Home Rx: Ask Us Your Questions

 Home Rx 400

 

 

Ask us a question, any question: preservation@nthp.org   

 

Q: What's a good way to kill moss on a brick walkway and to keep it from getting slippery when wet?  I have a problem area on the north side of several buildings.  Thanks for the help.   —Kathy Borgman, Friends of Arrow Rock, Inc., Arrow Rock, MO

A: Moss and algae thrive in shaded areas where dampness persists, and can corrode historic brick and stone if left untreated. To control moss, regularly prune overhanging trees and make sure your sprinkler system doesn't add extra moisture to problem areas. Treat moisture-prone areas just prior to early spring or the fall rainy season: destroying existing moss is done most effectively when its growth is most rapid and rain is not expected for several days. Many websites point to Clorox and heavy-duty power-washers to curb moss build-up, but both options which will damage or discolor historic brick and stone—not to mention harm the environment. Try sprinkling coarse salt on moss patches before scrubbing the pathway with a stiff bristle brush. If that is too labor-intensive, use a NON-zinc-based formula such as Lilly Miller's "Moss-Out! For Roofs And Structures" to kill moss and prevent re-growth.

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Q: I have a large home built in 1903 with balloon framing. How is insulating this different than today's framing? I have heard that if not done right, you end up with a bigger problem. Any suggestions?" —Paula Bysfield, Aubun, NE

A: We took this question to Baird Smith, director of preservation at D.C.-based Quinn Evans Architects. Smith says yes, you're absolutely right that there are special issues when it comes to insulating a historic home with balloon framing. First it's important to establish where the house is located since thermal issues vary whether you're insulating against heat loss or heat gain, as each would garner very different solutions. Since your home is in Nebraska, Smith says: "There were concerns 20 years ago about insulation that might trap moisture or that might introduce harmful gasses into the environment so any insulation that could be blown in or introduced into the cavity is now very safe and probably frequently done in your location. They literally would have to cut a hole between each of the studs on the inside usually and let somebody introduce the insulation down into each cavity then patch the plaster again. It's pretty effective."

Balloon framing, Smith explains, is a general term for a wood-frame skeleton popular before the 1930s. Newer homes use plywood sheathing, but historically, homes like your 1903 house would have used diagonal sheathing, boards nailed on the diagonal. "It is a wood sheathing under the wood siding so you would not want to disturb the outside. It’s almost always done from the inside," Smith says. He recommends using blown-in insulation, which is a loose-fill fiberglass insulation that uses a professional blowing machine to fill hard-to-reach spaces, such as around framing. This method is an alternative to cellulose and won't settle or decay. Johns Manville Climate Pro® Loose Fill Blow-In Fiber Glass Insulation works well, Smith says.

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Minooka
A 75-year-old barn in Minooka, Ill.

Credit: Chris Boyce

Q: We have a very old wood-frame barn that needs lots of work and love poured into it. We just don't have the money to take on the project. Our barn has no doors, leaving it open for birds and other small animals to get in and make a mess. The floor of the loft is in bad shape and unsafe. It was built in the 1950s, and is 40' wide and 100' long. Do you know of any resources we could contact about funds to restore our old barn? —The Jones Family, Pauls Valley, Okla.

 

A: Some states have grant programs and other incentives for individuals to pursue historic preservation projects. You can learn about your options by contacting your State Historic Preservation Office.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma doesn’t offer much by way grants or incentives. But that doesn't mean you're completely out of luck. There are still federal income tax credits that may be available to you. There's a 20 percent tax credit for all barns eligible for, or already listed on, the National Register of Historic Places. Contact your local SHPO office to see if your property may qualify. A 10 percent credit is also available for all non-residential buildings built before 1936 that aren't eligible for listing on the National Register. A restoration project must meet certain requirements in order to be eligible for the credits; these requirements are outlined in a handy brochure published by the National Park Service

If neither of those credits works for you, there are a number of resources out there to help you make informed decisions about your restoration, which can help save money in the long run. Barn Again! is an excellent starting point, and The Barn Journal offers a wealth of information for all things barn-related, including a nationwide list of barn contractors who specialize in barn repairs.

