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.

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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:

 

Dwayne Siever, founder of The Real Milk Paint Company, joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss information about his historic preservation- and earth-friendly paint, wood finish, and wax business. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • How his background in wood-working, repairing antique furniture and creating antique reproductions eventually led to an interest in finishes and paints that functioned better than modern products
  • How experimenting with creating milk paints led to a loyal client base and expanded following when the business started in the mid-90s
  • The applicability of these products for both historic preservation and environmentally-safe projects, including durability, quality, maintenance, safety, and multi-purpose/benefits
  • Lessons learned and challenges for preservation in general

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Facebook

YouTube

 

Visit:

Fine woodworking live event in Sturbridge, MA, April 17-19. Visit their vendor table or see Nancy Hiller demonstrate how to use milk paint.

American Association of Woodturners’ (AAW) 34th Annual International Symposium in Louisville, KY, June 4-7. Visit their booth. 

 

Promotion/Deal:

The website currently has 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! (Limited time only)

 

 

Winter may soon be coming to a close, but there’s still time during the tempestuous month of March for Spring to “come in like a lion,” as the old proverb goes. The uncertainty of weather related to climate change aggravates the issues we already see at the end of Winter as well, adding to the concerns of homeowners attempting to maintain the energy efficiency and temperature of their homes. With that in mind, we’re focusing on energy efficiency for historic buildings for today’s blog post. 


Photo by Alessandro Bianchi on Unsplash

First, let’s debunk a myth about old homes and energy efficiency. A common misconception about older buildings is that they are drafty, inefficient energy hogs. The truth is that the buildings with the worst energy efficiency were built between 1940-1970. Energy was cheap and there wasn’t a big push to conserve our resources during that time-period. Buildings constructed before 1940 were made with energy savings, thermal performance, and physical comfort in mind. By maximizing natural sources of heating, lighting, and ventilation, these buildings were comfortable in all seasons.

Still concerned about energy efficiency in your historic building or home? Read on for advice on improvements that will not sacrifice the historical integrity of your space.
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TIPS TO INCREASE ENERGY EFFICIENCY

ON YOUR OWN:

  • Change your Habits.  Install timers or motion detectors on lights, attach self-closing mechanisms on doors that might otherwise hang open, install fans and raise your thermostat temperature, use LEDs in your lights and turn off “vampire” devices that use electricity in standby mode or that use electricity in standby mode or whenever that are plugged into an outlet.
  • Remove focus from Siding. Remember our previous post on siding on historic homes. Walls themselves are not a significant source of energy loss, so replacing original siding with new synthetic siding really does not cut costs or improve energy efficiency.
  • Caulking or Weather-Stripping. The easiest tip for increasing the energy efficiency of your building is to reduce the air infiltration using caulking and/or weather-stripping. You can do a self-audit of the envelope of your building (roof; walls and wall penetrations including doors, windows; floor, and foundation) to determine if these methods are necessary. If there are places that you feel cold air coming in you can add additional weather-stripping or caulking to the area and seal the crack. In warmer months this will also stop your conditioned air from escaping to the outside.           2 points of caution:
    • Only use the spray foam against masonry penetrations – it will cause any wood it is against to rot
    • Do not make the building too tight – older buildings were built for air to move and if all air movement is stopped it will cause problems with moisture accumulation
  • Combat the Stack Effect. The method above is helpful, but it does not give you the highest return-on-investment for making your home energy efficient because of the Stack Effect. To combat the Stack Effect, insulate at the basement floor (where the air comes in) and at the attic (where the air goes out). It’s also important to determine the R-Value (measure of thermal resistance) for your area to ensure you are most effectively stopping air leaks.  You can find your recommended R-Value here.                                                                                                                                                                Options for insulation:
    • “Green” or environmentally-friendly options (natural materials like cellulose and wool)
    • Fiberglass
    • Spray foam
    • Foam board (purchases can be made at big-box stores or SIPS)

WITH PROFESSIONAL HELP:

  • Seek Professional Assistance. Review our post on hiring the best person for the job. 
  • Have a Maintenance Appraisal Performed.  If you are concerned about identifying air leaks on your own, a maintenance appraisal performed by a qualified contractor will locate any source of air leakage and provide you with a plan-of-attack to remedy the problem without damaging the historic aspects of your home.
  • Schedule an Energy Audit.  Both the maintenance appraisal and an energy audit are absolutely essential things that need to be done BEFORE you implement any energy improvement measures in a situation where you do not have enough knowledge to take care of things yourself.  The energy audit will evaluate your home’s current energy performance and identify any deficiencies in both the envelope of your home and/or mechanical systems.

