Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Fall Maintenance Tips

Here are just a few things you can do this fall season to protect your old house before the winter sets in.

  • Touch up painting. It is easy to keep putting this off, but waiting until you have a painter come out to paint the whole house can be costly. Some possible problems caused by not touching up the paint on your house are water damage and rot, which could lead to the replacement of the wood. Often you can do the touch up work yourself. It is just a matter of scraping off the loose paint, caulking, priming and repainting. If you already have some rot consider using the Abatron epoxy or liquid gel products.
  • Gutter cleaning. Gutters and downspouts are an important element to keeping your old house protected. Installed properly, these systems will shed water away from the foundation and the house. Check the gutters during the next rain storm to see if there are any problems. Look for water flowing over or behind the gutter (usually a sign that it is clogged or an installation/alignment problem with the drip edge on the roof and the gutter). You should get your gutters cleaned regularly, especially if you have a lot of trees around the house. Water from the downspouts should be shed at least a foot or two away from the foundation. Your wood gutters should be cleaned and oiled, at least annually. Most companies stop oiling at the end of September or early October. The weather needs to be fairly warm and the gutters need to be dry before linseed oil can be applied.
  • Caulking. This is a low cost, effective way to stop air and water infiltration. Interior and exterior caulking can help to lower energy bills and prevent rotting of materials. Exterior: The common areas to caulk are: storm windows, window and door frames, where shingles/clapboard meet edge trim, construction joints and between dissimilar materials (e.g., brick and wood) Don�t caulk underneath clapboard/shingles because they need to breathe and caulking will trap moisture. Use a long lasting caulk (at least 20 years). Acrylic latex that contains silicone offers ease of use and durability, but a urethane sealant is supposed to be superior if somewhat harder to . Make sure whatever caulk you use is paintable (if you require it). Interior: Inspect the inside of your house on a windy day to see where you have drafts. The following joints should typically be caulked on the indoor side of all exterior walls:
  • Between window and door casings and walls (including tops and under sills)
  • Joints in window jambs and casings, and the joint between window stops and jambs
  • Joints of baseboards and base mouldings
  • Ceiling to wall junctions, including crown moulding
  • Wall paneling joints, such as where wainscotting meets plaster
  • Insides of closets, cupboards, and the like. Use only long lasting caulk. Acrylic-latex for paintable, clear silicone-based caulk for non-paint jobs.
  • Yard work. Remove all leaves and trash from around the foundation and basement windows. If left to pile up they can help deteriorate the wood around your windows.
  • Weatherstrip your windows. Spring Bronze weatherstripping is considered the most durable. It is typically found at the Boston Building Materials Coop or other specialty hardware stores.

    Source: Some information contained in this document was obtained from Old House Journal
  • Sunday, January 7, 2007

    Open letter to Office of Housing and Community Development for "Release of funds for lead-based paint hazard control in privately owned housing grant"

    Lead-based paint removal on homes prior to 1940 should be done with utmost care to respect the architectural integrity of the property by preserving all existing wood casings, doors, floors, moldings, windows, plaster and other features of the building that help give the home character. The city of Somerville has continually removed architectural features and replaced them with cheaper building products and inappropriate styles, thereby devaluing the properties that they are deleading.

    Making a home lead safe does not mean the building?s components have to be destroyed. All lead paint removal projects should maximize the use of the funds by performing activities that maintain the character of the property while making a house safer. All work should minimize the damage to the architectural elements so the quality and integrity of the home remains intact. Therefore I would like to see the City of Somerville perform, at a minimum, the following with any of its lead-based abatement programs, regardless or not if any other funds are being used.

