“We regret much of what we’ve built; we regret much of what we’ve torn down. But we’ve never regretted preserving anything.” -Daniel Sack

Original windows serve a dual purpose of providing ventilation and light while being an important part of the buildings architectural design. These windows are constantly under attack from the marketing forces of the replacement window companies.

Window Restoration

Window Restoration in Society Hill neighborhood in Philadelphia

 

Here’s a horrifying experience recently shared with us:

I was one of those stupid people who put new vinyl windows in my old 1883 farmhouse. I had already spent a winter fixing the old, broken, and cracked windows since no one had lived in my house for seven years. I did show significant saving (on) heating oil the first year since I had storm windows as well.

Fast forward ten years and I am already seeing the gas between the windows escaping. Some of the locks have stopped being cooperative as well. And the warranty? Well, the company no longer makes windows.

And ever since installing the windows, I have had peeling paint on my siding. I didn’t know about siding vents – the kind you stick up under the clapboards – until earlier this year.

This is one decision I wish I could make again – I’d never get rid of my old wooden windows!

Sadly, we hear these kinds of stories all the time (so much in fact we make traditional windows to replace modern replacement windows).

Traditional Wood Windows with Insulated Glass at the Petersen House in Washington, DC

Traditional Wood Windows with Insulated Glass at the Petersen

House in Washington, DC

However, we also know that your wood windows are the prime targets for replacement window companies.

The information homeowners are taught to believe, is that original wood windows are substandard and the only viable solution is to replace them with their very own superior product. Chances are you’ll probably even get a guarantee too!

The original windows are part of your home and integral to the historic fabric of it. Windows are one of the most significant architectural elements, and they serve as both an interior and exterior feature.

Windows that are not properly maintained can become more than an eye soar. The functionality of their original design begins to falter, chilly winter air seeps in and humidity becomes the deciding factor if the window will open this time or remain jammed shut for perpetuity.

Window Lead Magnet Ad

You can be assured that the trusted replacement window sales representative will make sure you are well educated on the seemingly endless array of benefits that can be attained by purchasing their product.

The sales pitch will include such ‘facts’ as your existing single-pane wood windows cannot perform as well as replacement windows!

This incomplete information continues to be perpetuated by the replacement window industry with the goal of you buying their window. Homeowners accepting this information are often being provided data comprised to affirm the idea that original and historic wood windows are inferior to their replacement counterparts.

Single-pane wood windows in disrepair and poorly maintained, cannot perform as well as intact replacement windows or any window in optimum condition.

Wood windows that are not adequately maintained, neglected and in poor condition are often used to base conclusive assessments of the efficiency of replacement windows verses original windows.

It should not be surprising that replacement windows fair better in this scenario.

These comparison studies and their findings are used to influence homeowners, but they do not tell the entire story. In fact, a properly maintained single-pane wood window, weatherized, in conjunction with a storm window (interior or exterior) is equal to a replacement window in energy usage according to numerous engineering studies.

A replacement window may save a few dollars in heating and cooling cost, but to recoup the cost in the investment of a whole home window replacement, it will take you fifty or more years at less than a $1.00 a year in heating and cooling savings according to the University of Vermont study.

Yes, replacement windows do offer double panes (sometimes triple), low U-Values and Low-E glass. The really cheap ones offer a low price point too.
It doesn’t make them better.

Restored windows Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster, PA

Restored windows Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster, PA

Another ‘fact’ that will be citied during the sales presentation is that replacement windows are “maintenance free”.

Maintenance free may imply a solution to a home’s rundown windows, but the solution is not found in mass produced and disposable windows.

Maintenance free means it cannot be maintained or repaired, with the average life span under twenty years, those very same replacement windows will find themselves in a land fill along with their nemesis, the original windows, they replaced. Every material and every part of a window wears, breaks down and needs some type of repair to continue proper functioning.

Fact is, that a replacement window cannot be repaired and cannot continue to work at the same level it was when installed. It is not comprised of the same individual components as traditional windows, it’s a single unit design and constructed as such to make it impossible to disassemble and repair.

When a replacement window fails, its maintenance free selling point becomes the reason you need another replacement window. It also becomes another opportunity for a replacement window company to sell you the latest and greatest ‘maintenance free’ window. The notion that replacing supposedly substandard wood windows with modern replacement worry-free windows, is certainly a misnomer. As in the case study above, homeowners are often disillusioned when the integrity of ten or twenty-year-old replacement windows deteriorate to level where they inevitably need to be replaced – again and again – welcome to the replacement cycle.

Original windows can be repaired and preserved because they predate the era of planned obsolescence. An era when buildings had to work with the environment to keep its inhabitants warm in the winter and cool in the summer. An era in which fixing things was preferred to replacement. An era before the skilled tradesman become product installers with an assembly line mentality of the building trades. The individual components of these windows can each be repaired, maintained or replaced in sections as need be. They were built for longevity, not for replacement.

Window Lead Magnet Ad
They can be preserved and their historical significance doesn’t need to be sacrificed for energy efficiency or functionality.

When an original wood window fails, it can be repaired and repaired again and it isn’t as daunting of a task as you just might think. Replacement window companies cannot make a profit if homeowners routinely maintain their historic windows. The replacement window industries’ goal is to sell as many windows as possible. Our goal is to help you understand there are options that preserve the integrity of your historic building and to arm you with information and facts.

Maintenance measures can be taken to keep historic windows energy efficient, properly functioning and able to last another 100 years:
 Painting
 Caulking
 Weather stripping
 Re-glazing
 And more…

Replacement windows will however permanently alter your homes interior and exterior appearance. Losing the detail and elegance found in the workmanship of true divided lights, wavy single pane windows, rails, muntins, profiles, depths and sills will be lost and replaced with flat and shadowless details, meant to replicate what was once there. Understanding the materials and traditional joinery used to build your original windows are superior to any replacement window is an important factor in deciding whether to restore or replace.

