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). 

 

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.
Paint is probably on a lot of homeowner’s minds right now (and if you listened to last week’s podcast you have definitely thought about it). With the warmer weather allowing us to step outside and breathe fresh air, we’re also afforded the opportunity to see what the weather and time have done to the outside of our homes. Updating the paint on your home’s exterior might be an obvious need, and is a task best completed when temperatures are mild and not too humid. Spring is a good time to plan and prep for that, so read on for pointers on painting your historical home.

Photo by David Pisnoy on Unsplash

Painting a historical home can be quite a challenge. Proper preparation, risk of damage, quality and cost, safety, color choices, and maintaining it all must be considered. Read on for tips to navigate this process.

________________________________________________________________________

TIPS FOR PAINTING YOUR HISTORICAL HOME

  • Preparation. One of the key elements to a successful, long-lasting project is the surface preparation. For the different types of paint that may already be on your building, each has its own preparation requirements. If you are not sure what type of paint is on your building, you can consult a qualified contractor  to obtain a paint analysis, providing you with both the chemical and color makeup of your existing paint. Determine if paint is failing, and possible causes – moisture is usually the reason paint is failing. Once you have addressed the underlying cause, you can move on to preparing the surface for the paint. Make sure that the surface is clean and free of loose paint (you can remove the paint completely, but this is not always necessary to get to a sound surface). Never use abrasive methods (see next bullet regarding damage avoidance below) to remove paint. Listen to one of our previous podcasts for tips on one option to safely strip paint. After the paint is removed and the surface is cleaned, make sure that the wood has a chance to dry out before the prime coat is added. If the wood is very dry (e.g., the paint has peeled off and it has been allowed to weather with no coating) you can pre-treat with 50% boiled linseed oil and 50% turpentine prior to the oil-based prime coat. Using good lead-safe habits is important for any building pre-1978 (we assume it has lead paint unless it has been abated)

 

Because paint removal is a difficult and painstaking process, a number of costly, regrettable experiences have occurred – and continue to occur – for both the historic building and the building owner. Historic buildings have been set on fire with blow torches; wood irreversibly scarred by sandblasting or by harsh mechanical devices, such as rotary sanders and rotary wire strippers; and layers of historic paint inadvertently and unnecessarily removed. In addition, property owners using techniques that substitute speed for safety have been injured by toxic lead vapors or dust from the paint they were trying to remove, or the misuse of the paint removers themselves.

Being too aggressive with paint removal can damage the historical materials. Never use abrasive methods, mostly because of the public safety and lead paint, but also the potential to damage the wood. Using heat can also be dangerous. Open flame torches and even heat guns can cause a fire to start. There are infrared systems that do not get as hot as heat guns, if you wanted an option beyond chemical strippers.

 

  • Quality and Cost. The temptation to save money by using cheap paint can be alluring. Many contractors, and even homeowners, mistakenly think that paint choices need only match historical colors, but this is not so. The old adage “you get what you pay for” is particularly true for your paint. Investing in quality paint will save you money in the long run. For a limited time, The Real Milk Paint Co. is offering a “3 FOR FREE” deal; Buy 3 samples of product of your choice for $3.50 each, and they get shipped to you for free.

 

  • Safety and Handling Lead Paint. The health risks of lead exposure are well known – brain and nervous system damage, hearing and vision loss, impaired development of children, etc. But, did you know that lead in dust – such as the dust created while sanding and prepping surfaces for new paint – is the most common route of exposure to lead? To avoid these risks, choose a contractor who is “Renovation, Repair, and Painting” certified by the EPA for lead paint handling. There is also general information from EPA for homeowners. 

 

 

  • Maintenance. The National Park Service’s Preservation Briefs No. 47 on Maintaining the Exterior of Small and Medium Size Historic Buildings indicates that exteriors of the home should be inspected at least annually to determine if paint should be repaired, otherwise corrected, or exteriors need re-painted. You can also view our video on general maintenance plans and paint maintenance. 

