What looked like a duplex house with 50’s asbestos siding on the exterior, revealed its true “inner beauty” to be instead a c. 1800 log house.  The owners wanted to expose the logs and create an art gallery to show their work and the works of other artists in the community.


*Photos by Alan Helm Photography

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“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too” might apply in the kitchen, but when you’re building houses, you sometimes can have both.  If you like timber-frame houses but can’t afford one, consider a hybrid.  Although a complete timber frame usually costs 10% to 20% more than a comparable stick frame, a small timber-frame structure integrated into a stick-frame house adds only a fraction of that cost.  Hybrids also are less complicated to build than full timber frames, yet they retain the dramatic look of timber-frame structures in visible areas.  These timber-frame parts can range in scale and complexity from a simple covered entry to an entire two-story addition.  In a typical situation, a timber-frame company such as mine is used as a subcontractor and provides the materials and installation; we also have supplied materials and/or assembled components for builders.  The following are some examples of projects we’ve built.
Entries and porches: A little timber goes a long way
A home’s entrance serves as a transition between outside and inside; it should be protecting and inviting.  A timber-frame entrance (see photo) satisfies these requirements and is relatively easy to build.  Typically composed of two trusses and connecting girts, the structure is lag-bolted to wall studs through the sheathing; the posts are anchored to a masonry pad or footings with noncorrosive standoffs and 1-in. dia. Galvanized-steel pins (see drawing).
Building a flat-ceilings timber-frame porch is also fairly easy (see photo).  The porch is built with a series of posts, girts and braces that support a simple stick-frame roof, which in turn ties the timber frame to the house.
Any number of styles is possible.  Entrances can be as simple as a single bent with a ridge, purlins and side girts that die into the exterior wall.  A large entrance can be even more elaborate.  Railings can be integrated into the posts, or the posts can be doubled up.  Whether on a porch or a deck, posts that look too feeble to support even themselves are the one thing that most diminishes the presence and personality of a house.  We always recommend that substantial posts and girts be used – say, 8x8s and 6x10s, respectively.  If these dimensions look too heavy, the beams’ edges can be chamfered or beaded for a lighter look.
Sprucing up the ceiling with a floor system
A timber-frame floor/ceiling system usually consists of a massive central, or summer, beam that supports the smaller joists (see photo).  The drywall then can be placed on top of the timbers, and a sound-deadening floor (usually layers of plywood) or a conventional 2x-joist floor can be built above, especially if ductwork is an issue.  For a wood ceiling, tongue-and-groove boards are usually the materials of choice, followed by a built-up floor or 2x joists.  Some builders may opt for a single layer of tongue-and-groove boards, but sound transmitted between floors can be irritating.
Opening a space with trusses
The most popular hybrid form is the timber-frame truss system (see photo).  Most often, trusses are placed in a large open space, such as a great room.  Heavy trusses generally can be spaced 16ft. apart if they’re connected with purlins (see drawings) spaced 4ft. o.c.  If the purlins don’t fit in the design, more trusses with closer spacing do the trick.  In such a scenario, tongue-and-groove ceiling boards run perpendicular to the trusses rather than parallel as they do with purlin connections.  It’s usually more economical to go with the purlins because fewer trusses are used.
Other considerations include roof pitch and span-loading requirements.  In terms of structural effectiveness as well as aesthetics, scissors, hammer-beam, and tied-rafter systems work better with steep pitches (12-in-12 or greater) and shorter spans (24ft. or less).  Whatever the choice, review  any design with a licensed structural engineer.
Incidentally, for whatever type of project that we’re working on, we have drawings sealed by a registered engineer because loading requirements can dictate not only the shape but also timber size and spacing.  The relatively low cost of an engineer’s time is money well spent.
Truss design can make a space feel contemporary and light, medieval and heavy, or just about anything in between, depending on configuration (see drawings), timber species, surface, and finish.  Ceiling materials also has an impact.  White drywall or pickled tongue-and-groove boards can help a tight area to feel larger; dark painted drywall or clear-finished tongue and groove can make a high ceiling feel lower or make a large room feel more inviting.
This article originally appeared in Fine Homebuilding Magazine and was reprinted with permission from Anthony Zaya of Lancaster County Timber Framers, Inc.

Achieving energy efficiency without compromising historic integrity in old buildings is always a high priority, and sometimes surprisingly easy….. when you learn to compromise on the right thing.
Recently we restored an early 1900’s wood exterior door for a private residence.   When this door was constructed there would have been no door sweep or weatherstripping and restored to original condition this door would have a high rate of air infiltration – leading to moisture damage and high energy losses.  Fortunately,  we do not have to choose between energy efficiency and historical integrity – non-original features like door sweeps and weatherstripping can be added in a historically complimentary way.
Instead of the commonly used plastic door sweeps, a sunken bristle door sweep can be installed to limit visibility and eliminate an obvious visual intrusion on the door’s historical features. Brass or bronze weatherstripping can be used in lieu of plastic to remain in keeping with materials and styles one would expect to see for that period.

Strike the right kind of compromise by choosing historically complimentary options and you too can have energy efficient historical preservation.