    • Perform lead paint removal that keeps existing wood elements in place without replacement, or allows for removal of the elements for proper de-leading and then put back in place.
    • If for some reason materials should be replaced, then they should be replaced with products and materials in kind that also duplicate the style that was previously used.
    • Use lead paint removal methods that does minimal damage to all architectural elements.
    • Staff administering lead paint programs should become more knowledgeable on architectural features of the buildings, including reading a preservation brief by the National Park Service titled, Appropriate Methods for Reducing Lead-Paint Hazards in Historic Housing. They can refer to http://www.somervilleoldhouse.org as a starting point for education and articles.
    • Staff administering lead-paint programs should consult with building professionals who have a good knowledge of building materials, architectural styles and are sensitive to maintaining historic character of a building.
    • Staff administering lead-paint education programs should learn and explain the importance of keeping architectural elements rather than replacing them.

    By incorporating the above requests on all properties built prior to 1940, the City of Somerville will not only make housing lead safe, but also help to preserve the character of Somerville?s old homes for future generations to enjoy.

    Friday, January 5, 2007

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Who should become a member? SOHO is open to any old house enthusiast (homeownership not required) who admires and appreciates the architecture of Somerville's old homes. Anyone who would like to learn more about properly maintaining the character of their old home or encourage others to do the same.

    Why should I become a member? In general, this is a great way to network with other old-house enthusiasts and show appreciation for Somerville's old house architecture. However, there are unique benefits and roles:

    Benefits and Roles For Those Who Have Restored Property:
    You play an integral role in helping SOHO create a recommended list of reputable sources for old house repairs and projects. Your input helps other homeowners streamline the process of finding the right person for their job. Of course, you'll also be able to reference the list for your own projects.

    You can provide the insights and share before and after photos from your experience to help those who want to do restoration work. You can always benefit from meeting and sharing information with other old home enthusiasts, after all maintaining an old house is never done. You�ll also have the satisfaction of knowing you are encouraging others.

    Benefits and Roles For Those Who Have Yet To Restore Their Property:
    SOHO is where you'll find a wealth of information and experience to help you make more informed improvement decisions about restoring/renovating your old home. You'll learn things you never knew, and we bet you'll find encouragement to support your project. Our recommended worker list will help you streamline the process of finding appropriate workers. Please remember to take before and after photos!

    What are the membership benefits?

    • Access to a preservation-minded workers, product, and resource list
    • Learn about new products and experiences
    • Network with like-minded people
    • View before and after pictures
    • Special discounts, like reduced rates to workshops

    Is there a membership fee? No. We are a volunteer organization and build a virtual community through this site. However, we do request your participation through posting comments and questions to our postings.

    Wednesday, January 3, 2007

    Old Houses Matter

    A city and its residents who think of its homes as "just old" risk losing the true intrinsic value and unique characteristics that they bring to Somerville. It's easy to write them off and justify demolition because they are "just old." My old house had asbestos siding - the vinyl-siding equivalent of the 1960s - a rotted front porch with no remaining details and a collapsing foundation. A quick solution would have been to tear it down or cheapen it with newer products. After all, it's not historic, it's "just old."

    Most of Somerville's rich housing stock dates from the mid-1800s to WWII period. Architectural styles vary from classic Greek Revival, Italianate, Colonial Revival to elaborate Victorian Queen Anne, Gothic and Second Empire styles. Many homes incorporate multiple styles built by and for newly arrived immigrants.

    Before Renovation

    Window trim recessed from inappropriate siding, improper porch design and other detriments detract from the house's original graceful facade.
    Some finer homes were designed by important architects like George Loring or housed Somerville's founders and business leaders such as Quincy A. Vinal or Mayor Edward Glines, who referred to Somerville as "a city of homes" in his 1903 inaugural address.

    Our old homes may not be historic because of an important activity or a university president, a virtuoso or magnate made it their home. However, they feature materials, craftsmanship and details that are almost never found in newer developments. Over time, these homes developed historic character and charm in the form of original woodwork, solid-wood doors, pine or hardwood floors, horsehair plaster walls, durable wood windows, marble fireplaces, decorative brackets and porches and much more.

