Preservation Solution? Reversible Exterior Window Shades?

What do you do in the dog days of summer? Hide from the sun, of course. Remember the end of the school year during review and finals when classrooms would be sweltering? Large pull down shades could help control the temperature and industrial size fans, but it was still hot.

Quite often when historic school buildings are renovated for modern use, the ceilings are dropped and windows altered in order to provide better climate control. So, what would you think if you saw this building?

Black River High School in Ludlow, VT

At first glance it looks like the upper sash of these windows have been blocked, presumably because ceilings are lowered. Black River High School in Ludlow, VT

Every window has the same alteration.

Every window has the same alteration.

Closer viewing.

Closer viewing.

Another angle for inspection.

Another angle for inspection.

Except, the material seems to just be pinned or screwed in from the outside. And in fact, that’s just what they are. After peering into a window, it was evident that the ceilings had not been dropped and the upper sashes remained.

Closer view.

Closer view.

Interesting, yes? The questions I’d ask is (1) Why on the outside, rather than the inside, as the facade is drastically altered still; (2) How long ago were these installed?; (3) How easy can they be removed?; (4) Is the purpose for climate control?

What do you think? Is this a good preservation solution? If it’s completely removable and reversible, does that change your mind? Does this have the same effect on the exterior that dropping the ceilings has on the interior?

And for more imagery fun, if you haven’t seen the new instagram account @preservationfail, check it out. Would you call this a preservation fail?

Preservation Pop Quiz

The subject of this preservation pop quiz is historic architecture & reading buildings. So, to begin, how would you describe this building?  Need a refresher on building description? Read Preservation Basics No. 3 & No. 4.

Please describe this building. If you’re new to this, try it piece by piece: how many stories, how many bays, materials, fenestration, chimneys … and go from there.

The side of the building.

A first story window.

Now these aren’t ideal images for an entire building description, so just see what you can do with the images provided. Any ideas on dates of construction? Style? I’ll leave it up to you. Have fun.

Preservation Photos #101

Wood siding etched to look like stone blocks rather than wood boards. This 12/12 window has original panes, too. Taken at the Eureka Schoolhouse in Springfield, Vermont - a State Historic Site.

Abandoned Vermont: Wheelock Schoolhouse

While traveling the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, a few friends and I came across a deteriorated concrete bridge. I have a newfound adoration for concrete bridges so we paused to look at it. When we turned to the side we saw an abandoned building that looked partially like a general store and partially like a school. It was boarded up so we couldn’t see much, but it was (of course) fascinating.

Small concrete bridges are all over backroads of Vermont. This one dates to 1934.

Unfortunately, this is what happens to concrete bridges that are not maintained. Another sad story for another post...

Located at the crossroads - a logical location. Interesting additions, yes?

It’s hard to figure out the history of the building without stepping inside, but I have some guesses. The front gable has “1924” in the peak, so that makes sense for a school (see the window picture, too). I peaked in where I could (without trespassing, fyi) and it seems like this was most recently a residence. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if it served as some sort of store, too.

Another view of the front.

See where it is boarded up? The long line of windows always indicated a 1920s/30s schoolhouse, when light and more sanitary buildings were very important in education reform. Usually there are at least 4 windows (judging by what I've seen so far - sometimes 6 or 7). This one has 5 windows.

A mattress frame, a window in front of a window. What gets left behind in abandoned buildings in often puzzling.

Layers of siding. Also, the rear addition (beginning on the right) was just abutting the front building, barely attached at all.

Often, the worst part about abandoned buildings is the feeling that they will be abandoned forever and eventually fall. What stories lie in this building, just sitting lonely on a dirt road in the Northeast Kingdom.



Historic Preservation Basics No. 3

Series introduction. No. 1 = Ideas You Should Not Believe About Historic Preservation. No. 2 = Vocabulary for Translating and Holding Your Own in a Preservation Conversation.

No. 3 = Let’s Talk about Architecture / The Very Beginning of Describing Buildings

Much of historic preservation has roots in historic architecture. Our built environment is, well, built; and, in order to appreciate and discuss our surroundings, preservationists and others alike use an architectural vocabulary. This vocabulary provides a cohesive literature for reading about, writing about and talking about buildings. These architectural terms are the foundation for how architectural styles are identified, studied, and described. It can be complicated; students spend years studying historic architecture. Entire dictionaries of architectural vocabulary exist, and entire books are devoted to architectural styles.

