Historic Home Maintenance 101

Jennifer GillilandWhen it comes to maintenance, your historic home has some unique needs beyond the common ones associated with any home. Understanding the differences between historic building materials versus newer materials is the first step in maintaining the integrity of a historic structure over the course of time.

Problems inevitably arise in homeownership, especially with older homes. Many times when something “goes wrong,” homeowners rush to repair the damages; oftentimes the “repair” may affect the durability and architectural appeal of the historic home.

Understanding the basics of how an older home reacts to the weather, the environment, and the inhabitants can help you determine the proper course of action. Most historic homes are made of natural materials like wood, masonry and stone. These materials will last indefinitely with proper maintenance.

Below are some tips to help keep your historic home in great shape and stop any damage before it can occur.

  • Roofing and flashing: Regularly clean all debris from the roof, valleys and flashing. Check for any standing water, rust, or damaged roofing materials.
  • Gutters and downspouts: Regularly check for and remove any debris from gutters and downspouts.
  • Painted wood/cladding/siding: Look for any chipping, flaking or wood rot; Touch up any chipped or peeling paints to prevent water damage
  • Painted and unpainted masonry: Look for any decaying masonry and use a stiff brush and some bleach to remove stains or debris.
  • Mortar joints: Inspect all mortar joints, particularly on the sunniest (Southeast, Southwest) and wettest (Northeast) sides of the home for cracks, loose pieces or mortar or scaling mortar.
  • Chimney bases and foundations: Check for any loose mortar or damaged bricks.
  • Windows and doors: Check for any air leaks, water damage, loose panes or crumbling putty.
  • Landscaping: Keep trees and shrubs trimmed and back from the home to prevent leaf buildup around the foundation and on roofs.
  • HVAC system: Add ½ cup of distilled vinegar or bleach to your air conditioner’s drip line every six months. Additionally, change your air filters every 3 to 6 months.
  • Appliances: Clean refrigerator coils every 6 months.

Always Remember: An Ounce of Prevention….

Benjamin Franklin famously quoted, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Regular preventative maintenance on your historic home is always easier and less expensive than repairs or restorations.

Most importantly, before removing or demolishing any elements of your home, STOP and do a little research. You may be working on a very important piece of architectural history. Once gone, sometimes a material can’t be replaced. If you are unsure, call a professional that works on historic homes or call your local Historic Preservation Society. Most of them will be glad to assist you!

Jennifer Gilliland is a Risk Evaluation Consultant with Chubb Personal Risk Services.

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