Alligatoring describes a particular way in which exterior paint can fail. Alligatored paint on the exterior of a house is caused by heavily built-up layers of paint that become brittle. Over time, successive layers of paint dry out, and small cracks in the paint layers (called crazing) develop. These breaks in the protective paint coating allow moisture to penetrate through to the underlying wood, which then swells with moisture, causing the paint layers above to crack further. Larger stress fractures in the paint film develop and the paint surface cracks into small, uneven boxes that resemble alligator hide. When prepping for repainting, any loose paint should be hand scraped to bare wood. Alligatored paint, which is paradoxically often firmly adhered, may require alternate means of removing the paint. Among the newer products available are safer chemical strippers, infrared heat plates which do not heat to as high a temperature, and consequently are safer than the old heat guns (but still must be used with caution), and steam-heating the paint to soften it so it can be scraped. More information on proper paint removal techniques.
Archaeology is the scientific study of past human cultures through material remains (sites and artifacts) that people left behind. It may not occur to homeowners that the locations of their houses contain archaeological evidence of historical uses of the property, but owners of seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth-century houses should be especially sensitive to the possibility that their properties may have archaeological content worthy of consideration. All National Register of Historic Places nominations now require an assessment of the archaeological potential of every property listed, regardless of the structure’s age. Contact your State Historic Preservation Office if you encounter substantial historic archaeological remains (such as trash pits, wells, privies, or, burials) on your property as part of any large renovations or new construction.
“The architect is the professional who guides you through the design and construction process. Licensed by the state to practice architecture, the architect is the only professional trained to design the places in which people live and work and to manage all aspects of potentially complex projects from design through construction.” So says the Boston Society of Architects’ Homeowner’s Project Handbook: A Guide to Massachusetts Architects. It lists architects practicing in Massachusetts, includes suggestions on how to work with an architect, and worksheets to help you plan your project. For architects licensed in other New
An architrave is the lowest physical part of a classical entablature. Alternatively, an architrave is a molded frame surrounding a door or a window. In builder’s terms, the molded frame and trim surrounding a door or window is called a “casing.”
Two of the four main “artificial” siding materials introduced in the twentieth century, asbestos and asphalt siding were widely used as a “maintenance-free” covering over a building’s original siding; both “breathe” more easily than the aluminum and vinyl sidings that replaced them and neither is as damaging to the underlying fabric of the building as those later coverings.
Asphalt, introduced for roofing in the nineteenth century, evolved into a siding material in the 1930s. Asphalt siding, usually produced in rectangular panels of 18 by 24 inches, retains some of the appearance of asphalt roofing shingles (a gritty aggregate surface over a flexible, tarry-looking black substrate) but, for use on walls, it was often stamped to look like brick.
Asbestos siding, commercially introduced in the 1930s as a fire-resistant exterior wall covering, is a rolled composition of cement and asbestos (to reduce weight and increase fire-resistance) which is cut into shingle-sized pieces that are nailed up individually just like wood shingles. Asbestos shingles have a stiff, matte appearance and are often textured with “wood” grain. As long as they are intact, and not shredded, chipped, or sanded, they do not pose the hazard of asbestos pipe insulation because their asbestos fibres are embedded in the cement component of the shingle.
Removal of artificial siding can be done by a trash removal contractor and should always precede any consultation with a contractor about restoring original siding and trim. Having the original siding exposed allows the contractor to make a much more precise estimate on restoration work required. Disposal of asbestos and asphalt siding may be subject to hazardous waste removal regulations.
Depending on the type of artificial siding used, the age of the house, and the length of time a house has been sided, twenty to forty percent of the underlying original siding material (which will be present beneath the artificial siding; only selected projecting trim elements, such as brackets or the “ears” on a window sill, are removed when siding is applied) may need replacement or repair. Replacement of all of the original exterior siding and trim is never necessary and should be avoided.