Another option to consider is contacting your local hardware store or contractor to see if they would be willing to donate any supplies or materials, or at least refer you to other useful resources in your area, like places where you might be able to find salvaged material that could be useful for your project.

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Q: "My farm has been passed down in my family for generations. It's 120 years old, and the barn was built in 1891, a year after the main house. This past winter was really harsh on the structure. I want to be able to keep some, if not all, of the original timber. How do I tell what kind of condition the timber is in? Where do I begin restoring the barn so that it survives next winter?" Bill Jameson

A: Timothy Murphy of Colonial Barn Restoration, Inc., offers this advice: "You should be able to tell what kind of condition the timber is in by a visual inspection. If it is wet or has water stains on it, there are probably problems. If there is sawdust around it and small holes in the timber, it could be infested with insects. Sometimes we drill small holes in the timbers, like 1/4", to see how solid it is. If the drill goes into the wood very easily it is probably in bad shape. However, the sap wood around the outside of the timbers is much more susceptible to rot and insect infestation. It carries the sugar up the tree so things that prey on wood can survive there more easily. Sometimes you drill through the sap wood and find very solid material in the center of the timbers.

The most important thing that he can do to preserve the barn is to make sure there are no leaks in the roof. When the roof leaks, the barn deteriorates very quickly.

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Q: "My historic home dates to around the mid-1920s, when ceramic tile flooring was all the rage in America. In the kitchen, I am considering taking out the floor tiles and starting over new. They are nearly 90 years old and appear to have taken quite a beating. Before I give up completely, I want to try to preserve them, clean and maintain them somehow. Some of the tile looks like it may have moisture damage. What is the best way to clean and maintain my home's historic ceramic tile flooring?" Stephen Gabello

A: Unglazed tiles, like your encaustic floor tiles, have decorative designs actually created during the manufacturing process and are not a separate entity. Before beginning any maintenance it is recommended that you still get the tile looked over by someone knowledgeable in the field; an architectural historian or contractors with particular expertise in ceramics. You can clean ceramic tiles with a substance as basic as warm water but, for more extensive circumstances acid-based cleaners can be used. The floor, however, should be properly wetted before using any acid-based cleaner. Remove dirt prior to wetting and rinse thoroughly after applying any acidic cleaner. If a consultant confirms moisture damage has been done, sectional tile replacement may be a good route to consider. Thomas Kronenberger, of Kronenberger & Sons, Inc. states, "If there is chipping or any need of replacement, you'll want to match the tile accurately. There are a lot of companies that special in this. If you have a sample they can match it." As for cleaning and maintaining the tile, Kronenberger says, "it depends on the makeup of the tile. Same goes with historic masonry."

 

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Q: I have an 1840 historic home with plaster walls and windows with counter weights. I worry about problems with the plaster walls if I fill them with Tripolymer [foam insulation]:  Will there be issues with moisture?  Also, I want to be sure the foam won't block the counter weights. Have you heard of any problems with this? —H. Jean Smith

  Let's start with the good news. It is possible to insulate around windows using a combination of foam and rigid insulation without obstructing your counterweights. The key is careful application of the insulation. Your contractor will need to remove the window trim to see the size of the channel in which the weights move, then be certain not to block movement in any way.

Now for the not-so-good news. If you fill your historic plaster walls with Tripolymer, you will have to anticipate the possibility of moisture problems. Yes, spray-foam insulators are eco-friendly energy-reducers, but they're best used in structures with vapor barriers behind the plaster. And since your house was constructed before 1950, it won't have any vapor barrier.