FURTHER READING:

 

 

South Carolina Senate Chamber Portrait of Ann Pamela Cunningham, The “Founding Mother” of Historic Preservation. Photo credit South Carolina Legislature

 

Many women and men have contributed so much to the field of historic preservation in America. However, as is too often the case, the role of many women has been hidden in the shadows. Sometimes these roles have been completely ignored or forgotten. Yet, women’s roles are inextricably linked to and undeniably contributed to the summation of successes in the field of American historic preservation. Despite their essential role in preservation, their memories are often not preserved. As noted here:

“Although women have led the historic preservation movement, the history of women has not been adequately preserved.”

-Ellen Perry Berkeley & Matilda McQuaid, p. 159, Architecture: A Place for Women

This blog post is written with the intention of being one small part of the movement to uncover the hidden roles of women in preservation, by shining a bright light on the women in the shadows, especially in honor of Women’s History Month. These women have played and continue to play pivotal roles alongside men in historic preservation. This post also includes relevant resources for interested readers to explore further, as well as tips on brightening the spotlight on women’s roles in history and preservation. After all, as Harriot Hunt stated in her personal narrative (regarding the monument to the battle of bunker hill):

“Half a people made only half a monument: the other half, the feminine, made it whole.”

-Harriot Hunt, p. 163, Glances and Glimpses: Or, Fifty Years Social, Including Twenty Years Professional Life

 

Early Roots of Historic Preservation: Cultural Diversity and Minority Groups

Beginning our overview of women in preservation by first acknowledging the historic and cultural contributions of non-European groups in America seems most fitting, as many of the women in preservation come from these backgrounds. These groups represent some of the earliest examples of what we could deem historic or cultural preservation in America because they have all played a part in shaping what American culture is today. Their unique stories did not always include preservation of the aspects of the physical built environment that we now typically associate with historic preservation, but their efforts did contribute to preservation of culture. One way these non-European groups maintained their traditions and cultural heritage within a broader American culture was through folklore and story-telling.

These traditions are often attributed most to the elders of the groups, particularly the female elders. Shannon Smith described the legacy of “native storytellers” as Native Americans are well-known for this tradition. These women were the primary means of passing stories on to subsequent generations, to educate and protect their culture and values, as men’s roles (e.g., hunting and fighting) often limited their ability to act as narrators. Jackie Krogmeier also discussed how Native women acted as cultural mediators with the European settlers; although this mediating role was necessary for maintaining peace and in some ways then also protecting their culture, their own voices and perspectives often are not highlighted. Instead, their parts are written in the annals of history mostly through the voices of European men, if noted at all.

Amache Ochinee Prowers was an example of a native woman considered to be a cultural mediator between the diverse cultural groups in what is now the state of Colorado, and this interview by the National Trust for Historic Preservation details the cultural heritage she inadvertently left behind for archaeologists to discover. Ada Deer is a modern-day Native American advocate and scholar, known for her tireless work to preserve Native culture and heritage while fighting for the rights of Native citizens. This Menominee Tribe member from Wisconsin was crucial in the Menominee Restoration Act of 1972, which restored the tribe to federally recognized status. This was just one victory in the fight to maintain Native culture rather than completely assimilate Native people, as the federal government had once intended. 

