This Old House

The appreciation and love of a fine historical home can be compared to that of a collector of classic automobiles, or antique furniture. This love goes way beyond the surface. It goes deep into the mechanics of how it was built. The term "Historical Home" covers a long period of time. The concept of the modern home basically took place, from the standpoint of building technique and materials, during the 1930's and 1940's. This period just after Wold War II was actually the birth of modern day housing as we know it. The introduction of petroleum based products and more modern construction techniques helped thrust us into the modern housing era. Consider some of these changes. Asphalt fiberglass shingles vs. cedar shake and slate shingles. Aluminum and vinyl siding vs. wood siding, plastic laminate countertop vs. slate and marble tops, drywall and paneling vs. plaster on lathe, and platform framing vs. balloon and post and beam framing. These changes have occurred also as a result of cost regulating of new construction.

At one time or another you have probably heard someone say, "they don't build them like they used to". The new response to that comment is "that's true, but the reason is because there are laws against it now". We are not saying that new is always better. Today residential construction methods are dictated by strict codes that are hopefully enforced by a multitude of different inspections. However, 100 years ago this was not usually the case. Methods and engineering requirements were much less sophisticated and the array of building materials was much less. Communication went as far as you could ride on horseback and building codes were left to logic and common sense.

100 to 200 years later, historical home buffs restoring old homes will have to live with the ghosts of builders past. The grand high ceilings, Victorian cornice work, and horse hair plastered walls are details of that era. In restoring these old homes, one must legitimately analyze the condition of these applications, along with the original or later installed mechanical and electrical systems. Energy conservation should also be a major consideration today. Something not highly considered many years ago, prior to the great energy conservation era. Historical preservation doesn't mean you have to eliminate all those dips, crowns, and sags which are normal with old age.

One example of a detail of the time was chimney and fireplace installations. In those days they didn't install flue liners or dampers. Usually chimney construction was part of the wood framing detail. After 100 years the masonry could fail causing the potential for a house fire. When restoring an older home, a decision will have to be made as to if and how you will work with these such items.

It is much better to live at peace with the ghosts of builders past, then to live in a state on non-understanding of the methods and technique used in those days. Truly, owning or restoring an older home is a wonderful experience, but understanding it is equally important.