Keep calm and keep reading: this post will not recreate those dictionaries and books.  This post will guide you as you look at a building, because before you can start classifying buildings, you need to feel confident in looking at the elements.

To look at a building and to identify what you see may seem intimidating. But, you do not need to know every architectural term in the books or every style – not even close. Rather, you can visually find your way around a building with a few categories and lessons on how to talk about what you see. Once you start talking about buildings and noticing their elements and characteristics, you’ll never look at a building the same way, and you’ll gain a greater understanding of your built environment.

Let’s start at the beginning. Buildings are easiest when thought of in largest to smallest elements. For now, let’s stick to the basics. How would you describe the overall look of a house? You can start without knowing any architectural vocabulary. Forget the complicated architectural dictionary; let’s just look at the basic shape, layout, and some details of a building. You’d talk about the number of floors, the siding, the colors, porches, windows, etc., right? And that is close to what preservationists do – we just tweak our colloquial vocab a bit and go into more detail.

Here’s a fairly simple building for practice. Let’s go through a few basic items. I’ll give some short explanations and the answers for this building will be in red. Okay, what do you see?

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, August 2010.

1. How many stories?

A story/floor is a full story. A half-story means that the top floor does not have a full height wall and ceiling.

This red house has 2.5 stories.

2. What is the shape of the house footprint?

Is it a  rectangle? A square? An octagon?

From this angle, it appears to be a rectangular shaped foundation with a smaller rectangular addition.

3. Look at the front of the house – how many windows/doors are on the first floor?

The number of windows and doors = the number of bays.

Click and go to page 3.

There are two windows on either side of the door, so this house has five bays. The side of the house has two bays.

4. What shape is the roof?

Gable, mansard, hipped, pyramidal, shed, flat, gambrel? The easiest and most common roof is the gable — it’s the triangular shaped roof, the kind most of us drew as little kids. Gables can be in the front (front gable) or on the side (side gable). Mansard is the most ornate, and looks like another story rather than a roof. Pyramidal looks like a pyramid, with all roof sides equal. Hipped is almost like pyramidal, but all faces of the roof are not the same length. Shed is one plane on an angle and flat is flat. Gambrel reminds most of us of a barn.

Hopefully that makes sense, but if not … see the image to the right, which is from the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Guidelines: Roofs on Historic Buildings booklet.

This house has a side gable roof. The rear addition has a shed roof.

5. Describe the windows.

Typically windows are hung sashes (one or both sashes slide up and down). The sashes hold panes of glass. How many panes are in the window on the top sash? The bottom sash? As an example, you would describe windows as six-over-one (6/1), meaning the top sash has six panes of glass on the upper sash above the bottom sash, which is a single pane of glass.

You’d have to get up closer, but for the sake this exercise, let’s discuss if they are replacement windows or original windows. Replacement windows, most often, are a single pane. Any pieces (muntins) dividing the sash are simply attached to the window. Historic windows would have individual pieces of glass set into the muntins.

The way a window opens will also help you to describe it: do both sashes move up and down? Does the window swing open? Lift open? Not open? You can guess sometimes, but it is best if you can actually open the window yourself.

If the windows were original, they would be six-over-six. If they are replacement, they are likely one-over-one. Unless the top sash is fixed (in place), these windows are probably double hung (meaning both sashes move up and down). We’ll pretend they are original because they’re more fun to describe — see below.

6. Look at other details of the building that strike you.

Paint colors may help to highlight elements. Are there chimneys? What is the foundation?

This house has cornerboards (the white vertical boards on the edges — and the eaves (the edges of the roof) are white as well). From this angle, there does not appear to be a chimney. The foundation is stone. See that triangle over the door – that’s a pediment.

Alright, number six was just leading you to thinking about more.  Here is the house again. Let’s put these descriptions together – nothing fancy or stylized, just plain. Go down the list.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, August 2010.

This is a 2.5 story, five bay x two bay, side gable building. The main rectangular block has a shed roof addition to the rear. The house sits on a stone foundation. On windows are six-over-six double hung sash.

Alright, that wouldn’t win any description awards — effectively and succinctly describing buildings takes practice, but you have to start somewhere. But before you hone your architectural writing craft, you need to look at a building, pull out the elements, and put them together.

So, there you have it! You just told me what you see in that building. It’s not so bad, right?

Once you have the basic ideas, then you can get into more details. Now you’ll notice that not all houses are boxes, not all roofs are gables, windows can be incredibly detailed. Door frames and window frames come into play. Corner boards, water tables, materials… it’s good stuff.

