Today is Earth Day where we celebrate taking care of our planet and leaving a greener and healthier world for the next generation. You may be thinking “why on earth is Scott writing about Earth Day on a historic preservation and DIY blog? I want to learn how to glaze a window or up my plaster skills.” Just hear me out, because on this blog the what and how is just as important as the why, and today we get to talk about the why.
Other than preservation month, I don’t think there is a better time to talk about the benefits of historic preservation than Earth Day. After all what’s more green than preserving our built history? One of my good friends Ty McBride owns a company names Wood Window Rescue in Oklahoma City and their mission is “To save our natural environment by preserving our built environment.” It’s one of those Big Hairy Audacious Goals that Jim Collins talks about in his killer book Good to Great.
Can you see how a mission like that dovetails perfectly into the Earth Day theme? Whether we like it or not, both camps, Green and Preservation, need each other. We need to team up. To get each others backs and understand that the other’s success mean success for us.
Earth Day Buildings
Today, we can build structures that are extraordinarily energy-efficient. They recycle water, have living green roofs that keep temps moderate indoors, are net-zero (require no power from the electrical grid). We can build things today that require almost no carbon footprint to operate on an annual basis.
BUT…as efficient as these buildings are, they still need raw materials (wood, metal, gypsum, paint, glass, etc.) in order to build them. And those raw materials need to be processed, shipped, packaged, delivered on site and assembled. That all requires lots of resources and energy.
That is precisely why preserving and repurposing old buildings is a more sustainable option. Old buildings required the same huge list of resources and energy to assemble them 100 years ago, but the work has already been done. The materials are already in place. Nothing needs be added to them.
If you tear down that old factory to make way for a new super-efficient office building, not only do you add hundreds of thousands of tons of debris to the landfill, but you essentially throw away all that embodied energy. And embodied energy is where you get the most juice for the squeeze.
“The average historic house that was retained rather than razed reduced the impact on the landfill by 116.6 tons.” -Donovan Rypkema
This Earth Day, get out and enjoy the spring weather. Wear some sandals (if you can) and eat some granola. Recycle your lunch containers and in the afternoon take a stroll through an old neighborhood stopping a while to appreciate the longevity of these historic buildings, and think about what it really means to protect our one and only planet.
All I can do is motivate you. You have to make the change in your corner of the world!
Demolition by neglect is when old buildings are destroyed not by the wrecking ball, but by time and neglect from owners who either don’t care about their condition or wish to raze a protected historic structure but can’t get permission to do so. Too often historic homes are in local historic districts that don’t allow demolition except under extreme cases, so they are simply left to rot and fall into such disrepair that they cannot feasibly be repaired.
If you’re patient (and devious) you can usually get permission to tear down any historic landmark simply by sitting on it and watching it fall to pieces. It happens in every city and is an all too common occurrence that historic preservationists seem to be helpless to fight. It’s as cowardly as ignoring your girlfriend until she breaks up with you rather breaking up with her yourself.
If we want to preserve our history it important that we find a way better than throwing up our arms and whining that those preservation bullies are letting yet another building fall prey to demolition by neglect. So I’ve got some suggestions for you whether you are a preservation professional or a neighbor witnessing this happening in your own town. Being a victim accomplishes nothing, but taking action can change everything.
How To Stop Demolition By Neglect
I’ve never been a passive person and when I see someone skirting the rules it really steams me! I’ve written previously about how demolition is a choice, not a solution, but the problem still continues. So these suggestions below, if your town has the gumption to implement them, should significantly slow down or even stop demolition by neglect. Let me know your thoughts.
1. Stop Issuing Demo Permits
Hey, city officials, want to stop demolitions in your historic districts? Then stop issuing demolition permits! If you keep giving people permission to demo they will keep taking advantage of your leniency. I understand city politics are very complicated (I serve on a city board), but if this matters to you then take up the fight and make the change. Bad characters, if they know a city will not bend and issue a demo permit to any building suspected of demolition by neglect, will eventually stop using this practice to undermine our preservation rules.
2. Better Fines & Liens
If a homeowner neglects a property a lot of cities place fines on the property, but those fines are often simply ignored by the owners who know that they can often be forgiven or aren’t necessary to be paid until the property sells which could be years or decades away. What if the fines were applied to the property tax bill every year by the property appraiser and the neglecting owner had to feel the pain of them every year with their tax bill? That might encourage a little action.
