenges with uncertainty of state budgets, particularly given COVID-19, and Lindsey’s recommendation to business-owning constituents in Pennsylvania to reach out to legislators and encourage them to continue to support funding for tax credits

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Linkedin

General contact information

Follow them on Facebook (or contact them) to find out about seminars available to learn more!

 

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…

TRADITIONAL JOINERY  is a term we’ve all heard as a hallmark of historical millwork.  But what is it and why is it so important in preservation of historic buildings?

 


1880’s joiner shop in Germany. Image source: Wikipedia’s Entry on a Joiner

What is Traditional Joinery?

Joinery in general is the woodworking technique that joins together two pieces of wood. What a joint looks like, how strong it is, how long it will last, and other characteristics are all determined by the joining materials and how they are used in the joints. Traditional joinery techniques use only wood elements, while modern joinery techniques use fasteners, bindings, and/or adhesives. Sometimes the two techniques are combined to marry wooden elements and joints with modern adhesives.

Joinery is the woodworking technique that joins together two pieces of wood.

 

Traditional joinery uses the following joints:

Butt joint: The end of a piece of wood is butted against another piece of wood. This is the simplest, and weakest, joint in traditional joinery.

 

Miter joint: Similar to a butt joint, but both pieces have been beveled (usually at a 45 degree angle) before being joined together.

 

 

Lap joints: One piece of wood overlaps another.

 

 

Box joint (or finger joint): Several lap joints at the ends of two boards; used for the corners of boxes.

 

 

Dovetail joint: A form of box joint where the fingers are locked together by diagonal cuts.

 

 

Dado joint: A slot is cut across the grain in one piece for another piece to set into; shelves on a bookshelf having slots cut into the sides of the shelf, for example.

 

Groove joint: The slot is cut with the grain.

 

Tongue and groove: Each piece has a groove cut all along one edge, and a thin, deep ridge (the tongue) on the opposite edge. If the tongue is unattached, it is considered a spline joint.

 

Mortise and tenon: A stub (the tenon) will fit tightly into a hole cut for it (the mortise). This is a hallmark of Mission Style furniture, and also the traditional method of jointing frame and panel members in doors, windows, and cabinets.

 

Birdsmouth joint: A V-shaped cut in the rafter connecting roof rafters to the wall-plate.

 

Finger or Comb Joint: A joint used as a way of conserving timber, as a means of joining random lengths of timber to be machined to a finished piece.

 

 

Source for pictures and joint descriptions: Wikipedia’s Entry on Traditional Woodworking Joints

 

Why it’s Important in Preservation

There are many advantages to using traditional joinery in the preservation or restoration of a historic building.  

Structural Integrity. Using traditional joinery in repairs, restorations, and other preservation ensures the structural integrity of a historic building by matching existing joinery with a joinery technique that’s sure to be compatible with it.  Since traditional joinery is stronger, more durable, and expands and contracts in different ways than modern joinery, using modern joinery alongside traditional joinery can compromise the structure of a historic building.

Using modern joinery alongside traditional joinery can compromise the structure of a historic building.

Time-tested. Traditional joinery is a time-tested method that is much stronger than modern joinery and lasts for generations, even thousands of years.  The mortise and tenon joint is the most ancient traditional joint and has been found in the wooden planks of a vessel 43.6 meters long that dates to 2,500 BCE. Traditional Chinese architecture as old as Chinese civilization itself used this method for a perfect fit without using fasteners and glues.  The 30 stones of Stonehenge were also fashioned with mortise and tenon joints before they were erected between 2600 and 2400 BCE.

Traditional joinery can last thousands of years.

Durable. Proving itself to be able to stand the test of thousands of years, traditional joinery is clearly a higher quality and more stable joinery method than modern techniques.  That test of thousands of years also demonstrates traditional joinery’s ability to withstand the rigorous use we often demand of our structure’s joints because it is a higher quality, more stable joinery method than modern techniques.

Traditional joinery can withstand rigorous use.

Flexible. One of the reasons traditional joinery like mortise and tenon joints withstands the test of time so well is that it allows a joint to naturally expand and contract with moisture and temperature changes in the environment, without devastating separation that weakens the joint and causes (often irreparable) damage to the wood pieces it’s joining together.

Traditional joinery can safely adapt to changes.