Balloon framing: One of four historical methods for framing a house, the others being timber framing, braced framing, and Western, or platform framing (see below), balloon framing was developed in Chicago in 1832 and relied on standardized dimensional lumber, machine-made nails, and the use of thick sheathing boards to add rigidity to the structure. Sheathing boards covered the outside of a light frame of continuous-length sills, joists, and plates running the house from side to side and studs running from the foundation to the roof. The use of continuous studs running from the sill to the plate meant that early balloon-framed houses had long vertical wall cavities that created a fire hazard. The addition of fire-stops between the studs reduced that danger in later balloon-framed buildings. Balloon framing as a term has been used somewhat simplistically to differentiate all “modern” lighter framing from the heavy timber frames of seventeenth and eighteenth-century New England homes. However, the “Eastern” or braced frame system (also known as the “barn frame” or the “old-fashioned” frame) was, historically, the standard framing system in nineteenth-century New England, while actual balloon framing and platform framing are more typical of late nineteenth and twentieth century house construction. A useful resource for more information on this topic and other framing types is Dwelling House Construction by Albert G. H. Dietz.
A baluster is one post in a continuous row of posts supporting a railing; the row is the balustrade. Often the shape of a baluster is more or less urn or vase-like; that shape is similar to the shape of the pomegranate flower, from the Italian word for the flower, balaustra. The design and shape of balusters or a balustrade is often indicative of the time period in which it was constructed. Balusters and balustrades are commonly found on stairs, porches and as decorative roof elements.
Barge board, also sometimes known as verge board, is an exterior trim board covering a rafter which extends beyond a gable wall along the edge of the roof from gable peak to eave. It is often embellished and decorative. Use of ornate barge boards is a particularly common and distinctive feature of Carpenter Gothic and Gothic Revival homes from the mid-nineteenth century.
Bathrooms: Before 1850, only the most elaborate homes in the United States had bathrooms, i.e., a room with a bathtub, sink, and water closet. Privies located either in a separate outdoor structure or in a distant section of a real ell, and chamber pots, were standard. Piped, running water was generally only available in cities, and even then, in better houses. Sinks, either in bathrooms, or kitchens were rare until after 1850 and flush toilet technology did not become standardized until the end of the nineteenth century. The bathroom with a sink and water closet/toilet only became a standard feature of houses after the Civil War. Bathtubs were even rarer, and showers did not become common until after 1900. Into the twentieth century, many smaller, simpler houses lacked a bathtub and use of a hip bath was typical.
The term “bay” can have two meanings. The first, more common, usage refers to an element of the building that contains additional living space or volume and that projects from or is attached to the main block of a building. One- and two-story bays are a common feature of nineteenth- and twentieth-century houses. The second use of the term defines a structural component of the building and refers to the vertical sections of a building, which are normally defined by the patterns of its fenestration (window locations): many Georgian and most Colonial Revival houses, for example, are five bays wide, with an entrance in the center bay.
Bilateral symmetry is the most common form of symmetry found in architecture, and is frequently found in structures using classical (Greek, Roman) design elements. It describes a building designed where halves of the architectural composition mirror each other; in other words if a line is drawn down the center of the façade, both sides are identical in terms of their architectural details, including doors, windows, columns or other architectural elements.
Board-and-batten is a type of exterior siding or, more rarely, interior paneling that has alternating wide boards of wood with narrow wooden strips called battens placed over the seams between wider boards. Usually this siding is attached vertically, but can also be found in a horizontal configuration. Board-and-batten siding is also sometimes called barn-siding because it is commonly used in barn and outbuilding construction.
Braced-frame construction, also known as “Eastern frame,” the “barn frame,” and the “old-fashioned frame,” is a form of timber-framing, the oldest framing method found in houses of New England and the strongest and most rigid type of framing. Braced-frame construction typically consists of the following: sills, resting on the foundation walls to support the frame; vertical posts placed at all corners and at intermediate points along longer walls; girts, horizontal members at the second floor; plates, further horizontal members at the top of the frame supporting the roof; braces, diagonal pieces set in the angles between the posts and sills, and the girts and plates to stiffen the frame; studs, vertical pieces generally 16 inches apart between the sill and the girts and the girts and the plates; and sheathing covering the outside of the frame. In most braced-frame construction the sills, posts, and girts are solid timbers. For more information about braced-frames and other types of framing, a good resource is Dwelling House Construction by Albert G. H. Dietz.