3. Deny Infill Permits
If a city suspects that a building is subjected to demolition by neglect then in addition to not allowing a demo permit they also ensure that a permit for new infill construction on that property will not be allowed. They would only be issued a permit for the repair and restoration of the building and perhaps that repair permit would be free of charge. Stop enabling bad behavior and you’ll get less of it.
4. Social Proof & Shame
With the advent of social media, shame is used in too many bad ways, but it can also be a force for good too. Just like deadbeat dads need to be called out and encouraged to do the right thing the same could apply to property owners who are playing the dirty game of demolition by neglect. Now, this can easily go too far by shaming a neighbor because their lawn hasn’t been cut, or painted their house a weird color, but used appropriately social shame can move mountains and a strong neighborhood association will often scare off potential demolishers.
5. Tax Incentives for Repair & Restoration
I’ve been focusing more on the stick and less on the carrot so far but there are ways to encourage good behavior rather than just punishing bad behavior. Why not provide property tax incentives for improvements made to historic properties? Or allow small grants to homeowners wishing to do the right thing? Some cities offer free burying of power lines to a property in historic districts which benefits the homeowner and the city. There are countless options and dollar amounts that any city can offer to best incentivize the proper care of their historic resources I’ve even seen one small town that provides free paint for homeowners looking to paint the exteriors of their houses because that improves property values which increases tax revenues which essentially pays for the cost of the paint. Get creative!
6. Mothballing Programs
If you can keep the weather out of a building you can keep it protected until a more responsible owner comes along. This might be cross the lines on private property rights, but if you leave a vacant house with broken out windows and a failing roof could a city have the right to tarp the roof and board the windows up to not only protect the house from neglect but also protect citizens and neighbors from the dangers of a house that might collapse? I don’t know, but asking these kind of radical questions is the only way to start finding solutions to this problem.
I’ve giving you six ways that could potentially fight demolition by neglect, but I want to hear your thoughts too. What is working your area? What is absolutely not working? This is a very real problem for historic buildings and it needs address by all of us no matter where we are. Let’s keep talking about solutions and maybe soon we’ll find some that really work!
Asphalt shingles were invented in America in 1901 as a low cost and fire resistant alternative to the available roofing materials of the day. They were originally cotton rag soaked in asphalt with a variety of granules such as slate, mica, or even oyster shells added to the the surface for increased durability.
You might not give much thought to asphalt shingles since most of us don’t see our roofs up close unless there is a problem or you’re just particularly fond of heights. But you should definitely give your shingles a considerable amount of thought when it comes time to replace your roof because they are the main thing protecting your house from the weather. Even more important than keeping your house painted, the proper asphalt shingles (installed well) can make your roof last a decade longer than a poor shingle.
In this post, I’ll give you my take from experience as a general contractor of what shingles work and what are not worth your time. There are a lot of things to consider when choosing the right asphalt shingle and I’ll walk you through the things you should be paying attention to since the cost of the shingle is such a small portion of the overall cost of a new roof.
A History of Asphalt Shingles
The first shingles were originally just single shingles unlike the wide multi-shingle sheets on the market today. Over the years, the backing material, granules, and construction of asphalt shingles has changed considerably, but the basic premise has remained the same. Their resistance to wind and hail damage has been greatly increased over the years as have the styles available to create a high quality roofing material.
Like most building materials, the composition of asphalt shingles was largely natural materials at first before moving to more manmade versions later. In the 1920s, due to increasing costs, the original cotton backing soon became too expensive and other materials like wool, jute (see linoleum), and wood pulp were experimented with. In testing done around the time, most of these bases showed no significant performance differences so for the next couple decades there were a variety of backings used depending on the region and manufacturer.
The 1920s saw huge growth for asphalt shingles due to a campaign by the insurance companies to address the growing fire risks in America’s cities. Wood shingles, while popular and affordable created significant fire risks, whereas asphalt shingles provided fire resistance and affordability. With the advent of the great depression and asphalt shingles availability as an affordable roofing material, they only saw further growth through the post war building boom and following decades.
In the 1960s, fiberglass mats were introduced to further improve fire ratings of roofs and replace the asbestos containing shingles that found their way onto the market. While fiberglass shingles were too light to withstand high winds, originally they were eventually improved to the point where they surpassed asphalt shingles with natural backings popularity in 1982.
