Owning a house in Elgin's Historic Districts, be it 50 or 150 years old,
means accepting the responsibilities of curatorial character. They are
frequently inconvenient, occasionally expensive, but always rewarding for
the way they preserve the qualities that make Elgin unique. They are the
reasons why Elgin remains one of America's most unique historic urban
Preservation has always been the goal of the original Historic District. But
preservation means more than just safeguarding the city's cultural resources
from inappropriate change. It also means maintaining the city as a city, a
fully functional complex of the components of human life - homes, churches,
businesses, schools and institutions. We personally encourages the
interweaving of modern life with the past in a way that presents Elgin to
the world not as a museum, but as a vibrant and evolving place where the
continuum of Elgin's long and colorful history is both visible and
For homeowners this requires stewardship of a special and dedicated nature.
The stewardship of historic houses, as well as newer houses within historic
districts, has been the subject of much research, some of it complex. And
yet, by adopting a basic philosophy from medicine - first off, do no harm -
the essence of stewardship in Elgin is best summed up.
"Doing no harm" in Elgin doesn't mean never making changes. But it does
require that change be more the product of necessity than popular fad. This
approach, which demands a degree of restraint not always common to 21st
century lifestyles, is outlined in the Secretary of the Interior's Standards
and explained in technical terms in the National Park Service's Preservation
Briefs, which are available on the National Park Service's website.
These important guidelines have been used to direct preservation,
reconstruction and rehabilitation of historic buildings in America for the
past quarter century. By following them, you can ensure that the historic
integrity of your house will remain intact while it is adapted to the
demands of modern life.
John and Holly are members of the Elgin Area Historical Society
John is the Chairman of the Elgin Heritage Commission
John also sits on the Design Review Subcommittee.
Historic "Built In America" Series from the Library of Congress
Highlights from the "Built in America Series"
Timber-frame Houses in the Historic American Buildings Survey
In colonial America, and particularly New England, the abundance of wood and
the English tradition of building made the timber frame house popular. This
select list includes examples of HABS-documented timber-frame buildings
where the documentation in its entirety provides a good picture of the
building and shows some aspect of framing.
NEED FOR SPECIAL CONSENT
One thing of which everyone should be aware is the need for consent for work
done to historic buildings. In simple terms, planning permission is needed
for any building operations - other than those affecting just the interior
of a building - but for many schemes which impact on the historic
environment, such permission may, indeed frequently is, granted by the City.
Consent for the demolition of all or the significant bulk of a building in a
conservation area and of course most works will need to be approved under
the current Building Codes.
It is undoubtedly part of the job of a professional running a building
contract (be it the homeowner or the general contractor) to know what
consents are required (and to seek advice in cases of doubt); and to obtain
such consents as are needed, through the appropriate channels. Further, as a
large project proceeds, the design may change. Often these changes will be
quite minor, but if they are more significant, it will be necessary to
consult the appropriate authorities promptly, to see whether the consents
already obtained can be modified, or whether new applications are required.
The sanction for failure in this regard can be severe. Firstly (in terms of
penalty), contractors and consultants face the possibility of being sued by
the client for negligence (particularly where failure to obtain the
necessary consents leads to major delay or the need for expensive redesign).
Secondly, failure to obtain listed building or conservation area consent, or
to comply with the conditions attached to such consent, is a criminal
offence; and the planning authority is entitled to prosecute the contractors
who actually carried out the works, and the professionals who inspired them,
as well as or in preference to the owner of the building.
Today the world is losing its architectural and archaeological cultural
heritage faster than it can be documented. Human-caused disasters, such as
war and uncontrolled development, are major culprits. Natural disasters,
neglect, and inappropriate conservation are also among the reasons that our
heritage is vanishing.
While we should strive to preserve as much as possible of our architectural
and archaeological cultural heritage, we cannot save everything. One option
is to document heritage before it is lost. A permanent record will transmit
knowledge of these places to future generations. Equally important,
documentation is the thread that runs through the entire process of cultural
heritage conservation. Indeed, documentation can help keep heritage from
being destroyed or forgotten, and it serves to communicate, not only to
conservation professionals but to the public at large, the character, value,
and significance of the heritage.
ISSUES RELATED TO WOOD CLADDINGS AND SYNTHETIC SIDINGS The Cons:
Vinyl and aluminum siding can trap moisture inside the walls of an older
frame building and
accelerate rot and decay and cause costly structural repairs. To prevent
this, continuous wall vents
under eaves and weep holes need to be installed in vinyl and aluminum
siding. Aluminum and vinyl
sidings can hide problems, such as water penetration, and allow them to go
uncorrected until that
they become expensive major repairs.
The energy conservation benefits of synthetic sidings are overrated. Studies
show that 75%
of a building's heat loss is through the roof. Installing attic insulation
is a far more cost effective
method of reducing heat loss than is installing synthetic siding.
While synthetic siding is marketed as being maintenance free, it is not the
case. Both vinyl
and aluminum sidings need regular cleaning. Vinyl siding may crack if hit,
especially during cold
weather, and it may be punctured. Aluminum siding can puncture, dent, warp,
cup, peel, and/or
fade. The colors of both vinyl and aluminum siding fade. It is difficult to
match colors for selective
replacement due to fading. Painting the synthetic siding may void
manufacturers' warrantees. Once
painted, synthetic siding needs to be repainted as often as wood. Wood
cladding can also be
damaged, but it is considerably easier to repair and repairs to wood after
painting are usually
Vinyl and aluminum siding appear thinner and visually lighter than wood.
This is particularly
the case with aluminum siding. Often it is not possible to match with
synthetic materials the visual
appearance of the historic wood shingles, clapboards, or other cladding.
If there is a fire, the fumes from vinyl can be hazardous. Fires in
often are more difficult to extinguish than in wood-clad buildings.
Fiber-cement siding (Hardiplank and other brands) is a close visual match to
wood. It is
manufactured in a wide range of sizes and shapes and can look like clapboard
or even decorative
shingles. It can be cut with hand tools and painted.
Wood claddings can last hundreds of years. Vinyl siding usually has a 20
Some manufacturers' warrantees guarantee fiber-cement siding for 50 years.
Typically vinyl and aluminum siding cost less than fiber-cement siding.
costs less than wood claddings. Often partial replacement of wood cladding
can correct a problem in
a less costly manner than replacing all the exterior cladding material.