Brick is an ancient building material, but in modern historical usage, there are three distinct brick types: 1) hand-made, “soft-mud” bricks, typical of the pre-industrial era, and usually irregular in size, varied in color, and coarse in texture; 2) pressed brick, machine made of clay pressed into molds and fired in hotter kilns, uniform in size and color, and smooth textured; and 3) modern, wire-cut brick, made of clay extruded mechanically and cut to size with wires. By the nineteenth century, chimneys were always constructed of brick, as were most building foundations, except in areas with good indigenous building stone; brick houses are rarer, except in dense urban areas where fire codes mandated masonry construction. A major distinction of historic and modern brick is size. Nineteenth-century brick was narrower than twentieth-century brick and was intended to be laid with a very narrow (1/8”) mortar joint. Modern brick is sized to conform to the dimension of a standardized “concrete masonry unit” or CMU (commonly called a concrete or “cinder” block) and to be laid with a half inch mortar joint.
A bungalow is a type of house which became popular in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century and often exhibits Craftsman stylistic details (thus the term Craftsman Bungalow). A house type or form is distinguished from an architectural style in that a type or form relates to the shape of the house and may be constructed using details of one or a combination of various styles. Bungalows are typically modest in size and one-and-one-half stories tall. Other commonly found features include: raised foundations, simple floor plans, deep porches, and gently-sloped roofs with wide overhangs.
Calcimine (or kalcimine) is a water-based coating which was most often applied to cover plaster walls and ceilings used from the late-eighteenth century into the mid-twentieth century. To remove and re-coat surfaces that have layers of calcimine, scrape, sand and then wash the surface using a mixture of one-and-one half cups of TSP (trisodium phosphate) and one gallon of water; repeat as necessary to remove as much of the calcimine as possible. For re-coating, Historic New England recommends applying one of the new products designed specifically to overcoat calcimine.
Capital is the decorative head or top of a column. Capitals from the five classical architectural orders can be readily identified, but many idiosyncratic variations are possible, particularly certain architectural styles such as Queen Anne. Capitals may be carved out of stone, wood or composition.
Cape Cod houses or “capes” are prevalent in New England and are used to describe a house type. A house type or form is distinguished from an architectural style in that a type or form relates to the shape of the house and may be constructed using details of one or a combination of various styles. The Cape Cod house type is typically modest in size, one-and-one-half stories tall and two rooms deep. Other typical features include: steeply pitched gable roofs, large central chimneys, and minimal roof overhangs. A “full cape” is typically five bays wide with a symmetrical façade, a “half cape” is three bays wide with the door at either the far right or far left of the façade, the rare “three quarter cape” is four bays wide. Cape Cod houses are an enduring house type, with older capes dating anywhere from 1680 to 1800. A revival of the form emerged following World War II.
A carpenter is a building tradesperson who specializes in making, finishing, or repairing wooden structures or objects. Further specialization in carpentry may include restoration or preservation carpentry, finish carpentry (for completing the specialty finishes of a building interior), stair-building, and cabinetmaking/furniture making.
A casement window is attached to a frame by one or more hinges. These hinges are typically on one side allowing the window to open vertically like a door. Less commonly the hinges may be hinged at the top or bottom. Casement windows were common during the seventeenth century when they were typically hinged on the side, and opened inward. At that time windows were also frequently covered by functional exterior shutters and the casement sash were filled with diamond panes of leaded glass.
A casing is the wooden trim piece that “frames” the inside or outside opening of a window or door. Most often, and nearly always in the major rooms in a house, interior window and door casings have a decorative molding profile; typically, less important rooms in the house will have a simpler molded, or a plain, flat board, casing. Along with other standard architectural moldings (such as the muntins in a sash window), casings have characteristic profiles that vary in style by period and can be used to ascertain the approximate date of interior or exterior construction or alterations to the house. Likewise, casings often carry a significant paint history for interior and exterior decorative color schemes.