In the 1990s, manufacturers worked very hard to improve the wind resistance and impact resistance of asphalt shingles, especially following devastating hurricanes like Andrew in 1992. Today asphalt shingles have been improved so thoroughly that many receive the highest wind and impact ratings available for roofing materials.
What to Look For
Since the cost of a new roof is mainly labor, picking a more expensive shingle is not as financially painful as you might think. Doubling the cost of your shingles adds only a small increase to the total cost of a roof. So what should you be looking for in a quality shingle? Just like anything you do get what you pay for so even if a cheap shingle looks great, there should always be some skepticism about why it’s so cheap. Let me outline the important aspects of asphalt shingles here.
You want a shingle to stand up to storms especially if you live in a high wind region like Florida or the plains which are subject to hurricanes or tornados. Yes, you can save a little here if you don’t live in a high wind zone, but is it really worth it since the chances or a strong storm coming through your area in the next 20 or 30 years is pretty good no matter where you live. Below is a list of wind ratings for roofing materials.
Asphalt Shingle Wind-Resistance Classifications
A beneficial feature you may want to consider is what impact rating your shingles need. There are four levels of impact resistance, which essentially measure how well the fiberglass mat will hold up to hail and other debris. The higher the rating the stronger the shingles resistance to hail hitting your roof. That’s never a bad thing. Unlike the the wind resistance, I think that paying for the highest impact rating is not a forgone conclusion. You need to think long and hard about the kind of weather your area gets before deciding which impact level is right for your house.
Asphalt Shingle Impact-Resistance Classifications
I like having a little fun with testing products and the video below is a great example of what Class 3 and 4 shingles can stand up to. Grab a soda and check it out!
The traditional 3-tab shingle has been around for years, but in the last couple decades, the rise in popularity of architectural shingles which do a good job of replicating the texture and dimensions of wood shingles has in my mind been a big improvement. Architectural shingles tend to last longer and hold up better since they are thicker and generally built with better construction. You can find scalloped shingles, shingles made to look like wood shakes, and all kinds of other custom shapes to fit the style of your house. This is especially helpful to us old home owners who need something that matchesthe architectural style of a historic home.
There is no right or wrong decision here, but the style is definitely something you should be thinking about since you’ll be living with it for a long time.
Color is a bigger deal than you might think. Yes, it defines the look of your house and is more difficult to change than a bad paint job, but it also plays a large role in how energy efficient your house is. When I hear people rail about how important energy efficiency is and then watch them put a black shingle roof on their house I realize that all their talk of “green living” is likely just talk.
The lighter shade of shingle you choose greatly affects the heat generated by your roof. In northern states, a dark roof might well be desirable to capture as much heat from the elusive winter sun, but if you live in the south, then having black roof can increase your cooling bill significantly.
A study performed by Berkeley Labs which compared the different energy performance between black, white, and green roofs (a green roof is a roof covered in vegetation) found that “Both white and green roofs do a good job at cooling the building and cooling the air in the city, but white roofs are three times more effective at countering climate change than green roofs.”
I’m not saying you should go out and buy stark white shingles, but realizing the huge difference that shingle color can play should definitely weigh in on you decision of what shingle to buy. Think of it this way, on a sunny day, a black roof can be as much as 100 degrees warmer than the ambient air temp, while a white roof will only be about 20 degrees warmer. Think about not only your utility bills, but also the fact that a roof assembly that stays cooler has a longer life than shingles that are consistently overheated.
There are a lot of warranties out there and while I’m not as focused on this aspect, it is often important to look into since your roof is a significant investment. Does the warranty cover materials only or does it cover materials and labor. Is it pro-rated or is it full coverage? How long does it last? How established is the company? If you have a 100-year warranty from a 2-year old company, that’s not quite as valuable as from an 80-year old company since your warranty is only as good as the company who honors it.
Picking the Best Asphalt Shingles
You should be armed with enough information to pick the right shingles at the right price for your house now. Don’t get too hung up and on the different manufacturers special options. The main issues are what we have discussed, and following these guidelines will help you compare apples to apples so you don’t accidentally end up with a lemon. Just like any home improvement purchase, take your time and put your hands on some shingles before making the final decision.
Do they feel significant or do they feel cheap and weak? Your gut is a good guide once you can get the product in your hands and see it in real life rather than on a computer screen. Use the facts above and trust your gut and you’ll be just fine. Happy roofing!