Challenging conventional knowledge on what it takes to maintain historic windows isn’t as daunting as it may seem. However, it requires shifting the paradigm of thought – understanding that maintaining your original windows can be a simple task and the reason to replace your windows is not to save energy costs or have zero-maintenance. 

Watch the video below to learn more options for your original wood windows.

We recently completed a historic wood window restoration project at the Mill at Anselma.  This mill is a gem of historic architecture in our country – the most complete example of a functioning historic grist mill in the entire country.

History of the Mill

The Mill at Anselma has truly historic origins. In the late 1600’s, the property was owned by Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn, though there was no mill on the property just yet. That would come in the mid 1700’s when influential Quaker Samuel Lightfoot decided to build a water-powered mill along the Pickering Creek after purchasing the 500-acre property in 1725. In the mid 1700’s, Chester County was becoming the “bread basket” of the
colonies and Lightfoot recognized the need for a local grist mill.

In 1767, Samuel divided his property between his two sons, with his younger son William receiving the acreage that included the grist mill. It was during William’s old age that the mill’s prosperity began to decline. It wasn’t until the early 1820’s that the mill would be revitalized when revolutionary technology that allowed for continuous production in grist mills was installed by the Shenemans. These labor-saving elevators and conveyors carried the grain between floors in the mill and were incorporated into the existing mill system – leaving the original Lightfoot technology untouched.

Just before the Civil War, the Oberholtzer family purchased and lived on the property and in 1862 poetess married into the family. The scenery around the mill is featured in her poems, including her famous “At the Old Mill” from her book of verse, “Violet Lee”. The mill remained largely untouched until 1906 when the wooden water wheel was replaced with a steel water wheel and the wooden sluiceway with iron pipe. Shortly after, the advent of portable grist mills made trips to the Anselma Mill no longer necessary and the mill’s prosperity quickly declined.

In 1919 Oliver Collins purchased the property and responded to the changes in market demand. Without touching the Colonial-era technology in the mill, Collins installed technology that allowed him to run a grist mill, saw mill, cider press, metal working shop, and even a barber shop and lawnmower repair shop – all of which were powered by the water wheel in the mill.

The Mill Today

In 1982 when Collins passed away, the Mill was purchased by the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, who performed a lengthy restoration of the mill from 1999 to 2004. When done, the historic millstones milled flour for the first time since 1934.

It is the most complete example of a custom grain mill in the U.S. and in 2005 The Mill at Anselma became the only custom grist mill in the U.S. to be designated a National Historic Landmark.

Our Historic Wood Window Replication Project at the Mill

During the restoration in the early 2000’s, the deteriorating window sashes had not been addressed and we were contracted to repair and replace the window sashes and sills.

Before we began work, the windows were a hodge-podge of different styles from different periods over the years. None of the sashes were original to the mill, so we replicated the profile from the oldest sash on the mill to give all the windows the same profile. We manufactured new sashes for the windows, replaced a few sills, and repaired quite a few stops and casings to restore the windows to full, working order.

In deciding which wood to use for the windows, we looked to the wood that was already on the mill. We determined that the window frames had originally been made of white oak and had been left unpainted, which was common for informal Colonial buildings. So we chose a quarter sawn white oak for the replacement sashes. In quarter sawn white oak all the graining runs vertically. This makes the wood a tighter wood that is stronger and more stable since the grain is all running in the same direction, is less prone to warping, and seasonal expansion and contraction, and offers extra moisture resistance. Quarter sawn white oak in general is a quality wood choice, but it was a particularly ideal wood choice to use in the moist, shady area of where the mill sat.

Though we don’t often leave wood unpainted, we did in this case in keeping with the original style of the windows. Despite the fact that originally there would have been no treatment applied to the wood, we did use a preservative that we made out of linseed oil and mineral spirits to help protect the wood and increase its longevity. The new growth wood we have available to us today simply does not last as long as old growth wood did when left untreated.

In addition to our work on the windows, we repaired the roof on their springhouse. During a winter storm a tree had fallen on the springhouse and damaged the roof. It was a traditional oak lathe roof with no sheathing and had bellied down in the center. When it was restored, the Trust chose to leave the belly in the roof as a sign of how it had always been instead of correcting it. (A choice that nags at Chuck’s perfectionist side, but one his preservationist side very much respects.)

The roof repair required special attention to detail. The angles had to be shimmed and straightened with shingles. “It took more time, but the job wouldn’t have turned out as nice without it. It was definitely worth it,” Chuck notes.

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”left” cite=”” quotestyle=”style01″] “We’re very pleased. It was a real pleasure to work with you and show off your magnificent work. You are outstanding professionals and experts in your field.“ -Craig Hadley, Executive Director Mill at Anselma [/sws_blockquote_endquote]

 

History of the Harris-Cameron Mansion in Harrisburg, PA

historic porch restoration, historic porch

 

In the early 1700′s, Harrisburg’s founder John Harris Sr. immigrated to the area from Yorkshire, England after receiving a land grant.  When he first arrived, Harris Sr. built a homestead on the bank of the Susquehanna River and established a trading post, and then a successful ferry business that would funnel much of the Scottish, irish, and German immigrants west for over fifty years.  Known for his fair dealings and good relationship with local Native Americans, Harris Sr.’s also facilitated successful relationships between new settlers and the local Native American population.

