(Summer/fall 2009, 2010)
(summer & fall of 2010)
What will & will not be covered
Definitions: rehab, restore, preserve, reconstruct
The antique window, antique door controversy
Some exterior repair & paint prep techniques used thus far [with numerous photo illustrations]
[Before reading on, you can click this link to learn a bit of this house's history: http://www.webjam.com/1871_lanehubbard_house_84_second_st_city_point ]
Because of the plethora of do-it-yourself [DIY] TV programs, books, websites, etc., it's not my intention to duplicate what you already can find elsewhere. So I'll try to limit my descriptions to specific techniques used on this particular house. Occasionally I'll discuss a topic on techniques covered elsewhere, but give my very opinionated take on it. At other times I'll explain my own peculiar way of doing something, simply based on my experience [or lack thereof!] or trial and error [LOTS of error...]. My hope is that you'll find enough here that's unique, to make what follows worthwhile. Even if you're not insane enough to want to tackle this sort of work yourself, being knowledgeable about proper techniques will help you determine if a hired painter or carpenter is actually doing what he or she should be doing.
This is basically about historic restoration work. It's not meant to be judgmental re. those who prefer to modernize old houses. Rather, the intention is to be a resource and inspiration for those who have an interest in traditional [albeit very labor-intensive!] house restoration. Obviously my personal preference would be that City Point rival Mystic Seaport or Old Sturbridge Village in retaining the original look of its many 19th century homes. But I also realize that most homeowners need to choose the least expensive option when maintaining a house. Also, given the fact that the majority of houses in New Haven--City Point included--are owned by absentee "investors", rental profit is the bottom line. Rents need to cover at least the mortgage, and then some. [Been there, done that...]
But for those of you who have an interest in the traditional home construction and maintenance crafts, I hope you will enjoy this series on The City Point Craftsmantm.
Just so we're using terms consistently, let's look at the National Park Service's definitions. Click the following link and scroll down the page:
Consistently and strictly applied, one generally only encounters a true "restoration" in museum houses. And even here, some rehabilitation/modernization usually takes place, e.g. with the "mechanicals": plumbing, electrical, heating.
As you will see below, the work on the Lane-Hubbard House has involved lots of restoration, some rehabilitation, a little "imaginative" reconstruction and some alterations. This is not a museum house, but a private home. So, for example, we did install modern bathrooms & a modern kitchen [but without making noticeable exterior alterations], and to accomodate 20th-21st century usage some interior partitions were altered [albeit in such a way that most people can't tell]. In addition, the "mechanicals" were almost completely replaced 20+ years ago [which means they're rapidly approaching "antique" status!]. I also try little-by-little to keep up with modern code improvements [even though legally this is not required unless you're doing major renovations or putting on an addition, etc.]. E.g., in my spare time I occasionally replace one of the circuit breakers installed in the 1980s with a state-of-the-art "arc-fault-interrupter" breaker: not the sort of thing you'd notice if you were to drive by or pay me a visit!
In future episodes of this series, I'll cover some interior issues, but this episode will focus exclusively on the on-going exterior work. As you will see, the emphasis here will be on the restoration work.
Click the following link for a detailed explanation of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards [often referred to by preservationists simply as "The Standards"]:
Click this link to see examples of the Standards properly applied ["Yes"], and the Standards not followed ["No"]:
[Lots of other useful information on that website, by the way. Also be sure to check out the "Historic Restoration in City Point" page on this website: scroll down to "Resources".]
Needless to say, it's impossible to produce consistent guidelines that apply in all situations. Also, there's an element of personal taste and judgement which inevitably comes into play. [E.g., some of the examples given above under "Yes" I personally think were not appropriate, particularly what I consider to be their rather bizarre examples of "discreet" skylights.]
Now, closer to home, let's look at the regulations of Historic Districts in New Haven. Click the following link:
In the left column, click "Article VI. OTHER DISTRICTS", then scroll down to "Section 54. Historic District."
[This page of www.cityofnewhaven.com frequently is offline, so if you can't connect, try again later. It's in the City Plan Dept.'s zoning regulations section.]
Since the city zoning regulations in section 54 only regulate what can be seen from the street, theoretically one could have an "historic" neighborhood that's little more than a movie set: pretty facades, with who-knows-what behind. Then there's the contentious issue of enforcement. Since the city doesn't send out an inspector to actively search for violations of historic district regulations, enforcement requires that residents report violations. If you don't like the guy next door because his dog keeps you awake at night, then you're likely to pounce on the opportunity to report his slightest violation. On the other hand, if you have an amicable relationship with your neighbors--and want to keep it that way--you'll be more inclined to quietly look the other way when those not-very-historic-looking vinyl windows suddenly appear next door. And the "replace like with like" principle doesn't touch issues such as historical paint colors--even though opponents of historic districts often claim [erroneously] that they'll be subject to "the good-taste police". [I once recall reading about a woman who didn't like the fact that her neighborhood had been made an historic district, so in protest she painted a mural of Bozo the Clown on the side of her house: perfectly legal, at least in that particular district.] Another problem with New Haven's ordinance is that the emphasis is on preserving the status quo, rather than providing incentives to reverse nonhistoric-looking alterations made to buildings over the years. Thus, if a house had asbestos or vinyl siding on it before the area became an historic district, it's likely to stay that way indefinitely. Another weakness with the ordinance is that it does not deal with the problem of "demolition by neglect". Where land values are high, if an historic structure impedes a developer's plans for the site, often he'll simply let the building slowly fall apart until the town building inspector orders it demolished for safety reasons. Absentee landlords who wish to maximize rental profits likewise can tend to defer maintenance. Finally, there's the average homeowner who simply can't afford to maintain their house. A quick stroll around the historic district portion of City Point [i.e. the portion of City Point South of I-95] will reveal that historic district status doesn't effectively address any of these issues.