 

Ask yourself these questions before beginning any painting project:

  • Does my paint exhibit any peeling, crackling, chalking (powdering), crazing (small, interconnected cracks), mold, mildew, staining, blistering or wrinkling?
  • Does my building have an existing paint application that is inappropriate for its historic fabric?
  • Do I know what type of paint is currently on my building and what preparation is required before painting over that type of paint?
  • If I am using a contractor, are they “Renovation, Repair and Painting” certified by the EPA for lead paint handling?
  • Does that contractor understand which methods, tools, materials, and chemicals are appropriate for paint removal on my historical building?

FURTHER RESOURCES FOR PAINTING HISTORICAL BUILDINGS:

 

Window repair, restoration, or replacement is an unavoidable topic of concern in historic buildings. Windows in your historic property are like the eyes of the home. They are an important piece of the historical fabric of the location, and also play an integral part in energy efficiency of the property. Simultaneously, they are one of the most vulnerable and “at-risk” elements of our architectural heritage. Replacement is not always the most cost-effective or energy-efficient answer. Determining the extent of disrepair in your windows is your first step in deciding whether to repair, restore, or replace them. 

Photo of our restoration work on windows at Franklin Street Station in Reading. 

Why are original windows important? They are considered a significant feature of a building, making up both exterior and interior architectural elements and usually 20-to-30 percent of the surface area of the building. The shape and materials, moldings, trim and window pane arrangements are all clues to the age of the building. To further illustrate these unique characteristics, here are examples of window styles and characteristics from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century. The majority of the features that make original windows special are not replicable in replacement windows; you could replicate them in reproduction windows, but that is not what most people think of when they are discussing replacement windows. These elements include antique (wavy) glass, true divided light sashes, and traditional joinery.

Why are original windows endangered and at-risk? Several preservation organizations, including Maine, Virginia, and New York, have noted in recent years the endangered status of historic original windows. Even we have had first-hand experience talking with well-intentioned homeowners who’ve been convinced by saavy sales people to replace their original windows with modern ones under the guise that they are more cost-effective or energy efficient, only to regret the decision a few years later when the “superior” new windows are no longer functioning properly and are incurring more costs for energy, repair, and replacement. 

Are original windows energy efficient and cost-effective? Energy efficiency is a major concern when it comes to windows. We’ve noted in a previous post on Siding on Historic Homes that heating and cooling energy loss is associated most with windows, doors, and roofs, and this is often worse with modern replacements and materials. Meanwhile, original windows have a proven track record of durability that far exceeds that of new replacement windows, as long as they are properly maintained. In fact, most are 100+ years old. The National Park Service’s Preservation Brief No. 3 and their Testing Energy Performance of Wood Windows in Cold Climates both discuss energy efficiency in greater depth. The latter of the two aforementioned resources points out that replacing historic windows does not necessarily result in greater energy savings than upgrading that same window. If you’re short on time, you may instead choose to read one of our other brief articles on energy-efficiency and cost-effectiveness of original windows. On average, the energy savings after a replacement window is installed is less than $2/year. Restoring and repairing original windows can achieve almost the same energy efficiency, and is more cost-effective in the long-run because new windows will not last as long. 

Now that you understand the significance of original windows and the importance of saving them, how do you know if your original windows are repairable or restorable? First, consider that most materials and methods used to build the original windows are made to be repairable, so there is a higher likelihood that they are salvageable. Replacement pieces can be made rather than replacing the entire unit (consider our woodwork at the formerly abandoned Franklin Street Station in Reading, PA, whose windows were in a shocking state when we first encountered them; alternatively, you can see the results in-person while enjoying craft beer and a bite to eat at Franklin Street Brew Pub now in the station). Things to evaluate to see what repairs windows might need:

  • Loose frames and sash components
  • Slipped sills
  • Poor fitting sash and storm assemblies, and misaligned frames
  • Loose, open, or decayed joints at sash or frame corners
  • Loose hardware, broken sash cords/chains, worn sash pulleys, locking difficulties
  • Deteriorated weather-stripping
  • Broken/cracked glass, loose or missing glazing putty
  • Peeling paint
  • Window well debris accumulation

Some of these issues are easy to see and address. Others, including locking difficulties and window well debris accumulation might signal a misaligned sash and could necessitate the involvement of a skilled person to make those adjustments (or at least consult with you about what to do). All of these repairs will increase the energy-efficiency of your windows.