Caulking is the process of sealing joints or seams in various structures and in the building trade is used to describe the application of flexible sealing compounds to close up gaps in buildings and other structures against water, air, dust, or insects. Caulk, the material used for this process, is a ready-mixed compound made with silicone, polyurethane, polysulfide, sylil-terminated polyether, or polyurethane and acrylic sealant. Caulk is typically applied using a caulking gun which extrudes the compound in a bead that can be pressed into cracks and joints and smoothed. Sealing unwanted air leaks around homes is an excellent way to cut home energy costs and decrease the household carbon footprint. There are several types of caulk which are used for different applications based on where they are used on a building and their desired performance (interior versus exterior, paintable versus clear, prevention of water penetration versus air penetration, curing time, etc.)
A chimney is a vertical passage through which fire and gasses may escape from a fireplace, furnace, or flue. They are typically constructed of brick or stone set in mortar. A chimney can be a structural, decorative, or functional part of an old house, and often all three. Maintaining the structure of the chimney ensures its safe operation and protects the house and its occupants from the possibility of a chimney fire, from damage through infiltration of moisture or from animal or insect infestation, and from the leakage of carbon monoxide gases into the house. Working with the intrinsic structure of the chimney and understanding its materials is important to preserving a historic chimney.
Chimney caps: Moisture entering at the top of the chimney may damage masonry and old mortar. Vented chimney caps are an inexpensive way to prevent rainwater from getting into the chimney while still allowing air to circulate. They also prevent squirrels, birds, or other animals from entering a chimney. A stainless steel chimney cap with a top mounted damper will prevent water from entering the chimney and damaging historic mortar and masonry while still allowing air to circulate. If an “invisible” chimney cap is necessary to preserve the historic appearance of a chimney, retractable or pop-up chimney dampers with a low profile when closed are available. Likewise, a “table-top” chimney cap, consisting of a slate or bluestone slab supported above the top of the chimney on upright bricks at the corners, provides a neutral historic appearance while protecting the chimney from water and animals.
A clerestory is a high wall with a band of narrow windows along the very top. Originally, the word clerestory referred to the upper level of a church or cathedral. The clerestory wall usually rises above adjoining roofs so that light can reach the inner space of a large building. For example, factory buildings often used a clerestory for that purpose. Today, clerestory is used to describe any row of windows above eye level that allow light into a space.
Closets and cupboardsin houses were historically rare, primarily because people had few personal goods to store. In the eighteenth century, cupboards were tucked into areas of dead space around chimneys, while linens and clothing were stored in chests or hung on pegs. By the 1830s, some dedicated spaces for storage were being included in houses, such as a china closet adjacent to the dining room. Soon after, floor plans in pattern books, such as A. J. Downing’s books of the 1840s and 1850s, began to include linen closets and small bedroom closets (narrow from front to back because clothing was hung on hooks, not crosswise on hangers). By the end of the nineteenth century, fitted pantries and china closets and small bedroom closets were standard in middle class housing, while in elaborate houses, specialty storage included airing cupboards in attic storage rooms, bedroom closets with built-in bureaus and shelving, and kitchens supported by a battery of pantries, butler’s pantries, sculleries, and larders.
A column is an upright structural support that is round in section. In classical architecture, columns have three parts: a base, shaft, and capital, and have a form that tapers from bottom to top. Columns in the five classical orders have distinct characteristics of increasing complexity, but in historical practice, elements from more than one order are likely to be mixed on a single column; this is especially true for non-architect-designed housing built at the end of the nineteenth century. One of the best sources on repairing historic wood columns is the chapter on “Wood Columns” in the Practical Restoration Reports Compendium, written and published by John Leeke.
