From the Roof Down...and Skin Deep
graphic of connected houses with link to TPS homepage

Beyond Maintenance...

The Dividing Line. As you can tell, what we're emphasizing in this distance learning program is routine maintenance of your historic house's exterior skin--also called the weather envelope. Maintenance is, after all, preservation! If you let things go too long, you can almost be assured of more serious problems.

But that may be the reality, no matter how much you wring your hands. In fact, you may have inherited parts and systems of a house from a previous owner that are beyond maintenance and minor repairs. Whatever your house's personal history, what is the dividing line between superficial deterioration and big trouble? Here are some examples:

Extensive shingle failure requires complete re-roofing. This asphalt shingle roof has stood up to the weather for more than 30 years. But it has now reached the end of its practical life and will begin leaking within just a few years.
deteriorated roof
Severely deteriorated roof. Photo: ŠJohn Leeke. (Click photo to enlarge.)

10% of the existing shingles have fallen off, revealing the lighter blue unweathered shingles beneath. Another 5% are ready to blow off in the next storm, having lost their granular surface exposing the black asphalt. 40% more are brittle and buckled. This roof is beyond spot repairs because the damage is so extensive. In this case complete re-roofing makes more economic sense than spot repairs.


A sagging beam means structural re-building.
sagging porch
Sagging porch. Photo: ŠJohn Leeke. (Click photo to enlarge.)
The peeling paint on this soffit is beyond ordinary spot paint maintenance. It is just one symptom of major structural problems. If you see paint peeling down to bare wood it means excessive moisture is building up within the wood. Here, that moisture has decayed the internal structural beam, resulting in the more serious symptom--sagging of the span between the porch columns.

The condition of the structural beam should be investigated by a professional engineer, contractor or preservation consultant who will drill holes in the finish woodwork or carefully remove small sections of woodwork to examine the condition of structural members within. If temporary structural support is needed it should be installed by a professional with plenty of structural repair experience.

Bricks and mortar missing from structural arch leads to re-building.
bricks missing from structural arch
Bricks missing from structural arch. Photo: ŠJohn Leeke. (Click photo to enlarge.)
This arch-topped window is set into the brick masonry wall of a 19th century building. A roof leak has deteriorated the mortar at the arch and a few bricks have fallen out. The roof has already been repaired. Because the missing bricks weaken the structural integrity of the arch, it should be repaired by a professional mason with a strong knowledge of traditional structural masonry systems. In the meantime, the gap should be sealed up with removable caulk and plastic to prevent rain water from blowing into the wall.

Removal of existing siding, preparatory to restoration of historic siding
Removal of existing siding. Photo: ŠJohn Leeke. (Click photo to enlarge.)


"Later" siding removal is restoration, not maintenance. This homeowner has discovered 19th century clapboards and trim underneath mid-20th century shingles. He is planning to remove all the shingles to restore the original appearance of his house. This is a major restoration effort that goes far beyond ordinary maintenance of existing materials and features. He will need thorough photographic and historical documentation if the work is to be consistent from the roof--down.


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