Gutters have been around for a long time in one form or another and they can make a big difference in keeping your home safe from water damage. But, modern style gutters often look out of place on an old house, so what can you do? What types of gutters will fit a historic home?
There are options that fit perfectly on almost any style historic home whether you have a Greek Revival or Craftsman Bungalow. If you choose one of these styles and materials below, your gutters will be in good company with your historic home.
Types of Gutters
What types of gutters work with a historic house is largely dependent on the age of the home. For most mid-century homes, you have a lot more options than the a 19th-century Queen Anne Victorian. So, for each style, I’ll give you a sense of when it was popular so you can best pair it with your old house.
K-Style Gutters (1950s – Present)
K-style gutters were invented in the mid-1940s and soon after became the predominate style gutter in America. They are most commonly made from aluminum with a crown molding like ogee profile on the outside face.
You’ll find them at every home store and on most suburban tract homes. They are so ubiquitous that if you call a gutter company and ask for new gutters they won’t even ask what style, they will almost always install aluminum K-style gutters.
While aluminum is the most popular material today, there are also options like vinyl and copper. Vinyl gutters have a fairly short lifespan and in my opinion, are never worth the savings you get, whereas copper can add a bit of class to your home as they age gracefully from a bright copper color to that old dark penny color before eventually turning that amazing verdigris green color.
K-style gutters come in varying sizes but for most homes a 5″ or 6″ gutter paired with rectangular downspouts works fine unless you have an unusually large roof. K-style gutters also have the added benefit of carrying more water due to the design than half round gutters.
Half-Round Gutters (1900s – 1960s)
Half round gutters were popularized in the early 1900s when metal roll machines came into regular use. They are, just as the name implies, a half round design with either a single or double bead rolled edge for added strength.
In their heyday at the beginning of the 20th-century (until the K-style gutter rose to popularity in the late 1940s) the half round gutter was commonly found in a multitude of materials readily available at the time. Today they are mainly made from painted aluminum for performance and cost purposes. Below are some of the various materials you could find half round gutters in historically.
Half round gutters are typically sized one size larger than a K-style gutter because they don’t carry quite as much water. Also, you have the option of choosing a double beaded style that looks at home on open rafter tail Bungalows or Missions style homes, or you can choose a single bead style that has a taller backside to prevent overflow into the fascia and cornice.
Cast Iron (1820s – 1870s)
These were never hugely popular due to their weight and difficulty to install, but some houses in the mid 19th-century were fitted with cast iron gutters. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the growth of the railroads these new manufactured gutters because more and more available.
These were often similar in profile to the K-style gutter or simple U-shaped boxes. Perhaps due to the rust issue that is inherent with cast iron these were never as hugely popular as their predecessors or the wooden gutters of the day that performed better and were easier to make.
Architectural styles that fit well with cast iron gutters would be more urban townhomes in the bigger cities of the day.
Wood Gutters (1600s – 1910s)
Simple wood gutters often called “Yankee Gutters” or “Box Gutters” have been around for a long time in one form or another. Often the old-growth wood was rot resistant enough to perform admirably for decades and other times the gutters were lined with a sheet metal like lead or copper to extend their life.
These site built gutters were often times incorporated into the cornice of old houses so that they seamlessly blended in and went largely unnoticed save for the typically copper downspouts that were also site built and soldered together.
The most common designs were a U-shaped or V-shape gutter with a built up cornice to incorporate the gutter into the design of the house. These gutters while costly to build today can be easily repaired by replacing and rotted or missing wood and with the replacement of the metal lining they can be given another 100+ years of life.
While no two styles were exactly the same in appearance from the street, the design of the water handling portion of the gutters is usually pretty similar. One of the unique challenges of wood gutters is that it is difficult to find leaf guards that will fit and so you are often left cleaning your gutters on a more regular basis if you wish to keep them in good working order.
Architectural styles that fit well with the wood gutters would be largely the same group that work with K-style gutters since K-style gutters were an attempt to mimic the look of more traditional wood gutters. Colonial Revival, Greek Revival, Adams & Georgian or other similar styled houses.
Below, you’ll find six of the best gutter cleaning tools available today to not only keep your gutters clean, but keep your feet on the ground. There are tools in every budget range and for almost any gutter setup included.