African Americans also played a pivotal role in preserving their own cultural heritage as well as contributing to modern American culture. African American slaves in particular were repressed in every way possible, including being prevented from learning to read and write. However,   described how slaves adapted by telling folktales of their cultural heritage. They updated and adapted those tales to their present circumstances, to prevent detection from slave owners who might perceive obvious traditional stories and ties to the African cultural identities as a way to unite slaves and a threat to the power the owners held over their slaves. Another way enslaved African people maintained their cultural heritage to some degree was through food. Christina Regelski discussed how enslaved African cooks brought their heritage into the homes of their masters, heavily influencing what people think of as traditional Southern food today, and we can guess that many of these cooks were female. Sylviane Diouf noted that female slaves often bore the burden of passing their cultural heritage to their descendants simply due to the tendency of slave owners to divide enslaved husbands and wives as another way to maintain power over them, leaving women with their children as the men were sold elsewhere, and even in cases where mothers were separated from their children. As with Native women, many of their voices and stories were lost to history.

Since the abolition of slavery, more African American women have prevailed in preserving their culture and have been able to do so with more resources at their disposal. Mary B. Talbert was one African American woman who specifically focused on preservation of African American heritage. She also contributed to preserving the built environment by saving the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, after initial efforts by others were unsuccessful. Several other modern African American women are also working hard to champion Black History as an integral part of America’s holistic heritage.

These are just two cultural examples of many minority groups in America, but all have stories to tell about their contribution to preservation. The National Park Service has highlighted general cultural diversity in historic preservation, including the short timeline for recognizing the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of minority groups and including diversity as a preservation issue.  

Women have faced unique challenges in many societies, including the Western world. Compounding being female with being a non-European minority in America has added to this plight. These trials have rendered the triumphs of maintained cultural heritage and historical preservation by the women of these groups all the more meaningful.

Timeline of Women in the Formal History of Historic Preservation

Most chronological accounts of the history of historic preservation agree that the earliest recognized formal example of historic preservation – in European-American Culture – was the founding of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1791.  Its founding is credited to Jeremy Belknap, a clergyman and historian. His pioneering act paved the way for other communities and groups, including women, to establish successful means of recording, preserving, and restoring history. However, little is noted about the roles that women may have played in this historical endeavor. 

Subsequently, several other organizations for history and preservation were formed, buildings were saved from decay or demolition and even restored, and museums opened. Notably, women were involved in many grassroots efforts. One famous early example was that of the monument to commemorate the Battle of Bunker Hill. Several women were part of a group in the 1820’s that initially championed the creation of a monument, and were at the helm of organized fundraising events for the monument. Sarah Josepha Hale (whose many accolades can be found here) was probably the most famous among them. The aforementioned Harriot Hunt also contributed to and lauded these efforts by her fellow female activists.

However, it was not until perhaps the mid-nineteenth century when Ann Pamela Cunningham – often credited as the American Preservation Movement’s Founding Mother – inspired a preservation movement. Finally, a woman was given specific recognition for preservation. Cunningham was appalled at the state of George Washington’s monumental Mt. Vernon Estate, and in 1853, inspired by her own mother’s concerns, penned an article about it that was published in a Charleston, S.C. newspaper. Even in the 1850s, the estate of the “Father of our Country” was threatened by a combination of neglect and speculators hoping to develop it for profit. Not even the tumultuous time period, including threat of secession and civil war, could squelch Cunningham’s entreaty. Her pleas were answered by like-minded women all over the country, even on opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. The result was the chartering of the Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association, and America’s first nationwide preservation campaign was underway. After several years the Association was successful in saving and preserving the property. This success-story spurred other preservation movements, and modern-day preservationists esteem Cunningham’s efforts as having set the stage for things that are still done today. 

Countless other named and unnamed women from various cultural and ethnographic backgrounds contributed to preservation and general history through the years. But many diminished or even scoffed at the work of these women. For a large part of American history, those women’s twentieth century successors were jokingly referred to as “little old ladies in tennis shoes standing in front of bulldozers.” However, as Elizabeth Byrd Wood – a past editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation – pointed out, the 1966 enactment of the National Historic Preservation Act created jobs via state historic preservation offices, finally creating formal positions for people to make a recognized career out of preservation. One of those first professional preservationists was Nancy Schamu, who began working for the Maryland Historical Trust in 1969, and who is now also considered a leader of the modern preservation movement. She was interviewed upon her retirement, sharing significant insights into the changes in preservation over the past half-century.

