Steve Larson, principal at Adelphi Paper Hangings, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss his work recreating historic block print wallpaper. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Steve’s background growing up with access to his father’s paint and wallpaper store, and his art school projects using wallpaper
  • How a project on block print wallpaper at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY eventually led to the founding of Adelphi Paper Hangings in 1999
  • The history of wallpaper in America
  • Adelphi Paper Hangings’ products, all of which are block print style and primarily from the “Golden Age” of block-printing (1740-1840)
  • The block printing process they use, including materials and procedures closely aligned with those of the past
  • Recommendations on how to purchase wallpaper, including measuring amounts needed, and the pricing process for commissioned pieces
  • Notable projects and commissions, including ones at the DAR museum, Mt. Vernon, and Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, England

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

Instagram

Linkedin

General contact information

If you’re unsure of the benefits of historic reproduction block-print wall paper, Steve indicates that with Adelphi’s block print process, the final resulting wall paper has a richer surface appearance that can’t be replicated with screen or digital printing, and is best for reproducing a historic pattern. 

For information about products and services visit here, and for information about ordering, go here.

You may also contact them about free samples the size of business envelopes, or larger $15 samples. 

 

BATHROOMS or whatever you call them, as they have many names – are a necessary part of our lives, but we often take them for granted. Bathrooms did not always exist as a dedicated room, and the conglomeration of fixtures and practices that occur in these rooms today, as well as the design of these rooms, are a result of many societal and technological changes. Understanding the history can help you better appreciate (or create) your own historic or period appropriate bathroom.


Illustration of early 20th century bathroom from the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company. Image Source: Wikipedia’s Entry on Bathroom.

 

Bathrooms: History and Evolution

Bathing and specific elimination practices (e.g., toileting) have been around in some form since humans have existed on Earth. However, more sophisticated practices – including devoted bath houses and use of bathtubs – began as early as 3000 B.C. in what is now Pakistan, with the Indus Valley Civilization, and continued with the early Greeks and Romans. In those times, people focused on purity but not necessarily health and hygiene, and water was seen as a cleansing element for spiritual and physical purposes. So powerful was the belief in water’s protective spiritual properties that communal baths were sometimes kept separate from domestic living spaces to protect the living spaces from evil spirits. The Romans especially valued bathing as a way to relax and revive themselves, as well as an outlet to commune with others. However, the wealthy also often had private bath spaces. (Source). 

The oldest-surviving bathtub dates to 1700 B.C. and was located in a palace in Crete. (Source).

In ancient times there were also some primitive flushing toilets, although many public toilets in Rome were anything but private and did not necessarily flush. (Source). 

In addition to limited private toilets, many ancient Romans were relegated to using primitive, communal items before the invention of toilet paper. (Source). 

In the Middle Ages, public bathhouses continued to be used, and soap first came into production. Other items such as combs, tweezers, and mouthwash were also in use. (Source). 

Contrary to popular belief, people in the Middle Ages valued bathing, particularly steam baths. Baths were generally public baths and men and women communed together; although, women covered their hair for “decency.” (Source)

During the Renaissance, private bathrooms became more popular. However, fears increased about disease, associated with water, and bathing was discouraged in favor of focused washing. Clean linens were thought to be sufficient to pull toxins from, cleanse, and deodorize the body, and women during this time toiled over washing. (Source). 

In 1546, King Henry VIII ordered the closure of public bathhouses, as these – specifically, their water – were blamed for the 7 plagues that occurred in England over a 200-year span. (Source).

Public toilets were used by the lower classes in the Renaissance and often placed on bridges over rivers, the “sewage system” being that debris would float away in the river. In the countryside and in some private city homes privies existed in sheds or cellars, usually consisting of seats situated over cesspits. Portable chamber pots were the preferred means of elimination by the wealthy and royal, and were simply emptied into the streets. (Source). 

The first flush toilet was invented by Sir John Harrington in 1596, but was not widespread until nearly 3 decades later –  the wealthy and royal preferred chamber pots be brought to them, and not to walk to a room only for toileting as it would be considered immodest. (Source). 

By the 18th century, daily bathing was still uncommon. However, in England the wealthy were able to have taps put into their homes allowing for private bathing, thanks to a massive irrigation project. Otherwise, most of the bathroom rituals we use today were still done in the bedroom, which usually included a basin and washstand (and often a chamber pot). (Source). 

