When you have an older home it is important to be aware of Lead. This does not necessarily mean that all surfaces with lead paint is dangerous. There are conditions when lead paint is not a hazard if the paint is in good condition and is not on an impact or friction surface like a window, door or stair.

The EPA has developed standards to help property owners, lead paint professionals and government agencies identify lead hazards in residential paint, dust and soil. The hazards may be paint chips, lead in household dust, child-accessible or mouthable painted surfaces of windows and doors, and lead in residential soil.

A preferred approach, consistent with The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, calls for removing, controlling, or managing the hazards rather than wholesale-or even partial-removal of the historic features and finishes. This is generally achieved through careful cleaning and treatment of deteriorating paint, friction surfaces, surfaces accessible to young children, and lead in soil. Lead-based paint that it not causing a hazard is thus permitted to remain, and, in consequence, the amount of historic finishes, features, and trim work removed from a property is minimized.

The Preservation Brief 37  Appropriate Methods for Reducing Lead-Paint Hazards in Historic Housing, does a great job of focusing on the assessment:

Because the hazard of lead poisoning is tied to the risk of ingesting lead, careful planning can help to determine how much risk is present and how best to allocate available financial resources. An owner, with professional assistance, can protect a historic resource and make it lead-safe using this three-step planning process:

  1. Identify the historical significance of the building and architectural character of its features and finishes;
  2. Undertake a risk assessment of interior and exterior surfaces to determine the hazards from lead and lead­ based paint; and,
  3. Evaluate the options for lead hazard control in the context of historic preservation standards.

The historical significance, integrity, and architectural character of the building always need to be assessed before work is undertaken that might adversely affect them. An owner may need to enlist the help of a preservation architect, building conservator or historian.

Features and finishes of a historic building that exhibit distinctive characteristics of an architectural style; represent work by specialized craftsmen; or possess high artistic value should be identified so they can be protected and preserved during treatment. When it is absolutely necessary to remove a significant architectural feature or finish-as noted in the first two priorities listed below-it should be replaced with a new feature and finish that matches in design, detail, color, texture, and, in most cases, material.

Finally, features and finishes that characterize simple, vernacular buildings should be retained and preserved; in the process of removing hazards, there are usually reasonable options for their protection. Wholesale removal of historic trim and other seemingly less important historic material, undermines a building’s overall character and integrity and, thus, is never recommended.

For each historic property, features will vary in significance. As part of a survey of each historic property, a list of priorities should be made, in this order:

  • Highly significant features and finishes that should always be protected and preserved;
  • Significant features and finishes that should be carefully repaired or, if necessary, replaced in-kind or to match all visual qualities; and
  • Non-significant or altered areas where removal, rigid enclosure, or replacement could occur.

This hierarchy gives an owner a working guide for making decisions about appropriate methods of removing lead paint.

What is Lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. While it has some beneficial uses, it can be toxic to humans and animals causing of health effects.

What makes lead paint a hazard?

  • The lead paint is deteriorating. As the paint breaks down, it releases paint chips and lead dust that can contaminate the home and be easily ingested by young children through hand-to-mouth activity.
  • The lead paint is on friction or impact surfaces. Impact to surfaces like door frames or stairs can damage the paint and release lead.
  • The lead paint is on child-accessible surfaces that show evidence of teeth marks. Be aware of lead paint on surfaces such as window sills, railings, and stair edges that are child height and have been or may be chewed on or mouthed by a child.

EPA’s Input To Lower Your Chances of Exposure to Lead 

Simple steps like keeping your home clean and well-maintained will go a long way in preventing lead exposure. You can lower the chances of exposure to lead in your home, both now and in the future, by taking these steps:

Determine if your family is at risk for lead poisoning with the Lead Poisoning Home Checklist (PDF).

