GUIDELINES FOR MAINTENANCE AND TREATMENT
OF HISTORIC STRUCTURES
OBJECTIVE: TO IMPROVE THE APPEARANCE AND VALUE OF BUILDINGS IN THE VINCENTOWN HISTORIC DISTRICT THROUGH THE USE OF PRACTICAL AND APPROPRIATE MAINTENANCE AND REHABILITATION TECHNIQUES.
The key to achieving this objective is for property owners to first stand back, take a look at their property and develop an understanding of how it was intended to appear and function. An appreciation of the building's intended design does not lead to expensive and restrictive adherence to restoring the building as some might suspect. Instead, it serves as the basis for prudent management of the property that will enhance its value while it avoids costly, inappropriate and often damaging treatments.
The first consideration is the way a building occupies its site and how it relates to other buildings on the street. The size and shape of a building and its distance from the curb are fundamental to its character and place within the district. Most buildings in the district share common characteristics with their neighbors on the street helping to develop a unified and harmonious appearance. Upon examining a property from the Street through to the back property line one can observe a series of distinct and deliberate spaces--ranging from public to private, open to closed, formal and informal--that provides considerable diversity within a relatively small area. In the example illustrated, a typical residential property is shown. The major spaces indicated are the public street defined by the curb and shade trees, and public sidewalk, the semi-private front yard that is visible from the street and defined by its own structure, the house itself, the rear yard and outbuildings. The effect of plans such as this one, multiplied by the two hundred contributing properties in the district, yields a harmonious historic district appearance. Alter the components of the plan by removing shade trees, fences, porches, entire buildings and the harmony begins to disappear. At the present time the majority of buildings constructed in the town over the last two centuries are still standing, and these are obviously the most important components of a given property. However, alterations and removal of secondary features such as outbuildings and fencing has resulted in significant loss of detailing. Fortunately, historic photographs offer easy reference for examining the district's character at its height early in this century.
Most of the buildings in Vincentown have simple designs that are composed of the functional parts of the structure itself, such as the windows, siding and roof. Maintaining the original features, or replacing them as required, with as similar a feature as possible, will help to retain the intended design of the building. The key characteristics of the building features are natural materials and a relatively fine scale. The materials of course, are chiefly, wood and brick and the scale is defined by such details as window pane size, width of clapboard siding, trim moldings, window shutters, shingles, and veranda construction (posts, rails, handrails and spindles, etc.). Loss of these features or replacement with features that are either non-traditional (vinyl, chipboard, aluminum, concrete, etc.) or out of scale, results in the diminishing of the traditional building fabric. When it is technically feasible, the best approach to any historic building is to preserve and repair its character defining elements both for authenticity and appearance. If one can withstand the opinions and pressures of home improvement contractors to modernize the appearance of a building, the maintenance of historic fabric will often save money, conserve the intended function of a structure, and improve its value by simply allowing the early details to remain. The value of historic buildings is closely tied to the fact that they are a limited resource and, cannot be reproduced. Features such as vinyl siding are as inappropriate for these buildings as materials such as vinyl upholstery are for antique furniture. If modern alterations to the exterior are desired for whatever reasons the overall effect and resulting loss of historic character should be considered and the changes limited to the rear wall of the building. If replacement of materials is necessary it should match the detail and scale of the original. On most buildings in Vincentown the detailing is sufficiently simple that available replacements are easily acquired.
Two common applications of this approach are treatment of siding and windows as illustrated in the following hypothetical case examples;
Siding: A house has 4" tapered wood siding with 4"x1" trim at corners and around windows, etc. During the 1930's it was covered with simulated brick asphalt shingle siding which is now badly deteriorated. A commonly recommended solution to siding needs would be that vinyl or aluminum siding be added on top of the asphalt siding with special trim wrapping corners, window surrounds, eaves, etc. The reasons given are 1) a maintenance free exterior,2) heat conservation and,3) the most competitive price. However, the facts are 1) Nothing is maintenance free, 2) heat conservation is not necessarily best achieved this way, 3) "wrapping" the building with an air tight material will likely cause vapor buildup in the walls and subsequent rotting, 4) long term maintenance of wood siding is very possibly cheaper than the cost of siding and, 5) the wood is simply the historically authentic material. The approach recommended here is that the asphalt siding be removed and that the condition of the wood be examined. If the condition is basically sound then the wood should be repaired and painted. This is the most appropriate and cost effective approach. If extra heat conservation is desired then blow-in insulation can be used inside the walls and attic. If, however, the wood is unsound, then new siding, options might be considered to replace the existing wood (not cover it). In this situation the wood trim is usually salvageable and is in fact important both as a design detail and a functional part of the siding system. In such cases even an aluminum siding with a simulated 4" clapboard-like reveal might be considered to replace the wood but this should be weighted against the loss of character and the question of durability and maintenance after the first 10 to 15 years. Wood is still the most durable, workable and functional siding available.
Windows: A house has six pane double sash windows that are worn and weathered and leak air. A common solution is to replace them with single pane, double glazed window sash (either wood or aluminum). However, both the quality of the historic glass and the small pane configuration are character-defining qualities of such a building. The preferred solution is to repair and weather-strip the existing window and add single pane interior or exterior storm sash (each has its different advantages). If this is not possible, i.e., the window is damaged or missing altogether, then replacement with a single glazed double sash wood window of the same dimensions and pane configuration is necessary in order to maintain a minimal level of design integrity. Fortunately such window replacements are easily obtainable and cost competitive. They are also as efficient as any other type of window if used with storm sash and/or interior shutters or thermal shades.
These are only two examples to illustrate the recommended approach to preserving the integrity of historic structures. Further guidance should be sought as needed in dealing with a building's maintenance needs. The planning consultantís office and the references following this section can provide additional assistance resources.