Before Starting Work

As owners of historic homes, what exactly are we protecting and preserving?

Fredericksburg’s historic buildings belong to the continuum of history spanning from the 18th century to the present day, and do not belong to a single period or style.

Change is an important part of the record, because tastes and techniques changed, and buildings have been expanded and even embellished over time.

The goal is to preserve the historic record (including changes made over time) of the forms, materials, and workmanship, as well as the underlying socioeconomic and cultural history of the town.

Online Resources

Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation codified as 36 CFR 67
http://www.nps.gov/tps/standards/rehabilitation.htm

Preservation Brief 18—Rehabilitating Interiors in Historic Buildings: Identifying and Preserving Character-Defining Elements by Lee H. Nelson, FAIA
http://www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs.htm

Additions & Repairs

As owners of historic homes, what exactly are we protecting and preserving?

Fredericksburg’s historic buildings belong to the continuum of history spanning from the 18th century to the present day, and do not belong to a single period or style.

Change is an important part of the record, because tastes and techniques changed, and buildings have been expanded and even embellished over time.

The goal is to preserve the historic record (including changes made over time) of the forms, materials, and workmanship, as well as the underlying socioeconomic and cultural history of the town.

Understanding the contributions of your property to the historic record and its “character-defining features” are the first and most critical steps in being a good steward of it.  

  • Consider the factors that made you purchase your home
    • Convenient location, great neighboring houses, walkable streets, gracious porch, beautiful facades, wood floors, big wide staircase, rich details, big windows, lots of potential
      • These are easily identifiable and are features worth maintaining and preserving
  • Consider, also, some of the “features”’ you might appreciate less
    • Small windows, windows where you don’t want them and vice versa, small rooms, low ceilings, not enough closets, drafty rooms, no insulation, poor or no mechanical systems, deteriorating wood, missing details, etc.
      • Change can keep structures in continuous use and economically viable, but changes should not allow a loss to its historical record.

Context

Your home is a piece of something much larger.

Start with the neighborhood or block: What do you see?

  • Are the houses/buildings on the block similar in size to one another?
  • Where do residents park their cars?
  • What do the structures have in common with one another?
  • How do they differ?
  • Do the buildings seem to have been built at the same time?
  • Is there a prevalent architectural style?
  • Can you see a rhythm in how far the buildings are set back from the street?

Now look closer at the details.

  • Do they all have front porches?
  • What kinds of materials are used?
  • What are the windows, doors, railings, shutters, trim like?
    • Is there uniformity?
    • Are there standouts?
  • Is there evidence of changes made to other buildings on the block?
    • How would you characterize the improvements?

Alterations

Exterior alterations that change a character-defining feature of a building are discouraged; however, creative solutions may be possible.  For example, rather than infilling an existing window, exterior shutters may be closed, the sash left in place, and finishes added to close up the window from inside (a “blind window”).

Additions

Should you choose to add on to your historic home, these steps are critical:

      • Work in context, considering the neighborhood, block, and the house itself.
      • Consider the scale and proportions of the existing structure; ideally, the addition should be subservient in form, and set back from and lower than the existing construction.
      • Avoid interrupting or obscuring character-defining architectural elements such as roofs, cornices, and chimneys.
      • Construct the addition with minimal loss of original material so that the new construction could be removed in the future and the original structure restored.
      • Consider the scale and proportions of window and door openings, cladding, and trim.
      • Clearly differentiate between the historic structure and the addition, while at the same time, take cues from the original structure for proportions, rhythm of openings, cornice lines, etc.
      • New construction methods and materials may and possibly should be modern. Contemporary design aesthetics are often compatible if they are in keeping with the scale, massing, rhythm of openings, etc.

Maintenance and Repairs

Maintenance is critical to protecting any building.  There is no such thing as a maintenance-free building, and keeping the water out, broadly speaking, requires constant vigilance, from the rooftop to the foundation.  In all of its forms, liquid, gas, and solid state, water is perhaps the largest contributor to decay in homes today. Anything that compromises a building’s ability to keep the water out—whether it’s failing roofing, clogged gutters, or ill-fitting or broken windows—needs to be addressed in a timely manner.  Typically, wood surfaces are protected by paint, which needs to be maintained.

Materials and finishes have life spans, and there are instances when replacing materials is appropriate. It is important to replace with like materials, particularly on primary facades and main interior rooms, accurately reflecting dimensions and details. It is critical to use tradespeople skilled in the particulars of the material being replaced, especially when the material (slate roofing, wood roofing shakes) is no longer widely used.

Replacing some features can be more nuanced.

  • It is possible that the siding on your home has been replaced once before, with wood or imitative wood products.
    • Sometimes these materials were not properly installed or did not hold up to the elements either; sometimes, original trim at doors, windows, and corners was lost.
    • In these instances, replacement “in kind” may become more complicated, particularly if a clear record of original detail has been lost.
  • Replacing glazing putty, sash cords, and paint can repair windows that are even relatively intact. Assuming proper maintenance, the windows will last another 50+ years.
    • High-quality storm windows can improve energy efficiency and, when installed on the exterior, offer a measure of protection for the old windows.
      • Be sure to not over seal and plug up weep holes. These are necessary to clear condensation.
  • When building an addition or replacing non-historic windows, it is possible to purchase or make replacement wood windows with either single pane or insulated glass.
    • Windows with insulated glass are constructed differently than glazed wood windows and are therefore different in appearance; they sometimes have “grilles” applied to the exterior or sandwiched between layers of the glass to mimic wood muntins typically made of aluminum or vinyl.
    • Window options also exist that have dimensional muntins (molding pieces that divide individual panes of glass). See “Windows” section of this booklet for more information.
    • Replacement wood windows need to mimic the size and proportions of the original windows. Many modern windows boast low-E insulated glass and features to make cleaning and operating them easy, but are unlikely to last as long. 

Online Resources

Excellent Website – Highly Recommended
“Walk Through,” A step-by-step guide to identify a building’s character—National Park Service
http://www.nps.gov/tps/education/walkthrough/

Preservation Brief 14 – New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings: Preservation Concerns by Anne E. Grimmer and Kay D. Weeks
http://www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs.htm

Preservation Brief 17—Architectural Character—Identifying the Visual Aspects of Historic Buildings as an Aid to Preserving their Character by Lee H. Nelson, FAIA
http://www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs.htm