The shower was invented by William Feetham in 1767. (Source).

By the 19th century, houses were beginning to be designed around usefulness of each room. The discovery and dissemination of information about germs and hygiene was more widespread in Europe and America, and many homes of the middle and upper class had bathrooms – as bathing was considered necessary for good hygiene – while mass showers existed for the poor. The Industrial Revolution also facilitated  mechanization in the bathroom, including gas water heaters for hot-water production. (Source). 

The 19th century saw major changes in private bathrooms in the home, including flush toilets in the 1850’s, and the electric water heater in 1889. (Source). 

In the late 19th century more was discovered about infectious disease and bacteria, and previously wooden bathrooms transitioned to porcelain and enamel surfaces, with more exposed pipes that were “easier to clean,” tile and linoleum replaced wood floors, and drapery was significantly reduced, and this continued into the early 20th century. (Source). 

The late 19th and early 20th century’s concerns about disease also resulted in the introduction of second bathrooms – “powder rooms” – or half-baths often on the first floor, near the entrance, so delivery people could wash their hands and prevent bringing germs into the home. (Source). 

As the 20th century moved beyond the hygiene movement, and the public was exposed to two world wars, glamorized interiors featured in movies, and a greater increase in population and technological advancement, people were more interested in having fully-equipped bathrooms that served functional needs as well as offered respite. The growing middle class was also able to afford these luxuries with mass-production enabling affordable products. (Source). 

The 1950’s realized en suite bathrooms, as well as separate bathrooms for the children. (Source)

As people have continued to associate bathrooms with comfort and escapism, the number of bathrooms per person in each household have steadily increased, and bathrooms continue to be an important part of each household. (Source). 

 

Bathrooms in Your Historic Home

If luck is on your side, you may acquire a historic home with a period bathroom still in place, although this is rare given that bathrooms (and kitchens) usually were the first “victims” of updates to historic homes, and are some of the most modified and modernized rooms. Depending on the old bathroom’s condition, there may be significant work to do. Because of the last few decades’ emphasis on college education and continued focus on mass-produced items that are generally not repairable and have short shelf-life, skilled labor and trades people have dwindled, so repair may be more difficult. However, increased demand for historic features has also resulted in more reproduction options available, many of which are up-to-code. Sometimes it is necessary or preferred to create a new bathroom, either modern or styled to a chosen time in the house’s history. Regardless, it is important to always remember that water is the enemy of a historic home, and any modern updates must account for this. Below are a combination of suggestions from Restoring Old Houses by Nigel Hutchins, and Restoring Your Historic House by Scott T. Hanson

It is important to remember that water is the enemy of historic homes, so all plumbing should be in good condition and well-maintained to prevent water disasters.

 

Restoring an old bathroom. General period plumbing knowledge is important in old bathrooms. Many old homes have extant period plumbing fixtures and these were designed to be repairable – just be sure they are adapted to meet modern codes and standards. A knowledgeable plumber and flexible code officer can be helpful with this. (Hanson, p. 374). Old plumbing fixtures and features should be examined for breaks and other damage and replaced with copper or plastic where necessary; return traps and vent stacks should be cleared; worn gaskets and washers should be replaced; and entire systems should be flushed and pressure checked (Hutchins, p. 179). Some shops and companies specialize in repair of such fixtures (Hanson, p. 375).

If something is missing, beyond repair, or simply cannot be adapted to meet modern code requirements, it is recommended that you look for antiques (often through salvage, but again these must be adapted to modern codes), or options among the many reproductions on the market. It is highly recommended you compare the quality of the originals to the reproductions, and buy as high quality as you can afford. This will more likely prevent failure and subsequent disaster from burst pipes (Hanson, p. 376; Hutchins, p. 178).

Rural residents have even more unique circumstances, including utilizing wells for water sources and septic tanks for waste disposal. Hutchins (p. 179) recommends that people in the countryside check their old wells for rotten covers, bacteria in the water, and how well they refill. Many old wells cannot accommodate modern needs and new wells must be dug, which are expensive – it is recommended a homeowner budgets accordingly.