There are safe procedures to remove lead paint. You as the homeowner and/or consumer should insist on seeing the EPA’s Lead Certified Seal

Common renovation, repair, and painting activities that disturb lead-based paint (like sanding, cutting, replacing windows, and more) can create hazardous lead dust and chips which can be harmful to adults and children. Home repairs that create even a small amount of lead dust are enough to poison your child and put your family at risk. If you live in a home or apartment that was built before 1978, make sure you renovate right with a contractor that is EPA or state Lead-Safe Certified. Only contractors trained with approved courses and certified by EPA have learned about careful work practices and thorough clean-up, which will allow your home renovation or repair to be done safely and protect your family.

It’s Federal law – so any contractor working in a home or child care facility built before 1978 without certification could be operating illegally.

For more information Contact:
The National Lead Information Center
at 1 800 424 LEAD

EPA’s webstie: http://www.epa.gov/lead

Preservation Brief 37: Appropriate Methods for Reducing Lead-Paint Hazards in Historic Housing



The elements of brick masonry include: BRICKS & MORTAR

Masonry is a key element in defining the character for historic buildings. The texture and patters of brickwork. Much more advance planning is required for successful masonry repairs to historic structures than is normally necessary for the maintenance of contemporary masonry buildings.

The key to successful maintenance of historic masonry is understanding the materials and methods of original construction and carefully evaluating the cause of deterioration.

Masonry problems occur in area that are heavily exposed to moisture or significant temperature fluctuation. Some common places are:

  • parapets
  • chimneys
  • balustrades
  • windowsills
  • stairways
  • foundations

Masonry Maintenance

  • Masonry Cleaning- This is the first step for improvement and usually the least important requirement for proper maintenance. Cleaning may be a necessary part of a larger repair project that involves re-pointing or replacement of a damaged section of a wall. Please note, harsh cleaning may also damage  the historic masonry. Specifications for cleaning historic masonry often calls for the use of nonionic detergents that avoid using harmful chemicals into masonry. One key suggestion is to test a small area prior to taking on the full job.
  • Repointing or Tuck-pointing– is the raking and refilling of the outer face  of the mortar joints. Properly done, and undertaken when needed, can prevent moisture infiltration.
  • Caulk and Sealants- Frequently caulking and sealants are inappropriately used for sealing joints when mortar should be used. Sealants are appropriate to use where masonry abuts wood or metal such as around window frames.
  • Repair and Replacement of Deteriorated Stone and Brick– It may be necessary to replace or repair seriously damaged individual bricks to ensure that the wall remains . It is important to be considerate to the size and type of brick when replacing the existing damaged one.

Mortar and Erosion and Mortar Deterioration

What is mortar?
Most basically, it joins the irregular surfaces of the masonry units and to keep water out of the masonry.  Masonry mortars can be lime-based or Portland cement-based and, to confuse matters, some mortars may be combinations of the two.If you are hiring a mason to do repair work, ask him questions about the mix he is going to use and, more importantly, ask him why. Have him point a small area (perhaps a couple square feet) so you can evaluate the color match. With the information you have collected about your house, you should be in a good position to discuss the most appropriate formulation. Don’t be afraid to insist on a softer mortar.

Some types of Mortar:
(note your contractor or architect can advise you specifically on this)

  • Type N  is of medium strength, which means it is the best choice for projects with bricks that are not load bearing. Garden walls, chimneys, and barbecues are common applications for this mix. Type N is also preferred for soft stone masonry. This is the mortar most often used by home owners. It is easy to work with and is appropriate for most brick projects that the typical home owner would attempt.
  • Type S is known for its strength and is used outdoors. Patios, foundations, and retaining walls all use Type S. It is used  for its ability to absorb most impacts. It is still an easy product to work with, but homeowners should have some experience working with brick before beginning any type of project that requires this product.
  • Type M is the strongest mix that you will find in a home improvement store, Type M is typically used only with stone. Type M is preferred with stone because the strength of the mortar typically mimics that of the stone being used. It is also used in situations where being able to bear heavy loads are important, such as retaining walls.

