FAQs about historic restoration and painting in New England

Mar 22, 2018

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Imagine if your home could talk. Imagine the history of families who have lived within its four walls; the babies born, the children raised, the celebrations, and the goodbyes. A historic home is more than just a house, and the historic homeowner is unique in her or his relationship to the home: docent, guardian, investor, even custodian. Catchlight Painting, a Historic New England Preservation Partner, believes that older homes require a more careful and educated approach to their care and maintenance. Catchlight offers a broad array of painting services designed to help you restore and maintain the historic character of your home, now and for future generations. Below, Catchlight President Nigel Costolloe answers frequently asked questions about painting historic houses. 

  1. What’s the difference between historic home painting and regular house painting?

The difference is one of complexity. A newer home can usually be washed then repainted easily and quickly. An older home requires a greater attention to detail and the investment of appropriate and careful preparation, often a multi-layered coating. When lead paint is present, additional protection is required to manage the risk of lead dust hazards to the crew as well as the homeowner and neighbors.

When painting the exterior of a historic homes, it is important to understand the unique qualities of the building envelope and the appropriate resources required for proper restoration. What can be caulked and what shouldn’t be? What filler works best on old paint or old wood? Which coating functions best on a heavily decorated Victorian or on wood gutters?

Be sure to hire a professional company that specializes in historic homes, with painters who have taken the time to become informed, educated, and expert in proper management of all of these variables.

  1. I’m receiving wildly different estimates for the work on my historic home. Which one do I trust?

Assuming basic due diligence has been performed and only qualified and experienced companies are submitting pricing, err on the side of detail and clarity. Avoid the lump sum proposal and instead choose the company that communicates well, describing in detail the process and hours allocated to each step of the process. In addition, call references and read reviews. You will want a respectful, courteous, and responsible team of professionals who will take pride in the quality of their work.

  1. How concerned should I be about lead dust?

Very! Look for EPA and Massachusetts RRP (Renovation, Repair, and Painting)-certified contractors. You can reference the Massachusetts registry to confirm this. When you do, note whether the company owner AND the employees are licensed. Massachusetts regulations require an RRP-certified renovator be on your project at all times when the RRP work is being carried out. If only the company owner is certified, he or she must remain on your job through the entire preparation and clean-up process.

  1. Can you help with color selection?

Yes. We’ll gladly introduce you to our expert on color placement and selection for historic homes, Sally Zimmerman of Historic New England. Sally will be happy to discuss your home if you are a qualifying Historic New England member. Sally offers dedicated attention, knowledgeable support, and customized service about historic New England homes.

  1. Can you help with carpentry?

Absolutely! We employ our own professional carpenters who are knowledgeable and experienced and work side by side with our painting teams all year long. From exterior trim and siding repair and replacement to interior plaster repair, window glass replacement, and sash cord repair, we are happy to work with you throughout your entire project.

A note on the importance of maintenance

For the owner of a historic home, regular exterior maintenance is widely recognized as an excellent investment in extending the life of your exterior paint. When properly maintained, most of the older and historic homes we paint require repainting of just 10-15% of the surface; the remainder simply needs a good washing.

For interior work, maintenance is equally important. The contraction of plaster and wood each winter yields a symphony of cracks, many of which will be almost invisible come the humidity of summer. Addressing issues as they arise allows us to target and repair problem areas and restore a room or space to mint condition in less time and at a reasonable cost.


Nigel Costolloe is the president of Catchlight Painting, a full-service residential and commercial painting company serving Greater Boston. He is active regionally and nationally in the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA) as a leader, speaker, and mentor.