Antique toilets also need to meet modern standards, even if they are antique. Hanson (p. 374) notes that some communities have strict water ordinances, and toilets from times past were designed to use much more water to flush (and thus fully clear the bowl) than is allowed by modern code. In some cases, an extant toilet can be grandfathered in. In other instances modifications to the tank such as stacked bricks or a tank liner can decrease water – Hanson warns, however, that because of the original design, this decreased water may not be sufficient to clear the bowl. High tank toilets are generally more successful because of the additional velocity they allow water when it travels from tank to toilet. 

Antique sinks also generally require modification to meet modern standards. Sometimes, antique sinks and counter tops simply need cleaning; marble sinks and counter tops can be cleaned with paint cleaner and steel wool, although deeper stains may require fine sandpaper and muriatic acid (Hutchins, p. 179). Hanson (p. 374-375). Problems usually stem from the size of drain holes and the spacing of faucet holes. An old sink that is missing the 2-hole drain stem can present a conundrum, as salvaged parts may be hard to come by, and it does not match modern pieces. Sink bowls of various materials may have these holes widened to accommodate modern needs. If the traditionally-separate hot and cold faucets are missing, reproductions can convert the hot and cold into one, and still visually represent the original time period.If a required overflow drain is missing, modifications can be made to retain the antique bowl; Hanson recommends connecting the bowl to the above top with a gap in between, and putting a modern bowl below to catch overflow. This of course should always be checked with local code enforcers.

Period tubs or showers can often be restored with epoxies – or homeowners can purchase “new” antiques and restore those, if needed (Hutchins, p. 179). Similar adjustments may need to be made to the plumbing parts as were noted for sinks, above. 

  •  

Creating a new bathroom (period appropriate or not). Hutchins (p. 178) provides several general plumbing points when creating a bathroom space. He indicates that plumbing should not be run on exterior walls because of insulation difficulties, and sufficient venting is necessary for plumbing. He also states that other considerations should be made if converting a non-bathroom into a bathroom. For example, one must consider if there is enough head room for a shower, if ceiling beams below (if on an upper floor) will be impacted by plumbing pipes, and if the room has wood features, how those features will be treated to protect them from moisture penetration. 

Laundry features should also be considered. Although not inherently part of a bathroom in most cases, Hanson (p. 377) also points out that given most modern private homes have laundry areas or rooms, and many of these are now being moved from the basement level to first floors, caution is warranted to protect historic interiors. For example, Hanson notes that typically-cheap hoses often result in burst pipes and indoor flooding disasters. These issues can be prevented – or at least mitigated – by replacing cheap hoses with high-quality woven stainless steel washer hoses, and installing overflow trays with drains for added protection, according to Hanson. 

 

IN SUMMARY: 

Modern people may be less modest than people of the past, but the bathroom and related activities can still be a taboo subject for some. For others, it’s simply taken for granted. But we must remember how essential bathrooms are to our physical and mental health, hygiene, and relaxation. As such, it’s important to treat and maintain these spaces well, particularly to protect the integrity of our historic homes. 

 

For further resources and reading: 

Stay tuned for a similar post on another vulnerable room in historic homes: THE KITCHEN.

Jymm Hoffman, blacksmith and owner of Hoffman’s Forge, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss his work as a blacksmith and historical consultant. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • His background, including how reenacting sparked his interest in preservation
  • How he maintains historical-accuracy wherever possible, and his research-findings including the diverse skills and jobs of historical blacksmiths
  • The consultation process with clients and the diversity of projects
  • Projects of note, including creating kitchen equipment for the Renfrew Museum
  • What he wishes he knew when he started, as well as challenges in preservation related to blacksmithing

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Facebook

Instagram

YouTube

Email –[email protected] (preferred contact method)

Phone –724-251-9320

For information about products and services visit here, and for information about consultation, go here.

Read more about Jymm’s work, here and here.

PRESERVATIONIST VS. REVISIONIST HISTORY, REVISITED. It’s been awhile since we specifically addressed this topic, but given current circumstances, it bears repeating, albeit updated to current events. 

“History, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again.”

-Maya Angelou

 

-Defaced Robert E. Lee Monument, Richmond, Virginia. Image Source: By Mk17b on Wikipedia’s entry on Robert E. Lee Monument (Richmond, VA).