After Harris Sr. died in 1748, John Harris Jr. inherited the homestead and business and continued the family legacy of good relationships with local Native Americans – during the French and Indian War two notable “council fires” were held at the Harris home for talks between the Indian Nations, local governing officials, and British representatives.

historic porch restoration, historic porch

 

In 1766, after the French and Indian War ended, Harris Jr. decided it was time for a more substantial house for the family.  Tired of evacuating their current homestead whenever the river flooded, Harris Jr. chose the current site of the mansion after observing that even during the worst flooding, the river had never reached the top of the rise in the ground the mansion sits on.

Originally constructed in the Georgian style of architecture using locally quarried limestone, the house had a total of eight owners over the years and each made changes to the house.  In the early 1800′s a rear wing was added to the original mansion, and in 1863 the house underwent significant changes when Simon Cameron (seven-time U.S. Senator, President Lincoln’s first Secretary of War, and former Ambassador to Russia) purchased the house.

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“Having made an offer of $8,000 for the Harris Mansion, Cameron left for Russia. He traveled throughout Europe and stopped in England, France, Italy, and the German states. While making his way to Russia, Cameron was shopping for furnishings for his new house. In the parlor are two 14-foot-tall (4.3 m) pier mirrors, as well as mirrors above the fireplaces that came from France. The fireplace mantles are hand-carved Italian marble, and the alcove window glass is from Bavaria.

Cameron disliked being politically isolated in Russia, so he returned to the United States and resigned the post in 1863. After finalizing the purchase of the house, Cameron set out to convert it to a grand Victorian mansion in the Italianate style. He hoped it would be suitably impressive to his business and political associates. Cameron added a solarium, walkway, butler’s pantry, and grand staircase. He also had the floor lowered three feet into the basement in the front section of the house, because the 11-foot ceilings in the parlor could not accommodate his new 14-foot mirrors.”

-Wikipedia entry on the Simon Cameron House

In the early 1900′s, Cameron’s grandson Richard Haldeman, the last of the Cameron family to live in the home, made more changes when he redecorated, modernized the mansion, and added the West Alcove to the house.  When he died, his sister donated the house and other family items to the  Historical Society of Dauphin County.

 

Historic Porch Restoration at the Harris-Cameron Mansion

In 2013, we were contracted to repair and restore the Victorian style porch.  The porch was in disrepair – the brick piers that supported the floor were falling apart, the corner of the roof system was completely rotted out, there was a vermin infestation underneath the porch that was compromising the structural stability of the porch.  In addition to the disrepair, there had been alterations to the style of the porch over the years and the Historical Society wanted the porch both repaired and returned to its original style.

The major contributing problem that needed to be addressed was that the spouting and gutters weren’t emptying water away from the porch because the porch had settled and moved.  There had been attempts to repair the porch to keep it from settling, but they didn’t last or weren’t correct repairs – at one point someone had actually strapped the porch to the stone house wall to try and keep it from sliding by putting metal gussets at the spots where the framing was coming apart and separating at the corners.  But no one had ever addressed the problems with the porch foundation which was causing the settling and moving.

For the project, we started with demolition – a very careful demolition.  There were a lot of important materials on the porch that we encased in plywood boxes to protect them during the demolition process.  The stone where George Washington stood in 1780…  An original sandstone step that was already cracked…  All the important elements of the porch were carefully protected to prevent any damage during the construction process.

After demolition, we addressed the foundation issues by pouring five concrete footers at each of the column locations since that is where the porch had been failing and where the roof was sagging.  There had been brick piers there that we rebuilt with a combining of the existing brick and salvaged brick we purchased to match, but there had never been a frost-line footer under the porch.

All of the existing trim, arches, columns, floor, and skirtboard that could be salvaged were brought back to our shop where we removed the lead paint, repaired the pieces where necessary, fabricated new pieces as needed to match existing pieces, and reassembled them.  We fabricated new columns and elliptical arches from mahogany wood to match the style of the existing columns and arches that were re-used.  Several columns still had the original trim that we could copy when turning all of the capitals and column pieces.

We were able to level and save the porch roof by putting a large, carrier beam on the front of it.  We also put all of the columns and capitals on metal pipes before we installed them so we could put the columns on without cutting them in half.

The flooring and ceiling also needed repaired and replaced at some spots.  The original wood was vertical fir, but using fir would have been tremendously costly.  Mahogany was chosen instead for its availability and its cost.  While mahogany would not have been used as an exterior wood when the porch was originally built, it is an acceptable replacement material in preservation standards and actually holds up better as an exterior wood than many original woods.

This project was a collaborative effort between Richard Gribble at Murphy & Dittenhafer ArchitectsMcCoy Brothersand the Historical Society of Dauphin County, and us.

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The Mylin House project was a complete interior restoration project that we had been very much looking forward to doing.  The Willow Valley Retirement Community hired Historic Restorations to restore the first floor of both the original farmhouse and the addition to use as a community center in keeping with their preservation of the original farmhouses from all the farm properties they’ve purchased and expanded onto.

The original part of the Mylin House was built in the late 1700’s by Martin Mylin III and his wife Barbara Baer (granddaughter of Christian and Anna Herr, the 1710 immigrants who built the 1719 Hans Herr House).  Mylin III was the third generation to live on and work the farm his Grandfather, Martin Mylin I, established when he emigrated from Germany in the early 1700’s and became one of the first Mennonites to settle in Lancaster County.  Mylin I would also establish a gun shop on the original homestead where he would father the Pennsylvania Long Rifle as an accomplished gunsmith.

The Mylin house and its lands were passed down through generations of the family until 1926 when it was sold to Christian Herr and became home to the Herr family (some of whom would later found Herr Foods), who resided on the property until it was purchased by the retirement community.