Spring and fall are the times when gutter cleaning is imperative. Clogged gutters can quickly cause major damage to your roof and fascia as water overflows and finds its way into the dark corners of your soffit. No one likes to climb on the ladder to dig leaves out with your hands, and some people hate it so much that they invented these creative solutions to gutter cleaning.
I hope you’ll find some good options below for your house and unique situation as you work your way through your home maintenance checklists.
What this tools lacks in creative naming (how many numbers and letters does it really need?) it makes up for in clever and simple design. Add this attachment to the business end of any pressure washer and place it into the gutter and blast leaves and debris in two directions.
You’ll need an extension pole and if you don’t have a downspout on both ends of the gutter, then this does work a little less efficiently since it blasts debris in both directions, but the ease of use cannot be denied.
This is as simple and inexpensive as it gets for gutter cleaning. Sure, you’ll have to climb up on a ladder and remove the debris by scooping it out, but at least you won’t have to use your hands and at less than $5 what more did you expect?
I like to keep it simple and this scooper certainly accomplishes that in spades.
Funny name, serious product! Add this curved attachment to the end of your pressure washer and you’re off. Angel the spray head whichever way you need and start at the high end of the gutter and blast all that gunk toward the downspout. It also works great for clearing jams in the downspout.
There’s nothing gimmicky here, just a simple design that is hard to mess up or claim you can’t understand.
If you want to keep your feet on the ground while cleaning your gutters, then you’ll need a few of these extension wand to get your tool of choice in the right location. Depending on the height of your gutters, pick up a few of these extension wands so you’re ready to roll.
The Simpson Extension Wand comes with a 1/4″ quick connect already installed so that adding your attachment of choice is simple.
This one is for all the techies out there. Sure, you could do the manual labor yourself or choose some of these low tech options, but you could also go the high tech route and get this gutter cleaning robot! iRobot, the creators of popular Roomba also created this workhorse to get your gutters clean.
I have not used this little before and I’m not quite sure how it works personally, but their website reviews give it 3.8 out of 5 stars and Amazon has hundreds of reviews scoring it about the same. So, from that I would guess, it gets a B+ for functionality, but A++ for coolness.
This little guy attaches to a standard hose and can blast dirt and leaves out of not only your gutters but also larger pipes. Simply push the hose along and the water rocket blast debris out the backside of the gutter and down the downspout.
Considering you don’t need a pressure washer or any other tools, this one was pretty appealing to me. You can get started right away without asking your neighbor to borrow yet another tool.
Below I included a quick video of the iRobot Looj in action since as the most expensive options you should definitely do a little more research before plunking down a couple hundred dollars. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
This post is sponsored by Indow, but the opinions expressed are all mine, mine, mine. Hope you enjoy my thoughts!
Is there such a thing as soundproof windows? Is it even possible? Believe it or not, I get a ton of questions about the sound issues from historic single-paned windows. There is no doubt that the noise that comes through your windows is greater than the noise that comes through your walls. Duh! That train, garbage truck, drunk college kids stumbling home from the clubs every Friday night (that one is personal to me!) all conspire to disturb your sleep or anything else you do in your house.
So, can you soundproof your windows, or is there a window you can buy that is soundproof? I’m going to spoil the surprise right now by telling you that there is no such thing as soundproof windows, BUT there are things you can do to dramatically cut down on the noise coming through your windows no matter what kind of window you have. What if I told you that you could cut down the outside noise by as much as 70% with something that could be installed in just a couple minutes? Read on to see how I did it.
The Closest Thing to Soundproof Windows
We cleared up that nothing under the sun will make your window soundproof. To compare this to an everyday idea there are very few items that are truly fireproof. Many things are more fire resistant than others but almost everything will burn if you get it hot enough. The same idea applies to soundproofing in your home. While you can’t create a monastery in your bedroom you can get pretty darn close by blocking a large amount of the most bothersome outside noises.
My favorite way to get the peace and quiet you need is by installing an Acoustic Window Insert. Indow is a manufacturer of interior press-fit storm windows and they offer several different grades of insert like Shade Grade, Privacy, and my favorite Acoustic. Their Acoustic grade inserts can reduce sound transmission by up to 70% on most single-paned windows. And just like everything I recommend, they are extremely DIY-friendly to measure and install.
Even their Standard grade inserts block up to 50% of sound transfer which is no small potatoes when you live on a busy street like I do.
