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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is easy to think that if the look of a historical building is maintained and the appropriate types of materials are used, then the building has been successfully preserved. But preservation is not just about preserving how something looks, it is primarily focused in preserving how something is so that it remains as original as possible for future generations.

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 stabilzation, conservation, or restoration are simply not viable options.

One example is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial (the smallest National Park at the corner of 3rd and Pine Street in Philadelphia). We worked with the National Park Service to restore the exterior of the building including to repair and restore wood windows, doors, and a cedar shake roof.

To accurately preserve the Kosciuszko house, we needed to match not just the size, shape, and textures of the shingles themselves, but also the craftsmanship details added during the manufacturing and installation that characterized the roof. To do this, we ordered hand-split cedar shakes and had our detail-oriented artisan craftsmen recreate the original installation.

Video of shakes being hand-split for our order.

Without this attention to detail, the Kosciuszko house would not have been preserved as an accurate testimonial to our architectural heritage. It would have been easier and less expensive to replace the shake roof with any number of other options, including some that are commonly considered “historically accurate,” but they would have not been historically accurate on this house. Even if they were considered “period appropriate,” when we choose a different treatment than what was there originally, we are altering, not preserving, the very things that make the building historic.

In order to avoid significant and sometimes irreparable damage to your building, consider replacing only the deteriorated or missing pats of your building’s features. Use materials that match old in design, color, and texture (both physically and visually). Also, document the original material, the replacement process, and materials used, for future reference and research.

Things to ask yourself about the materials on your building:

  • Do I have documentation of all former replacements, including documentation of original features?
  • Have I had my building 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 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? 

Judith Broeker from Adventures in Preservation joined the Practical Preservation podcast for this episode. AiP is a non-profit organization that promotes heritage tourism by combining travel, new skills, and community intuitive. They organize travel to various locations (in the United States and Europe scheduled for 2019) to work with skilled craftspeople on a preservation site in need of repairs.

Contact information:

Judith Broeker – [email protected]

Bio:

Adventures in Preservation was founded in 2001 by two women with a great love of historic buildings and a strong desire to travel and understand the world. While perusing the travel section of the Boulder Bookstore, the Volunteer Vacation section suddenly brought everything into focus. Judith Broeker combined her goal of saving historic buildings with the concept of experiential travel, and created Adventures in Preservation’s hands-on preservation vacations.

Work started on several sites in the U.S., and as word spread, requests for help began to pour in from around the world, underscoring the great potential of using volunteers to restore historic buildings. While supporting community-based preservation initiatives, AiP staff and volunteers discovered that their love of old buildings could translate into environmental and economic sustainability for communities.

In 2019, we are working with communities in Virginia, Montana, Scotland, and Armenia.

Founder, Judith Broeker is a materials conservation specialist with both research and hands-on experience gained at historic structures in the United States and abroad. Judith holds a degree in Asian Studies, along with a Master’s degree in History with an emphasis in historic preservation. She is the Program Director of AiP and responds to all requests for preservation assistance. She also works with community members to fully develop each project. For her, nothing is better than exploring a historic building with camera in hand.

Alison Hardy from Window Woman of New England joins me to discuss the state of window restoration.  If you’d ever wondered what preservationist discuss this episode is for you.  We discuss:

  • Can your windows be saved or are they really beyond repair?
  • Repair vs. Replacement mindset
  • The education process to combat the replacement window marketing machine

Contact information for Alison plus additional resources:

Alison Hardy – Window Woman of New England

978-532-2070

https://windowpreservationalliance.org/

Bio:
Alison Hardy is owner of Window Woman of New England, Inc. Her company restores windows in the North of Boston/Merrimac Valley region. Alison has a BA from Denison University and an MBA from Boston University, only some of which is useful when scraping paint. When not restoring windows for other people she works on restoring her 1850’s farmhouse in Topsfield, MA.

Transcript:

Speaker 1: Thank you for tuning in to the Practical Preservation podcast. Please take a moment to visit our website practicalpreservationservices.com for additional information and tips to help you restore your historical home. If you’ve not yet done so, please subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher, and Sound Cloud. Also like us on Facebook.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Practical Preservation podcast hosted by Danielle Keperling. Keperling Preservation Services is a family owned business based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania dedicated to the preservation of our built architectural history for today’s use, as well as future generations. Our weekly podcast provides you with expert advice specific to the unique needs of renovating a historic home. Educating by sharing our from the trenches preservation knowledge, and our guest’s expertise balancing modern needs while maintaining the historical significance, character, and beauty of your period home.

Danielle: Thank you for joining us for the Practical Preservation podcast. Today, we have Alison Hardy. She is the owner of Window Woman of New England, Incorporated. Her company restores windows in the north of Boston Merrimack Valley region. Alison has a BA from Denison University and an MBA from Boston University, only some of which is useful when scraping paint. When not restoring windows for other people, she works on restoring her 1850s farmhouse house in Topsfield, Massachusetts. Alison, thank you for joining us.

Alison: Thank you for inviting me, Danielle.

Danielle: Thank you. I know that we have met in person a couple of times, so I’m excited to have you here to share your knowledge and expertise. How did you get started in preservation? It kind of sounds like it was a meandering road, similar to mine.

Alison: Indeed, this is about my third career. I actually trained to do textile design and costume design and did that for many years, and sold large format printers for printing textiles. Then when my husband and I bought an old house, suddenly like most people in preservation, you start looking at your old house and appreciating your old house and getting interested in old houses. It really came about from owning a wreck of a house with windows in terrible condition. I said, “This is crazy. I must be able to fix these somehow.”

Danielle: Very good. Did you start at restoring your windows yourself? Did you learn yourself or did you take some classes? How did you figure out what you needed to do?

Alison: I am self-taught. Luckily, my husband builds furniture as a hobby, so he had a wood shop which was very handy. Then I am one of those people who will just go out and research a project to death, so I read as much as I could, went to some events on preservation and talked to as many people as I could, and just started chipping away at paint and figuring out how to re-putty a window, which is daunting at first, but after you do a couple hundred you get really good at it.

Danielle: Right, we joked that people, if they’re going to try to do it their selves should start in the back of the house.

Alison: Definitely, definitely somewhere you don’t want to see. In fact, the house that we’re in now, the first windows that I did are embarrassing.

Danielle: Oh no.

Alison: They’re my walk of shame every day. I’m like, “Oh, I really should redo those,” because I just didn’t have the patience for getting all of the paint off and doing all of the repair techniques that now we do.

Danielle: Right, and the little details do matter. We try to impart that, too, to our employees. That, just because you’re scraping paint doesn’t mean that that’s not one of the most important things that you’re doing on this window.

Alison: True, and it’s funny, we just had a batch of windows come in that had been scraped by an abatement company, and my crew was horrified at how badly they were done. I’m like, “Well, that’s why we insist on being neat and tidy and doing things so that you don’t harm the window, you actually make it better.”

Danielle: Yes, yes. Important lessons. How did you get started then selling your services to the public?

Alison: Well, funny enough, a friend of ours bought an apartment building in a town not far from us and said, “It’s got a bunch of windows in horrible shape. Do you want to tackle those?” I thought, “Sure, why not? I’ll give you a hand.” Which, turned out to be a huge project. I’ve never seen so much nicotine on a window in my life. That was sort of the cutting teeth to, yes I think I can do this for other people.

Alison: Then, you know, God bless America, you can hang out a shingle and start a business. That’s pretty much what I did and started off with some projects for friends, and then those friends knew other people. The good thing about the old house world is that they all talk to each other about products and services and suppliers. Luckily the word got out quickly.

Danielle: Right, that’s one thing I’ve noticed too is that, people are very willing to share their knowledge and information, which is very helpful. You know, even contractors and crafts people, they will share the information because it’s not, even though you might be a competitor, everybody is working towards the same goal.