The original portion of the house was built during the Colonial Period and was constructed in the Pennsylvania German Traditional style.  During the Pre-Civil war period in the 1800’s a Victorian style addition was added to the original house.  (We imagine the eight children Mylin III had were motivating factors in the decision to guilt the addition.)

Though many renovations, upgrades, and modernization projects had been performed over the years both the original house and the addition were almost wholly intact.  The interior woodwork and built-in cabinetry by the renowned Lancaster County cabinet-maker John Bachman, the three corner fireplaces, the balusters and the raised panels in the stairway are all original to the house.  While the windows are likely not original to the house, they are from the 1800’s.

While the house looked like it was in good shape, there were some really questionable repairs attempted over the years and we would need to go through and replace everything that wasn’t honestly part of the historical fabric of the original – for both the original Colonial house and the Victorian addition to original condition.

 

Historical Woodwork

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Pretty much all of the woodwork on the first floor of the house was in good condition, but some spot repairs and everything needed restoration.  But before we could even start tackling that portion of the project, we needed to remove all five layers of paint that had accumulated over the last 200+ years – most of which involved lead remediation.  To restore the original interior woodwork we used epoxy and solid-wood Dutchmen for the spot repairs.

There were two built-in corner cabinets in two of the rooms of the Colonial portion of the house that were wonderful examples of traditional woodowork.

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We also re-created a built-in cabinet area in the kitchen of the Victorian addition that had storage cabinetry that was incompatible with the Victorian architectural styles.  The existing cabinets had primitive wood shelves and raised panel doors so we removed them and fabricated cabinets that matched a style on an original built-in located close to that storage area.

The windows in both the Colonial and Victorian sides of the house were not original to the house, but were about 150 years old and mimicked the original window styles well.  To preserve the old growth wood in these windows and their contribution to the historic fabric of the house, we completely restored all the first floor windows and installed interior storm windows on all the first and second floor windows.

 

Restoring Historical Plaster Walls

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That wallpaper that had been applied over the original plaster walls at some point in time was falling off of the walls.  So we carefully removed the wallpaper to keep as much of the original horse-hair plaster intact as possible so we could preserve that plaster.  Some areas of the plaster walls were missing and had drywall installed when misguided attempts to match the original plaster were made.  For these areas, and other areas where moisture had affected the plaster bond we used a three-step application of re-wiring and applying a base coat, then applied a brown coat plaster, and finally a veneer plaster for the finish to create a historically accurate plaster wall.  The plaster ceilings were also restored – some of which was deteriorated to the point that it was about to collapse so we used large washers and screws to re-tighten and fasten the old plaster and then skim-coated over that.  We skim-coated the original plaster walls that could be saved.

 

Historical Paint Color Choices

There is quite the unusual combination of colors that were chosen for the interior walls in the Mylin House.  These colors may seem rather loud and obnoxious to our modern aesthetics, but they were actually colors on that had originally been on the walls that we discovered after removing wallpaper and layers of paint.  And the smaller sitting rooms at the back of the house that had contrasting colors that didn’t quite coordinate with each other in the manner that we think of today when we choose contrast colors.  Lime green, turquoise, a mustard yellow, a real orange (think The Big Home Improvement Store That Shall Not Be Named orange bucket color), and a dark red.

There was one original color we chose not to replicate – the mauvey rose in the foyer.  Despite Lois’ firm urgings that the color was period appropriate and should be used, Chuck just couldn’t bring himself to add that color back.  (Apparently he can tolerate color combinations like lime green and turquoise, but a mauvey rose along with a dark red is just not something he can accept.)  We chose to use a white color in the foyer that would also be period appropriate as the color of unpainted plaster.

The mopboards in the Colonial portion of the house were painted the black they had been originally.  According to tradition, the floorboards were painted black at that time to avoid having the dirty water marks from mops when cleaning the floors.  In the Victorian addition the baseboards had never been painted black, so we painted them a historical green in an attempt by Chuck to mellow out the red on the walls that his aesthetic sensibilities weren’t entirely comfortable with.

For the paint we used the Benjamin Moore Historical Colors line from Grauers Paint & Decorating in Lancaster.

 

Restoration of Historical Flooring

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We also took up the oak floor on the first floor.  We completely re-tongue and grooved that flooring, cleaned it, and then brought it back and re-installed it.  The flooring was left unfinished in the Colonial part of the house, as it would have originally been when it was first constructed.  The restored wood flooring was waxed with Briwax.

For the kitchen floor, we chose a slightly different approach.  There had originally been a wood floor installed during the Victorian period that it was built that was then covered over with several layers of vinyl flooring over the years.  Beyond the difficulty of removing the layers of vinyl flooring to salvage the original floor, the wood used in the original floor was an inferior quality and it was questionable as to whether or not it was worth saving. 

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But before we began floor installation we addressed very big problem with the house – a potentially catastrophic one – the house was sagging in the middle of the interior.  We spent several weeks raising the summer beam, the floor joists, and the load-bearing walls that made up the interior frame of the house to level it up and gain back the two inches it had sagged over the years.  It took about two weeks to get just that two inches back.  After raising the sagging interior frame, we installed ¾” plywood for sub-flooring in the kitchen and installed two metal posts in the floor to hold the summer beam since it was made of an inferior quality poplar wood.

 

1700’s & 1800’s Fireplace Restorations

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The Mylin House project also involved restoration of multiple fireplaces in both the first floor and the basement.

On the first floor, we took a cast-iron wood stove out of one of the fireplaces and removed the hearth on both first floor fireplaces restoring the brick in one fireplace and plastering the other fireplace – both traditional treatments for fireplaces.