Composition: Much of the elaborate late nineteenth and early twentieth-century exterior decorative ornament applied on porches, bays, and window casings, such as swags, garlands, and relief sculpture, is not, despite appearances, carved from wood, but made of composition, a malleable product made of glue, resin, chalk and linseed oil. It was used to easily and cheaply produce complex sculptural ornament for architectural applications. This material is still available today and can be obtained to restore missing architectural elements.
Concrete and cement have two distinct definitions. Concrete is a mixture made of cement, aggregate (usually sand and small stones), and water. Cement is a powdery substance, which when mixed with water, forms a plastic mass that hardens through chemical reaction. Natural cement, first used by the Romans, was made of lime and a pozzolan such as pumice. Advances in material science helped create stronger, faster-setting cements. In 1824, Englishman Joseph Aspdin took out a patent for Portland cement. The cement we know today, made of alumina, silica, lime, iron oxide, and magnesia burned together in a kiln, is still known by this name. It is important to note that Portland cement, particularly Portland cement-based mortar, is not appropriate for repairing or re-pointing historic masonry. Portland cement is usually stronger that the surrounding masonry, meaning that any stress to the masonry will crack or damage the brick or stone rather than the more easily replaceable mortar.
A contractor, or more precisely a general contractor, is an individual or company providing construction services. There are many different building trades people engaged in the repair or construction of homes. Those who work in one specialty area will generally be known by the name of that specialty such as electricians, carpenters, or plumbers, and are usually hired to perform a single job. A general contractor is someone who will undertake a more complex job, in which the contractor may indeed perform work, but which will also involve overseeing the work of sub-contractors (also known as subs) who perform work in their specialties, such as excavation, plumbing, electrical, and finishing, such as plastering. A general contractor contracts with an owner for the construction of an entire project or building and normally hires the sub-contractors who work under contract to the general contractor. Normally, a general contractor is responsible for overseeing the entire project, including obtaining any building permits needed, coordinating building inspections, and ordering and purchasing all supplies. “Design-build” contractors provide design services as well as construction services. They may possess some architectural training but they are not architects.
A corbel is a projecting block, usually made of stone, supporting a beam or other horizontal member. Corbelling is a technique whereby brick or masonry courses are each built out beyond the one below in a series of steps. This was a popular method for creating vaulted ceilings, particularly in churches or cathedrals.
The cornice is the topmost, projecting component of the three elements that make up a classical entablature (architrave, frieze, and cornice). In builder’s parlance, cornice describes any projecting decorative element at the roof line of a building.
Crown molding is a specific type of molding (see below) that runs along the top of an interior wall at the intersection the wall and ceiling, creating a decorative transition between the two.
A cupola is a small and typically domed structure on the top of a building. Cupolas may also crown a larger roof or dome and may be used to provide light or a look-out point. Cupolas are often decorative and are usually are found on large public buildings, though they can occasionally be found on high-style houses.
Dendrochronology is the scientific dating of past events or structures through the study of annual tree-rings. The method has been used to arrive at precise dates for the construction of timber-framed structures, such as New England’s seventeenth-century houses. Using small samples of wood taken from framing members of the house, dates can be determined for the felling of the timber used in the house construction, thereby ascertaining a date before which the house could not have been constructed.
A dentil is a small, square block that is used in a sequence along the lower edge of a cornice. Most elements of the classical orders are believed to derive from functional, structural building components of ancient masonry construction, and dentils are thought to have been the ends of rafters. As one of the easiest architectural details to construct, the “dentilated cornice” (a simple cornice with a row of dentils running below it) is also one of the most frequently used architectural elements in house construction and shows up in houses from 1750 to the present.
Doors, like windows and the casings that frame both, are among the most readily dated features of a historic house. From the seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth century, only a few different styles and types of door construction were used, and while doors are relatively mobile and may be relocated within a house, the style and type of doors present can augment other physical data in the house to “date” its construction. Just as for the early periods, fashions and tastes in interior decoration for the period after 1850 and through the twentieth century can be used to “date” more modern doors as well and quickly identify approximate dates of construction or alteration.
A dormer is a vertical projection in a sloping roof with a roof of its own. A dormer contains an opening, usually a window, allowing light into the second story or attic story of a building. Dormers are found in a variety of shapes, usually defined by their roof structure, such as shed dormers, gable dormers, etc.
