For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, the “broken window theory” is the idea that by working to prevent small crimes like vandalism and other misdemeanors neighborhoods will be sparred the larger and more serious crimes that are likely to follow.
The theory, which is very much based on real experience uses broken windows on a home as an example. A house with no broken windows (abandoned or occupied) will likely keep its windows intact. But once that first window is broken (and left broken) the others windows will quickly fall prey to additional acts of vandalism.
This is very true in cities with an abundance of abandoned houses like Detroit and other rust belt cities that have yet to fully recover from their loss of industry. Neighborhoods in these cities fall prey to little acts of vandalism all the time because either no one is around or no one cares about the condition of them. This starts them down a path toward bigger crimes like burglary, arson, drugs, and murder that they would have otherwise been spared.
How Can We Stop Broken Window Theory?
Broken window theory is like a snowball rolling down a hill. The effort to stop it early is minuscule compared to the huge effort to stop the downward spiral once it has metastasized into the larger and more destructive crimes we inevitably see in these neighborhoods.
No one expects regular citizens to be out fighting crime, that’s the work of local law enforcement, but vigilance in your local neighborhood is a place to start. Starting a neighborhood watch is a great way to support your neighborhood. Be aware of events and strange people in your neighborhood. Remember the little things DO matter. The more attentive to the condition of your neighborhood you are the more you will spot the first signs of metaphoric broken windows beginning to happen.
Do What You Can
Everybody is a specialist at something. For me it’s restoring old houses. You might be a hair dresser, or mechanic, or accountant, or underwater basket weaver. Whatever it is you know how to do give a little of it back to your neighborhood. None of us have the time to help a whole city or state, but if each one of us could do a little something in our own neighborhood then we could help every town in the country.
It has to start somewhere and local is the best place.
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A friend of mine has a company that installs window flower boxes in dangerous neighborhoods. These window boxes are like the antithesis of broken windows. Seeing beautiful flower boxes on houses throughout a neighborhood gives you a feeling that even though there may be bars on the windows people live here and care about their neighborhood.
Maybe you can go spend a day working with Habitat for Humanity to fix up houses for low income people to give them a hand up instead of a hand out. If you’ve got an able body there is no skill needed to spend a Saturday with Habitat. What can you do?
Talk to Your Neighbors
With the demise of the front porch we have retreated into our homes and we can turn into prisoners in cells of our own making. You may be the only one for a while, but get out on the front porch and talk to people who pass by. Say hello even if you don’t know them. This has the added benefit of letting potential bad guys know that people are here and they are watching.
Getting to know those you live near also creates a sense of community so that when bad things do happen we can lean on each other and find strength in our community.
What I’ll Do
If I’m going to preach helping local neighbors I guess I should step up and be more prominent in the fight. So, I’m going to do two things this coming year.
Starting this May Austin Home Restorations will be donating 4 days a year to fixing broken windows in the run down neighborhoods of Central Florida. We will replace the broken glass, reglaze and touch up paint in homes and buildings that have been neglected for whatever reason. We will take care of the broken windows in our city and I’m hoping that you will help us by taking care of the broken windows in your city.
I can’t leave the rest of the country without window help as well so starting today, The Craftsman Blog will donate 1 gallon of Sarco glazing putty to any registered 501c3 non-profit who is willing to help fix broken windows in their community. We buy the putty and pay for shipping, you just have to fix those windows! Are you up for it? Send us an email at email@example.com with “Broken Window Theory” in the subject line and we’ll get you your putty.
It may sounds cheesy, but together we can make a difference. Neither of us has the free time to be out playing Mother Teresa every weekend but to spend one day a year to make your town a little safer? That’s not too much to ask is it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
This has been a fun trip down the path toward Proving Preservation with you guys. I’ve gotten some great feedback from readers and hope you’ll continue to give me your thoughts. After all, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man another.” Proverbs 27:17
Having an answer for things you believe is the best way to assure you are putting your faith in the right things. When it comes to preservation this 5-part series should help you answer all the big questions about historic preservation and its place in our society.
Let’s quickly recap the topics we’ve covered so far:
And this week we’ll go over the last of my four claims:
Original materials in buildings built pre-WWII are longer lasting, more easily repaired, and rarely go obsolete.
Original Materials Are Better
Why do I think original materials are better? Anyone who doesn’t know me will think “He’s just another hysterical preservationist trying to save everything that’s old.” Sad to tell you that’s not the case. My assertion is based on cold, hard facts and nothing more.
Today we have knowledge and technology to build houses better than ever, much better than in the “old days.” Some of that is from the steady march of innovation that naturally occurs and some of it is out of necessity. As the quality of available building materials has gotten worse and worse we have found other ways to make these newer and lower quality materials perform much the same as their predecessors.
Borate treatments keep termites at bay, Simpson hardware strengthens lumber connections, Laminated beams allow for longer spans than nominal lumber, fiber cement products promise longer service life than their wood counterparts. All these and more attempt to make up for the shortcomings of our current building materials.
Reason #1 Strength
Every few years the lumber industry comes up with updated span charts showing what kind of loads and distances a particular wood product can handle. As the years have progressed the quality, and thus strength, of these products has decreased significantly as we switched from old-growth lumber to plantation grown new-growth lumber.
In fact, from 2005 to 2013 the chart showed “anywhere between a 20 to 30 percent reduction” in strength. That’s a significant decrease in the ability of wood to be used for construction as we attempt to grow wood cheaper and faster to keep up with demand.
It’s a reality of society today that we have to grow wood faster otherwise we wouldn’t be able to keep up with demand, but where old-growth lumber is still available in these old structures it should be viewed as a huge asset rather than a liability.