How I Used Indows
When my wife and I found out that we were having our second child we knew it was time make some extra room, and for us that meant turning our unfinished attic into a bedroom that could house a couple crazy boys. You can check out how to project turned out in this post here. My boys are quite a handful like most small boys and it was important that we kept them from being awoken by traffic on our busy street.
There are four original wood windows in their bedroom and I need to make sure that they didn’t open them and fall out and also that their sleep (and my precious rest) wasn’t interrupted by road noise. So, we called up Indow and they sent us the tools to measure the windows and submit our order for our four sound blockers. I put together a video of the installation process below which is super simple, took all of five minutes each, and made all the difference in the world.
Long story short, my boys sleep about 10-12 hours a night without interruption! I’m not saying that’s all thanks to the Indow inserts, but a quiet and distraction free environment certainly helps them (and my wife and I) get the rest they need.
To me it was a no brainer that the windows no matter what age or type are the weakest link when it comes to unwanted noise in a room. While there was no truly soundproof window on the market, and as any of you know I’m not interested in replacing my original windows since that is always a losing proposal a simple press fit insert that can block 70% of the outside noise seemed like the perfect solution. Not to mention the energy savings you can get from adding an interior storm.
You can find out more about Indows by visiting their website right here. If you’re struggling with lots of noise they might be the right choice for you like they were for me.
Security cameras. I always thought they were a bit silly. I mean, I know dated old fashioned house alarms are kinda irrelevant nowadays anyway (does anyone even bat an eyelid at sirens blearing down the street?) but as for CCTV, I just felt like it was basically telling the world you have stuff worth stealing.
BUT, that was then and this is now. So many houses have security cameras, it's become normal. A house that has a security camera is no longer standing out from the crowd. It's fitting in. And those left unprotected by CCTV are the houses that are more likely to stand out. Security cameras have also become cheaper in recent years, so I think those things combined, is probably why so many people are buying them nowadays.Read more »
Once the threat of winter has passed and you have dug out from the season of snow and ice, a simple spring home maintenance checklist of “honey-do” items will get your house ready for the much anticipated warmer weather. Make minor fixes now to avoid big expensive problems down the line by following this simple list of annual maintenance items.
This checklist of exterior spring cleaning items shouldn’t take you more than a single day and is a big time and money saver, if you can complete the list every year before the spring gets into full swing.
1. Touch Up Paint
Your house paint can last a long time with minimal maintenance, but one of the simplest ways to extend that life is by touching up chips or bubbles that have occurred a few times a year. Take a little brush and touch up any missing paint to prevent water from getting trapped behind the paint and causing premature failure and rot.
2. Inspect the Roof
Snow and ice take a toll on your roof no matter what material it is made from. Once the ice has all melted, give your roof a once over to check for items like missing or loose shingles, bent vent pipes or built up debris. It’s not always necessary to break out the ladder and climb up top, but if you’re careful, that always yields better results (just be careful!) Replace any missing shingles, clear off the built up leaves, branches, and other debris and inspect the flashing to make sure you’ll be leak free for those spring rains.
3. Clean the Gutters
Your gutters are inevitably clogged from those fall leaves you forgot to deal with so while you’re on the roof take the time to get them cleaned out and free flowing again. Clogged gutters are a major source of rotten fascia, soffit, and rafters so keeping them clear will avoid those expensive issues later. If you don’t already have some installed, get some leaf guards to keep them cleaner longer. I really like the Flexpoint Leaf Guards since they seem to do the best job of letting water through and keeping leaves out in my opinion.
4. Check Sprinklers and Hoses
Freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw. It takes a toll on plumbing fixtures outdoors, so before the hot summer months, get here and you really need those sprinklers give them a little test to see that you don’t have any broken pipes or misaligned sprinkler heads. I’ve seen a lot of misaligned sprinkler heads that were hit by the snow shovel over the winter spray their water on the house rather than the flowers. Adjust those sprinklers so they are not spraying on any part of the house creating a breeding ground for wood rot.
5. Touch up Exterior Furniture
Are those Adirondack chairs looking a little rough? Probably since varnish only holds up for a year or so outside. Now’s a great time to take those chairs and other outdoor furniture to the garage and get them resealed before the rainy season hits. You’ll want to wait for consistently warmer weather before doing the same to your deck because temps need to be above the mid 50’s even at night before you can apply new stains or sealers outdoors.