Drainage: Water is the enemy of houses and keeping water out of, off of, or away from them is critical to every element of their construction. Any water carried to the ground from downspouts and roof drains needs to be directed away from the house as quickly as possible, while any standing water on the ground around the house must be dispersed or collected in such a way that it does not remain there for long.Proper drainageis built into foundations at the time of construction, but can be compromised by later alterations, changing soil conditions, or the passage of time. For example, the grade around the house can erode, causing rain water to travel back toward the foundation. The area around the foundation must be re-graded so that it slopes away from the foundation. If a rough stone foundation is visible beneath a finished brick or stone upper foundation wall, you can be sure that the grade has eroded as those rough stones were never intended to be seen. Gutters and downspouts are the primary means of getting water away from your house. Keeping gutters clean, and oiling and painting wood gutters regularly will keep them operating properly.
Drywall is a type of interior wall and ceiling material. Panels of drywall are made of gypsum plaster pressed between two thick sheets of paper, then kiln-dried. Also known as sheetrock or wallboard, drywall construction is the most common form of finish wall and ceiling construction used today; it superseded traditional plaster finish techniques beginning in the 1930s. Drywall requires hand-finishing with mesh tape and joint compound at the fasteners and joints, thus requiring less labor and drying time than traditional plastering.
A dutchman is a builder’s term for a piece of wood used to patch a missing or damaged section of wood “invisibly,” i.e., so that the patch piece will not be evident once finished or painted. A dutchman could be required to fill in the location of a missed lock or knob on a reused door, for example, or to repair a section of damaged flooring. The term can be used as a verb, such as to “dutch” a section of damaged woodwork.
An eave is the part of the roof that extends out past the side walls. The edge of the roof is a complex bit of carpentry which includes the soffit (the underside of the eave) and the fascia (the vertical edge of the eave). The fascia and soffits can decay when gutters are not kept free of leaves and debris.
Efflorescence is a white, powdery substance of soluble salts that appear on the face of bricks or concrete as moisture travels through masonry; the salts remain as a residue on the surface once the moisture evaporates. This residue is harmless and can be removed with a stiff brush and water. Efflorescence can be, however, an indication of rising damp, a destructive process where moisture from the ground is drawn up (or wicked) into a masonry wall if the wall is not protected with an intervening layer of impervious material, such as slate, tile, building felt, or metal. An experienced masonry contractor should be consulted to determine the best way to correct rising damp.
Entablature is the classical architectural term for the trim element at the roof line that consists of the architrave, frieze, and cornice. In builder’s terms, these would correspond to the rake, fascia, soffit, and eave.
Electricians install, connect, test, and maintain electrical systems for a variety of purposes, including climate control, security, and communications. Most electricians acquire their skills by completing an apprenticeship program lasting four to five years.
An elevation is any wall on a house and is usually described by its compass orientation (west elevation, for example); the front or primary elevation is the façade.
The façade is the front or primary elevation of a house, and usually contains the main entrance.
A fascia is the upright flat trim board enclosing the end of a rafter or eave.
A fanlight is a semicircular or semi-elliptical window over a doorway or another window. They are a common stylistic element of Federal architecture (commonly dating from around 1780 to 1820) where they are typically found above the main entry door.
Flashing is made of sheet metal or another impervious material. Its purpose is to prevent water from penetrating a building at a joint or angle, generally on the roof. The most common locations for roof flashing are at valleys (where two downward sloping roof planes meet), chimneys, eaves, rakes, ridges, roof-to-wall intersections, and at roof penetrations such as skylights, stovepipes, and vents. Flashing must be durable and rust-resistant. Traditionally, materials such as copper, leaded-coated copper or lead are used for flashing.