I wrote extensively on the benefits of lime plaster vs drywall just a few weeks ago, but the long and short of it is that old lime plaster is stronger, thicker, a better insulator against heat, cold and noise, is better for the environment, and can even heal its own small cracks. Don’t believe me, read the post I linked to above and you’ll be convinced.
Reason #2 Rot & Insect Resistance
Bugs and fungi love to eat wood. Most houses are made of wood. Oops! It’s a serious challenge to keep wooden structures healthy decade after decade. But that battle is made easier with old-growth lumber which is naturally resistant to insects and rot.
No, it’s not rot-proof. But the wood is harder and contains more resins which make the wood less attractive to both insects and fungi which aim to make a meal of the wood. The older a tree is the more it accumulates hard, dense, resin rich heartwood at the center of the tree instead of just the outer sap wood which is younger and softer. It takes time to build up that rot-resistance.
Reason #3 Simplicity
In plumbing terms, “The more complicated the plumbing is, the easier it is to clog the pipes.” Ask any roofer which roof is the most likely to have problems and without a doubt it is the roof with bunch of twists, turn and valleys.
Old buildings were built with simpler technology and are easier to troubleshoot. They are simple structures without complex moving parts. Take windows for example, old fashioned windows are balanced with a cotton sash rope and an iron counterweight. Compare that to a modern window with complex proprietary spring tensioned balances made from space age plastics.
You can buy sash rope at any hardware store (and in my store too!) and probably will until the end of time, but you’ll only find a replacement for that spring tensioner for the next decade or so while that one company still makes that model.
Just like the complexity of modern automobiles have all but killed off the shade tree mechanics of the past, the complexities of new construction have rendered the handyman less relevant as well.
It’s Old Because It’s Good
Here’s my thought:
It's not good because it's old. It's old because it's good!
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The materials and buildings that have lasted a century or so are the ones that were built well. They have already stood the test of time and will continue to live gracefully into the next century if we will only allow them.
These old materials may not be as sexy and exciting as the shiny new stuff on the shelves of this year’s home show, but they have been getting the job done better and for longer. So please, give them a second thought before you reach for the wreaking bar.
We're so fortunate to have the original doors (albeit it with some of them boarded up!) and architrave throughout almost all of the house. But, the exclusion is our kitchen. The room itself is an addition to the house, although a very very very old one and possibly still even Victorian. There's evidence of its age in the brickwork - the fact we can tell it once upon a time had lath and plaster ceilings and even the door frame for the back door has evidence of an old mortice lock. But other than these little hints to the past, there's no period features remaining.
We really want consistent features throughout the house - there's nothing worse than a different style of architrave and skirting in every other room! And since we've opened up the wall between the kitchen and dining room, it's even more important that they match in the same period style. It's a little too early for skirting board in this room, but tackling the very non-period window and door, was something we could get right on with... And more to the point, it really needed it.
So, needless to say - we needed to do something here! The window sadly has to stay - it's just not in our budget to replace it and I don't actually think it needs replacing anyway. Whilst it is single-glazed, it's not an external window and we don't really loose too much heat through it. But the door just feels as though you should be walking into the garden through it - not another room! As much as I quite liked it (call me a weirdo!) I knew it had to go. It also cut half the room off when it was open, just not practical at all.
So instead we'll be swapping the door for some period-sympathetic internal skinny french doors. They'll let heaps of light through, connect the conservatory and kitchen better, AND when the doors are open, they wont cut off the view of the kitchen. Win, win! And what's more - I managed to bag a bargain off eBay for just £25! But we'll come back to that later. We'll also be updating the architrave for something much wider/grand and in a style that matches the rest of the house and its period charm.
So obviously the first job was to remove everything; the old architrave, beading, locks and also the plaster. A sunken architrave just wasn't the look I was going for (does anyone want their walls to look like quicksand?) and there wasn't any other way around it. I used my trusty muti-tool to carefully cut away the architrave from the frames and then used a crowbar to pull it off. Grant also carefully removed the old lock, freeing the screws from a bazillion layers of paint.
As we removed the many layers of quicksand.. Sorry, I mean plaster - we also discovered a rather large crack in the brickwork above the door. Which I guess at least explained why it had been plastered so many times. Luckily the two lintels above and below the crack had no signs of damage in them at all, so I simply removed all the loose bricks and re-bricked it all back up. I say the words simply, in truth it took me weeks to get my arse into gear and do this. I always have some unrealistic fear of the house falling down whenever we come across stuff like this and it clicks off an overwhelming feeling of reluctance in my brain. But once it was done (in the space of 30minutes!) it was so silly to have been putting it off.
In fairness though, who knew putting up some architrave would result in having to remove a load of plaster and re-bricking a wall? That's the thing about old houses, they're just full of surprises! (she says through gritted teeth)
We then decided to add the architrave around the door before plastering. I know that sounds so stupid and backwards but we had a good reason for this. Despite thinking the many layers of plaster was to blame for the sunken architrave - it also turned out that the door frame was a bit twisted as well. By that I mean, the frame was lower than the bricks on one side and on another side, the frame was much higher. Short of building the frame out on one side (and then having a the door appear more recessed, on one side only) we had to kind of accept that the architrave was going to have to be sunken into the architrave just a little bit. And plastering up to the architrave was (we felt) much easier than trying to fill-in the gap for it later on. Or trying to fit it over imperfect plastering (which it would be - as we're doing it ourselves!). Am I making any sense?