Women in Modern-Day Historic Preservation

The creation of formal government-based preservation jobs marked a significant formalization of the preservation field in this country and made it so that historical female preservationists’ work was not in vain. Women’s roles have continued to evolve from their foremothers’ roles as preservers of culture and activists for the built environment. More and more women have successfully trained and demonstrated their merit in the hands-on work involved in preservation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation spotlighted just a few of those women who are now part of this niche field of skilled craftspeople. Another example of women in preservation is exhibited on countless TV shows such as those featured on the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) network and the Home and Garden Television (HGTV) network, demonstrating how much more mainstream preservation, or at least restoration and renovation, have become to the public via commercialism (for better or for worse depending on one’s opinion). With countless books and internet resources information proliferates more than ever before regarding the pivotal roles of women in history and historic preservation. Restoring Women’s History through Historic Preservation is just one fine example of these written efforts that recognize the feminist imperative to increase female visibility and involvement in history and preservation.

Practical ways to honor and include women in history and preservation

Even with these strides, there is much more work to do to ensure the visibility of women in history and historic preservation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation featured suggestions on “Putting Women Back in History.”  Suggestions from this article include:

  • Put females in the wider context of history. Rather than relegating them to only domestic roles, focus on their roles in every aspect of history. Women have played less obvious but no-less significant roles in growing crops, mediating with other cultural groups, creating war-time munitions, and working in factories.
  • Note how expectations for women varied. This might include defining the contributing roles of slaves, servants, and rich women to the country we live in. Consider the different cultures and times in which they lived.
  • Use women’s resources. Anything owned by a woman in history is an artifact of who she was and what she contributed.
  • Search for new sources. Do not assume you know or have all of the information; previously uncovered sources of documentation may exist. You never stop learning about someone.
  • View women as independent and part of the whole. Women are worth something in their own right, not just in how they support men or children.
  • Do not stereotype. Look beyond simple interpretations of their artifacts and contributions, and look at the whole person, the unique individual
  • Let the women speak. Use direct quotes and add well documented-stories.

Historic preservation is about more than saving windows in an old house, or repairing a plaster molding; it’s about preserving any and all aspects of the history of a culture, where possible. To do that requires allowing all of the voices and work of all of its contributors to be heard. Everyone of us can contribute to this enriched history by remaining curious, researching women, including historical women’s stories, quotes and objects in our museums and heritage sites, hiring women in all roles related to history and preservation, and educating women about other women in history. Women themselves can continue to share their own stories to pass them down to future generations. As Harriot Hunt basically said, women are the essential half to make the ideal whole.

THIS IS A RE-POST OF A PODCAST INTERVIEW WE ORIGINALLY POSTED January 2019:

Chad Martin from Partners for Sacred Places met with me to discuss the work he does helping to preserve religious buildings from demolition through adaptive reuse and the creation of community resources.

Some of the topics we discussed include:

  • The economic impact of preservation.
  • How the work Partners for Sacred Places allows congregations and parishes to continue their mission as a community resource without selling their valuable real estate to developers.
  • The National Fund providing capital grants for preservation needs.  As Chad explains, when a church is choosing between giving money to programs that care for basic human needs and repairing the stained glass the restoration project goes to the bottom of the list.  The National Fund helps to ensure both needs are met.

