Saturday, March 30, 2013

Be Prepared: Maintenance plans for historic structures

As soon as a building is constructed or rehabilitated, the natural process of deterioration begins.  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."[1]

The most important component of any plan to preserve a historic structure is maintenance.  Regular inspection and maintenance of systems will help preserve the integrity of historic building fabric. If that fabric is maintained, deterioration will be minimized or eliminated. Maintenance is the most cost effective method of extending the service life of a building system.  By logical extension, maintenance is the key to preservation. While the decay of components of the envelope cannot be avoided, neglect can actually cause this process to increase at an exponential rate.  When maintenance has been deferred, and a problem suddenly rears its ugly head, it is not uncommon for the reaction to be swift and inappropriate.  The use of the wrong materials and methods will often cause worse damage to irreplaceable historic building fabric.

When considered in the long term, the cost to maintain historic structures is significantly less than the restoration of historic systems and materials, and it creates far less disruption to building occupants. When a property owner or manager creates a maintenance program for their building, it is strongly recommended that they seek the counsel of a preservation consultant, and/or experienced contractor. The maintenance program should clearly identify and describe courses of action that are specific to the building. Every historic structure, no matter how small, should have a written guide that includes:

·         Lists and schedules for periodic inspections of each system.  These should be set-up in a ‘checklist’ format, to ensure uniformity of procedures over time;

·         Blank elevations of the building to be marked up during inspections and after any work takes place;

·         A full set of actual photographs that comprehensively document the conditions of the entire structure as well as a digital copy of each.  This album will grow over time;

·         An emergency list of contractors who can be called upon in an emergency, especially HVAC, electrician, plumber, and roofer;

·         Individualized procedures for the historically appropriate handling of the individual systems and materials of the building; and,

·         Hard copies of completed reports that document all work and inspections.  Include copies of estimates, contracts, warranty cards, paint colors, mortar recipes, materials sources, and any other information that will be needed by future stewards of the structure.

Maintenance is the most important preservation treatment for extending the life of an historic property.  It will slow the natural process of deterioration and prolong the natural service lives of the historic fabric of the envelope.  A written maintenance plan will help preservation planners organize, schedule inspections, and guide the work necessary to for a historic building. When a property owner or manager creates a maintenance program for their building, it is strongly recommended that they seek the counsel of a preservation consultant, and/or experienced contractor. The maintenance program should clearly identify and describe courses of action that are specific to the building. When the full life cycle of a building is considered, there is no smarter money spent than on maintenance.

[1] National Park Service, Nationwide Programmatic Agreement Toolkit for  Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, glossary of terms

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Twelve step program: Increasing public awareness of historic preservation in your community

Increasing public awareness of historic preservation in the community requires a dynamic approach and multi-pronged initiative to be successful.  This article looks at several ideas that can be used by historical commissions, advocacy groups and municipalities to build value in their historic building stock and raise awareness of historic structures in the community.  Some of the recommended actions are relatively involved, such as the creation of an annual Olde Towne Festival, and require others from the community in the planning, coordination and execution of the plan.  Others, such as the creation of social media and websites, are low-hanging fruit: ready, accessible, inexpensive—often free—methods to reach a wide audience quickly and easily. To increase public awareness of the historic resources that contribute directly to the heritage of their built environment, the people must develop a connection with place.  The following ideas can be implemented by motivated individuals who are dedicated to promoting the goals and objectives of increased public awareness of historic preservation, largely without great expense or effort:    

(1)  Use of social media and the internet to promote historic preservation   The municipality’s website is the first free opportunity to promote historic preservation and the organization.  Additional links to social media and other historic preservation-related web pages should be here.  Having a presence on the internet is critical to the successful promotion of and long-term participation in  historic preservation in the community.  Facebook, Twitter, Google+, WordPress, and YouTube can be used to easily and effectively increase public awareness of historic preservation and make the organization an accessible member of the community.  WordPress offers a way to create an inexpensive (or even free) website.  The new web page should also contain an active blog with frequent entries and updates; this reinforces the sense of “presence” in the community. This is the primary way to attract younger participants.