The architrave we're using is called "Profile 2" from Skirting World It's a pretty exact match to the existing architrave in some of the other rooms in our house, only it's just a little sharper and more defined in its cut. Perhaps this is because it's not covered in a million layers of paint though? It's actually an MDF architrave - which we'd never used before either, but holy moly I'm converted. We've always used pine in the past and I've never purchased a pack of skirting or architrave that hasn't been warped or twisted in some way. And quite frankly, twisted/warped wood is a nightmare to fit. I've always steered clear of MDF, just because it usually costs a tad more (and I'm a tight scrooge!). BUT it's SO much easier to fit and I also think the finish is so much nicer too. And it doesn't even have any wooden knots to contend with - I was seriously impressed! Here's what the moulding of Profile 2 looks like from the side...
We also splashed out and purchased an actual mitre saw for this job as well - we've always used a handsaw with mitre box in the past - but after having done so many rooms (and still the skirting boards and many more rooms to go!) it just kind of made sense to start investing in proper tools. And I'm so pleased we did! It's bloomin' amazing; exact cuts, every time! Seriously if you're on the fence about getting one, just do it!
There's a few different methods for fixing architrave to a frame - but we opted for just nailing it in without the use of any glue. Because we haven't plastered yet, we didn't want to commit to glue, just in-case we needed to take it back off for whatever reason. (turned out we didn't need to - but there ya go!) When using nails, you want to make sure you nail it into the architrave at a point where the nail will be easy to conceal later on - usually that's in a recessed part of the moulding. You'll also need a nail punch kit which allows you to fully sink the nail into the architrave where using a hammer alone otherwise wouldn't.
Even after just a coat of browning plaster, things were already looking much better - I love how crisp the architrave looks!
The next job was to fit our secondhand-sourced skinny french doors! Considering this opening is a non-standard door size (Victorian door frames are always so much wider than ones nowadays) we were so very lucky to find a secondhand skinny french door that would fit (well almost fit!). Not only are there very few and far between listings for skinny french doors, but finding the right size, for the right price AND in a drive-able distance - well, it was like it was just meant to be! The sellers even said they'd originally had the door made for the door frame of a conservatory. I mean, seriously - did fate ever get more real? Here's the old door getting removed...
So although I say the door was the right size, it was actually around 4mm too big widthways. But this was perfectly easy to shave off with the help of a planer (another new purchase - we're on a money spending mission here!). I'd never used an electric planer before - and I have to say, I'm not sure I've quite got the technique down just yet.. But after a few practise sessions, it worked out okay. We also had to plane a little off the corner of one door, because our the door frame wasn't quite square. Definitely not ideal, but we're talking mm's here and once the doors were hung you really can't tell at all. Grant then chiselled out sections of the door and frame for the new hinges. We're using some lovely Satin Nickel ones I'd also picked up from eBay!
We also purchased some new glazing panels for the door as one of them sadly had a crack in it. Despite one being fine, we decided to replace both, just to make sure they definitely matched in clarity and neither had a slight differing tinge to it. We opted Laminated glazing, so that should it ever break, (violent door slamming kids of the future, perhaps!) it'll do so safely. The cost of the glazing actually cost more than the cost of the door at £42 - but that was still half the price of some other companies we had quotes from! We purchased the glazing from City Glass in Lincoln who cut it pretty much the next morning. Fab service & fab price!
Grant then secured it with some beading (also purchased with the door) and nails, using the nail punch again to sink them right in. I think the door looks brilliant - as if it was always there. The wood's a little scuffed up in places, but I think that adds to the charm and makes it look old and characterful and not entirely like a brand new modern set of doors.
It already looks good right? But I wanted to wait until the plastering/painting had been done to fully show these off in their full glory! - And the window too, which hasn't yet had it's feature. There's still painting, filling in the nail holes and of course, fitting door handles left to do. But, here's the progress so far...
What do you reckon - an improvement? Have you tried MDF architrave and been converted too?
Costs(rounded to the nearest pound)
New Tools Purchased:
Electric Planer £50
Mitre Saw £100
Nail Punch £7
Mortar - free from previous jobs
Skinny French Door £25
Laminated Glass £42
Architrave - kindly provided by Skirting World
*Architrave was kindly provided by Skirting World in return for this post. All reviews and opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support this blog!
That’s what it comes down to today doesn’t it? In this age of sustainable, environmentally smart, green consumerism we want buildings that are as green as we are. We want something that makes us feel like good stewards of the planet we have inherited from our fathers and will bequeath to our children.
That brings me to my third argument in the Proving Preservation series.
The greenest building is the one that is already built.
What Makes Old Buildings Green?
Without a doubt we can build structures today that are extraordinarily energy-efficient. There are even website dedicated to just that teaching like Green Building Advisor, Green Building Initiative, and almost every state has a green building coalition of some sort. Once built, these amazing building recycle water, have living green roofs that keep temps moderate indoors, are nearly net-zero (requiring 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, plastics, etc.) in order to build them. And those raw materials need to be processed, shipped, packaged, delivered on site and assembled. That all requires a lot 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 or 200 years ago, but the work has already been done. The materials are already in place. There are no more 2x4s to deliver or sheetrock to hang.
In our search for efficiency we've missed the point. Preservation is the most efficient option of all!
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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.
What is Embodied Energy?
Old buildings are not just full of history and character. They are filled with the embodied energy from when they were constructed in the first place. What is embodied energy exactly?
Embodied energy is the total energy required for the extraction, processing, manufacture and delivery of building materials to the building site.
It requires energy to:
A building’s worth should not be judged according to the affordability of its power bill.
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Facts & Numbers
According to a extensive study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation the following stats were found:
Many new buildings have a life cycle of far less than 65 years today. That doesn’t mean these new buildings aren’t green. It just means that demolishing a historic building to make way for a new energy-efficient building essentially eliminates any energy savings.
A study was done in Salt Lake City, UT regarding historic homes and their impact on the environment. The amount of raw materials that were used or disposed were calculated for the three scenarios below and the results were astounding.