Alison: It seems like once you find people who cherish older houses and older buildings, we want to support those businesses and we want to let other people know that this is a contractor or somebody who gets old houses just like we do, instead of the “rip them apart and make them into planned cottages.”

Danielle: Yeah, that kind of takes us into my next question. Why do you preserve windows? What makes you passionate about this?

Alison: I do so many estimates now, and it’s always amazing to me the condition of older original windows. You know, to somebody who’s not as observant as I am about windows, they may look terrible. The paint’s peeling, the glazing’s falling off, but to me, I’m like, “But look at the corners and the joints. They’re still in really good shape. They’re still beautifully built. They’re still serving their function. They fit the building. If we just do a little bit of repairs to them, they’ll be beautiful again.” It’s exciting, because most people who call me in kind of know that in the back of their mind, so it’s a validation of saying, “I thought they looked pretty good.” I’m like, “Yes, they are really good. Let’s save them.”

Danielle: Yes, you don’t have to listen to the person that told you, you just need to get new windows.

Alison: Right, I always use the analogy, if you got a flat tire, would somebody say you had to throw out the car and get a new one? It’s the same thing. You have a broken sash, it’s not the end of the world. It can be fixed.

Danielle: Right, right, very, very true. Since you kind of have been learning as you go, what do you wish that you knew when you started that you know now?

Alison: I think if I had any idea how much time was required for doing windows, I probably would have been terrified. You have to acknowledge that it’s a very labor intensive process and there’s not many shortcuts. If you do take shortcuts, it usually ends up costing you in the long run. I think if I really had thought about how much time was involved, I probably would have had a different idea.

Danielle: Yes. That’s true, and that’s one thing that I’ve been trying to explain to people. The majority of our cost is labor. We’re paying people to do this work.

Alison: Yes, glass isn’t a big of expense, wood isn’t a big expense, it’s just the people.

Danielle: Right, right. Have you made any major mistakes that you’re willing to make a public confession about?

Alison: I think undercharging in the beginning made my life a lot more difficult. Once you start charging fairly, your life gets a little bit better.

Danielle: That is really true, and from a business standpoint, that’s I think pretty typical for people who, especially are doing the hands on work, they do undervalue the contributions that they’re making.

Alison: It’s true. It’s hard to believe that people don’t really know what kind of value and cost to assign to window repairs. They know what replacement windows cost if they’ve been shopping around, but they really don’t know, and so it’s up to us to give a fair price. That we know how much time it’s going to take and we know what we need to do to get it done right, and it’s going to cost. It’s not a cheap process. We try to be as efficient as we can, but at the end of the day it’s still labor hours.

Danielle: Right, yeah.

Alison: I have to say, yeah, the other big mistake that I am always teetering on the edge of is I got asked to look at a project and the client said, “Well, you know, I had your competitor work on my last house and I don’t want to have them back.” I get all puffed up and go, “Yes, because we’re better.” It turns out that that’s a very bad mistake, because they’re usually very bad clients. I’ve learned to not get my ego all puffed up and think that we’re better than the other guy. No, sometimes they’re just bad clients.

Danielle: Yeah, and that’s true. Sometimes you do have to kind of see those warning signs and see how the development process goes before you make a commitment to them.

Alison: Yeah.

Danielle: What is the biggest challenge that you see in preservation, or even just in your corner of preservation?

Alison: I know, my very tiny corner of windows. Really, the hard thing is awareness. I can’t tell you how many times people say, “I had no idea anybody did this type of work. I had no idea anybody did this type of work.” It’s frustrating because we don’t have the big advertising budgets of the large replacement companies. We’re very small voices out in the world and it’s hard to get the message out there. I think that’s why we’re so grateful to word of mouth, is that that’s the most efficient way we can to spread the message, but it’s slow and painful and there’s nothing worse than finding out that somebody replaced their windows unnecessarily because they just had no idea that they had an option.

Danielle: That’s very true. We’re fighting the mentality of the past 50 or 60 years of being product installers rather than crafts people too, and looking at it as something that’s repairable rather than just having to replace it. All of that has been pushed by advertising. That is a very big challenge within preservation.

Alison: I think we all sort of cringe at the TV shows that people just take sledgehammers to buildings without even stopping to think about it, or at least not on camera they stop to think about it. It’s so maddening as a preservationist. You know, “Why are they just taking it down in the most destructive way possible? You can take a cabinet off a wall without having to take a sledgehammer to it.” It just drives me crazy.

Danielle: Right, it wouldn’t be as good TV.

Alison: Yeah, right?

Danielle: Do you see any trends in preservation? Any maybe glimmers of hope?

Alison: You know, I have been doing some estimates recently for young couples who are buying their first house and I keep hearing this, “I want to do it right. I want to be real. I grew up in a house with vinyl windows, I grew up in a house with vinyl siding and I don’t want my children to grow up in that kind of house.” I think this whole makers movement, you know, people wanting to get their hands dirty and to do projects and to build things is very encouraging, because once you do get your hands on something, then you start to appreciate it more. That, to me, has been exciting to hear people talk about they want to save things instead of throwing them away. I’m like, “Thank you, finally we’re getting to that point where we understand how bad all of the debris we create is.”

Danielle: Yes, yes, and I think it is values and it’s a mentality because I’ll even take shoes to get fixed and clothes to the tailor. It is, it’s a different mentality of you don’t have to just go out and get new, you can fix what you have, especially if you have a good quality. Then it’s really not more expensive, because you’re not paying it over and over again.

Alison: Right. We’ve had great success of going to some of the green fairs, even a lot of events that focus on local and sustainable foods, because that same mentality carries forward into your house. If you don’t want to eat fake food, why do you want to have fake windows? There’s a continuum here that it all sort of makes sense. Why would you want to create acres of trash and then demolish parts of your house unnecessarily? It all kind of goes together.

Danielle: It does, yeah, that’s very true. How do you keep up with trends in preservation?

Alison: I love to go to events. I think that’s probably the hardest thing for a lot of people who are working in the trades, is that they don’t have big travel budgets and they can’t get out to things. Making an effort to go and meet with fellow preservationists, we just had a wonderful meeting in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in February with the Window Preservation Alliance. This is a trade group that was formed two, three years ago now to bring together window restorers to raise awareness of window restoration, that we actually got started because there was a preservation conference that had one of the big replacement window contractors as a sponsor.

Danielle: Oh, yes.

Alison: We said, “This is crazy. How can we represent our side of the argument when we don’t even have a seat at the table?” The Window Preservation Alliance, we’re a trade association so we now have funds so that we can sponsor events so that we have the other side of the argument, we’re at the table so that we can be part of those discussions. It’s exciting how we’re finding more events, we’re helping to sponsor events.

Alison: There’s one coming up in Cincinnati in May that I’m going to where we’re going to be restoring windows in two buildings. There is one in San Antonio coming up. Then in September in Detroit the Preservation Trade Network will be putting on an event too, so I’m excited about the number of opportunities that we have to meet with one another and talk about what we do. We’re kind of an obscure little profession here, and it’s nice to meet other people who know what you’re talking about.

Danielle: Yes, and that’s exciting that you’re going all over the country. I wouldn’t necessarily think of restoring windows in Texas. There are buildings there that have windows to be restored, so that’s going kind of off of what people would necessarily would think about would be where the historic places are.

Alison: It’s nice that they are people who do this for a living mixed in with community people, because a lot of times homeowners do want to learn how to do things, how to get involved, but they don’t necessarily want to tackle the whole project. As my colleague Steve [Coullion 00:16:23] calls it, “The pros and the Joes working together,” we get a lot more done in a short period of time.