What do I do if a previous owner already replaced the original windows and updated replacement is necessary? There are several options to choose from:

  • Rebuild with antique glass
  • Rebuild with true divided lite and insulated glass
  • Replacement with modern replacement windows – The National Park Service’s Preservation Brief No. 9 has a list of what to look for in replacement windows, as well as ideas of where to find historically sensitive replacement windows

For more information and resources:

  • Visit our window post archives link
  • We typically recommend 2 Canadian manufacturers for modern replacement windows: Norwood Windows or Loewen

Scott T. Hanson of Your Historic House joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss his book, Restoring Your Historic House, the result of 4 years of hard work and dedication to present a practical and comprehensive guide for historic homeowners. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • How the present-day Conway Scenic Railroad and train station served as a catalyst for Scott’s passion for preservation
  • Scott’s observation that a dearth of information on preservation for homeowners necessitated filling that gap, and inspired him to write his book
  • Lessons, challenges, and resources for aspiring preservationists and homeowners
  • Advice for homeowners interested in preservation, restoration, or rehabilitation, including practical examples of ways to offset costs
  • The book’s detailed inspiring stories of homeowners’ projects, including a description a local Central PA project featured in (and on the front cover!) of the book
  • Information on book-purchasing options and opportunities to meet Scott

Contact/Follow:

Scott T. Hanson

Website

Facebook

Instagram

Buying Options:

Amazon.com for a discounted price

Scott’s website for signed and personalized signed copies, as well as other books for sale

 

PART 3, THE FINAL PIECE IN THIS 3-PART SERIES of working on your old home explores using a good design. Using a good design refers to integrating additions, renovations, or even new construction into your historical building, not necessarily “copying” historical architecture contemporaneous to your building’s era. It simply needs to integrate with the historical representation of your building and the surrounding neighborhood. 


Photo by J. Remus on Unsplash

The development and evolution of historical neighborhoods over time follow their own rhythm and pattern, unique to each individual neighborhood. Often, the architecture is as well. Sympathetic or compatible additions and renovations that are right for one property might not be for another, and your project should start with an appreciation of the unique architectural character of the neighborhood of which your building is a part. This understanding should influence and shape the design of your project. A good design is not just about a solid understanding of the architectural character of a building, it should also address the marriage of old and new – styles, materials, and workmanship. If it does not, your project could ruin your building’s architectural character instead of augment it.

For example, many historical buildings have been carefully designed to address water and moisture issues by “breathing” the moisture out, as well as shed it carefully down the exterior of a house in a way that avoids water permeation as it moves down the house. If your project does not use a design that works in the same manner, water will begin to penetrate your building and lead to fungal deterioration, which in turn will lead to major expenditures and repairs, if not complete loss of some of your building’s features. Another common bad design seen during restoration on historical buildings is the use of non-sloping window sills that do not shed water, and can lead to maintenance nightmares. Having a design for your project that not only embodies the architectural character of your building, but also addresses critical compatibility issues (such as water-shedding) is key to preventing corrosive damage to your building. 

Ask yourself:

  • Has my design been created, or reviewed, by a qualified contractor who understands historical buildings and how their designs function?
  • Do I see any existing areas in my building where the design appears to be incompatible with historical integrity and/or physical functioning of the building?
  • Am I familiar with my neighborhood’s sense of place and how the local architecture contributes to that character?
  • Does my design include modern materials? If so, are they compatible with the historical materials existing on my building?
  • Do all of the materials, workmanship, or functional elements of my design work together in the same way?
  • Does my design take into consideration important aspects like scale, building form, setback and site coverage, orientation, architectural elements and projects, facade proportions and patterns, trim and details, etc.?

 

PART 2 OF THIS SERIES of working on your old home explores replacement in-kind. Replacement in-kind refers to replicating the original in all respects except improved condition, when absolute preservation is not possible. This is a follow-up to Part 1’s general information about maintaining your home’s historical relevance and period style. Regarding replacement, it is easy to think that if the look of a historical building is maintained, as well as the types of materials used, then 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. 

Photo of Keperling Preservation Services’ completed work on the Harris Mansion porch in 2014, which necessitated some replacement in-kind. 