    People who think buildings are "just old" cause a chain reaction that diminishes our heritage. Homeowners can be quick to devalue their property by unnecessarily replacing original materials with inferior products of lower value and quality that won't last as long. Many of them carry exaggerated maintenance-free and energy-efficiency claims from companies only interested in selling their products. Developers run roughshod over a community, destroying or modernizing old houses and putting in their place plain, unattractive exteriors. Real estate representatives promote gut renovations rather than alternatives that truly add value. Absentee landlords perform cheap and shoddy renovations and gouge tenants while they live out of state or the suburbs. They have no incentive to invest in our community. It's a sure sign that Somerville has forgotten its roots and has lost its bearings when the housing department uses federal and state funds to make so-called home improvements that destroy historic character. All of these factors combined lead a city of homes into disrepair from which it takes decades to recover.

    Somerville's demolition review ordinance gives a neighborhood the added voice it needs to protect and enhance its architecture before it's too late.

    After Restoration

    Properly sized and styled porch lends balance, wood siding improves vertical proportions, and other improvements dramatically increases curb appeal. After
    The ordinance only goes so far. Homeowners and residents must stay informed and obtain a greater appreciation for their old homes. Read A Field Guide to American Houses - an easy way to learn about house styles and details. Rather than replace, truly evaluate repair and maintenance options to add value in the long run. Participate at planning and zoning board meetings and encourage decisions that take into account our historic architecture. Demand more from developers and push for historically sensitive renovations rather than destruction or cheap modernization. City leaders must maximize any money used for renovations to save and enhance historic character. They must also strengthen our historic ordinance and add properties deemed important to save. A qualified historian surveyed Professor's Row, home of old and historic homes, in the 1980s. The city should have put those properties on the register and protected the neighborhood from unworthy alterations and demolition.

    Take notice of the history found in all of our old homes. You can help restore the pride of our architectural heritage and help justify calling Somerville a city of homes once more. So what are you doing to your old house to enhance and maintain it's historic character?

    Tuesday, January 2, 2007

    Greetings from the SOHO Founder

    Although I have always lived in Somerville, it wasn't until my late 20s that I gained an appreciation for its old homes. I can't say what specifically influenced me, but like any passion, once it got under my skin there was no letting go. The concept for SOHO came about after I undertook "sensitive rehabilitation" to an 1850s farmhouse. I wanted to do what was right for the style of my home.

    After a year of discussions with Eric Breitkreutz, former Executive Director of the Somerville Historic Commission, an informal meeting to float the concept was held in my dining room with other old-house enthusiasts. The idea stuck, and in April 2000, SOHO was born. The first SOHO meeting was held in June 2000 and to spread the word each person from the informal meeting invited three neighbors. Today we are a growing group of old-house enthusiasts, and we welcome you to our organization. If you have experience, won't you share it with us? If you are looking to learn, we are happy to share our knowledge.

    Thanks for visiting the SOHO website. I hope you'll tell your neighbors and friends and join the growing ranks honoring the craftsmanship of our city of homes.
    Tony Membrino

    P.S. In the spirit of SOHO, I thought I would share with you the Top 10 things I learned from restoring my old house:

      Top 10 Things I Learned From Restoring My Old House:
    1. Don't be so quick to make changes or renovations (see article on hasty repairs)
    2. Don't start a project until you know what you want, fully understand your options, and can be flexible enough to deal with changes.
    3. Address the important things first (foundation, roofing, electrical and heating systems) even if they are not the most exciting
    4. Ask experts for opinions and hire a contractor you trust. Now you can talk to other SOHO members!
    5. Research, research, and research - but give yourself a deadline to move forward
    6. Be clear what you want your contractor/worker to do. Rely on their expertise for opinions but most of all to carry out your wishes and to be flexible to deal with issues as they arise
    7. Budget for maintenance and big projects (more on that later)
    8. Be sensitive to the architecture of the home while realizing this is a livable space
    9. Think twice before removing old materials and duplicate items if you must replace them
    10. Enjoy the journey, don't be afraid of sweat equity, and admire what you are doing

    Monday, January 1, 2007

    Somerville - Two Golden Restoration Rules to Honor A City of Homes

    The majority of Somerville's houses were built prior to 1940. Most of these homes have some form of architectural interest, not necessarily in the manner of grand Victorian styles and elaborate detail, but in craftsmanship that is no longer used in most of today's developments and in materials and labor which would cost significantly to replace. They are homes that were lived in by working-class and wealthy families alike, just like today.

