Free Advice?

A confession of sorts: I read a fair number of blogs, including historic preservation blogs, wedding planning blogs, home design blogs, running blogs, and blogs of friends. I’m not a prolific blog commenter, particularly on extremely popular home design and wedding blogs. There are already hundreds of comments, so I do not feel the need, particularly if I’m in disagreement. (After all, if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to read it.) But last week I couldn’t help myself: I had to comment on something appalling.

A home design/DIY blog was writing about the decision to paint or not to paint a brick house. Seeing as I’m currently studying architectural conservation in school and we thoroughly discussed bricks, their function, moisture levels, and the consequences of poor alterations, I suddenly had this terrible image of some paint-happy-home-owner slapping paint on a beautiful historic house with a load bearing brick wall. Or someone who hated paint deciding to sandblast the entire brick exterior. And I panicked! Of course, I do not know the number of readers who have a historic house, but I figured the odds are pretty good. So I gave into the urge and briefly mentioned how sandblasting or painting may not be a good idea, how the brick functions to let moisture in and out, and I added some links from the National Park Service Preservation Briefs series. Maybe no one read my comment or people thought I was crazy, but at least I felt better about the situation. I didn’t receive any comments directed at mine, so maybe people did think I was crazy. But hopefully some people checked out the NPS. After all, we preservationists all know how bad sandblasting is for buildings. There are very few instances in which is a good idea.

Fellow preservationists, how often do you find yourself inserting your historic preservation ethics into general conversation? I mean, when you are outside of your work circle or your circle of like-minded thinkers? Not everyone you know will be willing talk about the relationships between quality of life + historic buildings + local buildings + zoning laws all at once or as often as you’d like. Or what about your friends and neighbors who own a historic (or old) home and are voluntarily sharing their “renovation” plans with you? What if the ideas are atrocious in the sense that they go against all preservation ethics? Are you morally/ethically required to teach preservation whenever possible? Have there been times when you wish you said something or wish you hadn’t said anything?

I’ve pondered this question here and there. Probably, the socially acceptable thing to do is to casually bring up historic preservation whenever it seems appropriate. Obviously, jamming ideas down someone’s throat will not help your case.  But, if we do not take a risk once in a while and introduce preservation and its resources to new people, then our uphill climb will be even steeper and farther. Would I have brought up paint + sandblasting in a conversation rather than on the internet? Well, probably.  With my family and friends? Most definitely. My family is used to me inserting preservation related discussion into everything.  Then again, sometimes it’s harder to teach family than it is to teach strangers. No matter with whom, it is a delicate balance of introducing preservation and not appearing too-high-on-your-horse, so to speak. (Or maybe too-high-on-your-house? haha.) So, what do you do? How often do you talk preservation outside of your preservation circle? What tricks of the trade work best for you? Are you more likely to discuss the economic benefits of preservation or architectural conservation?

4 thoughts on “Free Advice?

  1. Jo-Anne says:

    I don’t comment on blogs often, but do upon occasion when I see something glaring that negatively impacts historic integrity or is full of misinformation. Usually it’s a website recommending the replacement of historic windows with new windows for “energy efficiency” that makes me feel like I should set the record straight a bit. However, I did find that in one instance my comments that disagreed with the blog “expert” were taken down on a big DIY site. Don’t know if it was accidental or if it bothered a window manufacturer sponsor. Makes me inclined to comment more often though 🙂

  2. Kaitlin says:

    Jo-Anne, I hope you will keep commenting when people incorrectly talk about energy efficiency and windows. Our poor historic windows. Thanks!

  3. Nicholas says:

    These situations come up more than I would have expected. And I love any opportunity to share the info. Just the other day, a cafe owner was asking a local “carpenter” if laminate or hardwood was better. He basically said laminate was better and I got to chime in and mention that wood can expand and breathe and is less prone to buckling, not to mention you can replace or repair hardwood sixty years from now, when you are probably not going to be able to find that same laminate brand/dye lot/”grain”, etc.

    I love how the field of preservation not only embraces historic materials, trades, etc. but it also embraces a deep knowledge of materials and the physics of buildings that seems to have disappeared largely. It truly is sad how much we build today that has no consideration for the future. Just make money fast. Cheat the consumer.

    Confession: I had to get a new job. The options are nil here. So I am now at a big box DIY store. Though the experience will be good in introducing me to current materials on the market, I’m afraid I will get into predicaments of which hat to wear: salesman or preservationist. Hopefully any information I may have will encourage a sale pertaining to a historic building, rather than discouraging a sale. : )

  4. Jennifer Kirby says:

    I’m not a preservationist but I support your efforts and I hope all of you will keep offering your insight and professional opinion when appropriate! The implications of painting brick, for example, probably don’t go far beyond the aesthetic for the typical nonpreservationist — but if I were considering painting my brick house, I’d definitely want someone like you guys to politely chime in. I think when it comes to things like this it’s often (not always) safe to assume people are just uninformed.

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