Tripolymer and other spray-foam insulation expands and solidifies 30 seconds after it has been injected, providing an air barrier. Theoretically that's a good thing. But if moist air from everyday use seeps through hairline fractures in the plaster, then hits the insulation and condenses, the foam will slow the house's natural drying process. Wet insulation can lead to peeling paint, moist and deteriorating timbers—even the danger of termites.

Keep in mind that heat rises, so before worrying about your plaster walls, consider re-insulating your attic. A host of natural insulation materials are widely available, including cotton and cellulose.  For more information about weatherization, visit PreservationNation.org/weatherization.

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Q: I am the curator for a historic log cabin village in Frohna, Missouri. We have seven original log cabins, three of which date back to 1820, and the others were built between 1835-1840. We are at a point of having to re-chink all of them. A monumental project to say the least; however, we are searching for a recipe for the chinking that will last more than a few years. What has been used is a combination of lime putty, cement, and sand. Is this a standard "recipe" for chinking and, if so, how do you make it so that it lasts longer than a few years? If not, what other methods are used so the cabins still look as authentic as possible? —Lynda Lorenz

A: We took your question to Ryan Sigsbey of American Log Restoration, Inc. Here's what he had to say: "This is a question that I get a lot. And the answer depends greatly on what regulations the historical society has to follow. If you are looking to use a material that is meant to last, Perma-Chink or a similar product is the answer. This is a more flexible material that adheres to the wood better than the older mixtures. Maintenance is minimal. The other option is using the historic mixtures. There are several mixtures that can be found by doing an Internet search. These mixtures may take some fine tuning to get the proper consistency and look that you are trying to match. The downfall to these mixtures is that they will need constant maintenance and patching over the years. They do not adhere to the wood as well so you may still have a drafty cabin and moisture may still get into the logs through these cracks."

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Q: I am going to install new wiring in my historic house. Obviously I don't want to destroy the walls. Instead, I want to mount the wire on the surface of the wall. Is there a surface-mounted "conduit" that would look right in an 1840 house? —Robert Johnson

A: Before going with surface-mounted wiring, be sure you've exhausted all other options. (Any surface-mounted material, whether it's painted or not, will draw attention and mar the surface of a wall.) Closets are often overlooked as places to hide electrical conduit, and often there are ways an electrician can make a small incision in your closet wall and fish wire through to a desired location.  

But if you must "surface-wire" your c. 1840 home, the best way to do it is with wire molding because it is the least expensive, least obtrusive way to get power where you need it. Wire molding comes in a variety of sizes, can be installed just above baseboards (or below cornices), and can be painted the same color as your trim or walls. Most importantly, wire molding can be removed from historic walls without destroying them.

Maryland contractor John Baliles recommends a product called Wiremold, and surface installation is straightforward. Comply with all residential safety codes before starting any work, and make sure to mount wire molding tight to surface trim.

 

If you are only electrifying an antique fixture, consider using cloth-covered wire. Baliles says Sundial Wire has a wide selection of cloth-covered options that give a vintage feel to cords.

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Q: When we have deluges of rain, and our groundwater level is high, then we have water come through the brick walls of our 1918 Prairie Style two-story brick home that we have preserved for the use of the community. We've added two sump pumps, but almost always have a problem with one corner of the basement area (which is where the foundation break, which has been repaired, was located). We will have to raise funds to do this repair, but are not aware of what methods people use in parts of the country where basements are common. Can you make recommendations on how to handle this problem? —Gail Loafman, Founder/Chairman, The (W.T. Foreman) Prairie House Foundation

 

A: Two waterproofing businesses that we talked to recommend other methods over injection gel. "It's not really a permanent solution," says Todd Black, manager of TerraFirma Foundation Systems in Oregon. Monty Litzenberg, president of the American Basement Company in Maryland, recommends perforated pipe with stone, known as drain tile. "Installed properly, this will manage all water and keep your floor bone dry," he says. Drain tile is required under national building code for new construction, Litzenberg says, lending further credibility to this solution. Before installing drain tile, however, Litzenberg suggests repairing interior brick. "You also need to make sure all efforts have been made on repairs and cleaning of rain gutters and downspouts," he adds. "Any sinkholes around the home should be filled as well, and surface soil should be sloped away from the house."