6. Windows & Doors
It may not be time to swap out thestorm windows for the screens yet, but doing a spring tune up of your windows is always a good idea. Inspect them for any rot or missing glazing putty, replace broken glass or broken ropes as needed. If you need to pull the sash out for a little maintenance in the garage, you still have your storm window up and protection so this is a great time to do some work on your windows. Below is a spring tune up webinar I did for Indow in 2018 to give you some good ideas for quick improvements you can make to your windows in preparation for spring.
7. Service AC Unit
Before the summer is here you can save some money by getting your AC serviced in the off-season of early spring. Prices for service are usually lower and the schedules of local techs are much better. Plus, making sure your AC system is tuned and ready for the hot months now will give you some peace of mind because replacing it in July is way more painful than doing it in the cooler spring months.
Work your way through this simple spring home maintenance checklist one Saturday and you and your house will be ready to enjoy a problem free spring. Good luck and thank goodness spring is here!
In older buildings, the crawl space is an 18″ to 36″ space between the floor of the building and the earth where mechanical elements like electrical and plumbing are often hidden. This overlooked piece of the house is important to understand because it can cause major issues if neglected.
Your crawl space: it’s dark, it’s scary and if you’re like most of us, you have no idea what’s lurking down there. If you own an old house that was built before the slab on grade craze after WWII, you likely have a crawl space foundation.
A crawl space was sometimes part of a pier and beam foundation where the builder simply had a mason install brick or stone piers spaced evenly across the foundation to support the home, or it is part of a stem wall construction where the crawl space is enclosed, except for regularly spaced vents to encourage ventilation.
Why is the Crawl Space Important?
The crawl space holds a lot of secrets to your old house and can provide a lot of information about past issues and potential future issues. Understanding how it functions best and how to treat it will make you a rock star homeowner and save money and trouble down the line.
Your crawlspace needs to be ventilated. Period. Unless you are building a new zero-energy Passivhaus your crawlspace was likely designed to be ventilated to avoid problems. Ventilation allows moisture from the earth to escape through the vents rather than work its way into your house, potentially causing mold and mildew problems.
Before you listen to the insulation guy who tells you to seal it up and make it airtight, think for a minute about why those vents were installed in the first place.
Unlike those poor sobs with a slab foundation, you have access to all your mechanicals like plumbing, electrical, and HVAC (sometimes) by crawling around under the house. Nobody likes climbing down there, but it’s a lot easier than jacking up a hole in a concrete slab to repair a burst pipe or upgrade your electrical.
Inspecting for potential issues and making repairs in much easier in a crawl space, so count your blessings.
Not only are you able to spot issues with your mechanicals, but you can also nip other problems in the bud. Inspections are much easier in a crawl space where you can more easily spot and remedy issues like subterranean termites, wood rot, and foundation issues.
Another plus is getting to play detective. I can tell if there was fire damage at one point, tell what kind of fasteners were used on the foundation, check to see what’s underneath those tile or linoleum floors and if they were original, and a host of other things.
How to Protect Your Crawl Space
There are a few things you need to do to secure and protect your crawl space and fortunately, they don’t require constant work. They are very much a once and done kind of thing and once they are completed, you can avoid sticking your head down there except for the random curiosity.
Keeping Critters Out
Protecting your crawl space from critters like mice, rats, raccoons, squirrels, or the neighbor’s feral cats is more important than you may think. If not sealed up, your crawl space is a warm bed for any critter looking for a home. Those pests tend to chew on warm electrical wires, tear open plumbing pipes for a drink, make nests in you insulation, and leave their messes behind.
Critters in the crawl space are NOT a good thing, and you need to seal things up in a way that keeps them out for good, but allows airflow. My favorite tool for this is 1/4″ hardware cloth that keeps most anything at bay when secured properly. I’ve written another post about How To Keep Critters Out of Your Crawl Space that you can read here.
In stem wall construction, moisture continuously evaporates from the earth and makes its way into your crawl space since these are not as well ventilated as the more open design of the pier and beam foundation. To keep the humidity at bay, you need to lay down some plastic sheeting covering the dirt. Black 6 mil plastic works best and is fairly inexpensive. The Spruce has a great how to post on the topic.
Dealing with Radon
Radon is an odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the earth and can seep into your crawl space increasing your risk of cancer. It sounds terrifying, but in reality, it is not difficult or expensive to fix. The thing is that you have to have someone test for it to know if it’s an issue.