Danielle: Yeah, very, very exciting. That also helps build awareness in the community that there are other options. I know my mom used to sit on the Historic Commission here in Lancaster City, and people would come in wanting to put vinyl windows in, and they would say, “Well, there are other options,” and people would say, “No, there aren’t.” Then it’s a whole education process. That’s a way to do it before even those decisions are being made. That is very, very exciting. Do you have a favorite resource?

Alison: Since May is preservation month, last year was the first year we tried to get all members of the Window Preservation Alliance to hold an event for preservation month. We did one called a sash revival, so we encouraged people to bring in their windows, which most of them have broken glass, and we showed them how to cut glass, fit glass, and glaze a window. It was a really fun event. My crew had a great time working with people. Most of them came from the next town over, which has a fabulous collection of old houses.

Alison: There were actually events all across the country and we’re hoping to do that again this year in May. We had everything from, they did a driveway pop up, they just put a tent in their driveway and had people work on glazing windows. Somebody had a booth at a farmer’s market talking about window repairs. Then some people like me opening up their shop to have the public come in and learn more about what we do and actually get their hands on a window. It’s really fun to have events like that to, again, trying to raise awareness of what we do.

Danielle: Yes, that sounds like fun. To tie it into the national trust, making their whole push for preservation too for that month, it helps build awareness on multiple fronts, so I think that’s really great and exciting. I’m kind of sad that I didn’t think of it.

Alison: Some days you just have, and again, a lot of times it’s just hanging out talking to our other fellow window restorers going, “How can we do this?”

Danielle: Right.

Alison: “Well, what if we just had people bring in windows?”

Danielle: We’ve even had classes before, but we never had people bring their own windows in, but that makes so much more sense. Then they leave with something that’s done. They don’t have to go back and kind of tackle it themselves.

Alison: I was trying to do the sad face/happy face as people came in and left, but I didn’t do so good at capturing my photographs. It was nice to be able to have something they accomplished in one day.

Danielle: Yes, yes, yes, and it makes it a little bit less daunting I would think for them. They know that they can at least, if a pane of glass breaks, they know that they can fix that and it doesn’t take all day.

Alison: Right. I think we’ve all had the frustrating experience of trying to get glazing putty to look neat. We’ve got a couple tips and techniques that we can show people to get them over that frustrating stage of, “It’s just all goopy and it keeps pulling up and it makes a lumpy mess.”

Danielle: Right.

Alison: I don’t know what to say. We’ll help you.

Danielle: This will make it easier.

Alison: Right.

Danielle: What do you think makes you different from other businesses that do this work?

Alison: You know, I’m finding there’s more similarities than dissimilarities in what we do. We’ve become one of the larger shops. I have 10 employees, and so we’re able to tackle bigger projects. I think we’re also fortunate that in the Boston area there are a number of window restoration shops, so if we have a really huge project, we can divvy it up and all work together. It’s very much a collaborative type of business, which is great. It makes it much more fun than being a competitor.

Danielle: Right, yeah, I definitely agree with that. Okay, well thank you so much for joining us today. Why don’t you let us know how our audience can get a hold of you.

Alison: Probably the best way is through our website, which is window-woman-ne.com. There is a contact us page which has our email address on it, or you can always call the workshop at 978-532-2070.

Danielle: Very good, thank you.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Practical Preservation podcast. The resources discussed during this episode are on our website at practicalpreservationservices.com/podcast. If you received value from this episode and know someone else that would get value from it as well, please share it with them. Join us next week for another episode of the Practical Preservation podcast. For more information on restoring your historic home, visit us at practicalpreservationservices.com.

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 insure both needs are met.

Contact information for Chad Martin plus additional resources:

Partners for Sacred Spaces
215-567-3234 x19

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.

Transcript:

Announcer: Thank you for tuning into The Practical Preservation Podcast. Please take a moment to visit our website: practicalpreservationservices.com for additional information and tips to help you restore your historical home. If you’ve not yet done so, please subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. And also like us on Facebook. Welcome to The Practical Preservation Podcast, hosted by Danielle Keperling. Keperling Preservation Services is a family owned business based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, dedicated to the preservation of our built architectural history for today’s use, as well as future generations. Our weekly podcast provides you with expert advice specific to the unique needs of renovating a historic home, educating by sharing our from the trenches preservation knowledge and our guest’s expertise, balancing modern needs while maintaining the historical significance, character, and beauty of your period home.

Danielle: Thank you for coming into The Practical Preservation Podcast. We’re actually doing this interview in person. And today we have Chad Martin with us, the director of The National Fund for Sacred Places. Prior to his role at partners Chad was the pastor at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 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 a ceramics studio coordinator at The Manchester Craftsman’s Guild in Pittsburgh. He has served on several boards of directors in Pittsburgh and Lancaster, including as a founding board member of The Union Project, an example of best practice for adaptive reuse in the historic religious property. As an assistant moderator of The Atlantic Coast Conference MCUSA, he has written articles on art and/or theology and spirituality for several publications, including Ceramics Monthly, Worship, and Conrad Grebel Review. He is ordained for pastoral ministry in The Mennonite Church, USA.

Danielle: Chad is a graduate of Goshen College, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and Leadership Lancaster. Chad, thank you for joining us for The Practical Preservation Podcast.

Chad: Absolutely. It’s a delight to be with you.l

Danielle: Thank you again. How did you get started in preservation? I know you kind of came about it in a round about way.

Chad: Yeah, that’s a great question. So as I was saying kind of coming into this, I do not come at this work from a preservation background. Although I should say, I can maybe start that by saying what we do with The National Fund [crosstalk 00:02:55] for Sacred Places. So Partners for Sacred Places was formed as a nonprofit. We’re a national nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia, formed in the late 1980’s. So almost 30 years ago. At that time in the preservation world there was this kind of brewing conflict, and definitely a robust conversation going on in urban centers like New York, Boston, and Chicago where there was this tension between communities of faith, congregations and parishes, and the preservation community. It was the first time in this country where you saw development pressures for property kind of wooing congregations to consider selling their buildings, or selling heir rights, or those kinds of dynamics-

Danielle: For the real estate?

Chad: For real estate development. Congregations that may have been struggling saw this as an opportunity to endow their programs for years into the future by selling valuable property, which was of course in direct tension with historic preservationists in those very same communities saying, “Even as development pressures increase, we want to be preserving buildings that matter to the community.” So those came [crosstalk 00:04:18].

Danielle: … have stood there for how long [crosstalk 00:04:20] so much a part of the community’s history.

Chad: Exactly. So in places like New York and Boston churches that have been there for 300 years or more, in some cases. So, out of that tension, and like a lot of urban development things, New York was leading the way with some of these conversations. Out of that, Partners was formed as a nonprofit that tried to bridge that gap, and some of that tension, between the preservation community and the interests of congregations. So that’s a kind of long backstory to say that’s the backdrop of the work we do at Partners. Over the years we have had a vested interest in how preservation can enable congregations and parishes to follow their mission of serving their communities, rather than losing their buildings, or selling buildings as a way to [crosstalk 00:05:19].

Danielle: … continue their mission.

Chad: Yeah.

Danielle: I don’t know if this is something that you directly work with, but the churches that get closed in those communities, do you work with those buildings then to find a suitable reuse?

Chad: Yeah, absolutely. The program I direct is The National Fund, which is a new grant making program funded by the [00:05:43] endowment in order to make large capital grants with congregations that are thriving, that have preservation needs in their buildings.

Danielle: Okay, so you’re more that other end of the spectrum where there’s people still attending, but they just don’t have the money to upkeep necessarily that building?

Chad: Exactly. And you know, there’s a wide range of capacity in there. But, virtually every leader of a historic congregation will tell you no matter how well endowed they are there’s always a need for more. Preservation of buildings is expensive, and often for churches falls to the bottom of the list. If they’re choosing between giving money to programs that take care of basic human needs like food, clothing, shelter, if they’re choosing between that and repairing the stained glass windows, usually they’re going to do the program stuff and hope that some day they get to the windows.