 

Definition and History

Firstly, what is “revisionist history” or “revisionism”? Merriam-Webster’s second definition applies: “advocacy of revision (as of a doctrine or policy or in historical analysis).”  This does not provide much information for our purposes. It only indicates a revision – update, alteration, correction, or improvement – of what was there. Taken at face-value, this might be considered a neutral or even positive action, supposing that something is improved upon. However, we must also take into consideration the history of revisionism, and the fact that the term has become synonymous with reprehensible intentions.

Many historians and writers have contended that all history is revisionist, in the literal sense; once additional historical information is discovered, it is added to or replaces the originally-known history, revising the history that was previously accepted. The result is (hopefully) a more accurate and objective representation of the past. Positive examples include providing more accurate, comprehensive history in the educational system

When discussed in the context of current events and past atrocities, it often takes on a more pejorative meaning: namely, that some people will modify history to benefit themselves and their agenda, often in a way that harms others. Perhaps a more accurate distinction is between the technically neutral term “revisionism,” and terms with inherently negative connotations like “negationism” or “denialism.” These terms more specifically refer to a politically-motivated distortion of historic records and rejection of facts or reality to avoid one’s own discomfort, meanings that are not automatically part of the definition of “revisionism.”

Most history is revisionist, and revisionism is not inherently bad. Negationism or denialism are really what people mean when disparagingly referring to revisionism.

 

Revisionist History and the Built Environment

People typically discuss “revisionist history,” “negationism,” and “denialism” in terms of substantial pieces of cultural significance, such as public properties (owned by historical societies and the National Park Service), monuments, and world heritage sites. These terms may not come to mind when thinking about a privately-owned historic house or property. However, depending on an owner’s intention, the ideas may loosely apply or parallel decisions related to the four treatments of historic properties: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, or reconstruction.

For example, certain regulatory (or financial) issues may be mitigating factors in which treatment process is chosen, including local and federal historic district designations, building codes, insurance, etc. Once these factors are addressed, depending on resulting latitude, a homeowner may choose to restore a home only to a single time-period. More often, “revisions” are made that include multiple eras, especially as historic homeowners who steward homes built prior to the advent of modern plumbing opt to restore other parts of the home to its original time period while retaining the modern plumbing retrofits to maintain a standard of modern-living. This could be considered revisionist in that the home ends up telling a more holistic story of the house’s history, rather than focusing on only one earlier iteration of the home. However, a full restoration to one specific time period could also be considered revisionist in that it eliminates certain parts of the house’s entire history, and chooses to only depict one era. Neither of these revisionist examples is necessarily wrong, or negative, depending on circumstances. However, many preservation-minded people would probably agree that someone making changes in a way that attempts to falsify the history of the home (e.g., changing features that might suggest it comes from an earlier time period) is a poor choice and a negative example of “revisionism.” But, any type of architectural revision to a private property may be more closely related to the intensity of an owner or steward’s preservation-mindedness and personal taste than to ethics, which is really what seems to separate pure “revisionism” from “negationism” or “denialism,” in our opinion.

What typically separates pure revisionism from negationism and denialism is ethics.

 

Relevance of Revisionism in the Year 2020

On first glance, it may seem odd that a historic preservation and restoration contracting company is writing about an ethical issue. But as stewards (and supporters of stewards) of our built history – which includes more than just the brick, mortar, wood and stone objects themselves – we know that the buildings are about the people

That being said, we must address the current issues. Although many of our clients, readers, and followers own private homes or buildings and generally do not deal with issues of revisionism and related terms directly, we also have worked with several organizations (historical societies and the National Park Service among them) that steward buildings for the general population, and who have a duty to represent an inclusive history. We believe it is important to support an inclusive narrative, including that of historically oppressed groups, and tell the entire story. Saving certain objects in a contextual way is an essential element of this cause. One example is the preservation (or attempted preservation) of some of the Holocaust’s concentration camps. These remain for the purpose of telling the full story of the horrors that humans can inflict on one another (despite what denialists say).

Inclusivity – telling the entire story – is an essential part of appropriate revisionism. 

In the U.S., the picture has become more complicated with recent events. Large movements have attempted to remove many symbols of racism and oppression, but often indiscriminately and impulsively. We agree that many of the confederate monuments that were erected many years after the Civil War, typically during the height of Jim Crow, and typically far away from battlefields or other relevant sites, are not appropriate – typically, the losing side does not get to write the history or build the monuments to remember their “glory.” In reality, the Confederate cause was treason and open rebellion against the United States, with the intention of continuing to enslave other people for their own economic gain. With that in mind, it seems strange that we have U.S. military bases named after Confederate Generals.