For the walk-in fireplaces in the basement we applied stucco to encased the loose stone with a natural surface.

 

Restoration in the Basement

In the basement stairway we discovered tread shadow lines on the wall that indicated  the current stairway configuration was not how the stairs were originally configured.  So we rebuilt the stairs, returning them to the original configuration.

To create a cleaner storage environment for Willow Valley Retirement Community, we parged the stone walls in the basement to waterproof them and eliminated a lot of loose mortar since it was a very early mortar with bits of shell and really wasn’t much more than dirt.  We also poured a concrete floor instead of leaving the existing dirt floor to help with moisture control and keep the storage cleaner.

When we started work there were no windows in the basement window openings – the openings just served as free passage of air.  With our moisture control efforts, we decided to fabricate new windows for those openings – each requiring individualized fabrication since each opening was a different size (a quite common occurrence in historic buildings).

 

What challenges did we run into with the project?  

The biggest challenge was digging out the basement since we did not have wide open access to it and had to dig it out by hand taking the dirt out bucket by bucket.  We filled the trailer with loads of dirt, which then got stuck several times in our unusually rainy Spring.  In fact, not tearing up that yard was probably a challenge that might give hand-digging out the basement a good run for its “biggest challenge” status.

 

Historic Wood Window Restoration, Save Historic Wood Windows, Wood Windows vs. Replacement WindowsWood windows are an integral part of the innate energy efficiency of historical buildings. If we have learned anything from history it is that sometimes with all our modern advancements we do ourselves more harm than good.

Advancements in technology do not always produce better results, and construction technology isn’t exempt from that. Built in a time of readily available building materials and energy sources, modern building designs typically make poor use of both. Historical buildings were built when neither was in abundant supply and early designers made the most of building materials and design options to construct buildings with a powerful combination of harnessed natural resources and innovative design that worked together to maximize energy efficiency.

Everything from exterior paint colors, to locations of balconies, to numbers and placement of windows, to physical placement of buildings on lots was carefully considered to maximize heating, lighting, and ventilation in traditional construction.

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The results are astounding and studies have shown that properly restored and maintained 18th & 19th Century buildings can be just as energy efficient as new construction, and in many cases even more energy efficient. (Perhaps not surprisingly, studies have also shown that buildings built in the 1950’s through the 1970’s were the biggest energy consumers of all.)

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The historical wood windows in your building contribute to that energy efficiency and, contrary to urban legend, new replacement windows are not more energy efficient than historical wood windows. Typically, studies that conclude such a finding have compared new replacement windows with historical windows that

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have not been maintained or restored, are decaying, and have no complementary energy retrofits such as weather-stripping and storm windows.

If you would like to read these studies, you can access them in the resources section of our website.

Studies on energy efficiency also usually fail to consider “embodied energy”. Embodied energy represents the energy it took to manufacture a product. They say the greenest building is the one
already built when you consider this embodied energy – an existing energy investment that will never be able to be recaptured once you destroy the product it’s embodied in.

If the greenest building is the one already built, then the greenest window is the one already there. Historical wood windows have an embodied energy value that includes all the energy from harvesting and milling the wood to transporting and manufacturing the windows to installing them in your historical building.  Preserving existing windows conserves that embodied energy and reduces the use of additional energy when making replacement windows.

Which means that when you take all energy, energy expended on heating and cooling costs as well as the embodied energy, into consideration for defining the energy efficiency of windows – historical wood windows are far more energy efficient than replacement windows
.

 

Maintenance Plans for Historic Home & Buildings

Recently we completed a maintenance appraisal for the Trinity Church Oxford in Philadelphia.  The church purchased the appraisal to evaluate several key areas they knew needed immediate attention and ended up with not only our recommendations for remediating the emergent needs on their buildings – but a five-year plan for fixing other maintenance needs that were threats looming on the horizon.  Below is the process of how that maintenance appraisal and long-term plan were developed.

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The church purchased our Tier 2 Maintenance Appraisal and scheduled an appointment for us to perform the appraisal.

Chuck and Lois spent a morning evaluating three separate buildings on the church property – the Gathering Hall, the Church, and the Rectory/Archive building.

During that appointment,  Chuck and Lois recorded a detailed assessment and made thorough documentation of the current condition of the roofing, windows and doors, foundation, exterior walls and woodwork, interior features, projections, etc.

historic preservation contractors, historic restoration contractors, historic preservation, historic restorations, maintenance of historic buildings, historic home maintenance

Back at the office, Chuck reviewed all of the maintenance needs he and Lois had documented to compile an itemized list of specific repair work that needed to be done on the building to make sure it wasn’t deteriorating any further.

Next he prioritized which needs were immediate (needing repair in the next 1-2 years), which needs were intermediate (needing repair in the next 3-5 years), and which needs were long-term (needing repair in 5+ years) for each of the areas they evaluate.

The 18-page report was then submitted to the Trinity Church Oxford.

After the Church reviewed our report and worked with Chuck to determine which maintenance needs they could address within their budget, they contracted with us to perform the work.

historic 2

Is your historical building deteriorating?  

Do you need a maintenance plan for your historic home?  

Find out in these four easy steps:

#1: Contact us to decide which maintenance plan tier is best for your building

#2: Purchase the maintenance appraisal

#3: Schedule the maintenance appraisal appointment

#4: Sit back and have a cup of tea while we work our magic and get you’re your report!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every May, the National Trust for Historic Preservation picks a new theme for their National Preservation Month.  This year, they’ve built it around: “See! Save! Celebrate!” to encourage us to see our historic places, save the threatened ones, and celebrate the vital role they play in our communities.