Danielle: I know one thing that really opened my eyes to the role of churches and preservation, and promoting art and all of that, was St James just underwent a big restoration project where they worked on safety. I went through a presentation where they talked about all the different things they did to make it for future use, but also respecting that historic. And one of the things that Father David said … I went on a field trip where they were making the clay tiles by hand still at The Mercer Tile Works. He said churches have always promoted that kind of work, and he felt like it was his duty to be a patron and keep that skill and that craft going. And I thought, “That’s really the type work we do, too.” And it opened my eyes to the role of the church. And then I thought back of my history, of the Renaissance, and all those painters, and all of that whole thing. It kind of tied it together in my mind.

Chad: Yeah, absolutely. Historically, churches have been literally the temples at the center of civic life. The story of the 20th century, and now into the 21st century, as you kind of alluded to, is that church participation has been declining. The role of the Christian church, at least, in civic life is very different than it was 100 years ago, or 200 years ago. And yet we still have these vestiges to that era in the physical buildings. Our work is really to step into that gap and say, even as the religious landscape of the country changes, how can we continue to preserve these facilities as a community resource? And usually now it takes more than just the members of the congregation to make that happen. It takes really a full community saying, “This is a resource that matters to us.”

Danielle: And it’s important.

Chad: Yeah. Which really I’m sure puts it in line with many other preservation efforts. No preservation effort happens without a broad [crosstalk 00:08:43] coalitions.

Danielle: And there’s often a discussion of the economic impact of preservation. And I know, prepping for this, reading the economic, you even have things on the website talking about the economic impact of churches in communities, and I had never thought about that. But that really is something that is valuable and should be highlighted so that people aren’t just saying, “Oh, that’s a building that doesn’t pay taxes.” All of those things that go into those community discussions.

Chad: Yeah, absolutely. You’re hitting at the heart of a piece that has been really important at Partners. Very quickly, in it’s early days at Partners in the late 80’s and early 90’s, these conversations started emerging about, “Why should we save these buildings?” Which pushed our staff back to articulating a narrative about why these places matter. And when you’re talking about things like a tax base, and increasing revenue for cash strapped cities looking for revenue wherever they can, that quickly turned to an economic conversation. Church folks aren’t really used to speaking in economic terms about the value of what they do, but I think that’s one of the really important contributions our organization has made over the years. Going back to the mid 90’s, late 90’s, our organization helped sponsor a major research project looking at the economic value of what churches provide. I say churches, but really communities of faith of any religious tradition. So they’re a community. Really aside from everything they do that is the focus of their worship or religious life, looking at the economic impact of employing people in a community.

Chad: The effects of providing services that are often appreciated by the community but under the radar in terms of a dollar amount in the sense of what’s the true value of this? And then we did a major update to that research just in the last couple of years. And we’ve dubbed that the economic halo effect, meaning it radiates out. It’s not just what happens in the doors of the church. You know I, just a couple months ago, visited one of our awardees, which is a Catholic basilica in Milwaukee. It’s an amazing facility. This is not very typical for religious buildings. It was the most visited tourist site in Milwaukee, like the highest rated by Trip Advisor for a couple of years. So they’re definitely a major asset to that community. And we did a halos study of the economic impact of the basilica and the community. They’re a destination wedding venue because it’s such a grand space, so people will come from out of town to have a wedding there. What’s the economic impact of all the guests who come and spend the night there, buy meals there?

Danielle: Right, everything that goes into a wedding.

Chad: Yeah. All the baptisms that happen there, the extended family that come in maybe from the broader region, maybe from even hours away. And we worked to have conservative estimates of that, so this isn’t guesswork. But honestly saying, “What’s the economic activity going on around that place?” And in their case it was in the millions of dollars annually that ripple out from what they do as a basilica that’s not about the dollars spent on a baptism, or the dollars spent on a wedding, or a worship service, but it’s all the dollars spent in the community.

Danielle: The people employed and all the things that go into making the celebrations.

Chad: Yeah. So that’s become an important part of our work, to help congregations tell their story well about why they matter to the [inaudible 00:12:42]. And in some of the cases where churches close frankly they don’t matter a whole lot. They haven’t figured out how to transcend all the changes around them to stay relevant to that community. And we try to be honest with communities when they’re in that place too. But there are many historic congregations that continue to serve their communities in meaningful ways that are often under the radar, and not seen by the broader community as fully as they could be.

Danielle: It’s very interesting to me to look at it because that’s often the way that they look at restoration because restoration is so much more labor intensive than new construction. You’re going in and repairing things rather than buying new materials. You’re not just installing things. Looking at it through that lens I can definitely see how a church, I had never looked at it that way, but how a church does impact the community and all the people around it.

Chad: Yeah, absolutely. Even if folks aren’t always fully aware of what happens inside the doors of a religious space they become symbols to the community. So fi they’re lost to a community how do you quantify what the loss is? And you know, that transcends churches. That’s a historic preservation-

Danielle: Oh, yeah. And that landmark building.

Chad: Yeah, what happens when we lose these landmark buildings? And of course we can’t save all of them. The preservation community is well aware of that, we can’t save all of them.

Danielle: But there are some that are worth definitely saving and preserving so that we have them into the future.

Chad: If I could I wanted to circle back to your question about how we [crosstalk 00:14:26] churches.

Danielle: Sure, definitely.

Chad: … that are not thriving, and what happens with those buildings. Because that is really one of the emerging questions for an organization like ours. In the changing religious landscape we live in right now, increasingly I think this is probably in every community across the country, that’s definitively in every urban community across the country. There are grand historic church buildings that are in disrepair, or facing challenges because either the congregation is dwindling and dying, and ends up closing its doors. Maybe a church sees the writing on the wall and they sell the building, then another congregation steps in. These in some ways are some of the real fun success stories of the work. In some cases there’s no longer a viable congregation that makes sense for a property, but it is still seen as a community asset. So the community rallies to say, “How can we take ownership of this?” That’s really what I was part of with The Union Project in Pittsburgh 10 or 15 years ago.

Danielle: So the building, what did you transform it into? Or how did you reuse it?

Chad: That’s a great adaptive reuse story. That was a crumbling church building. The actual bricks and mortar stories of like hauling trash? That could be a whole podcast itself, just the horror stories of bringing back to life a building that’s been neglected for decades. Numbers of dead pigeons and things like that.

Danielle: Oh yeah, I’ve been there.

Chad: I’m sure you have. Probably everyone interested in this kind of conversation has been there. First of all, the group who bought it was just a group of community members who came together and had a vision for like, ‘We literally walked by this church building every day to get to the bus stop and go to work. It was a symbol of our community and yet it was just falling apart in front of our eyes.”

Danielle: Was it not being used?

Chad: Yeah, there was technically a congregation of like five people meeting around a space heater in a backroom. It clearly had become overwhelmed years ago, and it just was in total disrepair. This was years of sweat equity, but we built a nonprofit organization that was a non sectarian, non faith based, nonprofit organization. Although many of us came from a perspective of communities of faith being important to our formation. Came together to form a nonprofit organization and cast a vision of really developing it as a kind of multipurpose community center. They still exist as an organization, and they still have been taking good care of that building. The uses have kind of shifted a little bit over time as they’ve moved into their own vision, and the founders stepped away. The original vision was around arts, community and faith. So early on we did actually find a congregation that was looking for a home that was brought in as a tenant, and they’re still there. But they’re there as a tenant, they’re an equal partner at the table with all sorts of other nonprofits, community groups. So now it’s used for an event space, a wedding venue.

Chad: There are art studios in the basement, there are nonprofit offices in what would’ve been Sunday school rooms back in the day. And it really came back to life as a community resource.

Danielle: And now the building is being used, and it’s used often. It’s not just sitting there and just used one day a week. And that’s what the building is meant to do.

