Historic Home Maintenance 101

Maintaining your historic home calls for some unique tasks as well as the common ones associated with any normal home.  Understanding the differences between historic building materials and current ones is the first step in rejuvenating and maintaining historic structures without affecting their integrity, durability and architectural appeal.

When problems arise in a historic structure, homeowners often are in a hurry to repair the damages which can sometimes lead to inappropriate measures taken when repairing or replacing damaged materials in a historic home. Understanding the basics of how your home reacts to the weather, environment and its inhabitants can help you to determine the proper course of action.

 

Inspecting for Damage

Pre-war homes were made mainly of natural materials like wood, masonry and stone which will last indefinitely with proper maintenance. Before you begin any maintenance or repairs, it’s a wise idea to create an inspection checklist, so damages can be easily identified and repaired before they become an issue. Here are some of the main things to include in your checklist:

 

Six-Month Inspections:

  • Gutters and Down Spouts—clean all debris from gutters and ground spouts.
  • Roofing and Flashings—clean all debris and remove any standing leaves or debris from all flashings and valleys. Check for any setting water, rust or damaged flashings and roofing materials.
  • Chimney Bases and Foundations—check for any cracks, loose mortar or damaged bricks.
  • Painted Wood—apply any caulk or silicone as needed prior to painting. Fading and sun damaged paint should be touched up with a matching paint product.

Annual Inspections:

  • Chimney Tops—look for loose bricks, weak mortar and flashing damages like rust. Inspect the inside of the chimney for leaks or hidden mortar damages.
  • Painted and Unpainted Masonry—pitted and decaying masonry, cracks or scaling should all be noted. A stiff bristled brush and some oxygenated bleach can help remove any stains or debris.
  • Mortar Joints—inspect all mortar joints, especially those on the sunniest (Southwest) and wettest (Northeast) side of the house, for cracks, loose pieces or scaling mortar.
  • Windows and Doors—check for any air leaks, water damage, loose panes or crumbling glazing putty. Paint windows and doors that are faded to prevent future damage from sun, wind and rain.
  • Claddings (Siding)—peeling paint and sun damage can be easily repaired with paint. Cupping, splitting or loose nails are all signs that your siding may need some professional help.

Begin by working through the checklist from the bottom to the top of the structure. Take care in assessing the risks that are involved with examining your historic building for defects and damages. Climbing on a ladder and your homes roof can be a serious undertaking. Always ensure the proper safety equipment is used when inspecting your historic home.

 

 

An Ounce of Prevention…

Preventative maintenance is always easier and less expensive than repairs or restorations. Try these tips to keep your home running smoothly and stop the damage before it begins.

  • Keep trees and shrubs trimmed back from the home to prevent leaf buildup around foundations and on roofs
  • Add ½ cup of distilled vinegar or bleach to your AC drip line every 6 months.
  • Change your air filters every 3-6 months
  • Clean refrigerator coils every 6 months
  • Touch up whenever you notice chipped or peeling paint to prevent water damage.
  • An annual termite and pest program will keep your home safe from annoying intruders and the damage they can cause.

Common Mistakes

Before removing or demolishing any elements of you house stop and do a little research. You may be removing an important architectural piece of history. If you’re unsure, call a professional. Most basic maintenance techniques can be performed by the homeowner, but many should not and can actually cause further damage to the structure. If you’re unsure about any maintenance issues with your historic home, contacting a professional is in your best interests to keep your historic home in great shape for years to come.

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by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and author. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and son Charley.

http://www.austinhomerestorations.com

4 comments

  1. Some great tips for any homeowner, but it is important for people that live in historic homes to take a little more time and care to make sure that their homes last another hundred years (or more!)

  2. Great tips! By the way, it’s indeed important to keep the gutters clean and well-maintained to prevent further damage to the historic home. We at Gutter Company Massachusetts would encourage replacing gutters if they don’t function as they should.

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