Go take a walk and tell me what you see.

Next week we’ll add in another level of description — more nuances.

A Life in the Trades: December 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010. October 2010. November 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

A Photo Diary of the Fall Quarter at Belmont Tech’s BPR program.

Metals class introduced us to the art of blacksmithing as well as the deterioration and preservation of various metals. Jeff Forster, guest instructor, owns a decorative ironworks and metal restoration business in Wheeling, WV.

The author at work.

Our Field Lab class in Morristown, OH gave us the opportunity to carry out sandstone foundation repairs. Improper face-bedding of the stone as well as the use of a Portland cement had caused some noticeable deterioration of the stone. The joints were repointed with an appropriate Virginia Lime Works mortar and one significantly damaged stone was given a plastic repair with a Jahn restoration product so that its cavernous face could be made sound again.

Jahn repair.

After Jahn repair.

In Windows & Doors class, damaged sashes and sills were removed from an 1880s one-room schoolhouse in Pleasant Hill, OH for repairs back at our lab space. Repairs included documentation of conditions, wood consolidation, paint removal, and re-glazing. Our final project was the creation of a paneled door with traditional mortise and tenon joinery and raised panels.

Graining & Marbling Class introduced us to the art of faux painting. Projects included sample boards of various stones and wood species. Final projects involved the creation of a “Pietra Dura” panel or stone marquetry as well as a panel with a graining and marbling combination.

And finally, my advanced material science class, which I elaborated on in my last blog, involved the conservation of structural timbers. Various techniques were carried out, including: splices/ dutchmans, WER (wood epoxy reinforcement), as well as mechanical repairs.


Carving out interior wood rot.

Splice/dutchman of knee brace.


BETA system repair to end rot using fiberglass rods and epoxy.

All photographs courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Save the Windows

Historic windows are being massacred across the nation. They are the scapegoat for energy efficiency problems. Windows are the first to go. The media and the vinyl replacement window business seem to scheme together to get the general public to believe that vinyl double pane or triple pane windows will solve homeowners’ problems and save them a bundle. Rather than considering other solutions and analyzing whether or not replacement windows achieve their claims, beautiful, character defining windows are ripped from their frames and tossed to the curb.

A building that loses its historic windows loses so much of its character. Architectural styles are very much defined by window type: shape, frame, number of panes, type of glass, inset depth, and how the sash operates. The typical single pane replacement windows just destroy a building’s image. Interested in understanding why? Read “Repair or Replace, a Visual Look at the Impacts” — a colorful, image-filled, 18 page booklet put together by the NTHP. Want to learn about window styles and architectural styles? Read “Window Types – A Residential Field Guide” — a beautiful, colorful, helpful guide put together by the NTHP that will take you through window vocabulary and the uniqueness of each style

As a preservationist, I know I am not alone when I say that the windows suffering as the scapegoats makes me furious. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is continuing their stance on the benefits of historic windows with their new Save the Windows site — Why? Historic buildings are losing to new windows at an alarming rate and the amount of misinformation being shared is ridiculous relating to energy savings, sustainability, and historic preservation.


First of all, heat escapes through the roof. Is the roof insulated? What is in the attic?

Second of all, why would everyone believe all of the made up or likely altered statistics about windows spouted by the commercial industry selling vinyl replacement windows? Well, if you ask the industry, of course the new windows are better. It’s corporate America, people. What do you think they are going to say?

Third, new windows are NOT GREEN. Read this from the National Trust:

Tearing out historic windows for replacements wastes embodied energy – the energy required to extract the raw materials, transport them, make them into a new product, ship the product, and install it. What’s more, when we keep our existing windows, we avoid all the negative environmental impacts associated with the manufacture of new windows. For example, the manufacturing of some windows produces toxic byproducts. And, the new wood that manufacturers use today can’t begin to match the quality of old growth wood in older windows.

And here’s the kicker. New windows will often have a life span of just 10 to 20 years. Historic and older windows, when properly maintained, can last for many more decades. Furthermore, studies have shown that with proper weatherization and use of a good storm window, older windows can be made nearly as energy efficient as new windows – even in severe climates such as the Northeast.