Chad: Yeah. So in many ways it is serving the kinds of purposes it was built to do in the first place. 150 years ago congregations had a prominence in the community where they could do that tall under their own umbrella. You know, people’s lives revolved around around the life of the church. That’s just simply not true in many cases now. So many of the same kind of services and activities happen there, but they’re under an array of organizations that all are there to serve the community. Some are faith based and some aren’t and they’ve got to find ways to work alongside each other.

Danielle: That made me think of even the parochial schools and the building sitting empty now. There is space there that could be used, and I know that probably falls outside of what you do. Do you focus just on the-

Chad: Yeah, although very closely aligned.

Danielle: I know just in Lancaster there are several buildings that are sitting empty that could have some kind of community center or support kind of thing.

Chad: Well, yeah. And I think truly Lancaster is seeing this go on in every community across the country. It is certainly happening in Lancaster. I’ve lived here 10 years, been here longer. If I think of just the 10 years I’ve been here I have seen historic churches sold by their founding congregation to another congregation. I’ve seen that happen three or four times just in the 10 years I’ve been here. I see churches that I know there are only a handful of people showing up on Sunday morning. Some day really soon that church is going to be on the market and we’re all going to wonder, “How are we going to deal with that hugs, landmark building?” And we’ve seen others. This is one of the interesting things. This certainly happens in other urban centers too. There have been at least two, and maybe three, just in Lancaster that have been converted to high end residences. So Partners vision is, it is best that these are restored as community assets of the community. But there are cases where we kind of walk alongside churches that end up being abandoned.

Chad: You know the saddest stories are wend then are demolished. But it certainly happens, and I think increasingly there’s a very real earnest reality that we have to be strategic. We, meaning everyone involved in this work, about which places can be saved with integrity, and which ones probably can’t. Because there are just too many in flux right now

Danielle: There are. I went through the parochial school in Lancaster. If you look at the number of Catholic churches that are in close proximity to each other, and because they were built for different ethnicities, or different congregations, different nationalities. That’s very hard to sustain, and those are very hard conversations to have because if you don’t have enough people attending to sustain it then you get to that point where the building’s worth preserving, but can it stay in this form or does it need to transform? I think if you go through the criteria for a national landmark I’m sure most of them would be on the register. But then you have to think, you know how Christ Church is one of the ones that you funded. That is definitely tied to our national history. But then you have the other ones that are still very important because they’re tied to people’s history, but maybe they’re not as noteworthy and they didn’t have the famous people. And that is a balance, and I think that would be really hard because the buildings are mostly all beautiful, and even in disrepair are beautiful.

Danielle: I don’t know if you’re familiar, there’s a book that’s like abandoned places. I can’t think of the author’s name, but he went into these places and there’s one church in Philadelphia that he went to every day as it was being demolished. Even those pictures are beautiful, as have the building’s gone.

Chad: Yeah, the photography can be beautiful, but the place is heartbreaking.

Danielle: Yeah, it is. So I don’t envy the position you’re in. We usually get involved when people are ready to save something. We don’t have to make those hard decisions.

Chad: Help decide. Well, and we don’t really either. Although with the grant making program we’re often in the same boat where we come alongside whenever we can. Although with the grant making program we do face these hard choices. So with the national fund, this was created to speak into all the things we’re describing, and actually get some financial resources to these congregations. But even still we’re funding like 12 across the country this year that really [crosstalk 00:23:24].

Danielle: How many applications do you get?

Chad: We’re in our second year of the program. The first years was an invitation only round. So we have about two weeks to go until our due date for the first fully open application round where we marketed this across the country. So it’s still a little bit yet to be seen, but it’s looking like we will have something like 100 plus applications for about 12 slots.

Danielle: Those are hard choices.

Chad: And behind those 100 there’s probably another 1000 that would technically qualify for our program, but do they rise to the top is the most important right now. I should tell a couple stories though.

Danielle: Oh, sure. Definitely.

Chad: [crosstalk 00:24:08]. It reminds me of the range of places we do find because you’re exactly right. We have to be strategic. We look at a couple factors. We’re going for a building that’s really significant maybe in a couple of different ways. It might be architecturally significant. The history of the congregation might be significant. So in the case of Christ Church in Philadelphia It hits both of those. But, however you want to rank that they’re in the top of both of those. Ben Franklin is buried in their burial ground, the building is this amazing Colonial era building. But the other piece that’s really important to us, and this goes back to the kind of research we were talking about earlier. I think really the whole preservation community is moving this way too, where the line I’ve even heard. Stephanie Meeks, the director of The National Trust for Historic Preservation, uses this line frequently that this is not just about bricks and mortar, and preserving these places completely outside of their context. It’s about taking care of spaces that still matter to their community.

Danielle: And I think, at least in the preservation community in Lancaster, in the organizations there’s an organization just devoted to saving places, and then one that’s devoted to the people’s stories. And I think to marry those two would really make more people realize that preservation is about all of our history, it’s collective.

Chad: So Christ Church is a great example because, for all their noteworthiness architecturally and historically, there are other churches that rise to that level in the country, but one of the real stand out features of Christ Church is they have really worked hard over the last couple decades to be completely relevant as a community resource for Philadelphia.

Danielle: I wasn’t aware of that. That’s great.

Chad: Yeah. Oh, it’s a fantastic story. One of the ways they have done that is opened their, it’s called Neighborhood House, but it would be kind of a parish house that’s adjacent to the church building, which is historic in its own right, but it’s like 155 years old or something like that. They have fully restored and updated that facility to be used as a multipurpose venue, mostly as a theater [inaudible 00:26:32].
Danielle: Oh, that’s interesting.

Chad: These numbers aren’t exact because it’s off the top of my head, but it’s something on the order of like 150 plus arts organizations have used their facility as a venue in the last year.

Danielle: Oh, that’s great. So that’s like every other day.

Chad: Yeah, it’s almost every day there is a theater group in their building either rehearsing or performing. So that’s amazing.

Danielle: Yeah, it is.

Chad: This 300 plus year old congregation that has this weight of history, that on its own it would be reasons to put [inaudible 00:27:10] into saving it. What really puts it over the top is the way they have worked. And as a former pastor this is what matters to me more than just a place that mattered in history.

Danielle: Yeah, and I was going to ask about that. Do you feel like that brings you a different perspective in [crosstalk 00:27:24]?

Chad: Yeah, totally. We have other staff who come from much more traditional preservation background. And I really respect and, as a newcomer to this work, I learn a lot from what they teach me. But that being said, my perspective is often driven by what’s the impact of these congregations now? And not just in traditional social service ways, but are they finding innovative, dynamic ways to engage with the community?

Danielle: Yeah. I think that is an interesting perspective, and I think that in this type of work, in preservation, and having the different perspectives helps everybody see that it’s not just a static place in history, it’s an evolution. And the impact now is just as important if we can balance both, and honor both.

Chad: Yeah. So that’s a real important piece for our program, we’re constantly looking for both of those pieces. And we end up saying no to some projects who don’t understand why we said no to them. [inaudible 00:28:34] like, “But don’t you understand how important this building is?” “Yes, and you’re not doing anything with it right now.” So it’s really important to us that it’s continuing to serve its community. That being said, there are also these other situations. Christ Church, that I was just describing, they’re a great example. They have lots of resources and there’s always a need for more. So we’re [crosstalk 00:28:58] but really they have access to a lot of resources. We work with some others that are in really tenuous situations. So I think of a really wonderful little African Methodist Episcopal Zion congregation in North Carolina that we’re funding this year. They got on our radar because they’ve been out of their building for 10 years because it suffered hurricane damage. They got on our radar because they were listed as one of the most endangered places by The National Trust a few years ago.

Chad: So the National Trust brought them to the table. They have capital needs beyond what they can muster themselves. Even though they have continued to thrive, they’ve been meeting off location for 10 plus years.