A floor plan is an architectural drawing that depicts a two dimensional view of a space, such as a room or building. It is a view of the space from above, as if the space was cut through horizontally at the windowsill level. The floor plan will show the locations of walls, partitions, doors, stairs, washrooms, furniture, dimensions, etc. and is usually drawn to scale. In contrast, an elevation is a view of an interior or exterior wall as if you are standing back, looking directly at the wall. This view of the wall shows items that cannot be clearly shown in plan such as wall moldings, signs, graphics, window sizes, or a finish pattern that is applied on the wall. Interior elevations will show the inside walls of a space; exterior elevations will show the outside walls of a building and again, elevation drawings are typically drawn to scale. The scale used (for example ¼” on the drawing represents 1 foot in real scale) will be noted on the drawing.
Floors: There are three major wood floor types for homeowners of older/historic homes in New England to be aware of: 1) plain-sawn, random-width, face-nailed white or yellow pine boards, which were used from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries; 2) narrow, tongue-and-groove, hardwood, oak and/or maple “strip” flooring, introduced in the late nineteenth century and still used today; and 3) parquet flooring, thin hardwood flooring laid in patterns. Historic wood flooring should be treated gently. It can be protected with butcher’s wax, or if painted, repainted. Polyurethane should be avoided. Historic wood floors should not be sanded.
Folk house: A house built with little consideration for fashion, folk dwellings were built to provide basic shelter and exhibit no distinctive architectural style. Folk building traditions were handed down from generation to generation and show relatively little change over time. The main influences on the design of a folk house are geography and availability of building materials. Examples of folk housing forms or types, are hall-and-parlor houses, I-houses, and shotgun houses.
A foundation is the base of a building or structure, usually below (or partially below) grade that transfers and distributes the weight of the building onto the ground. Traditionally, foundations were made of stone either dry-laid (without mortar) or dressed with mortar. A combination of techniques was frequently used, with dry-laid stones below grade, and above-ground portions that were exposed to weather, laid in full beds of lime mortar. Stone foundations were initially of rubble stone (irregular stones laid in no particular pattern). Improved stone-cutting technologies during the late 1700s led to the use of cut or dressed stone. Particularly popular were granite slabs mounted above field stone cellar walls above grade and backed by bricks (to create sufficient depth to support the building’s sills). The enemy of any foundation is moisture.
An American Foursquare, also sometimes known as a Prairie Box, is a building type that was popular from the mid-1890s through the 1930s. Its boxy, yet roomy design was well suited to small city lots. Typical features include: a simple boxy shape of two and a half stories, simple four-room plans, low-hipped roofs with deep overhangs, large central dormers, and full-width porches with wide steps along the front elevation. Foursquare homes were dressed up with features of various architectural styles, including; Queen Anne (bay windows or gingerbread trim), Mission (stucco siding and roof parapets), Colonial Revival (pediments or porticos) or Craftsman (exposed rafter tails, sloping/battered porch columns, and interior carpentry details such as built-ins and boxed beams.
As a noun, the framing of a house is defined by the elements that make up the structure of a building; those elements which support the sheathing and aesthetic elements. Framing as a verb, is the act of erecting such a structural framework. Timber framing, the oldest form of structure found in New England’s domestic architecture, has evolved from simple post-and-beam construction with mortise-and-tenon joints to standardized platform framing using dimensional lumber. Several framing methods are defined in this primer. Another good source for more information about various framing techniques and the elements that make up a frame is the book Dwelling House Construction by Albert G.H. Dietz.
A frieze is the portion of the Classical Entablature between the cornice (above) and the architrave (below).
A French drain is a shallow linear trench, following the perimeter of the building four to six feet away from the foundation, lined with gravel and occasionally with a perforated plastic pipe that collects and directs water away from the house.
A gable is the upper portion of a wall at the end of a roof or dormer; most often it is triangular.
Historic window glass is a resource worth preserving. The distinctive ripples and bubbles of old glass are a character-defining feature of old houses, so when possible, broken panes should be repaired or replaced in kind. Specialty “restoration” glass is available commercially, but old windows are frequently discarded and can also be salvaged to obtain historic glass panes. Historic glass with no more than four breaks per pane can be repaired by careful re-adhesion of the pieces. Where possible, remove the glass from the sash, clean cracked edges with alcohol, and apply a bonding agent according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Where glass cannot readily be removed from the sash, try injecting the bonding agent along the cracks with a syringe.