Contact information for Partners for Sacred Places plus additional resources:

Website

Direct Contact Info

Facebook

Facebook page Danielle referenced: https://www.facebook.com/abandonedamerica.us/

Bio: Chad Martin, Director, National Fund for Sacred Places
Prior to his role at Partners, Chad was a pastor at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster (PA). During his pastoral tenure the congregation developed an in-house art gallery, redeveloped an award-winning parking lot in accordance with the city’s green infrastructure plan, and substantially increased building use by community partners. Prior to this, Chad was the Ceramics Studio Coordinator at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (Pittsburgh, PA). He has served on several boards of directors in Pittsburgh and Lancaster, including as a founding board members of the Union Project – an example of best practice for adaptive reuse of a historic religious property – and as Assistant Moderator of Atlantic Coast Conference (MC USA). He has written articles on art and/or theology and spirituality for several publications, including Ceramics Monthly, Worship, and Conrad Grebel Review. His ordained for pastoral ministry in Mennonite Church USA. Chad is a graduate of Goshen College (BA), Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (MA), and Leadership Lancaster.

 

Age is not the only thing that makes a building historical. The traditional materials and craftsmanship in the original construction of your historical building are an essential part of its historical fabric. Preserving its architectural integrity can only be done by using the same traditional materials and craftsmanship that made your building what it is today – a picture of the past. Original or historically-accurate siding on a historic home or building is an overt example of a building’s era and unique characteristics. 


Photo by Pierre Châtel-Innocenti on Unsplash

 

Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Life-span

  • Synthetic siding has a potential life of at least 50-60 years
  • Wood siding has a potential life of at least 200+ years

Wood was abundant in Early America (and continued to be so throughout our history), and thousands of historical buildings in the Northeast are adorned with wood siding. Often, owners of these buildings look to alternative siding methods to replace wood siding deteriorated beyond repair. Their rationale for such practices is that they want to reduce the cost and effort of its maintenance, or to save on energy costs; conventional building wisdom maintains that vinyl and other synthetic siding lasts longer, requires less maintenance, and wastes less energy. The truth is this: in almost every instance, installation of synthetic siding will not save energy and maintenance costs. It will last a very long time; there are buildings that still retain their original synthetic siding applications from when they first appeared 50-to-60 years ago. And while that sounds significantly durable, it rather pales in comparison to the fact that there are historical buildings from 200+ years ago that still retain their original wood siding (siding that doesn’t sit many, many years in landfills when it needs to be removed). Synthetic siding won’t only add to landfills, it will also compromise the building’s historical integrity, and can cause irreversible damage to the building. 

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Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Energy efficiency

  • Since walls are not a significant source of energy loss, synthetic siding proves, at best, a nominal energy savings

The myth that synthetic siding is more energy efficient than wood siding is pervasive and persistent – perhaps because it is easy to fall into the habit of assuming newer is always better. Newer is not always better, and even newer-with-an-insulated-backing is only nominally, if at all, better. The National Park Service’s Preservation Brief No. 3 highlights the fallacy regarding the weight placed on siding for energy efficiency, noting that walls aren’t even where the most heating and cooling energy is lost in historical buildings – the roofing system is. Spending money to replace wood siding with synthetic siding will not usually return the investment in energy savings for this reason. A much more cost-effective focus for energy savings are the windows, doors, and roofs of historical buildings.

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Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Maintenance

  • Synthetic siding materials require much maintenance and can even create additional maintenance for other parts of the building

Synthetic siding materials are not maintenance-free. Aluminum will dent, and if painted, requires the same amount of paint maintenance as wood siding. To properly maintain and preserve aluminum siding, it must be cleaned regularly. Vinyl is a plastic and vinyl siding is subject to the same pitfalls as any other plastic: it cracks and shatters if impacted, it deteriorates with exposure to the extreme temperature changes of summer-to-winter and back again, and it simply cannot be installed to maintain a tight fit in both summer and winter because of the amount of expansion and contraction those extreme temperature changes cause. Vinyl siding will even interfere with a building’s ability to “breathe” and result in excess moisture retention and airflow problems causing unhealthy air quality for the building’s occupants, actually creating additional maintenance needs for other materials, systems and areas of the building.