Danielle: And they’re still-

Chad: Yeah, they continue to thrive, continue to serve their community in lots of important ways. This is a church built by a prominent African American freedman soon after The Civil War. The congregation was formed in the Reconstruction Era after The Civil War, the church was built in the 1890’s by one of the most prominent African American families in that community in North Carolina.

Danielle: So it’s a lot of history too?

Chad: There’s a lot of history there. And it’s a more simple looking, kind of country, North Carolina church, but what an important place historically.

Danielle: And from a historical perspective, because I’m sure at that time it was the education center, and the community center, and everything else that, that Reconstruction era required.

Chad: Exactly. It’s a classic Reconstruction era story. White folks from the north came down and started the school next door, and eventually the same African American builder built he school next door. And what an amazing legacy of a community that probably was severely lacking in resources and had every obstacle, still built a beautiful little church.

Danielle: And that was probably their safe place, too?

Chad: Yeah.

Danielle: Within the community. It’s not as prominent, but it’s definitely an important piece of our history.

Chad: Yeah, and in that case the goal is to get them back in that building so that they can reestablish that sense of home.

Danielle: How do you work with the congregations? Do you do a matching funds? Or how does that process work?

Chad: Yeah, that’s a great question. Our grant making program has a couple different pieces to it. One, and this is kind of the hook for everyone, is the big capital grant. Of course, they would all love to get $250,000 from us. And anyone who’s awarded in the program, the goal is sincerely to get them that money. But along the way we do a lot of capacity building, and assistance with their project. So we have small planning grants that help pay for things like architectural fees or-

Danielle: Project development?

Chad: Yeah, project development. All those things that add up for any project along the way. And those are modest sized planning grants, but the goal is to have at least enough in the planning grants so encourage them to do all that good professional project work. And then each congregation is expected to participate in a group training. We do a couple different levels of that, but the basic on is simply like, “How do you run a good capital campaign as a church?” Many of these congregations have not done a capital campaign in a generation, or maybe ever. And you know that North Carolina church, they’re doing great. They’re a hardworking church, but they don’t have a big budget, and they’re looking at like a million dollars to be able to get back in the building.

Danielle: Right. And for a smaller congregation that’s very daunting.

Chad: That’s a big deal. So just getting the some basic tools for how do you set up an effective campaign. All the while encouraging them to get professional help with that too.

Danielle: That was what I was thinking was, could they even plan stages so that they’re protecting the building, and that’s how we [inaudible 00:33:21]. So you stop all the water and elements from getting it. And then you’re stabilized. And then you can move forward from that, and that gives people encouragement too that they’re actually making progress. 

Chad: Exactly. Some projects are a once and done thing, and some are phased. And then we also wrap in some kind of customized consulting services that are often either in the realm of capacity building or using a set of skills and expertise that our staff have to help them get a step down the road with something related to their building and their mission. That could be really wide ranging. Our staff bring a wide variety of experiences. Everything from very traditional preservation considerations, to capital campaign expertise, to expertise in training up the congregation on, “If you want to share your space more for community life, how do you do that?” Do you make that part of who you are? So we’ll step in and offer a few days of free consulting work [crosstalk 00:34:29].

Danielle: I think that’s probably very important too. Do you do that for the grant recipients?

Chad: Yeah. We were talking earlier about 12 slots out of this 100 plus or whatever. So they apply for the program and we award a cohort into the program, this year it’ll probably be 12, and then each of those 12 get everything I just described.

Danielle: That’s very, very cool. Well that’s very interesting. Did you have anything else that you wanted to share? I feel like we’ve covered a lot of things.

Chad: Great question. I don’t think so, I think that’s an okay place. We could follow lots of other trails with this, but-

Danielle: I think we’ve covered what you do, and why you do it, and why it’s so important to not just the congregation, but to the greater community. How can our audience get a hold of you?

Chad: Great question. Partners for Sacred Places is the organization I work for, and we have a website, which is sacredplaces.org. You can visit that website and learn about the array of things we do from training to consulting, to grant making. The program that I direct is The National Fund, and it has its own stand-alone website. I should say that program is in partnership with The National Trust for Historical Preservation, which is the largest national preservation organization. The website for The National Fund is fundforsacredplaces.org. My phone number is on the Partners website, my email is on both websites. I’m always glad to talk to people more about this program.

Danielle: Yes, thank you for coming in and speaking with me. I enjoyed it.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Practical Preservation Podcast. The resources discussed during this episode are on our website at practicalpreservationservices.com/podcast. If you received value from this episode and know someone else that would get value from it as well, please share it with them. Join us next week for another episode of The Practical Preservation Podcast. For more information on restoring your historic home visit us at practicalpreservationservices.com.

 

 

 

 

 

“We regret much of what we’ve built; we regret much of what we’ve torn down. But we’ve never regretted preserving anything.” -Daniel Sack

Original windows serve a dual purpose of providing ventilation and light while being an important part of the buildings architectural design. These windows are constantly under attack from the marketing forces of the replacement window companies.

Window Restoration

Window Restoration in Society Hill neighborhood in Philadelphia

 

Here’s a horrifying experience recently shared with us:

I was one of those stupid people who put new vinyl windows in my old 1883 farmhouse. I had already spent a winter fixing the old, broken, and cracked windows since no one had lived in my house for seven years. I did show significant saving (on) heating oil the first year since I had storm windows as well.

Fast forward ten years and I am already seeing the gas between the windows escaping. Some of the locks have stopped being cooperative as well. And the warranty? Well, the company no longer makes windows.

And ever since installing the windows, I have had peeling paint on my siding. I didn’t know about siding vents – the kind you stick up under the clapboards – until earlier this year.

This is one decision I wish I could make again – I’d never get rid of my old wooden windows!

Sadly, we hear these kinds of stories all the time (so much in fact we make traditional windows to replace modern replacement windows).

Traditional Wood Windows with Insulated Glass at the Petersen House in Washington, DC

Traditional Wood Windows with Insulated Glass at the Petersen

House in Washington, DC

However, we also know that your wood windows are the prime targets for replacement window companies.

The information homeowners are taught to believe, is that original wood windows are substandard and the only viable solution is to replace them with their very own superior product. Chances are you’ll probably even get a guarantee too!

The original windows are part of your home and integral to the historic fabric of it. Windows are one of the most significant architectural elements, and they serve as both an interior and exterior feature.

Windows that are not properly maintained can become more than an eye soar. The functionality of their original design begins to falter, chilly winter air seeps in and humidity becomes the deciding factor if the window will open this time or remain jammed shut for perpetuity.

Window Lead Magnet Ad

You can be assured that the trusted replacement window sales representative will make sure you are well educated on the seemingly endless array of benefits that can be attained by purchasing their product.

The sales pitch will include such ‘facts’ as your existing single-pane wood windows cannot perform as well as replacement windows!

This incomplete information continues to be perpetuated by the replacement window industry with the goal of you buying their window. Homeowners accepting this information are often being provided data comprised to affirm the idea that original and historic wood windows are inferior to their replacement counterparts.

Single-pane wood windows in disrepair and poorly maintained, cannot perform as well as intact replacement windows or any window in optimum condition.

Wood windows that are not adequately maintained, neglected and in poor condition are often used to base conclusive assessments of the efficiency of replacement windows verses original windows.

It should not be surprising that replacement windows fair better in this scenario.

These comparison studies and their findings are used to influence homeowners, but they do not tell the entire story. In fact, a properly maintained single-pane wood window, weatherized, in conjunction with a storm window (interior or exterior) is equal to a replacement window in energy usage according to numerous engineering studies.

A replacement window may save a few dollars in heating and cooling cost, but to recoup the cost in the investment of a whole home window replacement, it will take you fifty or more years at less than a $1.00 a year in heating and cooling savings according to the University of Vermont study.

