Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Restoration, Rehabilitation, and Insulation

The Secretary of the Interior is pretty clear about the differences between restoration and rehabilitation of historic properties. Restoration "focuses on the retention of materials from the most significant time in a property's history, while permitting the removal of materials from other periods" while Rehabilitation "emphasizes the retention and repair of historic materials, but more latitude is provided for replacement because it is assumed the property is more deteriorated prior to work." In addition, the historical importance, physical condition, proposed use, and code requirements should be taken into consideration when choosing a treatment for the building.

In the area where we live, economics have never been such that large, showy houses were built.  Because we are relatively isolated, most building occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with a building boom in the 1940s related to growing industry.  Most of the houses here reflect the blue collar nature of the jobs available and are simple, vernacular homes with some bungalows and American four squares thrown in.  Taken together, the houses create an interesting, varied, and historic streetscape, but very few places in the county have been nominated for the National Register.

Our house was built by the town doctor and is one of the more majestic-looking in our town.  Yet despite the exterior, the interior is very simple and plain.  Most, but not all of the trim and doors are oak, but the trim is basic and easily replicable (or findable at the salvage yard).  Our house doesn't have the Craftsman details and built-ins popular in many houses of the time.  There is just one shallow fireplace with a very simple mantle.  The walls are plaster, but not in great shape.  And our house, as were many other larger homes in the area, was broken up into apartments during the building boom of the 1940s.

For us, the lack of Craftsman details and poor plaster is a blessing in disguise.  It means that we don't feel obligated to restore the house back to the time when the details were new.  We can really do what we please inside the house to make it livable without concern for fancy woodwork, because we just don't have it.  That said, we have removed traces of the apartments, found where the original doorways were and generally restored the spaces to what they were when the house was built.  We are fortunate to have most of the original doors and trim and have been able to find replacements where the originals were lost.

Most importantly though, because we aren't restoring the house, but instead are rehabilitating it, we could insulate it without feeling (much) guilt for replacing the plaster exterior walls with sheetrock.  Now we certainly recognize that many of you are frowning at us for doing that.  However, we live in a climate with strong winds and cold winter weather and it makes more sense to reduce our heating bills with insulation than to keep and patch plain 1913 plaster walls.  Were this house older, if it were in a different climate, if the walls were more significant due to plaster details or wainscoting or other trim, or if the exterior were wood so that it could be insulated from outside, we would have considered other alternatives.  But, for our own comfort and the continuing use of this house, this was the right rehabilitation plan for this house.

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