(2)  Develop a strong relationship with the media  Invite members of the mainstream media to events and meetings, issue press releases, and provide photos for print media/web use.   When an event or important meeting is planned, promote it through local television news stations and newspapers and invite them to attend.  If a public access channel exists it could be used to televise meetings.  Some committees and commissions have created YouTube channels to document and provide access to their meetings. The media should be encouraged to “donate” space in their print publications for op-ed articles about the importance of preservation in the community and regular columns about local or regional history and the goings-on of historic preservation in the community.

(3)  Develop a Historic Preservation Plan  The Plan serves as a ten (10) year action plan for historic preservation in the municipality and is designed to serve as the historic preservation component of a comprehensive master plan.  In Massachusetts, Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds can be used for a historic preservation survey. The historical commission thereafter develops a request for consultant services to develop a preservation plan, to include consideration of historic landscapes. Consultants collect and assess the inventory of information on historic resources, as well as local government’s historic preservation tools (development rules and regulations).  The consultants present the commission with a summary of their findings and preliminary recommendations regarding the historic inventory.  Next, the public participation phase solicits community input concerning local historic preservation efforts and preservation priorities.  Public comment is sought in three ways: surveys, interviews and public forums.  Based on the results of the public participation phase, the commission works with the consultants to refine a draft Preservation Plan which is then presented to several boards and committees for comment.  Finally, after any necessary edits and revisions, the Historic Preservation Plan is completed and approved.

(4)  Create public education programs  These can include all manner of events and the production of materials for attendees.  . Guest speakers from the private sector are available to speak on a variety of topics related historic preservation and public history.  These programs could be conducted in the historic structures, themselves, so that attendees develop a connection to the buildings and an appreciation for them.  Speakers do no not have to focus on esoteric topics alone.  They can increase awareness and encourage materials conservation:  “Saving and restoring the windows on your old house,” or, “How to improve the energy efficiency of your home,” or, “Tricks for the repair and restoration of your old house.”  In addition to advertising through the media and internet, physically post advertisements for the events at Lowe’s, Home Depot and other home centers to attract local home owners and DIY’ers.  Creating partnerships with such commercial entities may also produce sponsorship in the form of materials and funding for these and other events.

(5)  Present awards to community members for preservation efforts  Publicly recognize homeowners that restore vintage structures or a local citizen or elected official who advocates for historic preservation in the community. No static number each year, just an annual recognition of those who make the effort.   It’s about instilling pride in place; buildings are the tangible objects that represent that place.  Use it as an opportunity to identify other historic preservation-minded members of the community and encourage them to get involved.

(6)  Sponsor and stage public events   Create an annual event that brings the entire community together for a weekend celebration.  Take advantage of parks and open spaces next to historic buildings and stage a portion inside.  Perhaps an annual pumpkin festival with dunking booth or a travelling carnival with bake sale inside the building.  All of these events would have an information booth with print media items.  A more ambitious endeavor would be to create an annual Olde Towne Festival in the Fall with a series of events all at the different historic properties:  an amusement park rides at the old school house and bake/craft sale inside; an involved haunted house created in art classes and staffed by school kids at the old village hall; and, a book sale and police-sponsored kid ID program at the library.  ‘Olde Towne' days starts with a parade at the elementary school and ends at the park next to one of the historic buildings.  The select board and other dignitaries form at the review stand (on the front porch of yet another historic building, perhaps the town hall) as various local sports teams and civic organizations march by—and don’t forget the fire engines. During the festival, coordinate and offer a tour of old homes with proud members of the public and offer informative tours of the historic buildings that speak to the history and architecture of the structures.  Through these experiences and association people will realize an intrinsic value in the structures as they become a part of the memories that they form.

(7)  Partner with the school district   Create low cost field trips to these buildings for the town’s school children that will enable them to develop an early appreciation for their community’s history as represented by the structures that define its built heritage.

(8)  Create local historic districts The Massachusetts Historical Commission provides a guidebook on how the municipality can pass a by-law or ordinance consistent with MGL 40C to create local historic districts.  In Massachusetts they don’t allow an individual building to be landmarked—they allow the town to create districts with only one building in them.  The organization should advocate for the creation of local historic districts that include the applicable buildings owned by the municipality.  There will be no public outcry from citizens who think they’ll be told what color to paint their houses.  The creation of the local historic districts should be covered by the media to demonstrate how protecting historic structures can be harmless and pain-free.  Local districts can be expanded to include additional buildings when others want to be a part of it. Churches are generally enthusiastic because their members have strong memories and pride in place—they like the idea of the building being there forever.