For a less invasive and less expensive option, Black likes to install a product called WaterGuard, which is an interior trench drain that controls the water that makes it inside. "We also have some wall coverings that make that water run down into the gutter system, so you're not preventing it; you're controlling it," Black says.

As always, it's worth contacting your local preservation group to determine if any methods would devalue your historic property.

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Q: We had a new traditional terne roof put on our 1838 Classical Revival in the late 1980s. We used linseed-oil based red oxide primer as a base coat, but then put on a regular, oil-based exterior finish coat. We have had nothing but trouble since. When the roof manufacturer came out with a new latex product for tin roofs, they promised it would work, and we tried it as a finish coat. It began to peel almost immediately, even though it was applied in almost perfect weather conditions. We have since seen hundreds of terne roofs peeling, all of which used the new latex paint. Long-time traditional painters in our community, some of whom used the new latex paint on their own homes, are now stuck just like we are, with a very expensive terne roof and no way to save it, since we cannot paint over the peeling paint and scraping removes the thin tin layer exposing the steel underneath. Is there any way to save the roof? We do not wish to lose it but are now considering a faux slate replacement. —Edward Schiesser, Fredericksburg, Va.

A: Preservation contacted Dennis Heaphy, the resident tinsmith at the Statue of Liberty, for a professional opinion. A fourth-generation tinsmith, Heaphy in turn asked his father and uncle, who taught him the trade. The consensus, he reports, was that the roof surface was not prepped properly. There is a protective finish on the rolled terne tin that is fine for soldering but not for the application of paint, Heaphy says. From what he gathers, the house still has an intact, non-leaking, standing-seam terne tin roof. The effort to fabricate and install the roof was monumental, and to remove it and start over would be over-kill. If there is no rust on the newly exposed portions, Heaphy suggests removing the peeling paint gingerly with a plastic putty knife (get quite a few, because they are going to break). Clean and dry each area, and then re-apply the paint. Painting the roof again periodically may be necessary. Standing-seam roofing is an art, Heaphy says, and scrapping the roof would be tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

We also checked in with Charles Bell at Follansbee, a provider of terne roofs. Here is his response:

I would agree with the tinsmith, that this specific project was not cleaned properly. As I see it, the original finish coat cracked and peeled, the roof was not properly prepared and cleaned, the new paint came off as the remains of the original finish coat continued to peel, and the problem compounded as more paint was applied.

There are two major issues that need to be addressed when painting terne. The surface must be clean, and the proper paints must be used. Unlike wood, where the paint soaks into the wood and the uneven surfaces help form a bond to help adhesion, metal must be clean to help the paint film stick. In the case of repainting, the existing paint must have good adhesion in order for the new paint to stick.

Secondly, the type of paint used must be specifically formulated for use on metal roofing. The Terne roof will expand and contract with temperature change. There are many paints sold saying they are for use on metal, but they don't specifically say they are for roofing.

Our preparation guidelines call for a high-pressure wash to blast off any loose paint. Additionally, we call for some type of mild detergent to clean the surface. While the cleaning may have been the major cause of this problem, I believe the original paint that was used also contributed. I suspect that the finish coat was not able to move with the metal and eventually the film cracked and peeled. I see no reason why the roof can not be brought back to good condition if they follow all the above procedures.  

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Q: I recently heard about soy insulation. Is this a viable option for a historic home? We have a 1910 Craftsman in the Pacific Northwest that needs insulating. —Christy Taylor

 

A: Soy insulation is more expensive than traditional insulation: more than double that of other options. Soybean insulation forms a tighter air barrier than fiberglass batting, however, potentially saving more money on energy bills.

Installation must be done carefully in an older home, says Steve Girnius, owner of SoyGreen Solutions in Pennsylvania, because it expands and fills cavities. "It's possible, and time consuming, but I think it's worth it because the product performs well," Girnius says.

