Street Light Maintenance

Underground utilities and decorative street light posts and fixtures are good additions to historic districts or any area that strives to clean up its appearance. Wires and cobra lights attached to tall telephone poles aren’t exactly human scale or friendly. Hence, towns often seek grants for decorative light fixtures. Developments, strip malls, parking lots, etc. that seek to be more than just a row of stores adjacent to striped asphalt include landscaping and light fixtures in their designs. It makes sense, right?

However, as we all know, maintenance is an important element of the built environment. By casual observation, I’ve noticed that many decorative street lights soon become filthy, filled with dirt or bugs. And without regular cleaning, these otherwise attractive light posts are no longer attractive. See these examples below:

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A quick cleaning would do wonders for these lights, don’t you think? And a better seal between the fixture and the light cover. Take a look at your town’s light fixtures the next time you’re out and about. What do you see? Perhaps it is time to make a recommendation to town officials that cleaning the lights should be added to the town’s work plan. Minor tasks like this easily fall off the radar, so a reminder might be all that is needed. What do you think?

Spring Home Projects

Spring maintenance or maintenance of any season is critical for the preservation and upkeep of your homes; but, let’s be honest, it’s not as fun as project planning. So, I ask, what are your short term and long term plans for your home?

In our bungalow, we have a long list of projects and plans, but some take priority over others. I know we are not alone when I say one thing needs repair immediately after something else. For starters, the original cast iron waste pipe from the second floor bathroom is leaking. Of course, it is our only bathroom and the leak is somewhere that we cannot see. Until we get to that project (sooner rather than later) we have a makeshift catch basin below the pipe in the basement to prevent the leaking water from damaging our brand new post-flood furnace. It’s a good Yankee fix for now. Anyone have suggestions for cast iron replacement and/or repair? This also speeds up our bathroom renovations. Who has experience with reglazing a cast iron clawfoot tub?

We need to rebuild the back porch steps, as the previous steps were washed down the river by Tropical Storm Irene. We have high hopes of removing our asphalt driveway and replacing it with concrete. Our projects could go on and on: electric upgrade, the kitchen ceiling, window sash repair, and more. But, it’s a labor of love when you live in a historic house. Taking care of the house is like taking care of part of the family (even though plumbing is not our first choice of tasks. I’d rather paint!).

If you have advice or stories to share, please do. It’s good project weather. Open your windows and bond with your house!

For the Love of Painting

A historic house is sure to come into your life with paint problems. Whether it’s too many layers, peeling paint, cracking paint, lead paint or wallpaper + paint, you are going to have some quality time to spend with your house. If you bought a historic (or old) house, you probably expected and/or wanted some hands-on repair work. However, some people, preservationists included, find no delight in painting. On the other hand, I love painting.

[Sidebar] If you are a Gilmore Girls fan, you will recall an exchange from the episode, That Damn Donna Reed, in which Lorelai convinces Luke to paint his diner:

LORELAI: Ok, how about this? I’ll help you because I love to paint.

LUKE: You do?

LORELAI: Yes I do.

LUKE: You love it?

LORELAI: I want to marry it.

LUKE: You have strange passions.

RORY: She likes washing dishes too. She’s multifaceted abnormal.

LORELAI: Ah come on, we’ll drink a couple of beers and we’ll sing some painting songs.

LUKE: Painting songs?

LORELAI: Yeah painting songs like, um…you know the songs that goes, um…’Grab your brush and grab your rollers, all you kids and all you bowlers, we’re going paintin’ today’. Say yes or there’s another verse.

I do like washing dishes, but I do not have painting songs, or at least not that I would admit. Gilmore Girls often plays in the background while I paint, if I’m not in the mood for some good country music or a Billy Joel/Bruce Springsteen combination.

Entertainment aside, why do I love to paint? Is there anything more satisfying than physical labor that results in a beautiful, personalized transformation on something you own?

If you’re like me and have a house that hasn’t been painted in the past 40 or 80 years (not kidding), you know it’s time to show the house some love. Cleaning the walls, scraping, sanding, plaster repairs, priming many coats and finally painting: when else will you be this close to the walls and ceilings of your house for such an extended period of time? Prep work for painting is not my favorite part, but it’s a necessary evil in order to get to the fun part: COLOR.