At the same time, it is important to carefully consider what should be removed and how. Confederate monuments on a battlefield, or even memorials in a graveyard, are contextually-appropriate, representing and educating about battles that occurred at the site, or memorializing the dead in their final resting place. Other objects or sites related to slavery (e.g., whipping posts or slave auction blocks) may warrant removal from the current locations, but likely would be appropriately placed in a sensitive museum display educating people about the heinous acts humans have committed against others, to prevent those things being repeated. Another consideration is that we separate our Founding Fathers and buildings or monuments in their name from the belated Confederate monuments; several historians have pointed to acknowledging that many of them enslaved people, but were essential to creating the U.S., unlike the Confederates who wanted to demolish it

We may be falling down a slippery slope of rewriting history – history can be inclusive and tell a more complete story without rewriting it (e.g., revisionism vs. negationism).  Seeing things like #cancelHamilton (which Danielle watched and thoroughly enjoyed) because of his ties to his wife’s family’s slave ownership, or private homeowners attempting to have their historic homes demolished because of an association with slavery, or renaming college and university buildings because of ties to enslavement, we worry about the indiscriminate calls for wiping away things because of their negative associations. We would hope we can look honestly to the Founders of our Country and tell the completeness of their story (messy, imperfect humans with a noble vision that was also economically motivated) without writing them out of our history.  We think it would be better (and more healing) to acknowledge the truth of their story, provide historical context, and commit to social justice.  This would do more to see the truth of history than remove all traces of the undesirable parts via negationism.  Acknowledging that a lot of prominent Northern families made their money from the slave trade (as shipping companies, supplying plantations in the Caribbean, and textiles) is one way we can come to terms with our collective history.

Regardless, we believe the answer is to take our time deciding what should be done with our vestiges of history before we lose all traces and risk repeating the same injustices.

 

Ahmed Zidan of Hollander Glass joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the company’s restoration/historic branch, Hollander Historic. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • The company’s background and the history of glass-making
  • The company’s services, primarily as specialty glass fabricators and distributors
  • Hollander’s historic line of restoration window glass, including glass appropriate to periods over the last 300 years
  • Notable projects using Hollander’s historic line, including skylights at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. 
  • Challenges for window restoration projects, including more stringent energy codes

 

Contact/Follow:

Main Website and Restoration Website

General contact information or contact Ahmed directly at [email protected] or by calling him at 732-346-1211

Facebook

Instagram

Pinterest

 

Promotion/Deal:

Ahmed said if you contact him via phone or email and mention this podcast, you will receive a sample restoration window pack including samples of their most popular restoration products!

During the June 2019 Practical Preservation Event the librarian from LancasterHistory shared all of the resources they have to help historic home owners to research the history of the homes, both the architectural history and the history of the people. One of the resources was the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. You can find out a lot of information from these maps including building construction, chimney construction, window and door openings with shutter notations, plus firefighting equipment and the water and electricity system in the city or town. Sanborn Maps can document changes to a building over many decades.

Millersville, PA 1912 Sanborn Map

The Sanborn Maps were used for underwriting insurance. The surveyors were concerned with the building construction to assess fire risk. Most larger cities after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 stopped permitting frame construction to reduce the risk of fire spreading. Daniel Alfred Sanborn begin serving for Aetna in 1867 and by the next year he was surveying across the county for various fire insurance companies.

The Sanborn company surveyed over 12,000 U.S. cities and towns until 1977. The Library of Congress has over 25,000 sheets from over 3,000 city sets online in the following states: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, GA, ID, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NV, OH, OK, PA, SD, TX, VA, VT, WY, and Canada, Mexico, Cuba sugar warehouses, and U.S. whiskey warehouses. You can research online here: https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps/

If you are interested in learning more about researching your home’s history you can listen to an episode of the Practical Preservation podcast featuring Kevin Shue from LancasterHistory: http://practicalpreservationservices.com/practical-preservation-podcast-featuring-kevin-shue-of-lancaster-history/

 

