FALL MAINTENANCE FOR YOUR HISTORIC HOME Fall is here. This brings Halloween fun, Thanksgiving, fall abundance, and cooler weather. It also signals the transition to winter and harsh conditions for our homes. We have often repeated, maintenance is essential for a home, especially an old or historical one. Read on for your fall maintenance checklist. 

Autumn Leaves. Photo by Greg Shield on Unsplash.

 

Take a walk around your property and determine what needs to be addressed. Here’s a list of common fall maintenance tips to get you started:

  1. Make exterior repairs. 
    • Look for general damage to your roof, siding, and foundation – schedule repairs before winter
  2. Inspect your roof. If you have a steep roof or a multistory house, avoid injury by using binoculars to inspect your roof. Common signs of damage to your roof include:
    • Buckling, cracking, missing shingles – these should be replaced immediately
    • Rust spots on flashing – remove rust, and if metal is worn through, paint with metal primer and metal paint 
    • Large amounts of moss or lichen – this likely indicates your roof is decaying underneath, so call a pro roofer to evaluate ($100-$200). You can also prevent this decay by laying a wood shingle roof on lathe rather than sheathing (modern approach) as air can circulate and dry out the wood 
    • Cracked or loose boot(s) (rubber collars that fit around plumbing vent stacks) – call a pro roofer to evaluate (they will charge $150-$300 to replace a boot)
  3. Schedule chimney cleaning and fireplace/heating system maintenance. 
    • Blockages in the chimney – cleaning the chimney (and furnace and boiler) are important safety precautions before turning on your heat
    • Missing chimney cap – add one to prevent wildlife crawling down the chimney. You can find custom chimney caps at certain companies for non-standard sized chimneys
    • Damper not working – look up into fireplace flue if the damper is not opening and closing, to see if there is an obstruction (you should be able to see daylight at the top of your chimney)
    • Clean creosote buildup from your flue every other year – a professional chimney sweep will charge $300-$500
    • Missing or cracked bricks in firebox – request a professional fireplace and chimney inspection if you see any damage (professional inspections run between $160-$500)
  4. Clean your gutters and downspouts. If you are not comfortable using a ladder, be sure to hire someone who can help with this important task. 
    • Clogged gutters may allow water to pool which can damage your roof or siding – remove leaves and debris 
    • Flush gutters with water, inspect joints, and tighten brackets if necessary
  5. Direct water drainage away from your foundation. 
    • Soil that is too flat near the foundation of the home may soak and cause leaks or cracks – make sure soil slopes away from the house at least 6 vertical inches over 10 feet to prevent this
  6. Check the foundation and entire exterior for cracks and gaps. Both animals and natural weather forces can enter and destroy your home. Loss of heat can also increase your heating costs.
    • Cracks or unsealed areas – caulk around areas where masonry meets siding, pipes or wires enter the house, and around windows and doorframes. Do NOT use small cans of spray foam at wood contact areas – it will cause rot
  7. Conduct an energy audit. 
    • DIY – instructions can be found at energy.gov
    • Professional – trained auditors can assess your current energy efficiency and provide a list of recommended improvements like upgrading to Energy Start appliances, adding insulation to your attic or adding more weather-stripping ***The caveat is you should pay for their service – otherwise their “solution” will be what they are selling, including replacement doors and windows which we do not generally advocate for older homes. Also make sure they are familiar with historic buildings and their unique concerns
  8. Increase warmth in your house. 
    • After you’ve installed storm windows and doors (and removed all screens) adding weather-stripping around windows and doorframes can not only keep your house warmer during the winter months, but also cut energy costs
    • Drafty doors – place door sweeps at the base to keep the cold out and the heat in
  9. Shut off exterior faucets and store hoses inside. 
    • Shutting these off can protect pipes from freezing
    • Drain hoses before storing indoors
  10. Check walkways, railings, stairs, and driveways for winter safety. 
    1. Loose, slippery, or uneven surfaces – make sure to tighten loose railings, correct uneven walkways, and free drains of debris
  11. Check safety devices. 
    • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors – replace dead batteries
    • Check the home for radon (you can find radon monitors here) – with cooler weather, windows are shut more and radon can become trapped inside the home – hire a professional to address radon issues  
    • Check expiration dates on all fire extinguishers – replace if expired 

 

For further resources and reading:

  • Read our previous post – here – on the importance of maintaining a historical home
  • Read our previous post – here – on how maintenance IS preservation, and find a myriad of additional resources related to home maintenance in that post
  • Sign up for our free Maintenance IS Preservation Report here

 AGING IN PLACE IN A HISTORIC HOME – Aging in place generally comes with necessary change to your home, but this is even truer of situations involving a historic home. As with many adaptive reuse projects, one must determine the balance between maintaining historic fabric and making adaptations suitable for aging. 

Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash.

 

WHAT IS AGING IN PLACE? 

Aging in place refers to exactly that: aging in the place where you already live, at home. Before the advent of the modern skilled nursing facility, many people aged at home. But for those who were unable to care for themselves or did not have family, they often were relegated to the predecessors of skilled nursing facilities – almshouses, poor houses, and convalescent homes (you can read more about this history here, here, and here). Although modern facilities have improved upon these old systems significantly in recent years, the quality and price of these facilities run the gamut. As the 65 and over population steadily increases, more people are choosing to avoid low-cost poor quality sites and high-cost high quality sites in favor of staying at home. A Porch.com article notes some of the benefits of aging in place, including maintaining independence, staying near friends and community, increasing comfort, saving money, and even slowing the advancement of memory loss. We’d also like to add that if you’ve made the investment in a historical home, you may consider that investment another motivator for aging in place.