As important as it is to preserve how our historical buildings actually are, inevitably replacements will need to be made when features are so deteriorated that stabilization, conservation, or restoration are simply not viable options. In these instances, the National Park Service’s Standards for Preservation and Guidelines for Preserving Historic Buildings allow for “replacement in-kind” (replicating the original feature in all respects, except improved condition) if there are surviving features that can be used as prototypes. The Standards & Guidelines also notes that, “The replacement materials need to match the old both physically and visually, i.e., wood with wood, etc. Thus… substitute materials are not appropriate in … preservation.”

Using similarly styled or patterned ceramic tile to replace a terracotta tile, using a different wood when replacing cabinetry, removing wallpaper in favor of uncovering the plaster walls, using shingles that are of a different dimension, are all changes that can easily be made in ways that are in keeping with your building’s period of significance. Yet doing so can be confusing to anyone researching historical architecture by suggesting these features (or aspects of them) were there during the building’s period of significance when, in reality, they weren’t.

Further, removing these features permanently alters your building’s historical fabric, sometimes irretrievably. Original wallpaper that is often destroyed during the removal process can’t usually be replaced with in-kind period wallpaper. Replacing one species of wood with another sometimes can’t be undone if the original species of wood is not readily available, or is priced so exorbitantly that it is not financially feasible for your project. In order to avoid significant, and sometimes irreparable, damage to your building, consider replacing only the deteriorated or missing parts of your building’s features, use materials that match the old in design, color, and texture (both physically and visually), and document the original material and the replacement process and materials used extensively for future reference and research.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have documentation of all former replacements, including documentation of the original features?
  • Have I had my buildings evaluated by a qualified contractor to identify any inappropriate replacement materials or approaches?
  • Do I document all replacements I do, including written and photographic documentation, noting the materials, details, and tooling on both the original and the replacement?
  • Are there any parts of my building’s original features that are deteriorated or missing and need replacement?
  • Is it possible to just replace the deteriorated parts instead of replacing the whole feature?
  • Have I checked with a qualified contractor to see if remediation is needed for any not-in-kind replacements previously performed on my building?

Next week: PART 3 OF THIS SERIES focuses on using a good design.

PART 1 OF THIS SERIES of working on your old home explores options for property owners to save the home’s historically relevant aspects specific to when and how it was built, versus mixing time periods and styles. Maintaining your home’s historical relevance necessitates preservation and restoration tactics that honor the home’s appropriate time period. If too much of the historic fabric is lost (e.g., removed or replaced), the methods and materials that make a historical building special are also lost. At a certain point so much may be lost that the property becomes “just” an old building.


Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

There is over 400 years of architectural history in the United States, including a diversity of styles as rich as the diversity of our people. Early Colonial architecture still intact today displays magnificent examples of the Spanish and English influences prevalent when European settlers first immigrated here. Revolution period buildings demonstrate the forging of a new nation with Federalist and Jeffersonian features. Homes and buildings from the mid 1800’s through the early 1900’s capture the two “moments” in American time that define the experience of our culture’s Revival Period and Gilded Age.

Every historical building has a period of significance that determined how that building was constructed and the features it would have that, together, define its architectural importance. Maintaining your historical building in keeping with the period of significance that defined it as an important piece of our built history, is essential to its historical integrity. Mixing and matching period styles can permanently alter your building to the point of historical insignificance

Historical materials, and the craftsmanship used when working with those materials, are easily damaged by modern renovation attempts – even when your intention is focused on preserving your building’s features. For example, using a power sander while restoring original wood that was hand-planed will result in woodwork that can never again reveal the same character as the original woodwork did. Painting wood flooring in a house from a period when a wooden floor would never have been painted is something typically considered reversible, but isn’t always if the wrong paint is chosen or when the removal of the paint causes significant damage to the original flooring. Original porches (and other projections), building footprints and materials, period layouts and unique features can all be altered to the point of no return while adding living space meant to bring a historical building in line with more modern functional style (i.e., failed reconstruction attempts). Removing original wallpaper, or installing wallpaper on a house from a period when wallpaper wasn’t used, isn’t just affecting the aesthetic integrity of a historical house – it can permanently damage the original plaster walls behind it.