Authentic. But most importantly, traditional joinery ensures authenticity in the preservation of our built history by more completely matching the existing materials and construction methods used by traditional trades. Since the traditional trade methods that originally constructed a building (along with regional variances in those methods) are a large contributor to a building’s historic fabric, this is the best way to make sure that historic fabric is not lost to our preservation efforts.  Traditional joinery also better allows for selective repair or reconstruction of individual components than modern joinery methods – a major advantage that helps preservationists retain more of the woodwork original to a historic building.

Traditional joinery maintains the historic fabric.

 

 

For further resources and reading:

PART 2 PRESERVATION MONTH 2020 SERIES

LAST WEEK WE PRESENTED PART 1 on Why Preservation Matters. Part 2 of this series focuses on preserving or saving a building. It’s one thing to read and learn about preservation, and it’s a whole other thing to actively do it. While there may be limitations as to what one can accomplish, there is also so much that grassroots efforts can achieve. As the often-repeated quote attributed to Margaret Mead goes:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Let’s assume you’ve noticed a building that needs an intervention, or someone has announced plans to develop land a historic farmhouse sits on … all is not lost. Read on to explore steps you can take to preserve a building.

Denn House, prior to restoration.

 

GUIDELINES FOR SAVING A BUILDING:

  • Manage your mindset. It’s important to note that saving a building is not easy and not always successful; therefore it is best to know this and the intensity of the process going into it so as not to set yourself up for disappointment if your attempts to save a building are ultimately unsuccessful. First, consider why the place matters to you and why it matters to others; The National Trust for Historic Preservation includes information on the philosophy of why old places matter, and tips on managing your expectations. Determining the practical reasons to save a building can strengthen your own resolve and provide practical arguments when presenting the plan to others.

 

  • Be a history detective and know the threats. It is also essential to know the history of the building, its significance, and anything that poses a threat to its preservation. That National Trust discusses steps to researching, and Wolfe House and Building Movers Guide for Saving a Historic Building also provides suggestions to determine a building’s significance and discern types of threats.

 

  • Determine the building’s future/ongoing purpose. If you have the power to help decide a building’s future or ongoing purpose, or simply want to share reasons the building could benefit the community so that others can see why it’s worth saving, Wolfe House and Building Movers’ Guide recommends determining its possible uses and proposing a plan. The previously-mentioned guide from the National Trust can assist here as well. It is likely much easier to determine the building’s purpose if you are the owner, but even if you do not own it, you can help provide suggestions. It’s also important to decide how to save the building. Wolfe’s Guide also includes information on methods for saving a building.

 

  • Be an advocate and find help. The National Trust first recommends seeking help and support and getting the word out at the grassroots level before taking it to community and government leaders. They also share other ways to spread the word, including the This Place Matters campaign. Gathering community support strengthens the stance that the building is worth something to the community, and therefore carries more weight when you finally do present the project to leadership. Once grassroots support is established, the National Trust and Wolfe’s Guide both share information on sources of assistance, including agencies and governmental organizations at the local, state, and federal levels. The National Trust also includes a list of resources for preservation. Finally, sharing past successes, such as sharing videos of other successful preservation projects, as offered here by the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, is another way to support your stance on preserving a building.

 

  • Secure funding. The National Trust and Wolfe’s Guide also both include information on how to secure funding or raise money to finance a preservation project. 

 

  • Apply for historic designation AND/OR seek to establish a preservation easement. If you determine that historic designation is an option in the case of your building, the National Trust provides information on many benefits of historic designation at local, state, and federal levels such as protection, funding, and tax credits, as well as suggestions on how to go through the process. If you have the power to do so – usually if you are the owner of the building – seek establishment of a preservation easement as well. The National Park Service discusses easements in detail, and the National Trust indicates that these can be in place in addition/act as a supplement to designations, as they use private legal rights of property owners unlike designations that act at the level of government. Easements – if designated as perpetual – are the only guarantee that the building cannot be demolished or altered significantly in the future. These terms go beyond the protections that a designation can provide. 

 

  • Amplify your reach. Preservation is local. It is also best done as part of a group of like-minded individuals, in a way that works with systems that are already in place.  If you want to ensure that buildings are saved, getting involved with your local preservation group and/or local government is the best way to make certain there is a review process before demolition is allowed to proceed.  You can check your local municipality’s zoning ordinances to  see if historic structures are addressed.

 

 

 

Next week: PART 3 OF THIS SERIES focuses on the Economic Benefits of Preservation.