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Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Historical integrity

  • Synthetic siding does not preserve the many features of wood siding applications that contribute to the very fabric of a building that makes it historical

Synthetic siding will compromise the building’s historical integrity. The National Park Service’s Preservation Brief No. 8 explains that the materials of a historical building contribute to its historical fabric, noting that “Preservation of a building or district and its historical character is based on the assumption that the retention of historical materials and features and their craftsmanship are of primary importance.” There are many features that make wood siding of primary historical importance to your building. The tools used, geographically-specific craftsmanship techniques, types of clapboards and how they are manufactured and installed, the profiles, decorative edging, and patterns of application that make historical wood siding worthy of preservation are all lost when synthetic siding is used. For example, wood siding on Mid-Atlantic buildings from the early 1800’s to the early 1900’s had distinctly different looks, features, and craftsmanship techniques than those in New England during the same time frame. The stock synthetic siding options available today simply cannot achieve that same level of variation between historically significant architecture styles. 

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Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Serious health problems

  • Synthetic siding not only masks the health of a historical building, it deteriorates it, endangering both the building and the people who live or work in it

Synthetic siding causes more serious problems. Wood siding on a historical building is also one of the most easily read indicators of the general health of the building. Paint peeling from wood siding can be an early warning signal that there are moisture problems threatening the building, and can sometimes even indicate where those problems are rooted (e.g., gutters or downspouts that aren’t working, improper flashing/weatherproofing, etc.). If wood siding is replaced by or covered with synthetic siding, it often masks any early signs or symptoms of moisture issues and results in more extensive moisture damage. Not only does synthetic siding mask the health of a building, it deteriorates that health. Since synthetic sidings to not allow a house to breathe the way wood siding does, it exacerbates any moisture problems that are present or develop in the future by essentially locking the moisture in the building. In doing so, synthetic siding encourages the growth of molds that turn the building’s air quality into a toxic environment that endangers the health of its occupants. Vinyl siding specifically also carries other health and safety concerns like the toxic fumes it emits when heated, and the cancer risks currently thought to be connected to the polyvinyl chloride plastic resin vinyl siding is made out of. 

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Synthetic vs. Wood Siding: Damage

  • Synthetic siding can result in permanent damage to the character-defining features of a historical building

Synthetic siding can cause irreversible damage to the building. An uneducated, and often heard argument claims that when need be, vinyl siding can simply be removed if it is applied over top of the original wooden siding. This is in part true, but it is in part reflective of a naïve understanding of what contributes to the historical fabric of a building, and how even seemingly simple changes can result in permanent damage to that fabric. Once again, Preservation Brief No. 8 from the National Park Service sets the record straight. It states, “there is frequently irreversible damage to historic building materials if decorative features or trim are permitted to be cut down or destroyed, or removed by applicators and discarded.” During the installation process of synthetic siding, even if it is only being applied over existing wood siding, the original wood siding can be permanently damaged by furring strips nailed onto the walls to create a flat surface to install the new siding on. Windows, door trim, cornice, decorative trim and molding, and other projecting details are sometimes permanently altered because the cost of custom-fitting the new synthetic siding to retain their character is too much.

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Evaluate your building’s siding:

  • Do any areas of my historical building have synthetic siding materials applied over wood siding?
  • If yes, do I have a plan for restoring the original wood siding?
  • Are there areas of my wood siding that have already been replaced because of deterioration?
  • Were they replaced with comparable wood materials and craftsmanship features?
  • Do they blend in with the original siding?
  • Is my wood siding evaluated regularly and properly maintained? Is it re-painted every 5-10 years?
  • Do I have a maintenance plan and agreement with a qualified and competent historical restoration company to ensure proper maintenance of my wood siding?

 

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.?

 

Steven Bohnet of Bohnet Electric Co. joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss his 113 year old family business of electric contracting and a lighting showroom that also features light fixture restoration and lamp repair.  We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • The pros and cons of the Corporate (commerical) versus Non-Profit restoration/preservation projects
  • Why it makes sense that an electrician would also have a lighting showroom
  • The challenges faced with short sighted decision making during a restoration/preservation project

Contact

Steven Bohnet – [email protected]

Website

Phone: 517-327-9999

Offers

$10 off Tuesday Lamp Repair

Website virtual coupon – mention ‘virtual’ for $5.00/off

Showroom: Vintage lamp fixtures 35% off, shades 25% off

 

 

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 http://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.