Bob Yapp – noted preservationist, teacher, and consultant – joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss his extensive work and experiences in the field of preservation. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Bob’s background in preservation, from being a school-aged child whose father taught him what it means to be the steward of an old home, to buying and preserving his first home as a high school student, and eventually earning a syndicated television role on PBS in the 1990s
  • His continued focus on hands-on preservation and restoration coupled with consultation, teaching, and project management 
  • His mission to save traditional artisan trades via national workshops and his Belvedere School for Hands-On Preservation
  • The ways in which preservation is economically – “preservation doesn’t cost-it pays” – and environmentally beneficial 
  • Although preservation is very unique and made of a diverse workforce, the field needs to do more to bring in people of color, and to be more accessible to the average owner of old homes

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Twitter

Instagram

YouTube

Linkedin

Email – [email protected]

Phone – 217-474-6052

Bob believes that apprenticeships and trade skills are essential – you can visit his website for more information about his Belevedere School for Hands-On Preservation and national workshops here and here.

If you’re interested in consultation with Bob, you can visit his website and click the “consult” tab.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Robert Blackson, Director of Temple Contemporary Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University in Philadelphia, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the Vital Signs Project. We covered many things, including:

  • Robert’s background as a curator and belief that “culture is something that civilizes us.”
  • The history of sign-painting for advertisement purposes, including a color-coded system
  • How painted advertisements become “ghost murals,” and how they come to represent the unique history of a neighborhood
  • How the Vital Signs Project came into being and led to a collaboration between Temple Contemporary and the Temple Mural Arts Program, professional artists, and art students
  • Vital Signs Project’s commitment and dedication to the idea that art can transform society, by providing historic preservation and restoration gratis to give the Philadelphia area’s small businesses a reinstated sense of belonging and a boost the surrounding communities
  • Successful completed projects in the Philadelphia area, which have increased business and local morale
  • Challenges involved, including work to bring together the right projects and artists, as well as potential projects lost to increasing gentrification in Philadelphia

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Email – [email protected]

Phone – 215-777-9139

Robert shared that interested people can support the Vital Signs Project by nominating small Philadelphia-area businesses in possession of ghost signs, in keeping with the project’s purpose to reinstate businesses in their communities and in turn boost the surrounding community and neighborhood.  If interested in proposing a nomination, email or call Robert at the email or number above.

You can also read more about the ghost mural project that started it all, here, and about another project, here

Further reading on sign preservation by the National Park Service can be found here

 

KEEPING YOUR HISTORIC HOME COOL IN SUMMER is an essential part of living comfortably today. But, how was it done in the past, and what can we do now? We’ve outlined the history and applicable steps for you. 

 

1880’s photo of a British home in India. Image source: Wikipedia’s entry on Punkahs

 

Historic Cooling and Passive Cooling

Older buildings (primarily those built prior to the mid-twentieth century) were built to be energy efficient and are the quintessence of passive cooling. Fuel was not easy to obtain or manage and it was not cheap. Many people today are surprised to learn that the biggest energy usage has been attributed to buildings built between the 1950’s-1970’s, according to GSA. Below are several features and methods used in the past that you can still successfully use today:

Homes built between the 1950’s-1970’s have been proven to use more energy than buildings before that time.

 

Cross Ventilation. Cross ventilation was frequently used. Cross ventilation refers to a passive way of supplying air to, and removing air from, an interior as a result of pressure differences from natural forces. This requires one opening for air to come in, and another for air to go out. Windows – particularly double -hung – are one way of accessing these natural forces. Open a lower window on the cooler side of the home, and an upper window on the warmer side of the home to be most effective. Tall, single-hung windows are also appropriate for allowing more air into the home. Opening as many windows (and doors and hallways) as possible will multiply the benefits. Other features that aid this natural cooling process include door and window transoms, undercut doors, window and door screens, louvered shutters, and shotgun and dogtrot/center hall-style architecture (both of which have windows or hallways front to back or side-to-side to allow for natural airflow).

The image above is of the John Looney House, a classic dogtrot-style home, attributed to photographer Chris (last name not listed), as found on the Wikipedia page on Natural Ventilation

 

Thermal Mass. Thermal mass – a building materials’ ability to store heat – can also play a significant role in passive cooling. A house with thick (especially stone-based) walls can act as a conduit for passive cooling via thermal mass, if nighttime temperature is cool enough. Ideally, the building/wall material will cool overnight, allowing for cooler daytime temperatures because it will only slowly warm over the course of the day (and release that warmth at night). 