Yes, replacement windows do offer double panes (sometimes triple), low U-Values and Low-E glass. The really cheap ones offer a low price point too.
It doesn’t make them better.

Restored windows Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster, PA

Restored windows Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster, PA

Another ‘fact’ that will be citied during the sales presentation is that replacement windows are “maintenance free”.

Maintenance free may imply a solution to a home’s rundown windows, but the solution is not found in mass produced and disposable windows.

Maintenance free means it cannot be maintained or repaired, with the average life span under twenty years, those very same replacement windows will find themselves in a land fill along with their nemesis, the original windows, they replaced. Every material and every part of a window wears, breaks down and needs some type of repair to continue proper functioning.

Fact is, that a replacement window cannot be repaired and cannot continue to work at the same level it was when installed. It is not comprised of the same individual components as traditional windows, it’s a single unit design and constructed as such to make it impossible to disassemble and repair.

When a replacement window fails, its maintenance free selling point becomes the reason you need another replacement window. It also becomes another opportunity for a replacement window company to sell you the latest and greatest ‘maintenance free’ window. The notion that replacing supposedly substandard wood windows with modern replacement worry-free windows, is certainly a misnomer. As in the case study above, homeowners are often disillusioned when the integrity of ten or twenty-year-old replacement windows deteriorate to level where they inevitably need to be replaced – again and again – welcome to the replacement cycle.

Original windows can be repaired and preserved because they predate the era of planned obsolescence. An era when buildings had to work with the environment to keep its inhabitants warm in the winter and cool in the summer. An era in which fixing things was preferred to replacement. An era before the skilled tradesman become product installers with an assembly line mentality of the building trades. The individual components of these windows can each be repaired, maintained or replaced in sections as need be. They were built for longevity, not for replacement.

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They can be preserved and their historical significance doesn’t need to be sacrificed for energy efficiency or functionality.

When an original wood window fails, it can be repaired and repaired again and it isn’t as daunting of a task as you just might think. Replacement window companies cannot make a profit if homeowners routinely maintain their historic windows. The replacement window industries’ goal is to sell as many windows as possible. Our goal is to help you understand there are options that preserve the integrity of your historic building and to arm you with information and facts.

Maintenance measures can be taken to keep historic windows energy efficient, properly functioning and able to last another 100 years:
 Painting
 Caulking
 Weather stripping
 Re-glazing
 And more…

Replacement windows will however permanently alter your homes interior and exterior appearance. Losing the detail and elegance found in the workmanship of true divided lights, wavy single pane windows, rails, muntins, profiles, depths and sills will be lost and replaced with flat and shadowless details, meant to replicate what was once there. Understanding the materials and traditional joinery used to build your original windows are superior to any replacement window is an important factor in deciding whether to restore or replace.

Challenging conventional knowledge on what it takes to maintain historic windows isn’t as daunting as it may seem. However, it requires shifting the paradigm of thought – understanding that maintaining your original windows can be a simple task and the reason to replace your windows is not to save energy costs or have zero-maintenance. 

Watch the video below to learn more options for your original wood windows.

This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Commercial Style 1890 – 1920

Identifiable Features

1.  Vertical emphasis: 6-20 stories in height
2.  Flat roofs
3.  Masonry wall surfaces
4.  Three part windows or projecting bay windows
5.  Decorative cornices
6.  Steel and beam construction
7.  Ground floor storefronts

Commercial Style

The Commercial style reflects advances in construction technology that permitted the creation of very tall buildings, the first skyscrapers in the urban landscape.  This style is sometimes referred to as the Chicago style, after the city where steel-framed, relatively unadorned, utilitarian, tall commercial buildings first appeared in great numbers in the 1890s.  Advances in commercial architectural design in Philadelphia and New York City laid the groundwork for the full development of the Commercial style in Chicago.  William Le Baron Jenney was the first architect to employ the steel frame construction in his design for the Home Insurance building completed in Chicago in 1885.   Other prominent architects who worked in the development of this new building technology included the firms of Adler and Sullivan (Sullivan’s  embellishment of this style became its own distinctive architectural style, the Sullivanesque), Burnham and Root, and Holabird and Roche.  While the style thrived in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century, examples of the Commercial style can be found in many other cities.

Prior to the development of steel frame technology, building height had been limited by the need for massive masonry support walls.  The strength of the steel skeleton allowed for much taller buildings without the bulk of heavy masonry walls.  The invention of the elevator also facilitated the design of tall buildings by making upper floors more easily accessible.  Commercial style buildings reflecting this first wave of skyscraper construction are usually between six and twenty floors in height.  The distinguishing characteristics of this style are a steel skeleton construction, expressed externally as a grid of intersecting piers and cross spandrels, a flat roof with modest cornice, and large bands of windows.  Windows often featured a projecting bay which extended from the ground floor to the top of building.  Another common window type used for Commercial style buildings was the “Chicago window,” comprised of a large fixed central pane, flanked by two narrow casements for ventilation.  The ground floor of Commercial style buildings usually contained large display windows for storefronts.  Some examples of this style employ decorative elements of other popular styles of the era, such as Romanesque or Gothic Revival ornament.  Sullivan’s uniquely curvilinear Art Nouveau inspired ornamental panels led to its distinction as a separate architectural style. Some buildings of Commercial style are very simple in design with no notable ornamentation or reference to past architectural styles.  These bare bones commercial buildings were the precursors of even taller and more simplistic modern skyscraper design.

While the purest description of Commercial style buildings best fits early skyscrapers, many much shorter buildings are sometimes described as Commercial style.  These one to four story brick buildings date from the same era, were designed for commercial use, have large pane windows on the ground floor  and flat roofs, often with decorative parapets.  Early car dealerships and repair shops often take this form with large windows or garage door bays on the ground floor.  This subtype of the style is a more vernacular version that is more prevalent in Pennsylvania than the true high style Commercial style skyscrapers.

 

We recently completed a historic wood window restoration project at the Mill at Anselma.  This mill is a gem of historic architecture in our country – the most complete example of a functioning historic grist mill in the entire country.

History of the Mill

The Mill at Anselma has truly historic origins. In the late 1600’s, the property was owned by Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn, though there was no mill on the property just yet. That would come in the mid 1700’s when influential Quaker Samuel Lightfoot decided to build a water-powered mill along the Pickering Creek after purchasing the 500-acre property in 1725. In the mid 1700’s, Chester County was becoming the “bread basket” of the
colonies and Lightfoot recognized the need for a local grist mill.

In 1767, Samuel divided his property between his two sons, with his younger son William receiving the acreage that included the grist mill. It was during William’s old age that the mill’s prosperity began to decline. It wasn’t until the early 1820’s that the mill would be revitalized when revolutionary technology that allowed for continuous production in grist mills was installed by the Shenemans. These labor-saving elevators and conveyors carried the grain between floors in the mill and were incorporated into the existing mill system – leaving the original Lightfoot technology untouched.

Just before the Civil War, the Oberholtzer family purchased and lived on the property and in 1862 poetess married into the family. The scenery around the mill is featured in her poems, including her famous “At the Old Mill” from her book of verse, “Violet Lee”. The mill remained largely untouched until 1906 when the wooden water wheel was replaced with a steel water wheel and the wooden sluiceway with iron pipe. Shortly after, the advent of portable grist mills made trips to the Anselma Mill no longer necessary and the mill’s prosperity quickly declined.

In 1919 Oliver Collins purchased the property and responded to the changes in market demand. Without touching the Colonial-era technology in the mill, Collins installed technology that allowed him to run a grist mill, saw mill, cider press, metal working shop, and even a barber shop and lawnmower repair shop – all of which were powered by the water wheel in the mill.