A girt is a horizontal beam, used to connect and reinforce vertical posts in a timber frame. In two-story construction, a girt is the horizontal beam at the mid-point of the structure, also helping to support the floor of the second story.
Glazing has several definitions. It is used to describe the portion of a wall that is transparent (usually filled with glass windows or doors). Glazing is also used to describe the material used to seal the transition between glass window panes and the wooden framing, holding the glass panes in place and sealing the joint to prevent water from penetrating the window and protecting the wood below the way paint protects the flat surfaces of a wooden window. The act of glazing is to apply this material to a window. Glazing compound as a material is also known as putty and was traditionally made of a mixture of linseed oil and calcium carbonate (chalk). It hardens slowly over time through a process called oxidation. Today additional additives may be added to this mixture to decrease the drying time.
To remove graffiti from masonry, there are commercially available paint removers that should be safe on both granite and concrete. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Prepare a small test patch (at the rear, if possible) just to be certain that there will be no unanticipated reaction with the stone.
Gutters are the first line of defense against water damage to a house. All gutters, regardless of their material, must be cleaned routinely (twice a year or more frequently if a particular gutter collects debris quickly) to allow water to flow away from the building. Clogged gutters can damage elevation materials and structural members as roof water drips down the elevation, settles near the foundation and seeps into the cellar. Careful pruning of surrounding trees will prevent excess debris from clogging gutters and downspouts and impeding water flow. Fitting downspouts with leaders or splash-blocks facilitates the movement of rainwater and snowmelt away from the building’s foundation. Gutters should be pitched toward the downspouts. Wood gutters need periodic treatment, but brushing the interior of wood gutters with a mixture of raw linseed oil and minerals spirits (1:1 ratio) will extend the life of the wood and paint.
HABS/HAER: The Historic American Building Survey (HABS) was created in 1933 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to both document America’s rapidly vanishing architectural resources and provide work for unemployed architects, photographers and historians. The program field-tested documentation strategies still used today, such as recording contextual information; it also established quality standards for preservation documentation. The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) was founded in 1969 for documentation of historic sites and structures related to engineering and industry. Also related is the Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS) founded in October 2000 to document historic landscapes. All the original survey material is held by the Library of Congress.
Half-timbering is a type of construction using a timber-framed structure with the space between framing members filled in with nogging (see below). The structural frame of the building remains visible from the exterior of the building.
HardiePlank is a proprietary name for a relatively new building material used for exterior sheathing and made out of fiber cement board. Meant to imitate wooden clapboards, this product is promoted as a sustainable replacement to wooden clapboards, with lower maintenance costs. James Hardie Building Products also manufactures HardieShingle, HardiePanel, and HardieTrim.
A hipped or hip roof is one that slopes towards the peak from all four sides. The most common hip roof type has a ridge over a portion of the roof that creates two triangular sides and two polygon sides on the roof. The pitch of hipped roofs is often low. Also common with hipped roof construction are large overhanging eaves.
Housecleaning/housekeeping: Several detailed guides with expert advice on cleaning techniques for historic houses are available, including the brief but comprehensive Housekeeping for Historic Homes and House Museums by Melissa M. Heaver, (National Trust for Historic Preservation), Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson Scribner, an encyclopedic compendium of all aspects of cleaning and keeping house, and the English National Trust’s authoritative The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping by Sandwith and Stainton, Penguin Books. While both the American and English National Trust books present a curatorial standard for housekeeping, they provide detailed and careful advice on the full range of cleaning questions that can confront an old house owner and will be a handy reference.
HVAC stands for heating, ventilating, and cooling system. HVAC systems are used in buildings to control environmental conditions, meaning temperature, air quality and, to a lesser degree, relative humidity. HVAC systems range from simple to very complex and often have computerized controls to help the system maintain strict temperature and humidity levels.