That’s 7.5 times more raw materials and energy required to tear down and replace an old house with infill construction! There is nothing beneficial about tossing that much material into the landfill.
Donovan Rypkema is highly regarded as one of the finest minds in real estate and economic development, especially concerning historic preservation related matters. He has conducted hundreds of studied in 49 states and 30 countries on various topics related to the field. The Salt Lake City Study was completed by his firm with the following conclusions.
“The average historic house that was retained rather than razed reduced the impact on the landfill by 116.6 tons.”
That makes sense but what about the relative inefficiency of older buildings. Well, that’s something Mayor Bloomberg commissioned a study in New York City about. He wanted to make New York one of the greenest cities in the country and set about trying to find where the major energy use was occurring. What they found surprised them greatly.
It turns out that a multifamily structure built after 1980 uses 13% more energy per square foot than one built before 1920.
Building design, siting, passive heating and cooling devices like operable windows, better building materials, all these things played a part in making the historic building more energy-efficient than the newer buildings.
So, let’s stop regurgitating the same tired lies that new construction is better for our environment and communities. The truth is that restoring and reusing old buildings through adaptive reuse is by far the most energy efficient option for cities to grow. First restore and efficiently utilize our existing building stock. Then when we need more room build efficient, smartly designed new buildings. The is why an old building truly is a green building.
There's no better home than one that's filled with heaps of natural light. Let's face it, no one really wants to live in something so dark and depressing as a prison cell. Natural light boosts positivity, makes you feel more awake and generally it just has an overall good effect on us. But, homes aren't always built to make the most of natural light. In fact, some homes (cottages and 'chocolate box' style homes in particular) have very very little light.
But you don't have to move in order to get more light into your property - there's some great ways you can add extra light into the home, or bounce existing light around the room to feel more airy and light. So if your home is lacking on natural light, here's some ideas to brighten up your mood and home;
Windows and Sun Tunnels
Well, I had to start with the most obvious didn't I? Nothing brings more light into the home than adding extra windows, particularly south facing ones. It's obviously not a cheap solution, but it may well be a worthwhile one. I always think it's funny when large walls have tiny windows - so expanding a window size may also be an option. Roof Windows are also another solution, especially great for old outdated extensions (like ours!). Doing some of the work yourselves can save heaps of money - as we did, which you can see here. Or if you're feeling particularly brave you could even attempt the whole thing yourself - Roofwindows.co.uk have a great DIY guide for installations and offer very affordable windows too! We're couldn't be more pleased with our new roof window - what was once a very very dark space is now much brighter. The roof window also draws your eye up, so it gives more height to the room too making it feel much bigger AND it's a freaking awesome feature!
If windows are still a stretch too far, sun tunnels are also a great way to bring in some more natural light. They can be fitted into most upstairs rooms (or any room with a roof above), require a lot less work and add a touch more light into a room where a window otherwise isn't an option.
Even the lightest and brightest rooms can look miserable and dull with bad lighting. After all, we live in the UK and at least four months of the year has very little/no daylight anyway! So good lighting in a home is vital. Downlights are a great way to brighten up a space. They ensure an even coverage of lighting (unlike a pendant where the lighting gets darker around the edges of the room) and are great as 'task lighting'. It's still good to have some ambient evening lightening though - so do try and add in some table lamps or other feature lighting for a softer cosier light at night.
Mirrors are such a great way to bounce natural light around the room. Placing them on an adjacent wall to a window or glazed door not only tricks the eye into almost extending the wall, but they'll also reflect and bounce natural light straight into the room. I also love how mirrors give more angles to appreciate any views or feature furniture from.
Doors with Glazing
Swapping doors for ones with glazing (this could be internal doors or external doors!) is another trick for making natural light go further. If you have a particularly dark hallway for example, a glazed front door will bring heaps more light through. Or, even an internal door into a room off the hallway would do the same job. Glazed doors also make spaces feel much bigger, as they extend what your eye would normally see and they really help inter-connect rooms when doors are shut. Imagine having a garden, with no window to see it - same kind of deal. We've swapped the old door into our conservatory for this exact reason, the room now feels so much more part of the house and the kitchen is much much brighter too!
I love a dark wall - the inspiration under #styleitdark on instagram is just incredible and makes you want to whip out a paint brush instantly. But sometimes a dark coloured room can just be a step too far for some people - and instead of creating a moody embraced dark room, it can feel dingy and dull instead. Wall colour can make or break a room, and whilst embracing the darkness of a room can create a really cosy atmosphere, if you're after something brighter and lighter, I recommend using light bright and cheerful colours, not necessarily white (which can actually sometime just look dull!). Pops of colour also work great in dark rooms too, so a feature wall may be another idea, or you can bring some 'pops' in with accessories instead. Dulux even have an entire range of "Light and Spacious" colours for smaller or dark rooms. The paint claims to bounce light, much like the mirror idea - surely worth a try?
A lot of dark furniture can really oppress a room and take away natural light too. I love dark wood and dark greys, but if you're after a light and bright space, a whole room filled with them can sometimes be a bit too much. Mirrored furniture (or glass topped perhaps!) will have similar advantages to a wall mirror and minimising the amount of furniture will also give more space to take advantage of any light. Less is often more, as they say!
Do you have a dark room in your home you'd like more light in? And do you have any tips to add? I'd love to hear them!
With Spring on the horizon, I'm more excited than ever to finally begin transforming the front of our house. The only thing we've changed since moving in over 2 and a half years ago(!!) is removing some grab bars either side of the front door which had been there to assist the elderly previous owner. Other than that, everything remains. Even the internal window blinds! (Yep, all front rooms still yet to be renovated!)