 

HOW TO AGE IN PLACE – IN AN OLD HOME

Timing. Time is of the essence – the sooner that you begin your planning for aging in place, the better. It is best to start the process while you are still physically and mentally functional (this young woman and her husband have already begun this process – along with their overall historic home renovation – by modifying the floorplan and layout on the first floor). Timing is also important for budgets, as it is best to plan things in phases as your budget allows. Finally, it’s also good to have a timeline in place for retrofits and renovations; prioritize a plan for which areas to address first based on safety needs and budget. You may want to start with the entrance, followed by the bathroom, and then the bedroom, as these areas will be used the most heavily in the long-term.

Budget. Budgeting is always an important factor in any project. Just like timing, it is important to begin as soon as able so things can be addressed over time, rather than having to pay all at once. For instance, making small changes over time can be less costly than a total renovation done all at once.

Safety. Safety is the top concern when planning updates to your home to age in place successfully. You can find general safety tips for old homes in our previous post, here

Retrofitting. The key is addressing age in place needs while also maintaining (read: DON’T DAMAGE) the historic fabric where possible. Here are links (here, here, and here) regarding general retrofits to homes, and a short post on aging in place in a historic home (here). These should supplement our material below specific to historic homes.

  • ENTRANCES
    • Any changes to make the house more accessible (ramps, etc.) should be made on a secondary façade (not the front of the house). They should be installed in the least intrusive manner to make removal easy and less damaging to the historic fabric. The goals is to balance aesthetics and accessibility.
  • BATHROOMS
    • ADA height toilets and grab bars can be installed without damaging the historic fabric.
    • Using levered faucet knobs rather than knobs make turning faucets off and on easier.
    • Any changes to the bathtub/shower configuration (especially if you have an original claw foot tub,  for example) should be made in an addition (if possible) – a first floor addition is a good idea/compromise.
  • BEDROOMS
    • You can repurpose a first floor room (if you haven’t already) into a bedroom, or put a sympathetic addition onto your first floor.
  • GENERAL
    • Door knobs can be switched to lever, and you can keep originals on-hand for future reinstall
    • Lighting is essential for safety, and many historic lighting companies have ADA lighting with brighter fixtures. Light switches can be switched to reproduction old style buttons, that are modern code compliant.
    • Smooth flooring – can usually be done without much intervention.
    • Cabinet heights can be adjusted to require less bending over.

 

For further resources and reading: 

  • ADA-compliant reproduction items can be found here, here, and here.
  • Information on retrofitting general historic structures, not just homes, can be found here

Dominique Hawkins, founder and managing principal of Preservation Design Partnership based in Philadelphia, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss flood mitigation in historic areas. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Dominique’s background in design, architecture, and historic preservation, including her early career transition from architecture for housing developments to the world of historic preservation, and her appreciation for the technology involved in saving old places
  • Preservation Design Partnership’s purpose for acting as a voice for clients in figuring out the most sympathetic way to achieve clients’ goals, while also meeting regulatory requirements and historic preservation needs 
  • Dominique’s reasons for working in flood mitigation, including working on projects directly impacted by Hurricane Katrina
  • How translating preservation design guidelines for clients prepared her for flood mitigation planning, by bridging the gap and interpreting the language of all involved parties – from preservationists, to FEMA, to floodplain managers, to clients
  • The methodology of flood mitigation problem-solving: determining flood needs first and tailoring approaches to each individual situation
  • The myriad of challenges – namely, the collective minimalization and (in some cases) total disregard for the severe impact of increased flooding on historic places – and the hard choices that are being made reactively rather than proactively by communities to address these

 

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For individuals, agencies, or communities interested in working with Preservation Design Partnership, read more about their services and notable projects, here

Dominique also advocates for individuals and communities to become aware, engaged, and proactive regarding flood mitigation for historic properties and communities, especially via meaningful conversations. To see examples or get involved, view a previous talk hosted by the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center’s Climate Change Academy, here, and keep a look out for upcoming Fall workshops and talks, here

Communities and other organizations can also read a sample flood mitigation plan compiled in part by Preservation Design Partnership, here

Bill Morrow, president of Langhorne Carpet Company in Penndel, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the company’s history and current operations. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Bill’s family’s background in the carpet-making business, founding Langhorne Carpet Company in 1930
  • Henry Ford’s connection to the mill
  • The company’s basis on heritage and tradition – traditional weaving processes, original mill, original looms, and continued ownership by the founding family – and the distinction of being the longest continually-operated Wilton carpet mill in the United States
  • The history of and mechanisms involved in Wilton carpet production 
  • Products and services, including modern and historic reproduction Wilton carpets, and specialty custom carpet designs
  • Notable reproduction and restoration historical projects – including Congress Hall in Philadelphia, among many others – and the artistry involved in recreating these carpets
  • Benefits of Langhorne’s carpet, including its durable, natural, sustainable, and safe qualities – their wool-based carpets even help filter indoor air!

 

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Bill reminds us that Langhorne Carpets is one of only a handful of Wilton carpet mills in the world – this distinction combined with the noted benefits of their carpet make it the perfect option for modern and historical property owners alike!

Sign up for their newsletter – here – or follow on Instagram to stay on top of sales and other news!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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