Which brings us to the Lane-Hubbard House: what standards are being applied here? In a word--MINE! I lean towards the Secretary of the Interior's Standards, but when I do make an alteration I try to make it difficult to notice. [This is in contrast to current thinking among preservationists that alterations or additions should harmonize with the original, but be noticeably distinct from it. Examples of this approach include the additions on the right side of the Ives Memorial Library & on the left side of City Hall, both facing the Green.] In choosing the exterior paint colors, I tried to match the original "body" color [i.e. main color on clapboard siding], but then turned to historic examples of other homes of the same style & period when I deliberately departed from the original paint scheme of my house for the trim and exterior doors. [I also pushed the boundaries a bit, modeling the paint scheme of larger "Italianate" homes, acknowledging that a simple "Italianate vernacular" home like this would have had a simpler paint scheme: I felt that the neighborhood could use a bit of extra sparkle to give it a much-needed psychological boost.] Both inside & out, I've always tried to salvage the original "fabric" of the house: woodwork, plaster, hardware, lighting, etc., only replacing what was simply beyond repair. When adding decorative elements to the interior that are not original [e.g. wallpaper, light fixtures, some trim work] I tried to stick with reproductions from the approximate period of the house's construction or, in the case of lighting, the period of the surviving light fixtures dating from its initial "electrification".
This house is not in the historic district portion of City Point, so those regulations are not applicable. Nevertheless, I actually go well beyond what that ordinance requires, since my historic-oriented approach applies throughout--not just what you see from the street. Part of my motivation is that I love old things [hence the "history" emphasis on this website--although that's also largely fueled by the fact that those are the parts of this website that receive the most comments and reader contributions]. I'm also motivated by the fact that simple "vernacular" houses like this are a rapidly vanishing species. So much emphasis and funding goes towards preserving "landmark" buildings and former mansions of the well-to-do, that simple "worker's" homes like this are routinely demolished or altered beyond recognition, and few people seem to notice or care [or even know that the house that just disappeared was over a century old]. Thus my sense of "historical stewardship" compels me to try and preserve at least this one example of a small City Point 19th century vernacular.
So if this seems like a rather eclectic and unique approach towards working on this house, it's because it probably is!
First, some important links which examine this issue in detail:
Believe it or not, the windows of the Lane-Hubbard House were a source of personal anxiety for 20 years. As explained above, my approach is to retain original elements whenever possible. However, because the bottom sash of each window had been mutilated back in the 1920s [see explanation under first photo above], restoring them would have required careful disassembly, stripping off the paint, installation of new mullions, reassembly. Because the upper sash still had their original "wavy" 19th c. glass, the rebuilt lower sash would not have matched unless I purchased "reproduction" glass. Finally, I would have had to purchase nonuser-friendly interior storms, since standard exterior storm windows would have obscured all of the expensive work mentioned above, making it rather pointless. And, contrary to studies found on the above links or elsewhere on that site, my personal experience was that thermal replacement sash cut our heating bill in HALF. Also, most sites promoting preservation of original sash omit mention of the fact that opening and closing old windows is a primary source of lead dust infiltration in old homes. Finally, because the Lane-Hubbard House is not in an historic district, nor does it have a "restrictive easement" [aka "restrictive covenant"] on the deed [limiting what exterior alterations a future owner may make], after all that expensive sash restoration there would be nothing to prevent a future owner from installing inexpensive white vinyl windows: hardly a good match for what's being done to the rest of the house's exterior.
So the final choice was a compromise: wood thermal replacement sash [not replacement windows] with vinyl jamb liners. The sash have what manufacturers refer to as "real divided glass", which is rather misleading, but distinguishes this type of sash from windows that have a flat fake white grid inserted between the layers of glass. "Real divided glass" in fact is constructed the same way: two large pieces of glass for each sash and, for an extra fee, argon gas inside, low E coating on the outside. However, the "fake mullions" consist of 3 layers: a wood grid on the interior, metal grid between the 2 layers of glass, and a [plastic!] grid on the exterior. From the street, the effect is rather convincing: the appearance of individual panes of glass. The only thing that is missing is the wavy look of antique glass [and, for a significantly higher price, I actually could have had that, as well]. The mullions are 7/8" wide, which is identical to the original [although the interior wooden grid has a flatter profile that the original].