Having just recently spent all our pennies on a new kitchen, we don't exactly have oodles of cash to play around with for this project. But it was on the 2017 Renovation list, and we really want the front of our home to be a true representation of the inside - which is a loved, working progress of a home. NOT a forgotten unloved home, as it has so looked up until now! We also hope to host a few parties in our new kitchen over the coming months too and we want our guests to be welcomed through a pretty exterior. (Let's just forget about that ugly dated hallway they'll have to then go through for now though!)
So, instead of a full front-of-house renovation - where I thoroughly intend on having a reclaimed beautiful stained glass door (er - when I win the lottery). Instead, we're going for more of a Spring refresh. A good coat of fresh paint throughout, some added greenery and other smaller DIYs to come in the future to brighten it all up a little. I'll share some of my plans for that at the end, but first - what it looked like pre-makeover...
I don't think the outside of this house had been painted in YEARS. The salmon-y red colour is actually just sun-bleached red - and lord knows how long it takes for paint to get sun-bleached in the UK?! The door is obviously quite dated in style, although I am thankful it's wood and NOT a cheap horrible uPVC equivalent, but those random circular glass details just makes me feel queasy. We updated the front of our old house with a good lick of paint and new door furniture and it looked (almost!) brand new. So we're hoping to do the same here too.
FFX.co.uk an online company for basically all things DIY (including tools, building materials, paint to name a few) very kindly provided the supplies for this project, including some cream masonry paint for the lintels and window sills, a deep midnight blue exterior wood paint for the door, some masking tape and a fresh set of new brushes - we're always in need of some new brushes, and these Draper ones were bloomin' brill, not a single thread of bristle loss!! (Pet hate. Don't you hate that too?!)
So with supplies in hand and frosty weather passing, I skipped to it and finally began sanding the front door. I used a combination of power sanding (our multi-tool does the job with a sanding attachment!) and just regular hand sandpaper. I found the current paint on the door was like sanding crayons - It was very very waxy and power sanding was just a bit too abrasive and left too many deep scuffs. I was also keen not to over-sand as the paint may well have been lead-based as we don't really know how old it is. So just a little sand was all we went for, making sure to remove any peeling bits around the frame and generally giving it a bit of a scuff-up so the new paint adheres well.
The current paintwork on the door is quite sloppy as if it'd been painted before masking tape was invented (ha!), because there just isn't a single crisp edge. It had very clearly been free-handed and whomever did it, didn't do a great job. I really didn't want to spend forever scraping the old paint off the glass - and I was quite conscious I may scratch the glass up at the same time, so instead I just masked an area that included a bit of the glass to be painted. This isn't ideal, but it will give us a nice crisp line - and like I say, it's not (hopefully!) the *forever door*.
And then, on went the paint! We've gone for a deep midnight blue - although I also considered popping pinks, pastels, neon yellow and grungy black. Basically folk, I like colour! But midnight blue took my particular fancy for that hour, and away I went with it. It took three coats to cover up the red, but I bloomin' love it! The colour that is, not the door. It's a satin finish and a really on-trend colour right now! It'll also give the door a fresh coat of added protection against weather, including no more sun-bleaching!
The lintels and window sills also got a new coat of paint too - in fact, I think it was this part of the front that looked the worse. A sun-bleached door is one thing, but lintels and sills? No thanks. The condition of our window sills aren't great - some of them are cracked and the bottom window was quite badly peeling too. So, I decided to scrape the many layers of paint off with the help of a heat gun. (I'd usually use Peel Away, but with our house being on the road, I could envision some pesky investigating child touching it and their parents suing me for chemical burns, so yeah - I stayed clear of that!)
I couldn't quite get all of it off, but after a quick sand, it felt smooth enough to then paint onto. I haven't bothered to strip the upstairs sills, purely because you'll never really see them, so it kind-of seemed like a waste of time. The paint we're going for on these, is a matt cream colour. Again, I was torn between cream and grey on this - but cream was a little more safe and hopefully more 'fresh' looking too. Here's a few snaps, including me up the ladder - it was a ridiculously cold day (despite the deceptive blue skies and sunshine!) hence the giant hoody and multiple socks get-up ;)
The cream is much lighter than I thought it would be and is more of an off-white. I am however very glad it's not a darker cream - I'm not a great fan of orange/beige variations of cream! I do however think it looks far more sophisticated now, a lot fresher, modern, and the home looks loved again, albeit it with some ugly blinds. The off-white cream and dark door combo definitely works well, although I'm still not loving that actual door. But I'm am super glad I took the time to strip the bottom window sill, it's the crispest one on the street!
We do intend on replacing the door handle and letterbox in the near future too - I'm thinking brass would look good against the blue (opinions gratefully received!) but as I say, our budget for this is limited at the moment, so that'll be something to come in a month or two. We'd also like to add some more potted plants to the front, in a very European kind of fashion. (Basically a whole row of pots) And most importantly, a climber and trellis for some pretty flowers to stretch their way up the house. Some window boxes (perhaps faux ones) are also on the list and I have a great idea for a DIY house-number I'd like to create too. Oh and maybe add some lighting as well. Basically, still lots to do! But for now, we're loving this new look!
What do you reckon? Do you have any front-of-house updates planned for this Spring?
*Materials kindly provided by FFX. All thoughts, opinions and reviews are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands who support this blog! :)
This week were on to claim 2 of mine that is so often refuted by energy gurus, developers, and the replacement window industry. I’m going to take a wrecking ball to these ludicrous claims in this post and in the next 10 minutes show you irrefutable proof that an energy efficient old window is not a unicorn story spun by historic preservationists.
An energy efficient historic window is a very real and very attainable thing that can be accomplished by minimal upgrades to the original window that cost far less than replacement.
“Every single historical wood and steel window can be repaired and made to be as or more energy efficient than a replacement window.”