To support that goal, we’re going to do a three-part blog series with each post focusing on one aspect of the theme.  Last week we posted about seeing PA historical architecturewith an overview of the styles found in Pennsylvania and the time period they are associated with, and we gave you resources for saving historic buildings in another blog post.

Now we want to celebrate projects that saved historic buildings in Pennsylvania for future generations and give you a list of ways you can support and encourage historic preservation projects.

First I’m going to begin by tooting our own horn a little bit.  In November of 2011, we began working on a project that looked like this:

historic restoration

 

The Franklin Street Train Station in Reading, PA was originally built in the 1920’s.  In 1972 when Hurricane Agnes destroyed the building, it was abandoned and sat empty until 2011 when the Berks Area Regional Transit Authority began the massive undertaking of restoring the building to its original glory so they could use it as a bus terminal for their public busing system.

After sitting abandoned for 40 years, the building was in terrible shape.  Such terrible shape that in 1999 it was listed as being “At Risk” on the PA At Risk list of threatened historic buildings.  The flooding of Hurricane Agnes did the initial damage, but vagrants and vandals over the years, as well as several fires, decimated the building.

historic building preservation

 

historic building

 

historic preservation

 

 

It is easy to think that if the look of a historical building is maintained, as well as the types of materials used, then the building has been successfully preserved. But preservation is not just about preserving how something looks, it is primarily focused on preserving how something is so that it remains as original as possible for future generations.

historic wood windows

As important as it is to preserve how our historical buildings actually are, inevitably re­placements will need to be made when features are so deteriorated that stabilization, con­servation, or restoration are simply not viable options.

In these instances, the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Properties allow for “replacement in-kind” (replicating the original feature in all respects, except improved condition) if there are surviving features that can be used as prototypes. The Standards & Guidelines also notes that, “The replacement materi­als needs to match the old both physically and visually, i.e., wood with wood, etc. Thus…substitute materials are not appropriate in…preservation.”

One example is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial on the corner of 3rd and Pine streets.  The Thaddeus Kosciuszko house is a part of Independence Park and in 2011 the National Park Service embarked on exterior restorations of the building to repair and restore wood windows, doors, and a cedar shake roof that were deteriorated.

historic windows tops

Our company, Historic Restorations, was given the honor of performing this restoration work and to accurately preserve the Kosciuszko house we needed to match not just the size, shape, and textures of the shingles themselves, but also the craftsmanship details added during manufacturing and installation that characterized the roof.  To do this we ordered hand-split cedar shakes and had our detail-oriented artisan craftsmen recreate the original installation of the cedar shakes.Kosciuszko house is a part of Independence Park and in 2011 the National Park Service embarked on exterior restorations of the building to repair and restore wood windows, doors, and a cedar shake roof that were deteriorated.

historic restorationWithout this attention to detail, the Kosciuszko house would not have been preserved as an accurate testimonial to our architectural heritage.  It would have been easier and more inexpensive to have replaced the shake roof with any number of other options, including some that are commonly considered “historically accurate”.  But they would not have been historically accurate to this house.  Even if they are considered “period appropriate”, when we choose a different treatment than what was there originally we are altering, not preserving the very things that make the building historic.

It also alters a building’s historical fabric, some­times irretrievably. Original wallpaper that is often destroyed during the removal process can’t usually be replaced with in-kind period wallpaper. Replacing one species of wood with another sometimes can’t be undone if the original species of wood is not readily avail­able, or is priced so exorbitantly that it is not financially feasible for your project.

In order to avoid significant, and sometimes irreparable, damage to your building, consider replacing only the deteriorated or missing parts of your building’s features, use materials that match the old in design, color, and texture (both physically and visually), and docu­ment the original material and the replacement process and materials used extensively for future reference and research.

[sws_grey_box box_size=”630″] Things to Ask Yourself About the Materials on Your Building

  • Do I have documentation of all former replacements, including documentation of the original features?
  • Have I had my building evaluated by a qualified contractor to identify any inappropriate replacement materials or approaches?
  • Do I document all replacements I do, including written and photographic documentation, noting the materials, details, and tooling on both the original and the replacement?
  • Are there any parts of my building’s original features that are deteriorated or missing and need replacement?
  • Is it possible to just replace the deteriorated parts instead of replacing the whole feature?
  • Have I checked with a qualified contractor to see if remediation is needed for any not-in-kind replacements previously performed on my building? [/sws_grey_box]

 

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to
preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

 

1996 – Walnut Street Bridge, Dauphin & Cumberland Counties

 

Walnut Street Bridge

Photo by origamidon on flickr

• SAVED (Partially) •

Erected in 1889-1890 and comprised of 15 wrought-iron, steel pin-connected Baltimore truss spans, the 2,850-foot Walnut Street Bridge (or People’s Bridge) was one of the largest multi-span truss bridges ever fabricated by Pennsylvania’s nationally significant Phoenix Bridge Company using their patented Phoenix column.  By 1893, the toll bridge carried trolleys that transported passengers between the west shore of the Susquehanna River and the state capital, as well as foot traffic and horse-drawn vehicles.  The bridge also enabled recreational development on City Island in the early 20th century, including baseball, football and track, as well as picnicking, swimming and boating.

With evolutions in popular modes of transportation and periodic damage from storms and floods, owners of the Walnut Street Bridge have dealt with minor structural problems since about 1910.  After overcoming resistance by the private property owner, the Commonwealth finally acquired the toll bridge in 1954.  They continued to collect tolls on the bridge until 1957.  The bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.  That same year, flood waters from Hurricane Agnes caused severe damage to the bridge, and it was closed to vehicular traffic.  However, the bridge survived as an important pedestrian link between the west shore, City Island, and Harrisburg’s downtown commercial district.  The Walnut Street Bridge was one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.

