Saturday, March 4, 2017

Pressure Washers and Painting: Should You or Shouldn't You?

There are conflicting messages about using pressure washers when prepping building exteriors for painting. Some insist that pressure washers should never be used while others maintain that they are just fine and use them both for paint removal and cleaning.  Which is accurate?  As with most things, the truth is somewhere in between and depends on circumstance.

First, it is true that pressure washers should never be used to REMOVE paint.  In order to remove paint effectively you need to dial the water pressure up to blast away the old paint layers.  Unfortunately, this also means that the wood siding or stucco can be damaged or eroded.  This is especially true on historic buildings because they typically have areas which are in good and others in poor condition (often on the same piece of siding).  Remember, pressure washers are powerful enough to mar stone such as granite, so even at a relatively low setting a wood substrate can be affected. Some would argue that they can dial the pressure down so that it won't damage the wood.  However, in order to to make a pressure washer effective, the pressure has to be set fairly high.  The photo below shows clapboards where wood fibers have actually been torn away from the surface.  The best and safest way to remove paint from historic exteriors is by scraping and sanding because it allows you to vary pressure according to the condition of the siding.




Another problem with pressure washers is their tendency to drive water into cracks and gaps and saturate the siding itself or the sheathing behind it with water.  When water has been driven behind the siding it can take weeks for it to dry.  As the water evaporates and escapes through the siding as a vapor it can cause paint failure. Even the best primers and paints will not adhere to damp wood or wood releasing water vapor.  The photo below shows siding on the same building that has more eroded wood as well as cracks around nails which would allow easy access to water from a pressure washer.



Does this mean pressure washers should never be used?  No, not really.  They can be fine when used at their lowest pressure setting as a means to CLEAN a wood or stucco surface. Care must be taken to direct the water stream at a correct angle so that water won't be driven underneath clapboards, battens or molding.  However, a garden hose with a brush is just as effective and far less likely to damage the wood siding or drive moisture behind the surface.   As is often the case when working on historic buildings, shortcuts can lead to poor results and there usually is no substitute for a little elbow grease.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The National Register of Historic Places

Historic Design will donate free architecture research services for a local institution, business or individual in 2017!  Click here to learn more.

We frequently see and hear about historic buildings and other structures being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, it isn’t clear to many what the National Register is and what it really does. Does it protect a house from demolition?  Does it prevent owners from building an addition, remodeling the kitchen or adding a bathroom?  If your church is listed on the National Register does it mean you can't display the cross?
A centerpiece of the landmark 1966 National Historic Protection Act, the National Register of Historic Places is an official list of historic buildings, structures and places that are considered worthy of preservation. The National Register is administered by the National Park Service and is part of a larger federal program which coordinates and supports private and public efforts to identify, evaluate and protect our Nation’s historic resources.  The listing is largely symbolic and itself offers no real or statutory or regulatory protection.  In other words, listed buildings can be used, altered or even demolished in any manner, for any reason and at any time by their owners.  Despite what you may hear, the National Register itself absolutely cannot prevent you from remodeling your kitchen, painting the exterior, adding a bathroom or displaying religious symbols.
If the National register only provides recognition of a property’s historical, architectural, or archaeological significance without any regulatory teeth, what is the point of listing a property? First, listing a property is important as it does distinguish it and encourages the community to recognize and appreciate it historical and cultural significance. This is not insignificant as preservation has becomes a larger part of city planning and efforts to rebuild communities. Second, while the National Register itself is symbolic, inclusion on the Register can make the listee eligible for grants for restoration and rehabilitation, state, local and federal tax credits, preservation easements and some building and fire code alternatives.  Although these programs and benefits usually require additional qualifications and regulations, a listing on the National Register is the first step towards eligibility.
Inclusion onto the list is considered according to one or more of four criteria:
  • Criterion A: The property must make a contribution to major patterns in American History.
  • Criterion B: The property is associated with significant people of the American past.
  • Criterion C: The property has distinctive characteristics in its architecture and construction, including having great artistic value or being the work of a master.
  • Criterion D: The property has yielded or may be likely to yield information important to prehistory or history
The application process can be quite involved and complex.  It includes documenting the building or property following established standards, historical research, evaluation of the building or property’s physical state (i.e. does it retain enough of its original, historic fabric), identification of its historical context and its eligibility according to one or more of the criteria.
The National Register application can be completed and submitted by anyone, although many property owners and public institutions rely on preservation professionals for part or all of the application.  Consultants who are familiar with architectural history, regional or local architects and important local and national historical patterns can be particularly helpful.
If you have any questions about your historic house or building and the National Register, feel free to contact Historic Design Consulting.