(9)  Hire a public relations consultant or seek donated services of same    Increasing public awareness for historic preservation is not a full time job.  However, a public relations consultant could be a cost effective way to plan strategies for promoting historic preservation as time and budget allow.  The members of the community who will execute this plan to increase public awareness of historic preservation are all volunteers.  Retaining the services of a PR consultant, from time to time, is an effective way to turn ideas into action as budgets allow.

(10)  Partner with State and Local Organizations   Form a bond with historic preservation resources such as colleges and universities as well as the state historic preservation office by sponsoring guest lectures and local and regional tours and encouraging participation by residents in the many free historic preservation-related offerings available from these organizations.  Sponsoring can be as simple as organizing, advertising (i.e., on the website and printed flyers) and providing space for the presentations.

(11)  Contact and pool resources with other similar organizations    Learn what others are doing to promote historic preservation. See what commonalities are shared. Promotion of historic preservation could be jointly produced to take advantage of regional talents and make limited resources go further.  Go regional.

(12)  Consider establishing a historic signage program    This is a simple way to promote historic preservation, demonstrate pride of place and educate the community about its heritage. Start with municipal properties. Establish appropriate criteria to encourage private participation.

Increasing public awareness of historic preservation in the community requires a dynamic approach and multi-pronged initiative to be successful.  The ideas in this article can be implemented without great expense or effort by a dedicated team.  Historical commissions, advocacy groups and municipalities can build value in their historic building stock and raise awareness of historic structures in the community.  Increased public awareness of the historic resources that contribute directly to the heritage of the built environment can be had if people develop a connection with place. It’s about instilling pride in place; buildings are the tangible objects that represent that place. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Appropriate Roofing Material Choices for Historic Structures

The Old Conant Tavern in Townsend, MA, an historic New England easement property, receives a new cedar shingle roof. All photos: courtesy of the authorSelecting a historically appropriate roofing material is often restrictive as a simple matter of economy. Not everyone can afford a new slate roof. But individually landmarked structures and those in local historic districts are often monitored by historic district commissions (HDCs) that often require property owners to replace in-kind or with an otherwise historically appropriate material.  While the preference is typically “replacement in kind,” an intelligent argument for an alternative can often be made.  The HDC can consider other materials that were available at the time of construction, as well as what buildings of similar style in the community have on their roofs. A Queen Anne may have started with a polychromatic Vermont slate roof, but the commission can consider that nearby Queen Annes have monochromatic Monson slate or even cedar shingles. A Greek Revival may have a silver-coated tin roof, but few would argue with a homeowner willing to replace with copper standing seam. This blog article will look at several American building styles and the materials used to roof them.
Colonial Styles, 1620 to 1780

From the New England Salt Box to the Dutch vernacular homes of upstate New York, the earliest structures in the American colonies were roofed with wood shingles. It is a myth that they were covered with hand-split shakes, because these do not hold up well, rotting and failing in just a few years; ask anyone who has made the mistake of using them. Wood shingles were easily made by planing down the shakes to a uniform thickness for ease of installation.  In the Northeast, Eastern White Cedar was the typical material used, while cypress was often used in the South. Western Red Cedar was not used much in the eastern U.S. until after the 1850s and should not be considered appropriate on a circa-1820, Federal-style structure in Connecticut. Eastern White Cedar, however, rarely lasts longer than ten years in a roofing application. Instead, preservation architects now specify Alaskan Yellow Cedar. Predominantly distributed from British Columbia, this dense wood is favored because of its longevity and because it develops a silvery patina, like Eastern White, within one year.