There also is a distinction between replacement thermal window and replacement thermal sash. Replacement windows come preassembled in a mini frame on all four sides. This is the easiest option to install and the most weather-tight. Replacement thermal sash, on the other hand, require fitting new jamb liners, then installing each sash. Getting them to fit tightly in an antique opening requires innumerable adjustments and shimming. And the end result is rarely sealed quite as tightly as a factory-assembled unit. Nevertheless, the replacement sash option does provide a more traditional look, because the sash will be a bit wider [and therefore more "original" looking] since the sides are resting against a thin liner rather than a new frame, and the bottom sash closes onto the original window sill [rather than on the mini-sill of the preassembled unit]. To make the vinyl jamb liners less noticeable, I painted the exterior [but not interior] portion with the same acrylic paint used on the rest of the exterior window trim. This probably would make the manufacturer cringe, but only the upper sash travels on the jamb liner's exterior, and we rarely open those. Because these new sash cut our heating bill in half, the additional savings we might have experienced with replacement windows likely would have been negligible.
The end result can be seen in the "After" photos above. [And, at this point, I won't be offended if you're saying to yourself "He spent 20 years suffering angst over his windows??? This guy needs to get a life!"]
Needless to say, given my preference for saving original features whenever possible, if the original bottom sash had not been mutilated, I simply would have stripped off the paint, repaired & repainted them as needed, and installed interior storms. [For a rare, beautiful example of restored 19th century windows--without exterior storms hiding them--go take a look at 81 South Water Street. You need to see it up close to appreciate it.]
DOORS are, at least for me, another matter entirely. I simply have not seen a replacement thermal door that does not look like a modern thermal door. Panels invariably are raised [to accomodate the foam insulation inside], and glass inserts are surrounded by a large, unattractive [in my opinion] chunky-looking fake moulding. In-stock models invariably are some variation of a 6-panel Colonial Revival door: hardly a convincing substitute if one seeks to retain the 19th century look. [The version with the "half wagon wheel" window on top has become so ubiquitous that it has attained cliche status.]
So with the doors, my more fanatical approach won out. Ever after [at the time of this writing] 138 years of use and weather exposure, the front door is quite sound. The upper left corner is warped, but this does not affect its function. The new weatherstripping follows this angled portion of the door, so there is no air leakage. A "full-view" storm door provides additional insulation [although it would look more attractive & traditional with no storm: an obvious compromise was made here]. Also, a sheet of unbreakable polycarbonate [Lexan] was screwed to the interior where it's not noticeable, providing yet another insulating layer as well as burglar deterrence. [Lexan also was installed on the interior of windows.] Of course, there's no such thing as "burglar-proof". Yet Lexan is less aesthetically objectionable than window bars, serves the same function--and just as effectively. Perhaps most importantly, it keeps the neighborhood from looking like we're fearfully hunkering down for an alien invasion: not the sort of message we want to project if we're all doing what we can to improve the neighborhood. This house's original "six light over two panel" entrance door, at one time one of the most common "vernacular" entrance doors in New Haven, has become increasingly rare as the vast majority have been replaced with modern thermal doors over the past two decades. Thus I felt it was imperative that this one be preserved.
First, some painful history: shortly after purchasing this house in 1986 we hired a carpenter to add two windows to the rear of the house. I then used a heat gun to strip that side--took 2 months!--then repainted. I did everything wrong that one possibly could do wrong: put alkyd primer on wet wood, made NO repairs, etc., etc. Needless to say, it started peeling within months. A couple of years later, after reading numerous books on "how to paint your house", I stripped the front with a heat plate. This went a little bit faster. And, armed with a bit more knowledge, the result was much more successful. Unfortunately I fell off a ladder from the second floor and broke my arm before finishing that side. It took about 15 years for me to gather the courage to be able to get up on a ladder again. Meanwhile the work I did complete on the front held up fairly well. The only peeling took place at some clapboard ends where they meet the corner boards: I hadn't caulked that joint [although, if I had followed the proper sequence of tasks, that would have been caulked before I broke my arm]. Thinking I would never get up on a ladder again, we hired a professional painting co. [licensed, insured, BBB member] to do the job several years ago. They showed up one day with a power washer, with which they did extensive damage to the house and left a huge mess of paint chips all over my neighbor's driveway which they didn't clean up. So we canceled the contract & I resolved to tackle the job myself. Besides reading yet more books, I now had innumerable internet sites to study [not an option 15 years ago]. Some authors disagree on details, but after much reading, talking to long-time employees at Painters Supply, and even calling the paint manufacturer's technical department, then making some "informed choices", what I describe below is how I proceeded.
This is a summary of the sequence of tasks which I personally follow, leading to the final coat of paint:
...all related to the Lane-Hubbard House, will include
Painting the last side; The new back porch; Repairing/restoring the 19thc. doors; Repairing/restoring the masonry; Chimney restoration & relining; Nineteenth century pine floors: historic treatments; Adapting the house to 21st c. living while preserving historic integrity.
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