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Part Two: Historic Preservation Myths
This remarkable bungalow was restored in phases - saving it from certain demolition.
Some misleading comments come from people who don't have the facts, but are just repeating what they've heard. More damaging are authoritative pronouncements from people with little or no experience with older buildings. Sometimes, these myths are promulgated by people who are actively trying to get rid of an old building in order to promote a new construction program. Here are more common historic preservation myths we'd like to dispel.
Myth No. 4: “It’s too expensive to restore.”
Restoration can be expensive, but so is quality, new construction. However, unlike new construction, a renovation project has built-in flexibility since it can be phased and prioritized. This is a great way to deal with deal with limited budgets. By focusing on the most critical elements first, many building owners can renovate in phases in order to stretch their dollars while maximizing their facilities.
It's a good idea to work with an Architect to create an overall master plan for major restorations or renovations. This becomes a strategic plan that can prevent expensive mistakes. A good plan can also mean an owner won't have to undo work from one project later on when something else needs attention. Also, by phasing the work, an owner may continue using some or all of the space, which is not possible if the building is demolished.
Myth No. 5: “Anyone can fix this small problem.”
On a new building that might be true, but historic structures need craftsmen to address issues, sometimes even small ones. If a workman does not respect the historic integrity of the building, irreparable damage can be done. Here are some examples of big problems caused when an unqualified person tried to make a simple "fix."
- Not all masons understand historic mortar! Far too often, we've seen the damage caused when a masonry wall was repointed with the standard Portland cement mortar commonly in use today. An older brick or stone wall can be seriously damaged when the wrong product is used. Portland cement is much harder than historic mortars, and will cause the surrounding masonry to spall and crack.
- Historic roofs are often built of durable materials like copper, slate or clay tile. These materials were meant to last 75 to 100 years. If they are properly installed and maintained, they can. We've found, however, several cases of standard roof felt being used as the underlayment for historic roofing materials. Common roof felts or other materials are designed to only last 20 or 25 years - the duration of the standard composition roof. But if a higher quality material is used, then the roof may continue to last for decades longer.
- Even if some components are at the end of their useful life, many old roofs can be removed and reused. New underlayment or flashing can be specified so it will last as long at the roofing material. If a roofer doesn’t know this, he or she may recommend complete replacement of the entire roof, wasting perfectly good material, and often installing a product that will not last as long or be historically appropriate.
Myth No. 6: “Historic buildings are more expensive to heat and cool.”
We've encountered many old buildings that did have problems with heating or cooling. That isn't surprising. In some cases they were built before air conditioning was invented! Upgrading or replacing air conditioners or boilers with new, energy efficient equipment is just as important in an old building as a new one. Too often, the old building has old equipment running on its last legs. No wonder it costs more than a new building.
This wood-frame church was fully insulated when the building was restored.
Another issue has to do with good insulation. Many older buildings have little or no insulation in the attic, walls or under the floor. Windows and doors may also leak air because they are loose and there is likely no weather-stripping.
Adding insulation in attics is fairly easy, relatively inexpensive, and will make a significant difference in the heating and cooling load of a building. Insulation of the crawl space can be done at the perimeter or between the floor joists, though it is very important to make sure that a proper vapor barrier is installed to prevent damage to the floor structure due to rot. Solid masonry walls may be thick enough that they don't need insulation, while wood framed walls can benefit from the addition of blown-in or blanket insulation. This is typically more difficult and expensive because finishes need to be removed, or have holes drilled in them in order to install the insulation. If windows and doors are in good condition, then the installation of weather-stripping often significantly lessens the amount of air infiltration, which can lower utility costs.
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