PART 1 PRESERVATION MONTH 2020 SERIES

It is officially Preservation Month. In honor of this, we’ll be sharing a series of blog posts specifically related to preservation and the spirit behind it. But, what does preservation mean? And where does Preservation Month come from? As to its formal inception, the National Trust for Historic Preservation shared information last year about the establishment of May as Preservation Month. In 1972, Donald T. Sheehan first proposed a preservation week as a “means of relating local and state preservation progress to the national effort for the mutual benefits of both.” Preservation week was signed into law by President Nixon on May 5th, 1973. In 2005, the National Trust extended the celebration for the entire month of May to provide more opportunity to celebrate the nation’s heritage. However, we’ve previously discussed how the history of formal preservation efforts in the United States extends at least as far back as the 1700’s. Preservation needs have certainly changed in just the last half-century. The future of preservation is less clear, particularly given issues like climate change and COVID-19, which has triggered the National Trust for Historic Preservation to create a virtual Preservation Month for the first time in its history. In keeping with this virtual learning, read on for more of why preservation matters.


Interior of Franklin Street Station, beautifully restored and saved from decay or demolition.

WHY DOES PRESERVATION MATTER?

The best way to answer this question is by turning to the positive benefits and contributions of preservation.

Tom Mayes – attorney and preservationist at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who started a popular series of essays on Why Old Places Matter on the National Trust’s Preservation Leadership Forum and compiled those into his bookshared a photo essay highlighting the main reasons old places matter. Some of his most compelling points in the essay include that old places offer a sense of continuity in a world of constant change; they relate to our individual and collective identities; and they give one a sense of the history that occurred in that place.

These points may be seen as merely sentimental by some. However, they hold even more validity in light of practical implications, especially when contrasted with negative misconceptions about historic preservation. Rhonda Sincavage dispelled some common myths in her Ted Talk, and discussed how much of what people do on a daily basis could be construed as preservation without their even realizing it. Ken Bernstein, Principal City Planner and Manager of the City of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources, also highlighted some of the benefits that can come along with preservation, including things that are often misconstrued in a negative light. To name a few comparisons by Bernstein (and echoed by Sincavage):

  • Property Value. Instead of reducing property values, studies show that historic designation and historic districts tend to increase property values.

 

  • Diversity and Inclusivity. While we do agree that there is still much work to do in increasing preservation’s diversity, preservation has evolved to become more inclusive, and is no longer reserved for the “rich and elite.” Many buildings and neighborhoods associated with ethnic minorities and people who were not wealthy have been preserved for their social and cultural relevance.

 

  • Business Impact. Historic preservation is actually good for business in many cases, supported by heritage tourism and revitalization efforts by programs like the National Main Street Center. These programs have created jobs and contributed to economic reinvestment.

 

  • Cost. While Bernstein acknowledges that historic preservation can be quite costly at times (and regular readers of this blog and our other resources will note that Danielle frequently acknowledges that costs generally increase for skilled labor, etc.), he notes that it is typically more cost-effective than new construction. The reason is that upgrades needed are usually cheaper than building entirely new buildings.

 

  • Development Impact. Despite popular belief, preservationists are not simply trying to save everything at the cost of all new development. Their goal extends beyond pure sentiment, and focuses on saving relevant historical places in ways that work with transition and change. This is concretely evident in adaptive re-use projects that are commonly seen today.

 

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT PRESERVING?

It is often helpful to be aware of known consequences of not preserving things in order to truly see the value of preserving them in the first place – even if we already know the potential benefits of preservation. Many people are aware of the now-infamous razing of New York City’s Penn Station in the early 1960’s. This was only one of many losses in the U.S., as well as the world. Although a positive consequence of this – as pointed out by the National Trust’s former president and CEO Stephanie Meeks in an excerpt from her book – was that preservationists and preservation-minded law-makers worked together to create a movement to learn from past mistakes, create more avenues for protection via new landmark laws, and to bring greater attention to these issues. Essentially, this marked the beginning of the modern preservationist movement. Beyond these positive impacts, many lament the loss of an architectural icon and gorgeous gateway to the city, as others compare the current underground station as somewhat deplorable in comparison to the old one in terms of functionality. In this and other cases around the U.S., we not only lose buildings that cannot be replaced, but also historical information, and even a sense of identity for people who live in the community associated with these buildings. Expanding our scope outside of the U.S., we can examine the extent of losses involved for everyone in world heritage sites (you can read more here, here, and here). No matter the cause, whether due to profit, bids for “progress,” war and terrorism, or environmental damage caused by humans, any type of lost heritage can be devastating to human communities. Stephanie Meeks underscored the value of preserving our built and cultural history in her speech at the Saving Places Conference in Denver, Colorado, in 2011. In responding to an oft-repeated question as to why someone should consider donation to historic preservation in the same way they would to food banks and homeless shelters, she asserted: 