If your ultimate goal is to maintain the historical integrity of your property’s time period, focus on preservation (focuses on the maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and retention of a property’s form as it has evolved over time), restoration (depicts a property at a particular period of time in its history, while removing evidence of other periods), or even reconstruction (re-creates vanished or non-surviving portions of a property for interpretive purposes) if possible or necessary. Essentially, avoid making changes that may try to make it appear older, newer, or fancier than what it really is. Even small, subtle changes can permanently damage the integrity of your building. The National Park Service details these options further in terms of standards and guidelines for treatment of historic properties (https://www.nps.gov/tps/standards/four-treatments/treatment-restoration.htm).

Ask yourself:

  • Do I know my building’s period of significance?
  • Do I know the architectural features common during my building’s period of significance?
  • Have any of the architectural features original to my building been altered, removed, or renovated?
  • Has the interior layout of my building been changed?
  • Have I checked with a qualified contractor to see if any changes to my building that I want to make are incompatible with my building’s architectural integrity, or can it be done in a more compatible way? Consider professional help given the potential for such a project to overwhelm you (see our helpful tips on hiring a qualified contractor https://practicalpreservationservices.com/hiring-the-right-contractor/). The qualified contractor will best be able to navigate the National Park Service standards and guidelines referred to above.

Next week: PART 2 OF THIS SERIES focuses on replacement in-kind.

 

Choosing a contractor with adequate skills and experience to complete a job is always important, but it is particularly important for restorations and renovations of a historical building. To avoid permanently damaging the historical fabric of your building, you need a contractor who is well-versed in historical products and materials, can identify and replicate the traditional trade approaches and techniques that created 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. 

Any project done on your historical building changes it, and most projects result in some irreversible changes. Change can be a good thing … if your contractor knows which materials are appropriate to use. But when you pick the wrong contractor, incompatible materials and installation methods can result in permanent damage to your building. 


Photo by Theme Photos on Unsplash

CHOOSE A CONTRACTOR WHO IS WELL-VERSED IN HISTORICAL MATERIALS

Historical construction products and materials are drastically different from modern building products and materials. Some differ in the materials used to produce a particular product. Even when these materials look the same, they can be dangerously incompatible with your historical building – mixing modern and historical materials can not only be detrimental to your building’s aesthetic value, it can destabilize your building’s structural foundation. Many new facade treatments focus on moisture-proofing, while historical buildings functioned as “Breathing” buildings that expelled excess moisture – if you combine a new facade material (even one that looks exactly like the original) with an old facade material, you can set the stage for dangerous moisture issues that threaten your building’s foundation and air quality. 

Sometimes the same (or similar) materials are used to produce a replicate product, and are “merely” fabricated in an entirely different manner than the original products were, producing a finished product that may look the same as the original (or may not; look close – does it really?), but isn’t an accurate replication and does not truly preserve the historical fabric of your building because of the manner in which it was fabricated. For example, historical bricks are not soft because people preferred softer bricks 150 years ago. They are softer because of the process used to fabricate them – the historical, hand-crafted process involving lower firing temperatures resulted in softer bricks than the modern, mass-production process.

CHOOSE A CONTRACTOR THAT CAN IDENTIFY AND REPLICATE TRADITIONAL TRADE TECHNIQUES

Maintaining the historical fabric of your building is about more than replacing worn materials with the same kind of materials and products or making sure the paint colors match what was originally used. Craftsmen styles, approaches, and techniques were as diverse as the architectural styles they created that make up our built history. When your historical building was originally built, these craftsmen all influenced the final look of your building. Geographic region also influenced the way craftsmen completed their work on a building. Even today, contractors may have differing methodologies to complete the same work, and work is completed slightly differently from region to region. 

When working on your building, you need a contractor who will not only know the appropriate materials to use, but the appropriate method to install them – a contractor who preserves the kinds of materials that are original to your building and the traditional trade approaches that created it as well.

CHOOSE A CONTRACTOR WHO KNOWS THE REVIEW, PERMITTING, AND APPROVAL PROCESS

When your historical building 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 even simpler: you hired someone to do the work. 

Today, the process is a bit more complex. Work of any kind on a historical building can involve multiple government agencies who grant and oversee construction and occupancy permits, and a historical board or commission who guides the restoration process and approves any changes and the materials and methods used to make those changes. Not to mention the various building codes your project is subject to, and the exemptions and regulations that govern construction projects involving historical buildings. 