It probably comes as no surprise to most of us that history is very important to us here in Lancaster County. So important, in fact, that Lancaster County’s Historical Society and President James Buchanan’s Wheatland are working together to recreate Wheatland into an entire campus dedicated to Central Pennsylvania history.

Here is the press release they posted on their website regarding the campus:

The Lancaster Campus of History

LancasterHistory.org—Lancaster County’s Historical Society and President James Buchanan’s Wheatland—has experienced more than a decade of pronounced change and growth, made possible by strong leadership, innovative educational programming, exceptional strategic planning, 

Exterior Aerial crop

first-rate historical collections, and enthusiastic support from the community.

The Lancaster Campus of History will build on the strengths of LancasterHistory.org, and will transform Lancaster County’s official historical society and Wheatland, a National Historic Landmark and the home of Pennsylvania’s only U.S. President, into a new national model for historical learning and public programming. It will place Central Pennsylvania at the forefront of a movement exploring foundational themes of American history by demonstrating the relationship between local, regional, and national stories, events, and people, creating a center for critical reflection on America’s past.
 The centerpiece of the Campus of History will be a 19,755-sq-ft addition to the headquarters of Lancaster County’s Historical Society to accommodate expanded programming for both Wheatland and the Historical Society, new research facilities, new archival, library, and collection storage areas, exhibition galleries, learning centers, conservation space, and a multi-use educational auditorium.
Additionally, the project will include significant site enhancements to make the Campus more visitor-friendly, more park-like, and a model for responsible 

Campus2012 crop

stewardship through a variety of “green technology” initiatives. The Campus of History, composed of Lancaster County’s Historical Society headquarters and its new addition, as well as President James Buchanan’s Wheatland, its outbuildings, and historic landscape, will offer a ten-acre park-like setting enhanced by the Louise Arnold Tanger Arboretum and the Wheatland Gardens.

Building on a solid track record of award-winning educational programs, LancasterHistory.org is well-positioned to explore historic themes and events under the rubric “County, Commonwealth, and Country.” We are confident that the Campus of History will provide an engaging civics laboratory to investigate fundamental principles of American society and life at the local, state, and national levels that will lead citizens to a deeper understanding of important issues like 


religious tolerance, the quest for freedom and democracy, as well as the American presidency and national politics of the antebellum period.

A recently-awarded challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, being matched by LancasterHistory.org supporters on a three-to-one basis, will support a new roster of research fellowships and expanded humanitiesbased programming. Furthermore, as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver-Level project, the Campus of History will be a model of sustainability and will help set a new standard for environmental preservation amongcultural organizations.

3. Replacing Original Wood Windows.
      Technology and architectural styles have shaped the design of windows throughout history. The windows are one of the few parts of a building that serves as both an interior and exterior feature, and they usually make up 20-30% of the surface area of a historic building. It is for these reasons that windows are an important part of the character of a building, so removing or radically changing them has a drastic impact on the building’s character.
      Conduct an in-depth survey of the conditions of windows early in the process so that options to retain and preserve windows can be fully explored. Many make the mistake of replacing windows solely due to peeling paint, broken glass, stuck sash or high air infiltration. These are not indications that the window is beyond repair.
      In fact, weatherizing and repairing doors and windows is often the most practical and economic maintenance plan. Also, repair window frames and sash by patching, splicing, consolidating or otherwise reinforcing. Repair may include replacement in-kind of parts that are missing or deteriorated. Do not obscure historic trim with metal or other material, strip windows through inappropriate designs,change the number, location, size or glazing pattern of windows.
      Windows that are too deteriorated to repair should be replace in-kind using the same sash and pane configuration. If this is not technically or economically possible, then use a compatible substitute material. Use historical, pictorial and physical documentation to replace windows with an accurate restoration window.
      Protect and maintain existing windows with cleaning, rust removal, limited paint removal and protective coasting on a regular basis to prevent deterioration.

Decline of McMansions

This weekend I read about the decline of McMansions – the average house size has begun to decline with the crash of the housing market. (The new home builders have really been hurt by the current housing market – they built and promoted the McMansion “lifestyle”).

I was reading about the housing trends and thinking about how this could help or benefit the preservation/restoration niche of the building industry when I started to read the comments section. I was glad to read about people making smaller spaces work when I read a comment from someone who had been sadly misinformed about older homes and energy efficiency. The comment is copied here:

Listed: MSN Real Estate’s daily blog – MSN Real Estate: “p.s. The modern McMansions actually use about the same amount of energy to heat and cool as our tiny premodern depression era house. Oh I can’t wait to update the horsehair board insulation and large *original* windows. We’ve learned our lesson about buying older unimproved houses, let me tell you….”

The preservation/restoration community has a lot of information about the truth of older building energy efficiency in print and on the Internet – but obviously we are missing a large number of older building owners.

The argument that a 900 sq. ft. house (referenced in her first post) uses less energy than a McMansion at 7,000 plus square feet doesn’t even make sense from a logic stand point and goes to show the marketing for the new building products is working.