“Preservation matters for the same reason those other causes matter—because it addresses a very fundamental need. Of course, food and shelter are the most basic needs. No one would argue with that. But just above them on Maslow’s hierarchy, and nearly as fundamental to our survival, is community. Preservation speaks directly to that need. It binds us to one another and to the past.”

This is why preservation matters and why we do what we do. 

Next week: PART 2 OF THIS SERIES focuses on How to Preserve a Building.

Rabbit Goody, owner, designer, and master weaver of Thistle Hill Weavers, joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss information about her background in weaving, and museum curation and consultation. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • Rabbit’s interwoven skill-sets and background, starting with her intuitive skills as a teen-aged weaver, and her academic backgrounds in anthropology and museum curation and consultation
  • The inception of Thistle Hill Weavers, including saving discarded weaving machines from old mills
  • Products and services, ranging from interior fabrics for architectural firms to clothing fabric for sustainable clothing designers, as well as personal projects for private homeowners
  • The process involved in commissioning fabrics from Thistle Hill Weavers
  • Notable projects, from interior fabrics in the homes of deceased presidents to historically-accurate fabric in movies 
  • Tips for homeowners to follow their own style with interior design

 

Contact/Follow:

Phone – toll free (866) 384-2729

Emailwebsite contact form 

Website

Facebook

YouTube

Instagram

From the online shop, Rabbit recommends: Window treatment book, on sale (here), or the fabric sample pack, which includes 3 samples of every type of fabric (here). 

 

Patricia Cove, of Architectural Interiors and Design, joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss information about her background in interior design and her company’s specialization in renovation, restoration, and adaptive re-use. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • How she evolved in her career, beginning as an English teacher, and moving on to follow her passion in historic preservation and interior design
  • The period-defining elements of historic interiors (and exteriors) that reveal a building’s history
  • How adaptive re-use of historic buildings can be completed to meet today’s living needs without sacrificing architectural elements integral to a building’s historic fabric
  • Challenges and trends in the industry, including developers’ or “flippers'” tendency to focus on gutting historical interiors assuming potential buyers don’t want historic character on the inside (often resulting in those buildings sitting longer on the market)
  • The activist/educational aspects of her work, as she encourages developers and owners to preserve interiors as well as exteriors, given limited protections for interiors of homes
  • The qualitative and geographic scope of her business, as well as contact information and offerings (listed below)

 

Contact/Follow:

Phone – (215) 248-3219

Email[email protected]

Website

Patricia’s twice-monthly columns on all aspects of interior design in Chestnut Hill Local (here)

Patricia also offers periodic zoom videos via her website, discussing interior design 

You can also read our previous interiors blog post (here) referencing one of Patricia’s columns (here)

 

Craig Meyer, of the UNICO System, joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss information about the company’s history and current business in HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • His background in marketing, business development, and engineering
  • UNICO’s inception as a family-owned contracting business and American success-story with more than 35 years of experience 
  • UNICO system’s American-made and unique products, and “focus on fit, form, finish, function, and innovation”
  • Challenges of and solutions for retrofitting HVAC into historical buildings, including many on the National Register of Historic Places
  • Tips for historical and other homeowners, as well as how to contact the UNICO system for a consultation – find a local contractor here

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Linkedin

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

YouTube

Choosing a contractor with the right mix of skills and experience to work on your historical building can be a daunting experience.  Especially considering the potential for permanent damage to the historical fabric of your building, you need to select a contractor who: is well-versed in historical products and materials; can identify and replicate the traditional trade approaches and techniques that create your building’s unique characteristics; understands the modern review, permitting, and approval process for historical buildings with applicable government agencies, historical boards, and commissions; and values preservation of our built history as much as you do.