 

The image above of a stone mason is by flickr user diamondmountain, as found on the Wikipedia page on Masonry

 

Shutters. Louvered shutters (those that are constructed with overlapping uniform slats of wood set into a frame) allowed air circulation and privacy. They allow for air flow while blocking direct sunlight and heat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image above is of a louvered shutter we built for the Hampton National Historic Site

 

Porches and Awnings. Porches and awnings both act as blocks from solar radiation, resulting in cooler internal temperature. “Sleeping” porches to sleep outside during warmer summer months (popular in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods) were another way to enjoy a cooler experience. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image above is of the porch at the historic Harris-Cameron Mansion following Keperling Preservation Service’s porch restoration

 

Shade Landscaping. Shade trees are an obvious aid for a cooler home. Shrubs, bushes, and groundcover are also beneficial; they can provide shade as well as absorb heat radiation and cool the air prior to it reaching your home (unlike a paved yard-space which is more likely to reflect heat). These plants can also shade existing pavement to decrease heat.               

 

The image above is by Arno Senoner on Unsplash.

 

Other Methods. Homeowners of the past also employed other practical ways to cool their homes. According to an article from New Orleans Architecture Tours, homeowners modified interior design and decoration by exchanging heavier draperies for light linens and lace (which could double as window screens). Thick rugs could be replaced with grass mats. Furniture was covered by linen or cotton. They also adjusted food preparation and meal location; preparing foods with minimal cooking to avoid heating the home unnecessarily, and having more picnic meals outdoors. 

 

 

 

Image of the painting “Ready for the Ball” by artist Sophie Anderson, from the Wikipedia entry on Hand fan

 

How to Cool Your Historic Home Today

There may be no need to reinvent the wheel. If you are lucky enough to own a historic home, particularly one whose old features are intact, a practical preservation method would be to use one or all of the time-tested passive cooling methods noted above. This will not only honor your home’s heritage and historic fabric, it will also save you money over the long-term, and benefit the environment. However, we acknowledge that practically-speaking, sometimes passive cooling alone is not sufficient. Below are several modern options that can effectively cool your home and simultaneously have minimal impact on the integrity of your home’s historic fabric: 

Time-tested passive cooling methods can save modern homeowners money and be energy efficient.

 

Window and Portable Units. These are a classic, generally economical option, though there are cautions for historical homes. Window units may not easily fit into old windows due to size differences and inconsistency in some older windows. They also put significant pressure on sills and walls due to their weight. The water drips often created by the cooling system can also cause damage to the window and surrounding walls. Portable units can also sometimes leak, causing damage to historic floors. 

Targeted Cooling. Mini-split systems are a ductless, targeted form of heating and cooling. The indoor unit is mounted to the ceiling or wall and the cooled refrigerant is pumped in via refrigerant lines that run to the outdoor unit. These may be ideal for difficult-to-cool areas of the home, particularly additions or enclosed rooms that do not have ductowork. However, beware that they require drilling through the wall of your home for installation; once this is done, it is hard to undo. Further, these are not low profile, so visually, they disrupt the flow of a historic interior and exterior. 

High-Velocity Cooling. SpacePak and the UNICO system are high-velocity/low impact systems. They work similarly to central air, but are about 1/10 the size of a traditional central air system. Both require ducts, but they are small and the vents are minimally-intrusive. They are generally installed in attics/upper floors to allow cooler air to drop down. These are less disruptive, more visually-seamless options than the aforementioned cooling systems so they are better at maintaining the integrity of a home’s historic fabric, and frequently recommended by preservation contractors. Listen to our podcast with UNICO here.

 

IN SUMMARY:

There are several passive and active options for cooling your historic home. Arm yourself with knowledge before you decide what options are best for your home and your budget. 

 

For further resources and reading:

  • The EPA provides a detailed resource on energy efficiency in old homes here, and we also discuss energy efficiency here and here
  • Read about a historical landmark’s retrofitted HVAC here.
  • Learn more ways people stayed cool before air conditioning here and here.
  • Learn about the advent and evolution of air conditioning here.