Creating comfort within historical guidelines

Enhance your historic home while following state regulations.

While this blog post is written from the perspective of the state of Maryland, the concepts apply to historic neighborhoods throughout the country.

If you want to live in Frederick, Maryland, you may find yourself considering the purchase of a historic home. Many of the residential areas in Frederick contain historical value as the architecture is a tangible representation of the American Civil War. Although vintage homes are charming and unique, they do come with their own set of challenges.

Potential or current homeowners need to be aware of the obstacles they may come across while purchasing, remodeling or expanding an older home, as there are state regulations that restrict certain internal and external changes. The following are state-specific rules within Maryland that homeowners must follow when renovating or expanding a historic home.

Determine the parameters

To start any form of renovation on a historic home, you must first receive approval from the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). Before going through the hassle of filling out an application and waiting for it to be reviewed, make sure to determine the parameters of your project first. In Frederick, there is a Minor Rehabilitation list that specifies whether your project is considered routine maintenance. If your project is on that list, then you are not required to fill out an application through the HPC.

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Prioritize energy efficiency

Energy costs in historic homes are expensive. Most of these homes were built before the introduction of ventilation systems and rely on manual features for ventilation. Since this no longer fits our modern concept of comfort, how can owners get started with enhancing the comfort of a historic home?

The first step is getting an energy audit, which will help you identify air leaks in your home and the effectiveness of your heating and cooling system. Energy audits frequently identify the air infiltration in historical homes through cracks in building exteriors. For example, with passage of time, cracks form between the walls and the windows and doors, causing drafts and significantly raising your heating cost. Replacement windows and doors can be made to look similar to the original units while offering upgraded compression-seal technology that improves the exterior seal of the home.*

Once you receive your energy audit results, you can create a plan to improve the efficiency of your home. Frederick has implemented energy-conserving features that help owners reduce energy waste. One of these features includes allowing for the installation of photovoltaic material and solar water heating systems. Frederick will approve solar-powered products as long as they are not higher than the existing building and they do not damage the building. 

Another energy efficient way to boost comfort in your home is augmenting the existing HVAC with a radiant heating system. These systems can be placed underneath existing floorboards so that the structural integrity and finished flooring is maintained. Radiant buildings are more energy efficient than 90% of comparable buildings, so you can have your comfort and know that you're not wasting energy.

*Some jurisdictions, such as Frederick, limit modifications to all exterior materials including windows, so be sure to check your local area's guidelines beforehand.

Choose shingles over slate

Many historic homes have roofs of slate, which is a rock consisting of volcanic ash and clay.  Over the years, slate has been used less often as it is more costly and time-consuming to obtain. However, the guidelines still suggest the use of slate to match the historical appearance of your home. 

If you want to break away from slate, other cost-effective roof options are available that still meet Maryland’s historic home guidelines. You can install an architectural shingle roof, which requires less maintenance and support. Many companies have moved from slate to shingles due to the cost-effectiveness of shingles.

If you install a shingle roof, you would bypass violating strict state guidelines since shingles mimic slate. Additionally, switching from slate to shingles allows you to update your home while improving cooling and energy efficiency. 

Expand onto the preexisting

When homes were built 100-200 years ago, homeowners were more invested in satisfying basic necessities rather than interior lifestyle. Having a large kitchen or bedroom wasn't as popular as it is now; people were more concerned about where they would store their food and sleep. To accommodate the increasing complexity of our lives, we need larger spaces. This can be challenging for historic homeowners who want to expand, as it may compromise the architectural integrity of the building. Guidelines state that “Historic exterior walls cannot be removed or damaged to allow construction of an addition.” 

However, you can still expand without necessarily having to tear down any walls. Expanding to the rear of your house allows you to create additional space through your existing door without breaking down existing walls. The rear of the house is great for expansion as it is less visible to the public view.  

Although there may be strict guidelines that homeowners of historic homes must adhere to, there are plenty of ways to upgrade comfort that fall within these rules.

By Reem Basma, REHAU Communications

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