Many of you have likely had work completed on your historical home or building. Consequently, many of you have also likely felt the impact of labor shortages in the construction industry. This article focuses on the skilled labor shortages and how they affect your project. The skilled labor shortage in the trades has been a major concern for over a decade, particularly since the global financial crisis of 2008. In March 2019, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) described the shortage – based on a survey of its members – like this: 

“More than four out of five builders expect to face serious challenges regarding the cost and availability of labor in 2019 … Just 13% of builders cited labor issues as an important concern in 2011, with the rate steadily rising over the ensuing years and peaking at 82% in each of the last three years (2017–2019).” [NAHBNow]

The number of shortages vary based on skill-specific trades, but broad shortages are higher in recent years. This presents a conundrum to leaders in the construction industry, but also to you, the homeowners. We have attempted to outline the breadth of the issues as well as possible solutions and strategies to cope, both from a societal stand-point and an individual homeowner perspective.

If you aren’t interested in how we got here, specific action items for hiring a contractor and dealing with the labor shortage are here

 

 

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WHY IS THERE A SHORTAGE OF SKILLED LABOR?

We already know that there is a shortage of skilled labor in the construction industry. The question is: How did we get here?

  • Historical contributions. Clayton DeKorne provides a detailed overview of some of the likely factors that contributed to the shortage. For example, he noted that in early America, especially prior to the Revolution, the predominant view of skilled laborers in the construction field was a venerable one, and these craftsman enjoyed involvement in a cooperative community of workers, as well as esteem by and support from society at large. A prime example of this, as noted by DeKorne, is The Carpenter’s Company, the oldest trade guild in America. It held its first meetings in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, right among major centers for government and business. The building and the guild both hosted and provided for government and business in substantial ways. As time passed, the predominant views in America about construction and skilled labor culminated in Charles Ham’s book, Mind and Hand, which viewed industrial arts as a necessary precursor to children’s moral and intellectual development, rather than simply vocational training. DeKorne reports that another characteristic of these historical time periods was that traditional craftsman often passed skills on to their children, maintaining and ensuring traditional skills through the generations. However, as innovations in technology emerged, including “retail product manufacturing,” the need for skilled craftsman declined as the press for manufacturing workers increased. This included the children and youth who previously learned trades alongside their parents. But by 1917, child labor was increasingly frowned upon. The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 was a federal law passed with the intention of education reform, triggered in large part by concerns related to ethical issues and lack of safety for children in the workforce. DeKorne notes this Act, while beneficial in limiting child labor, was a driving force behind the fall of vocational education in America. Although this bill provided significant federal funding to educational avenues, including vocational education, it set into motion policies and practices that eventually resulted in a distinct separation between college-prep and vocational education, the educational tracks we see to this day. The unforeseen and possibly unintended consequences of this have been a class or social divide, or at least a perception of one, that is still present.

 

  • Recent issues. McKinsey and Company wrote an article that reports that there was a 70% decrease in new housing projects from 2009-2011, resulting in many in the construction industry leaving the workforce, following the 2008 recession. In the years since, the demand for skilled laborers in the construction industry has significantly increased as construction needs have increased. However, workers are not filling those gaps.  DeKorne and homeadvisor.com conclude that a large part of the growing shortage is because of younger generations’ negative perceptions of the industry, including deeply-held beliefs that trade skills are associated with a lower or under-served-class of people. They have held onto the belief that a 4-year degree or college is more respectable, per the standards developed by the educational system throughout most of the twentieth century (noted earlier), and schools have phased out vocational programs and encouraged students to focus on college, perpetuating the idea that it is somehow better. This also reduces students’ exposure to the construction field as a potential option. Many of these people are more interested in innovative, technological careers. These problems are compounded by aging workers retiring from the field. 

 

HOW CAN WE ADDRESS THE SHORTAGE?

There are several things that experts suggest that leaders and professionals in the educational, vocational, and construction fields do, as well as suggestions for homeowners like you.

  • For professionals. Homeadvisor.com proposes that professionals make the most of the maker movement and foster people’s interest by offering alternatives to a 4-year-degree, harness their motivation to be entrepreneurs (since many surveyed indicate owning a business is a big motivator, and create mentorships and apprenticeships.  They also recommend labor automation, hiring temps, using overtime with current staff, and expanding hours of staff availability.