A few facts (based on her comment):

  • Buildings built from 1950 through 1970 are the least energy efficient (actually the federal government has done studies on their older buildings and they consistently use less energy than their newer buildings).
  • Heat rises – it makes more sense to insulate the roof than the walls in an older home
  • Plaster is not insulation – it is a wall finish
  • It has been scientifically proven that well maintained wood windows with a storm window (either interior or exterior) are as energy efficient as replacement windows. The energy savings is $0.60 per year – the replacement windows will last at the most 30 years. Will the money saved balance with the amount the windows cost?

This list was taken from the Directory of Preservation Resources complied by the Historical Architectural Review Board in the Borough of Columbia, PA.

Encouraging regular maintenance (true preservation) rather than quick-fixes that will fail in a short amount of time this list highlights seven common “repairs” or “upgrades” that do more harm than good.

1. Repointing bricks using mortar with a high content of Portland cement. Instead use a flexible mortar with a high lime content.

2. Sandblasting, using high-pressure power washes, or harsh chemical cleaners to clean or remove paint. This will remove the hard outer shell exposing the soft brick. Always use the gentlest method possible to clean.

3. Applying vinyl or aluminum to wrap the building (walls, sills, soffits, and eaves). The installers regularly remove architectural details. In addition trapping moisture can accelerate structural decay.

4. Replacing original wood windows (unnecessarily). Repair rather than replace. Wood windows can be made energy efficient using weather stripping and storm windows.

5. Ignoring peeling exterior paint. A good paint job will provide a protective coating against insects and moisture.

6. Hiring contractors without the necessary skills or experience working on old buildings. Modern materials and construction techniques are not always compatible with older buildings. A contractor unfamiliar with traditional buildings and methods cab permanently damage the building.

7. Introducing “mix-and-match” period style detail. Respect the original period-style of your building. Fight the urge to make it appear newer, older, or fancier in style than it really is.

The April/May 2010 issue of Old-House Journal listed the top ten restoration mistakes. Following these tips can help to save time and money (in the long run). The entire article can be found at: http://www.oldhousejournal.com/top-10-restoration-mistakes/magazine/1673

  1. Cheap Paint (good paint is hard to find – we are trying linseed oil paint on our house available from http://www.solventfreepaint.com/)
  2. Poor Paint Prep (paint will not adhere to dirt or loose paint)
  3. Mixing Metals (unlike metals can react)
  4. Epoxy Overuse (I would also add using the wrong type of epoxy, such as, marine or automobile filler on wood)
  5. Waterproofing Exteriors (houses need to breathe and moisture trapped behind the coatings can cause the underlining materials to rot)
  6. Waterproofing Interiors (use holistic building approach when solving water infiltration – look at source of water and ways to direct away from the house)
  7. Removing Masonry Finishes (removing paint or formstone from a brick wall is often not recommended because of the likelihood of damaging the brick by removing the veneer)
  8. Removing Wood Finishes (take care that the paint prep does not damage the wood underneath)
  9. Using the Wrong Mortar (use soft lime-based mortar with older brick to stop the damage from the thaw-freeze cycle – a good source is http://www.limeworks.us/)
  10. Bad Design (use water-shedding designs for all exterior repairs)

Taken from the Historic Wood Windows tip sheet from the National Trust for Historic Preservation – maintenance is important for all areas of a building to help insure that it will continue to perform without costly repairs. Preservation is maintenance and it is a lot less expensive than replacement.

Four Wood Window Maintenance Tips:
1. Keep exterior surfaces painted (keeping the water out of the wood);
2. Repair glaze – reglaze entire window as needed;
3. Don’t paint the window shut – so that it can operate as intended; and
4. Don’t paint the sash cord.

For more information read “The Repair of Historic Wooden Windows” Preservation Brief Series #9 – www.cr.nps.gov/hps/tps/briefs/brief09.htm

The November/December 2009 issue of Preservation Magazine featured an article, Getting Ready for Winter: 15 Steps to Efficiency. These tips are taken from this article.

  • Insulate the attic (this is where the majority of your heat loss will occur – though the replacement window and door companies would have you believe it is on the walls of the house – heat rises.)
  • Zoned heating system (heat only the areas of the house you “live” in).
  • Bleed radiators and clean forced-air vents.
  • Have your furnace serviced.
  • Change your furnace filters once a month.
  • Install a programmable thermostat (turn the heat down at night when you are in bed and during the day when you are away).
  • Insulate duct work and hot water pipes in cool spaces. Install foam inserts behind electrical receptacles and light switches (they sale the inserts (with precut holes) for behind the covers at any hardware store).
  • Close fireplace dampers (when the fireplace is not in use – we have had a call from someone not sure why their house was filling with smoke).
  • Set ceiling fans to low and switch direction so the hot air is being forced downward from the ceiling.
  • Make sure bathroom fans have functioning dampers.
  • Keep your original windows maintained (caulk, fix glazing, replace broken panes, repair wooden parts, and install weather stripping).
  • Install storm windows.
  • Use lined curtains, working shutters, and insulated window shades.
  • Caulk holes at exterior penetrations (mail chutes, etc.) only use exterior-grade caulking for this job.