You see, the reason this one gets me so riled up is because windows are by far the most endangered pieces of historic buildings. They are being torn out and thrown away in the name of energy efficiency at a rate of over 3o million a year.
Not only is their removal and disposal a huge strain on our landfills, it is completely unnecessary. Here’s why:
Marketing, Lobbying, & Dirty Tricks
The replacement window industry has done extensive testing and knows the facts about their products. They know that the windows they are selling are engineered with obsolescence in mind. They can market them as energy saving because initially they save energy over a neglected, un-weatherstripped original window even though cradle to grave they use way more energy.
In fairness almost anything would save lots of energy compared to a beat up neglected old window (even an $8 sheet of plywood would!) so it’s not a high bar to beat. What they won’t tell you is that a restored and weatherstripped window will save more net energy than a new replacement window.
Here’s how the replacement window industry’s game works:
They Show You Your Problem
They convince you you have a problem: The problem is two fold, your old window is drafty and inefficient, your old window requires maintenance. That appeals to the two most powerful marketing triggers to all humans, time and money.
They Solve Your Problem
They offer you a single product (a window) that solves both of these problems! Cut your energy bills and never have to maintain that window again. Amazing right? Wrong.
They promise you their product has a “liftetime warranty” which it does, but only on “non-glass materials”. They don’t tell you about the 10 or 20-yr warranty on the glass. That is buried in the fine print which only dorks like me dig up and share with smart readers like you.
A warranty is only as good as the weakest link and their lifetime warranties don’t stand up to scrutiny because they are technically only 10 to 20-yr warranties due to the fact that if the glass fails then the only solution is to replace the whole unit.
Maybe at this point you’re thinking “Hey even 20 years is not a bad warranty.” They aren’t done with their dirty little tricks yet! That 20-yr warranty only covers materials NOT labor after only 2 years! Here’s a little excerpt from Pella’s Warranty on vinyl windows.
“If Pella is given notice of a glass defect occurring within twenty (20) years of the date of sale by Pella or its authorized dealer, Pella shall, at its sole option: 1) repair or replace the defective glass (with cost of labor included only within two  years of the date of sale by Pella or its authorized dealer)”
You want a little more naked truth about their “lifetime warranty” on “non-glass materials” keep reading! The US Census Bureau reports that Americans move approximately 12 times in their lifetime. If the average lifespan is 79 years (which it is in 2017) then that means on average we move every 6 1/2 years. What does that have to do with the “lifetime warranty” though?
Well, to use Pella again, that “lifetime warranty” is non-transferrable. That means that as soon as you move those windows are no longer warrantied and ripe for full price replacement as soon as they fail.
Pella isn’t stupid. They know these figures and while they will honor a lifetime warranty on vinyl windows for the handful of people who live in their house for 20+ years they know that most of their “lifetime warranties” will only have to be serviced for about 6 1/2 years. And anyone can make a window that can last that long.
And it’s not just Pella, it’s all the major window manufacturers who play this game. You can read more in my post Replacement Windows: The Real Story. But let’s get back to the question at hand.
Are Historic Windows Energy Efficient?
For the answer you don’t need to listen to my opinions or the marketing hype from the replacement window industry. You need cold hard facts not salespeople so here they are.
In 2011 the Window Preservation Standards Collaborative, a group of window restorers from all over the country, got together for their first summit to discuss this very topic. They had a hunch that historic windows were more efficient than the replacement industry was saying but no one had ever done definitive unbiased testing.
The testing was performed by a third party certified by the Building Performance Institute according to ASTM E1186-03 (2009) standards and the findings were astonishing! There were 5 different levels of efficiency upgrades tested and all of them exceeded to 2009 IECC energy requirements for windows. More than that, all but one exceeded the current 2012 IECC energy code requirements!
All of these windows were built in the 1930s and were single paned double-hung windows. The results are below:
If you’re not a believer in numbers and facts then there is very little I can do for you, but this round of testing was the final nail in the coffin for replacements windows in my opinion. This shows that historic windows are indeed energy efficient.
Not to mention that you don’t have to worry about 10, 20, or even 30-yr warranties with historic windows. They have already lasted 80, 100, 120+ years and they will continue to last another century with minimal care.
If you want to learn everything thing from the basic to advanced techniques for repairing, restoring, and weatherstripping historic windows you can visit my resource page How To: Repair Old Wood Windows.
Well, this week I start to put my money where my mouth is and prove my points so you can finally have some real answers about historic preservation. If I can’t give you crystal clear answers about historic preservation then I doubt it can get any simpler.
The info here is clear, concise, and easily shareable for the social media age we live in.
Today I’ll be diving into the first of my four claims about historic preservation:
Historic preservation is GOOD for property values and spurs sustainable local economic growth
Is preservation good for property values? If your mayor, city councilman, or anybody else has been working hard to scare your town from adding historic districts to their purview because they “hurt” property values then they are either ignorant of the facts or purposely misleading you. More often than not it is developers and special interests who have bent their weak wills to hide from the truth.
The answer is plain and simple. The idea that historic designation (whether by district or individual structure) hurts property values is an outright LIE! There is no way from any data other than the ones taken from La-La Land that any respectable economist, developer, or politician can back up this fallacy. Just ask them to provide their evidence and their case will fold like a house of cards.
The Facts About Historic Preservation and Property Values
I wrote about this before in The Real Economics of Preservation, but in case that wasn’t enough to convince you I’ve accumulated a whole new set of studies here.
And so you don’t think these are isolated studies I have accumulated a wide swath of states from around the country. In any state in America that has done similar studies the results have been about the same as what is listed below. Do a simple Google search for your state and it shouldn’t take you long to find the same that I have accumulated.