    These houses represent Somerville's charm and character. They help to define Somerville today, and they are an important part of our future. They will last longer, with proper care, than most new homes, as will their original material compared to newer products. The next time you walk through your neighborhood take a closer look at your surroundings. You might find a restored home, sensitive rehab, or perhaps the remnant of an old house: a unique column, old windows and glass, period doors, or decorative balusters.

    Maybe your house has been modified and you would like to bring it back to its original style. Perhaps you have restored your property or are right in the middle of repairs. Whatever your situation, the following two golden restoration rules are solid principles to guide you.

    Two Golden Restoration Rules (excerpt from The Old-House Journal Guide to Restoration)

    The confusion in nomenclature about preservation gives a lot of well-meaning old-house owners needless guilt feelings. If you feel that you are restoring your house, then you should use restoration procedures. But lets say you read an article about restoration written by a preservation professional who has a museum house in mind. You begin to feel inadequate and guilty because you aren't using paint microanalysis and the documentary research that the author advocates.

    Most people fixing up an old house probably aren't working with a museum-grade structure. Most old-house owners are doing something between a sensitive rehabilitation and an interpretive restoration rather than an historic restoration that most professionals talk about. While some of the procedures involved in historic restoration can be helpful to the average old-house owner, they can give you the guilts unless you observe our two golden rules:

    1. Thou shalt not destroy good old work
    2. To thine own style be true

    Basically this means that as you approach the task of fixing up your old house, be sensitive to the details in the house. Every time you destroy or fix something, you change the character of the building. If we think of a building as a collection of individual details, then changing the character of one, changes the character of them all. It is better to repair rather than replace original elements and materials whenever possible. And when replacement is necessary, the replacement should resemble the original as closely as possible in terms of proportion, texture, and material. Beware the contractor who wants to rip out lots of old unsalvageable detail. Many materials a contractor might deem unusable are in fact recyclable with a little creative restoration work.

    How do you determine if the old work is 'good'? In general, it is good if 1) it is fabricated from good quality materials; 2) the workmanship is good; and 3) the design typifies a particular style or works in harmony with the rest of the structure. You may find newer additions to the house good, too. It is best to leave additions if they pass the test for good work and they don�t interfere with the operation of the structure as you intend to use it.

    The second golden rule 'To thine own style be true' will save you from needless professional preservation (i.e., you don't need to over-historicize). Your house represents a specific architectural style (or a combination of styles). Be proud of it and don't try to make it into something it isn't. Learn everything you can about that style, then let your rehabilitation or restoration bring out the character and flavor of that style.

    A few years back, many people made the mistake of trying to antique their old homes. Victorian houses were never meant to look colonial with fake shutters, pedimented doorways, and the like. Similarly, trying to Victorianize a turn-of-the-20th century house can produce disastrous stylistic results.

    Every house had an original design concept. This is true whether it was designed by a famous architect or constructed by an anonymous carpenter-builder. Your work should enhance and clarify this original design concept. Or, at the very least, it should not detract from it.

    To sum up the golden rules, your attitude about the rehabilitation or restoration will mean the difference between a remuddled job (house rehab or renovation gone awry) and a sensitive treatment. When you have sensitivity, everything else falls into place. Sensitivity implies an attitude of respect toward the good work of others and an attitude of frustration with the obvious examples of ugly work on a building that detracts from the beauty of the streetscape.