Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Buildings Aren't Consumables

When did Americans become so reactive instead of proactive?  Why do we wait until something reaches a critical point before we fix it rather than treating it early, before it gets to the critical point?  Why do we throw money at the effects rather than the causes?  Why do we discard rather than repair?  When did we become such a consumer society? 

What do these questions have to do with historic preservation?  A lot.  Preservationists understand the importance of being proactive with an old or historic building to reduce costs and maintain the life of the building:
  • Being proactive will save money over the life of the building.  Buildings fall down or become extremely costly to restore if we wait until the roof leaks or the windows fall out or the termite damage is visible before we fix them.  Inspect the building at least yearly.  Spend money to repair the roof when damage is evident, get out the glazing putty when the windows panes are loose, and spray for bugs yearly. 
  • Fixing the cause will save money by fixing the effect. Rather than just fixing the bubbling plaster wall, determine what is causing the plaster to bubble in the first place.  Is it caused by water coming in the wall?  How is the water getting in?  Is the gutter in the wrong place?  Are the window sills holding water instead of shedding it?  If you don't fix the underlying problem, the plaster will keep bubbling and you'll continually need to spend money fixing it.
  • Repairing saves money and often lasts longer than replacing.  Your old windows are hard to raise and you need to put a stick in the track to hold them up?  Fix them!  You just need to open up the trim and attach new rope to the weights.  Add some weather stripping and new storm windows if they're drafty.  It'll save you more money than you think because you won't have to replace your new vinyl windows yet again in 20 years when they cloud up.
  • Buildings shouldn't be considered consumables.  A well-maintained old building can last hundreds of years.  The materials and workmanship used to construct old buildings are often not available anymore.  The dimensional lumber, hand-formed bricks, old-growth wood, and other materials are far superior to what is available today and will likely last longer than most buildings constructed today of less robust materials.  Why spend the money to bulldoze a perfectly viable building built of high quality materials for something built from lower quality materials?  Rehabilitate, reuse, don't bulldoze.
Preservationists get it.  Spend a little time or money now, save lots of time and money later.  Now if we can just break the rest of America from reactive and consumptive habits...

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