In January of 1996, the Walnut Street Bridge was again seriously damaged by ice-dammed flood waters.  Three metal trusses were destroyed, and the piers that had supported them were removed.  Overwhelming local support and extraordinary stewardship by the Commonwealth resulted in the rehabilitation of the remaining eastern spans, which provide pedestrian access between downtown Harrisburg and City Island facilities.  The bridge is used by over one million visitors, tourists, and residents each year.

There are no plans to replace the three missing spans to reconnect the Walnut Street Bridge to the Susquehanna River’s west shore.  The City of Harrisburg, which is responsible for the maintenance of the bridge, is currently unable to devote financial resources to this project.  Fortunately, a coalition of residents, area businesses, and other partners, known collectively as Lighten Up Harrisburg, is working to illuminate the historic Walnut Street Bridge and address other urgent safety needs.

To support this project, please visit Lighten Up Harrisburg.

 

In 2008, metal truss bridges statewide were recognized by Preservation Pennsylvania as an endangered resource; many truss bridges were at risk for replacement due to strength deficiencies, size limitations, deferred maintenance and the high cost of repairs.  In 1996, 328 truss bridges in Pennsylvania were eligible for or listed in the National Register.  Following the Commonwealth’s “Accelerated Bridge Program,” that number was expected to decline to 237 by the end of 2008 and just 184 by the end of 2012.  While not all metal truss bridges can and should be saved, some may be strengthened to continue to serve the community.  

In reaction to concerns about the shrinking population of metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania, PennDOT is currently working to develop a management plan to help maintain the bridges and prioritize select bridges for rehabilitation rather than replacement.  The plan seeks to balance sound engineering with historic preservation considerations in evaluating the level of significance and the rehabilitation potential for each bridge.  PennDOT anticipates that the plan will be an invaluable tool to be used throughout their planning and project development process.

 

A number of years ago, we had the very fortunate luck to be given the opportunity to completely restore the Denn House in southern New Jersey.  Below is the story of how that restoration happened, excerpted from Lois Groshong’s book, “2001 Restoration of a Southern New Jersey Colonial”.

Be sure to check out the pictures at the end of the article that we took just this month of how the Denn House looks today, and the pictures of other Patterned Brick houses in Salem County, New Jersey.

 

INTRODUCTION

Built as a private home in 1725, (the John Maddox Denn house is) two stories with the front entrance facing Alloway Creek.

English Quakers founded in the town, known as Salem, in 1675 as their “New Paradise in the Providence of West Jersey” has much history.  The Dutch, under Captain Mey, explored the area, as wella s the English in the 1630’s, experimenting with growing tobacco.  Swedes and Finns began arriving in 1638, landing in the New World of what is now Wilmington, Delaware.  For twelve years, Salem was a military post of Sweden.

A Chandler form the parish of St. Sepulche in London, John Maddox and his family arrived in Salem aboard the ship “Surry” in 1578 and purchased one half of William Hancock’s allotment of ground.  The grandson, John Maddow Denn, born in 1693, built the home that we see today, a charming remembrance to England in the days of Cromwell and Charles the Second.  Surrounded by towering Spirea Plants, well-kept lawns, and beautiful shrubbery, the old John Maddox Denn house is without a doubt one of the show places of Fenwick’s old Colony.  It sits along the south bank of the Monmouth River on the road, which leads from Hancock’s Bridge.  Like its neighbors on the same road, the Denn property heard the thunder of Major John Graves Simcoe’s Rangers the morning of March 21, 1778.  William Hancock was a Loyalist to the King, yet the English Calvary had wounded him and massacred the Colonials who had sought shelter in the Hancock House.  The Denn house was put to use as a field hospital.  This house is registered in the library of Congress as a National Historic Site

 

Denn House Before Photos:
historic restoration colonial architecture historic architecture historic building restorations Denn House Historic Denn House Restoration of Denn House

 

Restoring the Windows

White Oak Denn HouseA load of White Oak was purchased from an antique wood dealer.  Raw material taken from an old building that had been demolished, 3’x8′ beams that ranged in length from three to sixteen feet.

January 13, 2001, Chuck and Lois take a Saturday trip to remove existing windows.  Halfway through the process the wind picks up and snow flurries begin.  “Press On” was the decision; all windows were disposed and openings boarded up before nightfall.

To begin the process of transformation the wood is run on the planer, making all the sides straight and smooth.  Sections are measured, cut and set aside.  Cracks and imperfections are filled “Bondo” and sanded smooth to the touch.  Next the ends are mortised or tendoned, depending on if it is a vertical or horizontal section of the window frame.  Side jambs are tendoned to fit the head and sill mortise.  The pieces are sized and glued together.  Historic Restorations also uses steel clamps to insure that the fit is square and tight as it can be.  Clamps are kept on for 24 hours; there will be no movement that can be detected in any unit.  After the window frames are all together, an oil base primer is applied to all surfaces to seal the wood; this is also an effective method to prepare for the finish coat to be applied on site.

Sash size varies because the window openings are all different.  There are five twelve-over-eight windows on the first floor, three eight-over-eight and three twelve-over-eight windows on the second floor.  Old glass is purchased for the “new” old windows.  Each pane is measured, cut, and glazed to fit each section of sash.  The effect is complete; newly made window frames and sash complement the 276-year-old house.