The Mill Today

In 1982 when Collins passed away, the Mill was purchased by the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, who performed a lengthy restoration of the mill from 1999 to 2004. When done, the historic millstones milled flour for the first time since 1934.

It is the most complete example of a custom grain mill in the U.S. and in 2005 The Mill at Anselma became the only custom grist mill in the U.S. to be designated a National Historic Landmark.

Our Historic Wood Window Replication Project at the Mill

During the restoration in the early 2000’s, the deteriorating window sashes had not been addressed and we were contracted to repair and replace the window sashes and sills.

Before we began work, the windows were a hodge-podge of different styles from different periods over the years. None of the sashes were original to the mill, so we replicated the profile from the oldest sash on the mill to give all the windows the same profile. We manufactured new sashes for the windows, replaced a few sills, and repaired quite a few stops and casings to restore the windows to full, working order.

In deciding which wood to use for the windows, we looked to the wood that was already on the mill. We determined that the window frames had originally been made of white oak and had been left unpainted, which was common for informal Colonial buildings. So we chose a quarter sawn white oak for the replacement sashes. In quarter sawn white oak all the graining runs vertically. This makes the wood a tighter wood that is stronger and more stable since the grain is all running in the same direction, is less prone to warping, and seasonal expansion and contraction, and offers extra moisture resistance. Quarter sawn white oak in general is a quality wood choice, but it was a particularly ideal wood choice to use in the moist, shady area of where the mill sat.

Though we don’t often leave wood unpainted, we did in this case in keeping with the original style of the windows. Despite the fact that originally there would have been no treatment applied to the wood, we did use a preservative that we made out of linseed oil and mineral spirits to help protect the wood and increase its longevity. The new growth wood we have available to us today simply does not last as long as old growth wood did when left untreated.

In addition to our work on the windows, we repaired the roof on their springhouse. During a winter storm a tree had fallen on the springhouse and damaged the roof. It was a traditional oak lathe roof with no sheathing and had bellied down in the center. When it was restored, the Trust chose to leave the belly in the roof as a sign of how it had always been instead of correcting it. (A choice that nags at Chuck’s perfectionist side, but one his preservationist side very much respects.)

The roof repair required special attention to detail. The angles had to be shimmed and straightened with shingles. “It took more time, but the job wouldn’t have turned out as nice without it. It was definitely worth it,” Chuck notes.

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”left” cite=”” quotestyle=”style01″] “We’re very pleased. It was a real pleasure to work with you and show off your magnificent work. You are outstanding professionals and experts in your field.“ -Craig Hadley, Executive Director Mill at Anselma [/sws_blockquote_endquote]

 

History of the Harris-Cameron Mansion in Harrisburg, PA

historic porch restoration, historic porch

 

In the early 1700′s, Harrisburg’s founder John Harris Sr. immigrated to the area from Yorkshire, England after receiving a land grant.  When he first arrived, Harris Sr. built a homestead on the bank of the Susquehanna River and established a trading post, and then a successful ferry business that would funnel much of the Scottish, irish, and German immigrants west for over fifty years.  Known for his fair dealings and good relationship with local Native Americans, Harris Sr.’s also facilitated successful relationships between new settlers and the local Native American population.

After Harris Sr. died in 1748, John Harris Jr. inherited the homestead and business and continued the family legacy of good relationships with local Native Americans – during the French and Indian War two notable “council fires” were held at the Harris home for talks between the Indian Nations, local governing officials, and British representatives.

historic porch restoration, historic porch

 

In 1766, after the French and Indian War ended, Harris Jr. decided it was time for a more substantial house for the family.  Tired of evacuating their current homestead whenever the river flooded, Harris Jr. chose the current site of the mansion after observing that even during the worst flooding, the river had never reached the top of the rise in the ground the mansion sits on.

Originally constructed in the Georgian style of architecture using locally quarried limestone, the house had a total of eight owners over the years and each made changes to the house.  In the early 1800′s a rear wing was added to the original mansion, and in 1863 the house underwent significant changes when Simon Cameron (seven-time U.S. Senator, President Lincoln’s first Secretary of War, and former Ambassador to Russia) purchased the house.

File:Smn Cameron-SecofWar.jpg

“Having made an offer of $8,000 for the Harris Mansion, Cameron left for Russia. He traveled throughout Europe and stopped in England, France, Italy, and the German states. While making his way to Russia, Cameron was shopping for furnishings for his new house. In the parlor are two 14-foot-tall (4.3 m) pier mirrors, as well as mirrors above the fireplaces that came from France. The fireplace mantles are hand-carved Italian marble, and the alcove window glass is from Bavaria.

Cameron disliked being politically isolated in Russia, so he returned to the United States and resigned the post in 1863. After finalizing the purchase of the house, Cameron set out to convert it to a grand Victorian mansion in the Italianate style. He hoped it would be suitably impressive to his business and political associates. Cameron added a solarium, walkway, butler’s pantry, and grand staircase. He also had the floor lowered three feet into the basement in the front section of the house, because the 11-foot ceilings in the parlor could not accommodate his new 14-foot mirrors.”

-Wikipedia entry on the Simon Cameron House

In the early 1900′s, Cameron’s grandson Richard Haldeman, the last of the Cameron family to live in the home, made more changes when he redecorated, modernized the mansion, and added the West Alcove to the house.  When he died, his sister donated the house and other family items to the  Historical Society of Dauphin County.

 

Historic Porch Restoration at the Harris-Cameron Mansion

In 2013, we were contracted to repair and restore the Victorian style porch.  The porch was in disrepair – the brick piers that supported the floor were falling apart, the corner of the roof system was completely rotted out, there was a vermin infestation underneath the porch that was compromising the structural stability of the porch.  In addition to the disrepair, there had been alterations to the style of the porch over the years and the Historical Society wanted the porch both repaired and returned to its original style.

The major contributing problem that needed to be addressed was that the spouting and gutters weren’t emptying water away from the porch because the porch had settled and moved.  There had been attempts to repair the porch to keep it from settling, but they didn’t last or weren’t correct repairs – at one point someone had actually strapped the porch to the stone house wall to try and keep it from sliding by putting metal gussets at the spots where the framing was coming apart and separating at the corners.  But no one had ever addressed the problems with the porch foundation which was causing the settling and moving.

For the project, we started with demolition – a very careful demolition.  There were a lot of important materials on the porch that we encased in plywood boxes to protect them during the demolition process.  The stone where George Washington stood in 1780…  An original sandstone step that was already cracked…  All the important elements of the porch were carefully protected to prevent any damage during the construction process.

After demolition, we addressed the foundation issues by pouring five concrete footers at each of the column locations since that is where the porch had been failing and where the roof was sagging.  There had been brick piers there that we rebuilt with a combining of the existing brick and salvaged brick we purchased to match, but there had never been a frost-line footer under the porch.

All of the existing trim, arches, columns, floor, and skirtboard that could be salvaged were brought back to our shop where we removed the lead paint, repaired the pieces where necessary, fabricated new pieces as needed to match existing pieces, and reassembled them.  We fabricated new columns and elliptical arches from mahogany wood to match the style of the existing columns and arches that were re-used.  Several columns still had the original trim that we could copy when turning all of the capitals and column pieces.

We were able to level and save the porch roof by putting a large, carrier beam on the front of it.  We also put all of the columns and capitals on metal pipes before we installed them so we could put the columns on without cutting them in half.

The flooring and ceiling also needed repaired and replaced at some spots.  The original wood was vertical fir, but using fir would have been tremendously costly.  Mahogany was chosen instead for its availability and its cost.  While mahogany would not have been used as an exterior wood when the porch was originally built, it is an acceptable replacement material in preservation standards and actually holds up better as an exterior wood than many original woods.

This project was a collaborative effort between Richard Gribble at Murphy & Dittenhafer ArchitectsMcCoy Brothersand the Historical Society of Dauphin County, and us.