Below are quotes and references for just six of the scores of studies determining historic preservation’s effect on property values.
Results suggest that historic preservation generally has a positive impact on property values and that historic designation is associated with average property value increases ranging between 5% and 20% of the total property value. Source
New York 2003
IBO found clear evidence that after controlling for property and neighborhood characteristics, market values of properties in historic districts were higher than those outside historic districts for every year in our study. Source
Historic designation does not itself depress property values, and indeed properties located in a recognized historic district generally maintained their value during the period 2006-2009 better than did other comparable non-historic properties (or did not lose as much value). Source
The 26% difference in property value increases between designated historic preservation districts and neighborhoods without historic district status translates into a 4.3% additional increase per year for historic preservation areas. Source
In the five Michigan case studies, the district samples had a greater increase in their total appreciation than the non-designated comparisons. These differences in appreciation ranged widely, from extremely dramatic to fairly slight. These results suggest that local historic designation has had either a positive effect, or an effect that is consistent with the total appreciation of the surrounding area. These findings do not support the contention that local historic designation negatively impacts property values. Source
The results of this analysis suggest that the property values in the two study neighborhoods with relatively large numbers of sales, the Eldridge Avenue Historic District (Bellingham) and North Slope Historic District (Tacoma), have appreciated at slightly faster rates than values in the two comparison neighborhoods and, in the case of Eldridge Avenue, faster than property values in the city of Bellingham as a whole. Source
There are hundreds of these studies with new ones coming out every year showing the same exact thing, historic preservation is good for property values.
In fact, in years of research I have only found one very specific case where property values were conclusively harmed by historic designation and that was in Manhattan. The conclusions of the study were clear that there was a decrease in value and the conclusion was that due to the rare situation of actual land value (the dirt the building sits upon) being astronomically higher than anywhere else in the country the properties did not appreciate as much because developers who would normally build dozens of stories high were forbidden due to the districting.
So, New York City is, as always, an anomaly when it comes to real estate.
I’ll be back next week to post on my second point about why preservation is a positive influence on American culture. Till then I look forward to hearing your feedback on the facts I provided above.
It will take all of us to change the perception so please share this on your social media and start those conversations. And for those who are more visually oriented I’ve made this infographic to help convince those preservation deniers without the time to read.
After we'd finished over-boarding the kitchen ceiling, we could then begin to think about lighting. I'd always imagined having two single pendants in this room - the same as it had been before (one where the old kitchen had been and one where it'd been the old shower room) but after we'd boarded the ceiling, I really liked the streamlined, unobstructed view of the new roof window. It was actually a feature of its own and I didn't want anything to get in the way of that. Suddenly pendants in the middle of the room just didn't seem right for the space.
I'd always liked the idea of downlighting, but I'm also a fan of doing less work (ahem, lazy? me?). Downlighting is far less simple than just hanging a new light fitting; you need to work out what kind rated of downlighter you need, whether you require a transformer, run a whole load of new cables and then there's the insulation protection if it's recessed into an insulated attic space (like ours). It was a whole lot more work and cost. But, we decided to go for it anyway. I so wanted the roof window to sing on its own!
Because our kitchen is actually an old extension with an insulated attic space above, we had to consider how we would fit downlights safely with proper protection. Downlights can get very hot and if not properly protected from contact with insulation, it may well set alight. There's a few different products out there to protect downlights, but we opted for some loft lids which we picked up from Wickes for around £5 each (not that cheap when you need six!).
These are essentially plastic boxes with a hole for the cables, which sit on top of the light and as the name suggests, protects it from insulation. The reason we liked this option compared to some others, was because you can actually sit insulation over the top of it. So it means you wont have any "cold spots" in the ceiling and it will still be properly insulated throughout. No gaps! It's really easy to fit, you literally just apply a bead of sealant around the bottom and stick it straight down over the fitting.
The only problem with these however was that they're quite chunky in height. Our attic space actually carries our soil stack from the bathroom and two more waste pipes for the basin and shower too, all of which run very close to the ceiling. It also has a fairly shallow roof (you can't stand up in the attic space) and all of this together basically meant limited room to fit these loft lids to actually fit! In fact, it meant we couldn't have any downlights along almost the entire left side of the kitchen, where the pipes run. And the entire right side, where the roof was just too shallow. Talk about awkward!
That left us with a very small area where we could have lights. Essentially, just in the middle of the room. Then came the problem of positioning said lights so that they would:
A) properly light up the entire area
B) be evenly spaced so not to look stupid
C) not create nasty shadows from large appliances like the fridge/cooker hood
Turns out trying to satisfy all three was basically impossible. We realised our ceiling joists were SO very irregularly spaced (obviously these lights need to be placed between joists, not ON them) and some of our joists were just too narrow to even fit the loft lids. Basically, no matter how hard we tried, something always threw a light or two (or three!) off.
So option 2 was to space them "randomly'. By which I mean, with intent but hopefully not look like someone's just vomited them all over the ceiling without thought. The way I envisioned it was that they would be more like little random stars over a nights sky. Whether we achieved that look or not, I'm still not convinced... The idea was to place three of them in a small triangle in the centre of the room nearer to the french doors. And then in a larger triangle around the roof window.
Whilst Grant was in the attic space dealing with the electrics for the final time, we also decided to upgrade our insulation as well. Current building regs recommend 270mm thick insulation (we only had around 100mm), so we used a 170mm top up roll over the top. We were so very fortunate to know someone who had a couple of rolls leftover from their own renovations and gifted us them for free! Hopefully this will help retain heat in this room during winter - a must for any home without central heating.
With the lights AND insulation out of the way, we could finally board up this hole, which by the way we've been rocking for almost two years ever since we did the plumbing for the bathroom. You wouldn't believe the draught through it - I'm so glad to see it gone!