Federal and Neoclassical Styles, 1780 to 1820
Many of these buildings have low-sloped roofs and are often obstructed by a balustrade that runs across the top of the eaves. In congested, urban environments the roof may not even be visible from the street. This raises the obvious question: What needs to be done when an element of the exterior is not within the street view? Most HDCs use that standard question to limit their purview over a proposed alteration.   The balustrade adorning the Federal-style St. Botolph Club’s roof in Boston’s Back Bay conceals the low-sloped roofing from view.If your roof falls into this category, then you should pick the most enduring and sustainable material you can afford. These structures were not often originally covered in slate, although many are today. Original roofs were wooden shingles, less than ideal on a roof with a shallow pitch. In some limited instances, standing-seam or flat-lock seamed roofs are seen on these building styles. To find out what’s appropriate, check out roofs on structures of the same style in your neighborhood and neighboring communities.

Greek Revival, 1820 to 1850

This style also features a low-sloped roof, typically 4:12. While the original roof material may have been wooden shingles, many in the Northeast were long ago replaced by a more sustainable material. Flat-lock tin or terne-coated steel were typical from the late 1800s on. Many have standing-seam roofing, although this system tends to be less conducive to the many and varied changes in the roof plane that multiple roofs and additions create.  A new copper roof and built-in gutters on a Greek Revival in historic Waterford, NY.Because many of these structures also have box gutters at the eaves, keep in mind that re-lining these systems is costly and will need to tie in to the new roof material. It is not uncommon for an affordable membrane (like EPDM or TPO) to be used on the majority of the roof and a costlier, appropriate material (like copper) to cover the visible, projecting “porch” roof

Gothic Revival, 1840 to 1860

While many of these structures were initially covered with wooden shingles, many had decorative styles and patterns. This was also a popular style when the slate industry in Vermont, Pennsylvania and Virginia started to produce roofing slate in such quantities that it could be realistically specified as a material choice. The influence of architect Frank Furness and others shone through, as polychromatic slate patterns adorned the Gothic “cottages” of Alexander Jackson Davis, Andrew Jackson Downing and their many disciples. In the South and in the Mid-Atlantic states, standing-seam roofing is quite common. Again, check out roofs on buildings of the same style in your neighborhood and neighboring communities. What’s appropriate?

Italianate, 1845 to 1875

While many Italianates have out-of-sight, low-sloped roofs that an HDC will not be concerned about, many of the “villa” variety have gables and other roof planes that are visible from the street. Like those on Greek Revivals, these roofs were often clad in flat-lock seamed or standing-seam sheet metal. In later years, many were re-roofed with clay tiles. Note that the advent of this new material correlates with the growth of the Ludowici firm in Chicago in the 1880s. The HDC will likely require replacement in-kind to create the original look, although there may be some leeway with respect to the material itself. After all, it’s all about keeping up appearances.

Second Empire, 1855 to 1880

The mansard roof is the character-defining feature of this style. A mansard is essentially a hipped gambrel. The lower roof, between the eaves and upper cornice, is most often covered in slate. More often than not, these parts of the roof can be restored and do not need to be replaced. If they do need replacement, be prepared to face an HDC that’s going to want it done in-kind. Keep in mind that these structures almost always have (or had) a built-in gutter at the eaves.
The sheet-metal linings fail, and replacement is expensive – especially if they failed long ago and wood rot has resulted from the neglect. The upper roof typically ranges from flat to a low-sloped 4:12 pitch. Once the roof becomes visible from the street, the material choice becomes important, and the same argument applied to Greek Revival and Italianate styles holds true here.

Queen Anne, 1880 to 1910

While the roof systems of many Queen Anne buildings, like this one in Portsmouth, NH, are complicated, more often than not the flashings need replacement, not the slate.Severe recessions in the U.S. during the 1870s stymied new construction. By the time the economy rebounded, the Queen Anne had replaced the Second Empire as the popular style of choice. Improvements in rail service, as well as material fabrication and production, were game changers. Architects and builders roofed these Victorians with various slate colors, cedar shingles, and flat-lock and standing-seam copper, along with different colors and shapes of clay tiles. And, often, these buildings have combinations of roofing materials and styles.

Unfortunately, many HDCs allow building owners to replace original roof fabric with so-called “architectural shingles.” These shingles were created to replicate wood shingle (or shake) roofs in an economical way. It is a fallacy that they are an appropriate alternative to slate; in fact, three-tab shingles look more like slate than architectural shingles do. Before you replace your entire roof, consider that it may only be the flashings that need replacement.