Choosing a contractor who isn’t familiar with the unique demands of meeting the needs, requirements, and timelines of several different building codes, government agencies, historical boards and commissions can result in serious delay of your project, outright denial of your project, and skyrocketing costs to redo, backtrack, and resubmit. 

CHOOSE A CONTRACTOR WHO VALUES PRESERVATION AS MUCH AS YOU DO

You haven’t spent the time, money, and energy on your historical building because its history and unique contribution to our cultural and built heritage isn’t important to you. Why choose a contractor who doesn’t value your building and its historical fabric as much as you do? Look for a contractor who not only works on historical restoration projects, but who practices a traditional trade themselves and supports organizations and guilds that promote the traditional trades. Find out which contractors do this because preservation is their priority, and which contractors do this merely to make money. 

Quick and easy ways to assess whether or not your contractor values preservation as much as you do:

  • Do their website and blogs offer non-sales content related to preservation and/or the traditional trades: how much is self-promotion and how much is preservation-promotion?
  • Does their social media activity include more than just what they’re doing, such as sharing general preservation information?
  • What organizations do they support, participate in, or have they helped found? 
  • Do they practice a traditional trade and do they understand the historical methods of the traditional trades?
  • Can they explain to me what the appropriate materials and methods for my project are and why, or do they know of acceptable substitutes if exact replication isn’t feasible?
  • What references do they have and do they have a record of historical restoration projects?
  • Do previous customers feel that the contractor’s priority was preservation or the bottom line?
  • Do they freely share their credentials and are they properly insured and licensed as applicable?
  • Do they understand the permitting, review, and approval process for the project, and have they worked through this process in my area for previous projects?
  • ABOVE ALL ELSE, your contractor should be someone you are comfortable with, who listens to your needs and wants, and who understands historical restorations and has a proven and specialized track record of work on historical buildings.

 

Typically, on homes built in the mid-1800’s until the early 1900’s, the most unexpected maintenance problem deals with the internal gutter system. This is because the problem is hidden until the failure has begun. However, regular inspection and maintenance can catch the problem before it is too late, and damage is done.

First, I bet you are wondering, “what is an internal gutter system?” What we call internal gutter systems are also known as “Yankee Gutters,” or built-in, sunken, box or integral gutters. These drainage systems have been used on houses from the 1700’s through the early 1900’s, though they are most commonly found on buildings from the Victorian period. Typically, they are incorporated into the cornice along the roof line, on a porch, or bay window. The usual construction is a wood trough lined with metal. Because of the cornice trim covering the gutter, problems with the metal lining (typically the first problem – allowing water into the structural framing and eventually the trim) remains unseen until damage is spotted from the water infiltration.

Signs your system is not functioning properly include: peeling paint, moist wood, damage to the masonry (at the roof level), and plaster damage on the interior of the house (at the bay window). Unfortunately, once these symptoms are presented, there is often damage to the structural walls or ceiling, not to mention the decorative moldings of the cornice, making the repair a restoration project (replacement to match the original) rather than a preservation project (maintenance) – an expensive proposition.

One way to minimize the cost is to make sure the gutter is regularly inspected and the solder joints in the metal are properly maintained. These inspections can be done semi-annually when the gutters are cleaned of leaves and other debris.

PRO TIP: Never use roofing tar to seal the joints (rather than soldering the metal seams). This will trap the water into the wood, causing the same problems you are trying to prevent.

Some people roof over the internal gutter system and use external gutters for their water management – this is an option for saving money, but it does change the original appearance of the building by covering the decorative cornice. Further, this solution does not address the damage to the structural systems. Often, unenlightened homeowners will wrap the problem in vinyl or aluminum using the “I can’t see it, so it’s not a problem” approach to maintenance. Of course, this causes larger problems and sometimes results in losing the entire front porch.

If you have external gutters, you should regularly inspect them (semi-annually) to ensure that they are doing their job keeping water out of the house and moving it away from the foundation. If replacement becomes necessary, be sure you replace them with half-round gutters and round or rectangular downspout styles appropriate for historic buildings. NEVER replace them with K-style or corrugated downspouts.