It is more common in the northern parts of the US, so having a test for peace of mind is definitely worth it especially if you have neighbors with positive tests.
Crawl Space Conclusion
Now you’re a pro about crawl spaces. You know what the potential issues are and you know how to resolve them. It doesn’t take much to get your crawl space in tip top shape, and once you make these few improvements, you’ll be able to forget all about that dark scary place again. Before you switch into “out of sight, out of mind” mode again give some thought to how you can improve that dark corner of your house called the crawl space.
When the economy is chugging along and money is flowing through our society, it seems to me that some terms get new definitions. The line between “need” and “want” is blurred beyond recognition. Another couple phrases whose definitions get a little hazy is the difference between “have to” and want to”. While these can be annoying, there is another phrase that is tossed about with no regard to its actual definition and that phrase is “beyond repair”.
How often have you really come across something that is truly “beyond repair”? Sure, it may be too expensive or even sometimes impractical to repair, but that’s not the same as “beyond repair”, Beyond repair implies that there is absolutely no way to fix something. It’s irreparably damaged, old, worn out, or whatever. Let’s be careful with our words, though, because words have meanings and when we change those meanings, the results are not good.
In this post I want to talk about “beyond repair” and what this potentially dangerous term means in historic preservation, because I feel like it is being used to justify all kinds of architectural wrongs and I want the damage to be stopped.
What is Beyond Repair?
Typically, we use this term the same way we talk about a car being totaled. It’s not that your mechanic couldn’t fix the car, but it will likely cost more to repair than the book value of the car is worth. Why sink $4,000 into a car that is only worth $2,000, right? So, something is beyond repair if the following formula applies.
Value in Good Condition – Cost to Repair ≥ $0
What do you think? Can we agree on that definition of beyond repair? I feel comfortable with it since it can be applied across a wide variety of items and their valuations. So, then we need to agree upon a method to accurately find the value of an item. As you’ll see below, this can prove a bit more difficult.
How Do You Value Old Buildings?
The book value of a car, or a piece of land may be easy to calculate, but the value of a historic building is not as clear. Yes, you can go to the local property appraiser and find out what your home is “worth”, but would any of you feel good about selling your house for what the property appraiser lists it at? How about selling your house for what the insurance company values it at. No thank you!
So, then for difficult to value items like historic buildings, how do we come up with an appropriate value? For most real estates, a local realtor can help with a basic valuation since the price of real estate is extremely localized. But, how do you put a value on the endless intangibles incorporated in an old building? Things like custom woodwork, wavy glass, unique and hard to find hardware, old-growth lumber, etc. Those are hard to value with any degree of certainty. We all know they are worth more, but how much more?
Then there are the really intangible things like local history. Was your house built by the first mayor? Was a famous writer born in the house, or the town’s first doctor? Maybe it was part of the underground railroad during the civil war, or it had a distillery in the basement during prohibition. There are so many stories incorporated into our historic buildings that are almost impossible to value. After all, the house built by the town’s first mayor is the only house like it in the world. How do you pull that comp?
What about valuing a building during the great recession in 2009 vs in 2019? It’s the same building but those numbers would be vastly different. Does that mean that in a down real estate market there are more buildings that are “beyond repair”? Struggling through this valuation we can see that determining a true value of a building that incorporates the book value and intrinsic value is really difficult if not impossible.
If you wanna know the real reason most people toss this phrase around, it’s because they are copping out, in my humble opinion. Here are some of the responses I’ve gotten on projects I’ve sometimes been awarded and sometime lost to the wrecking ball to show you what I mean.
Ultimately, this comes down to private property rights and how much tenacity local historic preservation ordinances have. I don’t think I would have a problem with the phrase beyond repair if it was used to accurately describe the situation, but that is not the case. Using it as a cop out so you don’t have to be a responsible property owner and steward of the piece of history you own is no excuse.
Bottom line for me is that if you don’t want to fix it, then have the guts to tell us that’s why you want it replaced/demoed/razed, but stop lying to the rest of us that the reason you’re choosing to NOT restore is because it’s “beyond repair.” Put on your big boy pants and tell the truth, that’s what adults do. If you own a piece of architectural history whether it’s a house or a high rise, have the guts to tell it like it is and let the cards fall where they may.