Fourth, new windows are only maintenance free in that YOU CANNOT MAINTAIN THEM. They will have to be replaced, not repaired. From the National Trust:

Vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass, and composite windows are manufactured as a unit and are maintenance-free only because, in most instances, the components cannot be repaired. When a part fails, or the insulated glass seal breaks, the entire unit must be replaced. By comparison, older wood windows are composed of interlocking parts made from natural materials, and any part can be repaired or replaced.

Fifth, new windows will NOT SAVE YOU MONEY. Again, from the National Trust:

Window manufacturers are quick to tell you that their products will save you money. While replacement windows could save you about $50 a month on your heating or cooling bills, those savings come after you spend $12,000, on average, for replacement windows for the typical home. So if you heat or cool your home, say, six months a year, the savings are about $300 annually. At that rate, it would take 40 years to recoup in energy savings the amount of money spent on the new windows! And, by that time, your replacement windows will have needed replacing!

Did you see that — new windows will take 40 years to earn their keep. 40 YEARS!! There are so many things wrong with that. Are you even going to live in your house for 40 years? The savings only come after you’ve spent a ton of money on windows. And what happened to those old windows? They are sitting in a landfill, right? Well then you’ve used twice the energy: from the embodied energy of the existing windows and the resources required to manufacture new windows. And those new windows are likely off-gassing chemicals that you do not want floating around your house and in your lungs.

Do not believe everything (or dare I say anything) you read from new manufacturers.

How can you help? Share the information about the many, many benefits of keeping historic windows (financial! environmentally! historically!) by visiting Save the Windows, sharing it on twitter, on facebook, sending emails to your friends and family, sending a quick note to your senators, and by talking about historic windows!

Learn what you can do to keep your windows, save your money, and improve your energy efficiency. Start here: TEN REASONS TO REPAIR YOUR OLD WINDOWS.

Be green, be thoughtful, be respectful – save the windows! Love the windows!

A Life in the Trades: October 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

I have now reached the fifth quarter of my training at the Building Preservation & Restoration Program of Belmont Technical College.  That’s five out of seven.  I started this series at the beginning of my training with the intent of highlighting the trades function in the preservation of our built environment and as an open scrapbook of my experiences through the duration of the training.  I am happy to say that the zeal I came into the process with hasn’t wavered a bit.  Now the time has come to begin seeking out internships and think more forwardly about my place in the field.

Sistering rafters in historic outshed until necessary structural repairs can be made. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

It’s a true challenge to define preservation, let alone decide where you fit into its expansive net.  Preservation is not something most of us hear about growing up, or see on career placement tests.  While attending a plaster demonstration at Sarel Venter’s plaster lab in Grafton, WV last Spring, he asked us what we wanted to do when we graduated.  A few of us only had vague ideas:  “I’m not really sure” to which he replied, “That’s probably a good thing.”

Renata Bruza working iron over an anvil in Metals class. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

I know, like most of my peers, that I find satisfaction in making an unhealthy structure healthy again.  I enjoy even more knowing why it is healthier and why it was unhealthy in the first place.  This maintenance ethic may seem concrete in our minds, but I bet most of the world doesn’t view maintenance as a technical skill, a science, or an art (or even a priority).  The beauty of the craftsman is not only their ability to work with their hands – truthfully, their handiwork would have no value without the intellectual understanding of the materials they are working with.

Windows & Doors class repairing windows at an 1880s one-room schoolhouse in Pleasant Hill, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

It is not enough, however, to be proficient in the historic building trades (i.e. plastering, blacksmithing, masonry, timber framing, faux painting, etc.)  A modern preservationist (or conservator, or preservation technician) must take their knowledge of these highly specialized professions and view the building holistically and understand the process of deterioration.  What good is a plasterer’s handiwork in repairing cracks in a wall when significant differential settlement is taking place in the building?  A preservation-sensitive structural engineer would do more good.

Sandstone erosion due to face-bedding & improper Portland cement mortaring. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

At this point, if I had to describe my dream job in preservation it would be something like working for an Architectural Conservation firm that not only carries out laboratory testing of materials, but also completes the process of sensitive repairs.
I love the resolute and grounded quality of stone and the inspiring durability of wood and the careful chemistry of arranging a sophisticated three part plaster.  I love the investigation, the clues:  the face of a sandstone block exfoliating like pages of a book, the cambium layers of a hand-hewn joist letting go and falling to the ground, the way the paint bubbles on the clapboards during a heavy rainstorm.

Removing a corroded cast iron grate for repairs in metal lab. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

So I suppose the conservationist shares in the same delight of the chemist, in knowing something at its atomic and molecular level – to know something through and through.