Friday, August 2, 2013

Historical Preservation, Your Property and Your Community Part 2: Repair, Restore, or Replace

An old house in Poland that needs work on the foundation and siding.
House in Disrepair. CC-A-ND, sollyth, Flickr.

If you have identified the architectural style of your home in part I, then you may feel ready to undertake projects to help restore your house to its original splendor. However, one of the most difficult decisions you will have to make when restoring any building is the one that has to be asked before any restoration is even started. Should the portion or component of the building be repaired, restored, or replaced. This question is commonly associated with old windows because of their frequent need for repair, but in recent years has been applied to any part of an old building.

For many people replacing a part seems like the easiest method, in many cases it requires the least effort and often will make a building more efficient, secure, and safe by modern standards. A new component in a house will promise less maintenance than restored parts. From a brief glance replacement seems like the best method for someone who doesn't have a personal interest in the historical value of their home and who could use some more money.

However, there are many upsides to repair and restoration as well. Wood siding, shingles, and window and door frames made before the 1950s are going to be much sturdier and less likely to rot than newer wood components because they were often cut from larger, older, and healthier trees that grew naturally, not in a tree plantation. Also, for people looking to sell their homes, it is always easier to attract buyers to a house if it has some sort of historical value. In the end the decision on what exactly needs maintenance. Every component is different.


Safely washing old wood siding using a low-pressure washer.
Washing Old, Wood Siding
Siding is the most visible aspect of your house, and as such it is especially important to try to preserve it. One of the best ways you can prevent rot in siding is to thoroughly wash it every once in a while. You can also use vinegar to prevent mildew build-up.

Siding is also one of the most exposed components of your house, and as such, it is likely that you will want to fix it up at some time in your life. It is often very tempting to replace old, failing siding with modern, vinyl, lap siding. However, there are downsides to installing vinyl siding.first of all, when vinyl siding is installed it is often just put over current siding, making your windows and doors look much more recessed and less aesthetic. Also, vinyl siding also poses a fire risk because it contains a fire within the house, rather than letting the heat out, and when burned, the vinyl releases a deadly acid that is more dangerous than smoke or carbon monoxide according to Montreal Home Inspection.

This house went from looking like a country cottage to a suburban immitation just by replacing the siding and windows.
While the vinyl looks neat and easy, it can detract from the style of an old house.

While many people tout that vinyl is maintenance free and maintains its color better than paint the truth is that it both warps, cracks, and fades over time. More natural materials, like wood, stucco, clapboard, brick, and stone, are much better because they not only retain the original beauty of a home, but they tend to be sturdier, safer, and easier to repair. If you have a section of siding that is old and in need of repair try restoring it using original materials. For wood, the original wood used is probably local, but depending on where you live it could probably be pine, redwood, cedar, or maple.

Visit the National Park Service Preservation Brief #8 for more info on using siding on historical homes.


These windows hust need some upkeep to make them look new.
Old windows look daunting, but re-glazing and a new paint job can make this window look like new.

With old windows, the frame is often considered the most important part. Panes will crack and warp over time, but as long as the frame is in good condition the window can still be replaced. One of the biggest problems with old windows is a leak that causes the frame to rot. The best thing you can do to prevent this is to redo the glazing on the windows whenever you notice any sign of a leak. If the frame does begin to rot, you can often restore that specific munting or sash by chipping or peeling away the rot and replacing it with an epoxy or resin that is designed to imitate wood. However, in dire situations and after years of neglect it may be necessary to replace an entire sash or frame.

Removing a window makes re-glazing easier.
Re-glazing an old window.

While I have referred to the three methods of fixing windows as repairing, restoring, and replacing, the National Park Service uses three different levels, although they are basically the same.
Only in the most dire circumstances should a window be replaced. But if it is, it is important to look at the window and ask 4 questions:
  1. How much light did the window let in?
  2. Was the window used for ambiance lighting or task lighting?
  3. What architectural characteristics did the window portray in regards to the building as a whole?
  4. How did the materials used reflect/ differ from those used in other parts of the house?
These questions will help you discern what the most important characteristics you need to follow when finding a replacement window.

For more information on how to deal with old windows click here.


This old shake roof could have been kept up with regular washes and through better ventilation
This old shake roof in disrepair

Much like siding. Even the best made roof needs to be replaced eventually, unless of course you live in a place with no rain whatsoever. Since that place doesn't exist, every roof will eventually need new roofing, whether its shingles, shakes, tiles, or adobe.

If you do have an old, wood shingle or shake roof that is still in okay condition but is starting to exhibit signs of rot or fungal rot you may want to consider to options. The first one is to provide better ventilation under the shingles to make the roof dry more quickly after a rain. It is also suggested by the Handyman Club that you deep clean the wood roof and apply a protectant or sealant to extend its life. While this is definitely not the most preferred option, because of the rising cost of cedar wood it is much cheaper than replacing a rotten roof.

The froe and mallet are the tools of choice when making shakes.
The froe, mallet, and wood required to make cedar shakes

If you do have to have to replace an old shake roof I would suggest that you buy rounds of cedar and make the shakes yourself. It is a relatively easy process and the equipment needed isn't expensive, all you need is a froe and a mallet.

Tile roofs are more difficult. Unlike wood, tile roofs can last a long time: more than one hundred years if maintained correctly. However, with old tile roofs, it is possible to restore them, whether the color is fading, the tile is cracking. Just like with wood, there is a sealer you can use to fill cracks and chips that will simulate the texture of tile.

If you do need to replace a tile, first try to pry the tile away from the roof with a pry bar, but if that doesn't work then you might have to break it away with a hammer. Once you have the broken tile removed, you can install the new one. If your roof is more than 50 years old then chances are that no nails were used. If that is the case you can just slide the tile into place and mortar it in to create a seal.

Part 2 Conclusion

There are many other components of preservation I have not yet covered. However, in the end it all comes down to regular maintenance. If you preserve your house well it will last a long time, and hopefully you will never have to replace a sash or roof tile.

If you have comments or questions feel free to comment below. And if you would like to keep up with my articles please sign up for my email newsletter.

Click here for Part 1, which discusses the architecture of an old house.

Part 3 will cover how your community can work to preserve local history.

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