Before installing insulation in historic homes, all factors should be considered, including climate. The best way to get started is to find an energy auditor to assess your home, and then run ideas by your local historic preservation group. Bottom line? Do your research and go forth carefully.

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Q: I live in a 19th-century rowhouse with original wood windows. My carpenter says I can't install exterior storms unless I "box in" the windows—which I don't want to do. Could we install interior storm windows? And is that a good idea? —Timothy Boggs, Washington, D.C.

A: Dave Martin, president of Cincinnati-based Allied Window, Inc., says interior storm windows would be appropriate for your home. He says magnetic interior storms slip into U-shaped channels added to the tops of existing windows, attach to aluminum stops, and sit on special weather-stripping at the sill. The result is a tight-sealing magnetic storm window that is easily removable. Operating versions of the inserts with screens are also available.

 

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Q: Help! After a driving rainstorm last week, a water spot appeared on the ceiling in our downstairs living room. We live in a historic townhouse in Washington, D.C., and the stain is just above our fireplace. I was hoping to find and fix the leak myself to avoid having a contractor come in and potentially harm the historic woodwork around the hearth. Is this feasible?

A: Water will find and follow the path of least resistance to the lowest point of elevation, whether it's over an impermeable roof surface, or through a hole and into the house itself. Water can travel quite a distance before it becomes visible.

To find the source of leaks, some contractors recommend simulating rain with a garden hose. Start by "watering" the lowest possible leak location on a pitched roof and moving upward; ask a helper to monitor the inside of your attic for drips. (Warning: Obviously, walking on a wet roof can be dangerous. Take all necessary precautions before alighting on any elevated surface.) Once you've located the source of the drip in your attic, hammer a long nail from the attic upwards through the roof. The nail poking through the rooftop will mark an area where shingles should be replaced.

Because your leak has appeared in the ceiling above the ground floor, several stories below your roof, you may have difficulty locating its source in the attic. If that's the case, don't try to fix this particular problem yourself. Hire a professional roof contractor instead.

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 Q: My 1940s house has a beautiful slate roof that's showing its age. Some of the shingles are badly eroded, and others are missing. Where can I learn more about this wonderful material and get advice on its care? —JoAnne Currie

 

VA, Bedford CountyA: Roofs covered in the quarried rock called slate have been popular on American houses since the late 19th century. Many have survived. For reasons of beauty, authenticity, and cost—a new slate roof can cost almost four times as much as a standard roof—the best route to take is to replace damaged or lost shingles. Obviously, don't do it yourself. Hire a roofing contractor who specializes in slate and comes with a solid record, showcased at nearby houses you can visit. Don't let anybody (contractors, neighbors, that little voice in your head) talk you into wholesale replacement of the roof, unless it is really warranted (e.g., most of the slate has crumbled or the whole roof leaks). And make sure replacement shingles are high-quality and durable—from the "slate states" of Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, or Virginia. There is inferior slate out there. For a full review of the subject, check out the National Park Service's Preservation Brief 29 (www.nps.gov/hps/tps/briefs/brief29.htm), an excellent guide to maintaining slate roofs that also discusses their construction and styling, the varieties of slate, and the history of their use in the United States. Finally, don't fret if you need to dispose of worn-out shingles—slate is a natural material.

 

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Q: I own a 1924 summer cottage in Maine with an old-fashioned fuse box. Should I replace it and install modern circuit breakers, or stick with what I've got? Are fuse boxes now considered dangerous?  —T. Rouviere

A: It depends on whether or not the fuse box is adequately equipped to handle your electrical demands. Clearly, historic houses like yours were wired when the demand for energy was far less than it is today. The number of circuits installed, as well as the carrying capacity of the wiring, was minimal compared to what is installed in a modern house. For example, a house built 50 years ago may have needed just four 15-amp circuits. Today's houses are often built with dozens of circuits and 150 or 200 amps of capacity.