So overall, turns out downlights are pain in the butt to install if you have an awkward attic space to deal with. We also spent way more than we intended to (mainly because feature lights were not part of the plan!) but hey, good/bad lighting can make or break a room right?
Let's hope we're on the 'good' side! What do you think to the 'random' downlights? Do they look vomited up there?!
Total Costs(rounded to the nearest pound)
New Tools Purchased:
Cable & Choc-Box £16
Loft Lids £36
Sealant - free from previous jobs
Feature Glass Lighting £120
Insulation - free/secondhand
Older kitchens and bathrooms never have extractor fans. I don't know why this is - I presume they just didn't exist back in the day? But you'll never find them. For modern day living; lengthy showers and multiple pans steaming away - not having one is pretty bad. You'll end up with all kinds of condensation/damp problems and for the small cost of putting one in, it's really very much worth it.
Our kitchen was no different and had zero ventilation for those steaming veggys. So naturally we'll be having a cooker hood and for maximum efficiency, we wanted to vent it outside. We've already installed two extractor fans already (one in our bathroom, one for Grants parents) but we've always done it the hard way. Drilling a bazillion holes and chiselling the rest out. Whilst this costs almost nothing, it takes a freaking long time and chiselling is a right arm ache. So we thought it was about time we invested in a diamond core drill bit and saved ourselves a bit of time/work. You can also rent them if you're not likely to need it ever again.
It's basically a giant holesaw for cutting through brick. Perfect for soil stacks, tumble dryer vents, and extractor fans. It's absolutely vital you use an SDS drill WITH a clutch when using one of these. The reason? Well, imagine hitting a tough bit of brick whilst drilling with this - drills are designed to spin, right? If the drill-bit wants to spin but can't, what's going to spin instead? The drill, pulling you along with it, breaking your arm and potentially falling to your death. (dramatic, but possible!) If you have a clutch, it'll kick in and your drill wont go spinning off with you attached. There's no "maybe I'll be okay" - you absolutely need the right tool for this to be safe.
As well as the diamond core bit, you also need an adapter (they're called arbors) for the end to go into the drill. And you'll also need a guide for starting off - which is basically like a normal drill-bit that goes into the diamond core. It's longer in length and basically creates a pilot hole first which acts as a guide and enables you to have a fixed drilling point whilst you start off. Otherwise you'll be wobbling all over the place and making a bigger mess than necessary.
Because we try to be good neighbours, we firstly made a screen to stop dust blowing straight over the fence and pouring down our neighbours windows. What I had envisioned wasn't quite what Grant came up with - but, despite looking hilarious, it really did work. It's basically dust sheets wrapped around two poles - one of which is just a washing line prop - and then somehow sandwiched into the fence so it can't move. Logistically, it sounds crap and you could see this thing blowing high in the air, far in the distance (what must everyone have thought, I don't know!) - but it did the job!
So things to remember when using a diamond core drill bit - hammer action is a no no - and make sure you keep the drill absolutely level, you don't want to be core-ing at a funny angle. You also don't want to be forcefully pushing the core-bit through the wall, just let the drill do the work.
One thing we quickly learnt about the guide is that it doesn't work so well in mortar that crumbles around it. So when you're starting off drilling, try to position the guide so that it goes into brick and not mortar if you think yours is likely to crumble too. It's also important to remove the guide once you've got the core-bit beginning to go through the wall, otherwise it will keep jamming.
You'll also want to have a good pair of ear defenders and safety goggles are also a must - you really don't want shards of brick flying into your eyeballs. I recommend checking out a site called Engelbert Strauss who specialise in workwear and personal protection for DIY and such-like jobs. You can find both ear protection and eyewear protection on there, as well as ladders and whole load of other DIY type stuff too!
So it probably took less than 3-4minutes to get all the way through the wall - baring in mind this is a single skin wall. I think Grant was pretty pleased about that fact to be honest - both the SDS and diamond core bit are a little heavy and hard to keep fixed at one position for so long. There was A LOT of dust as well, so turns out our makeshift wind sail really was necessary.
And then we were done! Only that wasn't the end of the story. Because, like total idiots we'd only gone and drilled the wrong size hole for the bloody cooker hood. Well, in my defence, we hadn't actually bought the cooker at the time we drilled this - but I presumed 100mm was the standard size and they'd all be that width. Turns out that wasn't the case and we actually needed 150mm. So we had to go back to our old techniques of drilling a bazillion holes and chiselling the rest out. Yes I know, and we had a perfect circle!! AND we'd spent money on the bloomin' core bit! We did consider just connecting a reducer and using a 100mm ducting anyway, but everything I read said it would damage the motor of the cooker hood, make a load of noise and generally just be less efficient. If you're going to do a job, you want to do it right - so we made the hole bigger. But never mind, a bit more work never hurt anyone, right?! Note: make sure you drill the right size hole!
To secure the ducting to the end vent we used some hose clips, as we're actually using a stainless steel ducting, not a PVC one. We stayed clear of cheaper PVC ones as I'd read a few bad things about them and we really needed a ducting that would last, as we wont be able to gain access to it without ripping the kitchen ceiling down. 150mm stainless steel ducting is so hard to find online, but we purchased this one from espares.com which was perfect! :)
We're still yet to hook up the actual cooker hood - that'll have to wait till the kitchen is in, but we're so glad to have gotten this part done!
What do you reckon to our sail-screen? Can you see it taking off....literally? ;)
(rounded to the nearest pound)
New Tools Purchased:
Diamond Core Drill Bit £30
Drill Guide £3
Hoseclips (5pack) £15
Vent Grille £6
*Collaborative Post. All words and opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands who support this blog!