Saturday, July 21, 2012

Focus on Preservation: Maintenance plans for historic structures

Preservation has been defined as "the act or process of applying measures necessary to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of an historic property. Work, including preliminary measures to protect and stabilize the property, generally focuses upon the on-going maintenance and repair of historic materials and features rather than extensive replacement and new construction." Maintenance helps preserve the integrity of historic structures. If existing materials are regularly maintained and deterioration is significantly reduced or prevented, the integrity of materials and workmanship of the building is protected. Proper maintenance is the most cost effective method of extending the life of a building.
By logical extension, maintenance is key to preservation. As soon as a building is constructed, restored, or rehabilitated, physical care is needed to slow the natural process of deterioration. An older building has already experienced years of normal weathering and may have suffered from neglect or inappropriate work. Decay is inevitable but deterioration can accelerate when the building envelope is not maintained on a regular basis. Surfaces and parts that were seamlessly joined when the building was constructed may gradually become loose or disconnected; materials that were once sound begin to show signs of weathering. If maintenance is deferred, a typical response is to rush in to fix what has been ignored, creating additional problems. Work done on crisis level can favor inappropriate treatments that alter or damage historic material.
Over time, the cost of maintenance is substantially less than the replacement of deteriorated historic features and involves considerably less disruption. Stopping decay before it is widespread helps keep the scale and complexity of work manageable for the owner. The first time a property owner or manager establishes a maintenance plan or program, it is advisable to have help from a preservation consultant, and/or experienced contractor—Olde Mohawk offers both. Written procedures should outline step-by-step approaches that are custom-tailored to a building. No matter how small the property, every historic home or landmark structure should have a written guide for maintenance that can be as simple as:
1) Schedules and checklists for inspections;
2) Forms for recording work, blank base plans and elevations to be filled in during inspections and upon completion of work;

3) A set of base-line photographs to be augmented over time;
4) Current lists of contractors for help with complex issues or in case of emergencies;

5) Written procedures for the appropriate care of specific materials, including housekeeping, routine care, and preventive measures; and,
6) Record-keeping sections for work completed, costs, warranty cards, sample paint colors, and other pertinent material.

Maintenance is the most important preservation treatment for extending the life of an historic property--it is also the most cost effective! Understanding the construction techniques of the original builders and the performance qualities of older building materials, using traditional maintenance and repair methods, and selecting in-kind materials where replacements are needed, will help preserve the building and its historic character.

Maintenance can be managed in small distinct components, coordinated with other work, and scheduled over many years to ensure that materials are properly cared for and their life span maximized. A written maintenance plan is the most effective way to organize, schedule, and guide the work necessary to properly care for a historic building. The maintenance plan should include a description of the materials and methods required for each task, as well as a schedule for work required for maintenance of different building materials and components. Contact us today to discuss a maintenance plan specific to your historic home or structure.

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