 

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The question really comes down to the capacity of the fuse box and whether or not any new circuits have been added. If you have a 60-amp fuse box with just a handful of circuits—and especially if someone has replaced 15-amp fuses with 20- and 30-amp ones in an attempt to solve the capacity problem—you may have a fire hazard on your hands. But if an electrician had the foresight many years ago to install a 100-150- amp fuse box with dozens of circuits, rewiring the house in the process, you're probably fine. It depends on your energy usage and whether or not the major appliances are gas or electric. Call a professional to come take a look if you have any questions.  

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 Q: I have a coal-burning fireplace in our c. 1886 home that I would like to use this holiday season. The chimney is in good shape, but there is not enough depth to convert the firebox into a wood-burning fireplace. Can I convert it to a gas fireplace that will heat my home without destroying its historic integrity? And, if so, how?  —Judith M.

 A: Before you do any renovation work, contact the National Chimney Sweep Guild and hire a local sweep to clean and inspect your chimney. Coal fires often emitted sulfur dust which, when mixed with moisture, created sulfuric acid powerful enough to erode brick. An experienced chimney sweep can assess the condition of your chimney and recommend repairs, if required.

The best way to convert a coal-burning fireplace to a gas-burning one is to install a gas fireplace insert. The insert can be a powerful source of heat but does requires a lined chimney; because your home was built in 1886, chances are your chimney is unlined. If you move forward with plans for a gas fireplace, start by searching for a "heater-rated," vented appliance. (We thought the Victorian Fireplace Shop had a nice selection.) Closed-front, direct-vent models with a glass window have the greatest efficiency.

Some inserts are relatively easy to install, but please note that certain states require HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning) certification to alter or upgrade a chimney. Check your local regulations before proceeding.

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Number One Rule: Be very careful with heat guns and other paint-removal devices. Misuse has caused far too many fires, igniting wood as well as leaves and animal nests. Soy-based paint remover is a good substitute (one brand is Soy-It Paint & Adhesive Stripper). Realize that, in general, opening up walls and floors increases the chance of fire. Monitor electrical connections, solvents, and that classic ogre, oily rags—and don’t feel guilty about replacing ancient wiring. Use shielded cable rather than conduit. You probably have smoke detectors, so follow suit with fire sprinklers. Get the booklet Fire Safety in Historic Buildings, which explains detection and suppression methods and how to optimize them by working with building inspectors and contractors. It’s available through Preservation Books at www.preservationbooks.org. Also, check out the considerable building-safety offerings of the National Fire Protection Association (which has mounted a residential sprinkler campaign) at www.nfpa.org

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Q: We recently purchased a house built in 1927. In the basement, a few pipes have asbestos tape on them. Do we need to do anything about it now, or only if we do renovations sometime in the future that will disturb the pipes? —Joel I. and John M.

 

A: Asbestos tape was once commonly used for ductwork or steam pipes. To confirm that your tape does indeed contain asbestos, have a local lab test a small sample. (Here's a list of labs.) The primary concern is that toxic fibers will become airborne, usually after the tape becomes brittle, dry, and starts to crack. If the tape is in good condition, it probably poses little threat. You can coat the tape with a special paint or other type of sealant, perhaps non-asbestos lagging, to trap fibers. It's safest to have a licensed professional skilled in asbestos removal do this work. If you're planning to do renovations that will eventually disturb the tape, it's probably best to remove it now. Contact your local licensed professional for a quote.  