 

Working on the Walls and Ceilings

The walls are covered with paint, layers of wallpaper and plaster.  The ceilings are covered by plasterboard, resembling a seven and one-half foot modern flat ceiling.  Upon removing the added-on coverings, the walls revealed the original brick, badly deteriorated from years of settling and time had weakened portions of the interior structure.  A 12″x15″ Chestnut Summer Beam spans the length of each room, with the joist system for the second floor 5″x4.5″, at right angles.  Originally these exposed rafters were white washed; the lye used in the white wash prevented infection of insects as well as supplying a finished look for the wood.

Our next project was to strengthen the walls in the two rooms on the first floor.  Old brick was carefully taken out and relayed in an interlocked pattern, three deep, modeled from existing brickwork.  This was similar to putting a giant jigsaw puzzle together.  Concrete lintels have been installed above the doors and window.  Wire mesh is nailed to exposed brick to prepare for a new layer of fresh plaster.

Woodwork in Denn House antique pine in Denn House

Main Room Stairway

In the artisan woodworking shop of Historic Restorations a staircase made from Poplar for risers and antique Pine as treads is made ready.  The staircase that had been taken out was not original.  That stairway had narrow treads and curved away from the room.  The handrail system was square posts and a Bullnose on the bottom tread.  Chuck has determined that originally the stairs were a straight run between the fireplace and a door that opened into the room from the hallway.  Paneling made in the Historic Restorations shop from Poplar was stained and included in the delivery.  Jonathan has found evidence of paneling as being part of the earliest home decor.  Custom paneling will be used in the more formal first floor room.  A Colonial handrail is purchased to be taken apart and fit into the stair and rail system.

Main Room Stairway
ick Work and History
Historic RestorationsDenn House Restoration and Preservation

 

Br

The John Maddox Denn House is a splendid examples of the English homes of the Cromwell Period.  The east wall is covered with a diamond diaper of only three diamonds wide, but covering twenty-three courses from point-to-point.  The largest such figure of any known American or English house.  The date of 1725 begins several courses below the eaves level.  The 4-course brickwork in this wall is the first time that numerals of different sizes were used in a date.

The history of the unusual brick work found on the walls of some of Salem County’s old homes begins as far into the past as Boos Manor, Rouen, France with a small brick dove cote or pigeon house.  Built early in the fifteenth century, these dovecotes were decorated with the diaper or diamond designs seen today on Salem County houses.  Flemish-Norman artisans introduced the design into England in the fifteenth century.  Ornamental brickwork, on the overall pattern of the house and diaper design are two examples from France.  The English method of brick making yielded to the Flemish influence, so much that the Flemish ideas virtually replaced the English.

The John Maddox Denn HouseEnglish bond was very irregular and uneven.  The English style had become popular and persisted until the introduction of Flemish bond around the second half of the fifteenth century.  English bond there (across the pond) were alternate courses of headers and stretchers with the second brick of the heading course used as a closer.  Flemish bond had a stretcher and header in the same course.  IN this method, the artisans used vitrified or blue header brick.  This used with the red stretcher brick gives the checkerboard effect still seen in Salem today.  The diaper design was strictly ornamental.  Colors used to make the diapers were grays, yellows, purples, and blues.  Vitrified brick, originated by the Flemish, was made by applying continued heat until the color changed.  “These patterns, diamonds, diapers, etc., were produced by over-burnt header bricks vitrified for the purpose.”  Vitrified, dictionary definition: “changed into glass or a substance like glass, give or having a glassy or glazed surface.”  It had been thought that glass was mixed with the brick, this is erroneous.

The English preferred the soft gray diaper pattern because it is soothing to the eye.  Today in England many houses show the gray patterns, some approaching a vermillion shade.  Naturally being close to France the invasion of the Flemish builders sex hundred years ago left is mark.  What transpired to bring this artistry another three thousand miles and to locate in one county of one province, a Quaker settlement where ornamentation and display were frowned upon?  Bricklayers immigrating into America sought to continue their art in the New World, these artisans settled in Salem county from about 1720-1764.  Nowhere in all of America do we find the profusion and intricacy flowering to the heights of artistic genius as in Salem County, New Jersey.

 

Bringing the Fireplaces Back to Life

The Denn House was designed with a central chimney.  A popular style in the late 16th Century Europe, it supports the ventilation system for the four fireplaces in the original house.  The two fireplaces on the first floor sit back-to-back directly below the two fireplaces on the second floor.

Over the years the fireboxes on the first floor have been decreased in size.  One fireplace on the second floor was hidden behind a wall.  A gem uncovered when Jonathan demolished the bathroom that had been added in the early 20th Century.  This fireplace has an arched opening with a “keystone” center top.  Chuck loved the look of this discovery so much he wanted to duplicate it in one of the first floor fireplaces.

First floor first, both fireboxes are taken apart exposing the original dimensions for reconstruction.  A windfall is discovered down the road, a brick building being taken down provide hundreds of old brick.  The labor to pick through to find unbroken whole bricks, bring the brick back to the Denn House and clean them before the brick can be put back into service is a small price to pay for the quality and authentic appearance of the found brick.

Both fireplaces are taken apart creating an open look from either room.  The chimney is rebuilt a portion of the length up to reinforce the structural strength.  Hearths are remade; this is for adding stability as well as aesthetic purpose.

Bricks are placed on the hearth and and back in a Herringbone pattern.  The decision to do this was arrived at by searching local homes to observe the style of the tradesman when this area was first settled.  The Herringbone pattern is seen repeatedly in sidewalks, courtyards, and driveways, a definite eastern seaboard occurrence.

Herringbone pattern

 

 

 

The Denn House as it stands today:historic architecture
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The Denn House 2013:

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Other Patterned Brick Houses in Salem County, New Jersey

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Patterned Brick Quaker Meeting House

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