It is a labor of love. It’s a source of pride. I feel as though I’m communing with my house and getting to know its quirks: where the hairline cracks are in the plaster, where the pictures have been hung, how the ceiling meets the wall, where splashes of the first coat of paint remain on the edge of the door trim, how the walls look at all times of day. While that first or second layer of primer hides the brush strokes from the original paint, it’s easy to imagine someone lovingly painting the walls before me. A change, even one as simple as paint color, is refreshing in a building.

Painting takes a lot of time, particularly when the walls and ceiling need more than one coat of primer and more than one coat of paint. But, the end result is always worth it. Suddenly the house looks like it belongs to us, as opposed to looking like we simply moved in and set down our belongings. A new coat of paint brings new life to the house, as we begin the next chapter of volume of its history.

House painting = maintenance = care = preservation = love.

Having Izzy watch me paint is helpful throughout the long process.

Are you still so sure that you don’t like to paint? Or do you love to paint?

p.s. Next week, I’ll follow up on the Paint Chatter post about the specific paint problems in my house.

Roof over a Roof

Moisture can cause snowballing, extremely expensive damage in any buildings. A leaky roof can turn into the root of all moisture problems. So, what to do when you’re in a pinch and need a creative solution for your roof. Check out this house in Addison County, Vermont.

A new metal roof on this old house -- but why does it look a bit off?

At first glance it looks at though this house simply has a new roof, right? But something looks out of the ordinary. If you zoom into the picture, you gain a better vantage point.

A roof over a roof?

And it looks as though a roof structure (more like a cover, if you will) is resting on the house’s actual, likely failed, roof below it. Interesting! The disclaimer is that I took this picture from the road, so I cannot confirm my guess. Regardless, it seems like an excellent temporary solution! It is sturdier than a tarp, that’s for sure. Anyone agree?

Button Up Vermont Workshop

Last week I attended a Button Up Vermont workshop, hosted by Efficiency Vermont, geared toward those affected by the recent Irene flooding.  Efficiency Vermont is an organization committed to teaching Vermonters how to reduce energy costs, choose more sustainable energy sources and to increase the use of local energy. Many flood victims are forced to rebuild portions or all of their homes, choose new heating systems, choose new insulation, buy new appliances and much more; therefore, Efficiency Vermont is aiming to guide people to energy efficient choices.

The workshop announcement sparked my interest for three reasons. (1) Since the workshop was geared towards post flood recovery, it would discuss cleanup such as mold and moisture concerns, which is currently one of my main concerns. (2) We do need to buy a new heating system, and we are trying to decide between oil or wood pellets or both. (3) Also, I was curious to hear what they would say about windows and historic materials. Would they advocate replacement or maintaining what is existing?

To my delight, one of the first things the presenters discussed was mold and moisture. Fun, right? Much of it was geared toward wood and fabric, not concrete. But, I think here is where I solidified my idea to scrub the basement walls. More on that particular endeavor another time. It was generally helpful in the sense that it made me feel better as we had done many of the right things so far. And, it was a good reminder of what we still needed to accomplish. Many people had questions about dirt floor basements or mold on furniture.

Regarding heating systems, it is something I know little about (first time homeowner here!) so I appreciate any discussion on the different systems. Efficiency Vermont offers rebates and incentives to buy certain systems (that goes for appliances, too).

Now, about windows. I am relieved and proud to hear that Efficiency Vermont said that new windows are not worth it; the payback required for the ridiculously expensive windows is much too long. Hooray! That was exciting for me, a historic window lover.

The main part of the workshop (it was more like a lecture, than a workshop) was the discussion about insulation, specifically spray foam insulation. Yuck. I do not like any of it, partially because I have a hard time believing that it’s not toxic in some way (off gases?) and partially because I think it’s ugly. All insulation is generally hideous looking, but something about spray foam creeps me out. Am I crazy? Anyway, while I know energy efficiency is related to insulation, I tend to care less about wall insulation because I want my house to breathe. So if that means a drafty house, I am okay with it. (I know, I expect a lot of disagreement here.) I was disappointed by the emphasis on this insulation, but a lot of people do have to replace the insulation on their first floors, so the discussions were appropriate for the setting.

Overall, I’m glad I attended the workshop. After all, maintenance is preservation and preservation is maintenance, right? Has anyone else been to something similar? What did you think?