 

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Q: I live in a 1920s house that underwent some unfortunate updating during the 1960s. What is the best way to remove texturized ceiling material that had probably been used to conceal cracked plaster, and can this be done without hiring professionals? —Trinket Shaw

A: Textured or "popcorn" ceilings installed before 1980 may contain asbestos so, before trying to remove the spray-on coating yourself, send a small sample to an EPA-certified testing lab to see if you need to hire a certified asbestos removal contractor. If your ceiling is asbestos-free and paint-free, you can remove the textured covering yourself, though the process is both taxing and messy. Using painter's tape, cover the walls and floors with several layers of heavy-duty plastic and protect the floors with rosin paper. Take a garden hose and spray the ceiling with water so that the ceiling is wet, but not soaked. After a few minutes, scrape away the damp "popcorn" with a dulled joint knife. If a spot requires hard scraping, spray more water, let it soak, then try again. Once the coating is completely removed and the ceiling is dry, repair bare joints. Then sand the ceiling, apply a sealer (such as KILZ), and primer. Complete the project with a coat or two of paint.

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Smart Strip BucketsQ: We live near a historic district, but previous owners painted our brick house, and we'd like to undo the damage. How do you remove paint from brick? —Lucy Schreiber

A: Very carefully. Whatever you do, don't pressure-wash the exterior, as it could damage the brick. We recommend hiring professionals who can make sure to protect the mortar joints and prevent lead dust from flying into the air. If you live near an historic district, you should also call the district to see what it recommends and if anyone knows of any local paint-removing professionals. (Many painting companies also offer paint-removal services.) If it's a spot of graffiti that ails you, look into SmartStrip by Peel Away, a biodegradable water-based stripper. Lastly, if you want to clean your brick, we recommend Cathedral Stone's D/2 cleanser, which has been used on various historic surfaces, such as brick buildings in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. It's important to note, however, that brick homes have been painted for as long as brick has been a building material. Owners painted their brick houses to conceal alterations, such as bricked-up windows, but also to conceal poor-quality bricks. Check with your local historic district to see if painting brick has historically been a common practice for your neighborhood, and for your house.

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Abrams Guide BookQ: Before I start restoring my house, I'd like to find out more about its architecture. But how? —Susan Delaney

A: Can't tell Greek Revival from Gothic Revival, a mullion from a muntin? Then you need A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester, which has been edifying the architecturally perplexed since 1984. With crisply organized text, simple drawings of houses and their identifying features, and photos of examples nationwide, the McAlesters explain all the styles—and their amazing regional variants. Tying it together are essays on stylistic history, house shapes, and structural anatomy. This is your go-to guide, whether you're a casual explorer or love to dig into the details. The Abrams Guide to American House Styles (2004) by William Morgan is less exhaustive but just as comprehensive. Stuffed with gorgeous color photos of restored dwellings, the book keeps things up to date with sections on post-modernism and deconstructivism, noting the latter houses for their "multiple—clashing or oddly interlocking—forms." A chapter on curiosities gathers undefinables like the Lustron House. You'll find that both of these books, by the way, make good travel guides.

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Q: I live in a 1912 house that's full of charm, but expensive to heat. How can I make my house more energy-efficient this winter? —Jim Beckham

 

March/April 2009-Cover-200

A: Here are a few ideas, and don't forget to read last year's green issue for more tips:

• Add or upgrade your attic insulation. You'll reduce heating and cooling costs by as much as 20 percent.
• Close fireplace dampers. An open damper means you're paying to heat (or cool) the great outdoors. 

• Turn your refrigerator up to 38-40 degrees, and your freezer up to five degrees. (Don't worry, the rum raisin ice cream will still be frozen).
• Unplug appliances (cell phone chargers, TVs) when not in use. The EPA estimates that electronics drawing power when turned "off" cost the average homeowner $100 per year.
• Install compact fluorescents. They use a fraction of the energy consumed by old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.
• Turn down the water heater to at least 130 degrees. Then wrap it with a pre-cut jacket or blanket to save 4-9% in heating costs.
• Add individual thermostats to old radiators so that each operates on its own "zone."
• Install low-volume showerheads and dual-flush toilets to save water.
• Use ceiling fans to circulate warm air in winter, and reduce perceived interior temperate in summer.
• Maintain windows and storm windows, and consider window treatments: A close fitting shade can reduce heat loss in winter by 20 percent or more!

More on "winterization"

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