 

  • For homeowners. If you read most of this article prior to this section, or if you’re already abreast of the issues of labor shortage in the industry, you might be feeling discouraged as to any possible immediate solutions. However, we have compiled a list of things that you can do as a homeowner to navigate this issue, from our experience and that of other sources (Homeadvisor.com, thisoldhouse.com, Jon Gorey at realestate.boston.com, Marni Jameson of The Mercury News, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation).   
    • SCHEDULE IN ADVANCE – call before problems happen so you are more likely to get things addressed when they are problematic. This also builds rapport with contractors and laborers.  
      • HAVE A MAINTENANCE PLAN – find examples and ideas here
      • BE FLEXIBLE – Due to uncontrollable aspects of the current circumstances, it’s best to accept them as they are and be flexible with them. You can do this by allowing more time for projects to be completed, considering simplifying your projects, or moving your own schedule around to match that of contractors’ schedules. Also remember that subcontractors often prefer to work with general contractors or well-known companies, so they may not consider small home projects to be a priority. Consider contacting someone you have an existing relationship with for smaller projects, or a handyman service that specializes in smaller projects.
      • BE AWARE OF COST – The reality is that this shortage will impact the cost of your project. As the demand for highly skilled workers increases (especially for workers who have specialized skills in restoration/preservation rather than general remodeling) and the supply of highly skilled workers decreases, the demand on these contractors and workers also increases (usually beyond capacity) which will drive up the costs. 
      • HAVE A LIST OF PROS – Create a list of people with whom you build relationships. If they know you are a reliable customer, you are more likely to find them to be reliable professionals. They may be more likely to be flexible with you compared to unfamiliar, possibly demanding customers. 
      • DEFER TO A NATIONAL ASSOCIATION – NAHB and the National Association for the Remodeling Industry have pro-finder tools that will help you discover professionals in your area. Ensure that the contractors have experience in historical restoration and/or preservation.
      • DO YOUR OWN BACKGROUND CHECKS – High demand in a limited labor market is a breeding ground for less-than-satisfactory work from certain contractors, who may take advantage of the situation and be less reliable because they feel they have the freedom to do so. Also, many contractors are desperate for subcontractors and no longer requiring screenings, allowing this to fall to the homeowner. Make sure they are a licensed contractor, ask for proof of insurance, call references, and check out websites like court records to make sure no suits or complaints are filed against them. Particularly, make sure they do not have numerous claims against them regarding workmanship or breach of contract.
      • DON’T SETTLE – Although this checklist may seem daunting, don’t settle for sub-par work or possibly unsavory workers, despite all of the seeming barriers. 

IN SUMMARY: 

Unfortunately, even choosing a reputable contractor is not always the solution you would assume it would be and much onus is put on the homeowner or property owner as a result. Recently, I saw a job posting for a large, well-established contractor advertising 3 positions: construction site manager, field superintendent, and entry-level field assistant. The fact that they have the 3 levels of position available does not surprise me. What shocked me was the fact that they were advertising that they do NOT complete or require drug screens or background checks. I can tell from personal experience  that the number of applicants dramatically decreases when you add those qualifiers to the help-wanted ad. This concerns me not only from a safety standpoint, but also from a customer service angle. Someone who is abusing drugs will not be reliable (drug abuse is a huge problem in the construction industry). Just having a body show up is not the same as someone who is there to work (not to mention the liability implications). I am not opposed to second chances in regard to background checks; depending on the circumstances I would consider hiring someone with a blemish on their record, but I would want to know about it and evaluate it from a risk-assessment standpoint. As some contractors are lowering their standards to hire workers, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the labor force and the type of screening that is completed. 

In addition, you can hire for speed, cost, or quality choosing 2 of the 3 priorities, but the 3 cannot be accomplished on the same project. One question we are often asked is: what is the best way to find a reliable skilled contractor who won’t be too expensive? My answer is: It is hard to find an inexpensive skilled carpenter because the cost of labor goes up as skills are learned, and you are paying for the knowledge that has been previously acquired so they are not making expensive mistakes on your property. As a strategy, I would look at what work is unskilled/semi-skilled (it typically follows the 80/20 rule for window restoration, for example). With minimal training, you can either self-perform or pay a college student to do the unskilled work, bringing the skilled carpenter in for the repair work without having to pay a high hourly rate for the unskilled portion of the project. 

Ultimately, there is a lot required of you as a homeowner to find the right contractor and skilled laborers, but it will be worth it in the end.