Where We Live: Historic Preservation

Hollander Building, Hartford
Where We Live: Historic Preservation
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Where We Live: Historic Preservation

You know how we love main street preservation and architecture here on where we live. Sometimes, though, you need to step back and ask: Is it really better to spend money fixing up an old building than replacing it with a new one?  

That’s part of the conversation at an event sponsored by the CT Trust for Historic Preservation: “Historic Places and Property Values and Connecticut’s Economy: What do these all have in common?” Today we'll talk to Donovan Rypkema, an industry leader in the economics of preserving historic structures. He'll be in Connecticut on Friday. More information at cttrust.org.



Historic Preservation...

Over twenty years ago a friend, Greg, and I stopped in at the Beet sugar Factory, circa 1906, I wanted to meet with a real estate agent to propose "The Beat Generation," a restaurant/bar overlooking artisans creating wrought iron, blowing glass, woodworking, etc. We also met the younger owner, out hoeing weeds in the rough cut yard next to an antique pickup. The new project will put the city of Glendale, Arizona on the micro-distillery map. Unfortunately the idea was premature, but I wish Mr Ray Klemp all the best!!! If anyone involved in the project has any questions or required assistance, please contact us 602 870 4747 or 719 502 7448. Good luck!

Historic Preservation needs a more critical eye


You may have opened a can of worms letting this historic preservation guy present his one sided and unchallenged view of the subject. I hope you get a chance to follow up on this topic.

My qualifications to comment:
• I have 30 years of experience in Construction Management
• Certified EPA Lead Renovator
• Licensed Building Code Official
• Certified Energy Rater and Tester (HERS)
• My family owns two 1800’s vintage homes, which I have worked on over the last 30 years as well.
• As a professional, I have worked on the management team for commercial historic restorations.

I would make the case that historic replication is a better idea. Tear down the old building, build a new one with modern systems to replicate the historic home. Re-install desirable architectural features.

I. Occupational and Residential Environmental Health:

Old homes are contaminated with:
Lead (one sugar packet full of lead dust in a typical apartment is enough to permanently cause brain damage in children (Federal EPA)
Pesticides: residual chemical contamination from Chlordane, etc
Radon and other soil gases
Contamination from a century of burning coal.

These contaminants are Dangerous to construction workers and residents alike.

FACT: The EPA is citing lead paint contamination as the leading cause in over 50% of learning disabled children!

(Think North End of Hartford, and the legacy poverty issues. These kids are disabled right out of the womb, by nature of the contaminated housing they grow up in.

This would make a great topic by itself, for you someday!)

These contaminants don’t go away after remodeling of a structure, and worse, are often stirred up to re-contaminate the residence, and injure the construction workers and residents.

II. Building Science:

Old homes were successful structures because they leaked air: The structure “breathed”, allowing moisture to pass through and keep the structure dry.
Most of the work done on historic homes is piece-meal over time, and does not have the benefit of a building science and energy professional to coach the contractor and homeowner on the unintended consequences of their actions.
Moisture migrates from the soil, up through the cellar floor, through the masonry foundation, and up into the structure. Once you start sealing and insulating, the moisture becomes trapped in the home’s assembly.
New homes prevent moisture migration by the proper placement of air and moisture barriers, and by design of building assemblies that control air and moisture migration. These systems are not easily duplicated in historic restorations.
Moisture creates mold, provides a happy habitat for wood destroying insects, fungi and microbes.
The by- products of these insects, microbial, and fungal growths are extreme irritants for persons with asthma and other respiratory complications. (Think Asthma epidemic in poor neighborhoods)
Sealing a home changes the air pressures, and causes problems with gas appliance venting, harbors contamination from gas cooking stoves and like appliances. Sealing can exacerbate Radon and other soil gas contaminants and carcinogens.
Sealing a home improperly can create moisture and condensation issues where it was never present before, causing rot, insect decay, mold, peeling paint, rotted roofs, etc.

III. Structural and Fire Resistance

Good: Older homes were built with stronger old growth lumber
Bad: Older homes were engineered for lighter floor loads, and can’t handle the demands of today’s residences. Older homes used less than ½ of the structural wood today’s homes use.

Good: The home has not burned down yet, it must be a lucky house.
Bad: It was only luck that kept if from burning down yet. These historic structures are dangerous because the framing cavities permit flame, smoke, or hot gases to travel rapidly through the structure.
These homes are dangerous for firefighters, because massive structural damage occurs rapidly, making it unsafe for firefighters to attempt rescues and aggressive firefighting techniques.
New homes compartmentalize these combustion products, to prevent the rapid travel of the fire.

IV. Tax Credits
A tax credit is a Government subsidy. Not paying a tax you owe is the same as paying it, and getting a check back from the government. This is real Government cash, not a paper shuffle of money. This is no different than the Government writing a check to the building owner directly.
What is the Government’s interest in historic preservation? Why is this a priority over the other demands of government?
Most “historic districts” are in fairly well-to-do areas. Why should the taxpayers subsidize these privately owned projects?
These are boondoggle Government welfare checks to the not-so-needy. Case in point: the Hale Mill Windham Hotel in Yantic, CT (Norwich). The developer received Millions of Dollars in Tax credits for maintaining the historical façade of this long abandoned textile factory. The developer was already a millionaire. The Wyndham Hotel operator was planning on making millions on the property. What was the Government’s (society’s) interest in maintaining this building to the extent that these private businesses needed a government sudsidy? Oh, and by the way, the project went bust, the developer walked away with all the historic tax credit money in her pocket, the building is wending its way through foreclosure and auction, having sat vacant for 4 years.

Hope you have time to revisit this and give some balance to the argument.