Key words to know when looking compromised brick

re-crystallization of soluble salts from within the masonry on the surface of the masonry. Here is an image of an elevation:

Is similar recyrstallization of soluble salts beneath the surface of masonry. It often occurs in conjunction  with efflorescence and may seriously damage the masonry units by causing the surface to spall or flake away. Here is an excellent diagram from Building Science Information’s website:


One key component to consider is that repointing or aqueous cleaning should be done when there is no danger of freezing. It is prudent to restrict work to seasons when the night temperature will not fall below 40 degrees. Freezing of wet mortar damages it and dramatically reduces its durability while wet pours stone and brick are susceptible to damage from frost spalling.

Blog Resources:

All 4 Architects

Earth Day 2013



In celebration of Earth Day.
Did you know there is a tree planing program in Albany ran through DGS?

To encourage planting trees, the City will underwrite one half of the cost of purchasing and planting a tree. The trees are to be planted in the city right of way in front of or on the side of your home. Trees are available to be planted for the spring and the fall planting, while supplies last. To receive an order form, call the Department of General Services at 434-2489.

Click here to download an application:


Here are 10 benefits that should encourage you to plant a tree.


Trees combat the greenhouse effect

Global warming is the result of excess greenhouse gases, created by burning fossil fuels and destroying tropical rainforests. Heat from the sun, reflected back from the earth, is trapped in this thickening layer of gases, causing global temperatures to rise. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a major greenhouse gas. Trees absorb CO2, removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the air. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles


Trees clean the air

Trees absorb odors and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.


Trees provide oxygen

In one year an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people.


Trees cool the streets and the city

Average temperatures in Los Angeles have risen 6°F in the last 50 years as tree coverage has declined and the number of heat-absorbing roads and buildings has increased.

Trees cool the city by up to 10°F, by shading our homes and streets, breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water vapor into the air through their leaves.


Trees conserve energy

Three trees placed strategically around a single-family home can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50 percent. By reducing the energy demand for cooling our houses, we reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants.


Trees save water

Shade from trees slows water evaporation from thirsty lawns. Most newly planted trees need only fifteen gallons of water a week. As trees transpire, they increase atmospheric moisture.


Trees help prevent water pollution

Trees reduce runoff by breaking rainfall thus allowing the water to flow down the trunk and into the earth below the tree. This prevents storm water from carrying pollutants to the ocean. When mulched, trees act like a sponge that filters this water naturally and uses it to recharge groundwater supplies.


Trees increase property values

The beauty of a well-planted property and its surrounding street and neighborhood can raise property values by as much as 15 percent.


Trees help prevent soil erosion

On hillsides or stream slopes, trees slow runoff and hold soil in place.


Trees provide food

An apple tree can yield up to 15-20 bushels of fruit per year and can be planted on the tiniest urban lot. Aside from fruit for humans, trees provide food for birds and wildlife.

Summer approaches: Think Cool Roofs

“To combat climate change, there’s no question that we need to increase the earth’s albedo,” or reflectivity, Dr. Gaffin said. “Some scientists are contemplating tinkering with the earth’s atmosphere to do this, but we should start with what’s easy and uncontroversial — white roofs.

Before you proceed with this article. One caution is to mind your surroundings.  Cool roofs must be considered in the context of their surroundings. It is relatively easy to specify a cool roof and predict energy savings, but some thinking ahead can prevent other headaches. Ask this question before installing a cool roof:

  1. Where will the reflected sunlight go? A bright roof could reflect into the higher windows of taller neighboring buildings. In sunny conditions, this could cause uncomfortable glare and unwanted heat for you or your neighbors. In these cases, building owners can opt for a cool colored roof to provide some improvement in reflectance without significantly affecting neighboring buildings

Here is a video that captures a case study in NYC. I was particularly interested in the fact that it is a material that is mindful of its historic context, community, and is able to conserve the environment.

Traditional roofs are dark and retain the sun’s rays as heat. During the summer, heat absorption increases roof temperatures, air conditioning costs, energy demand and even local temperatures in a phenomenon called the Urban Heat Island Effect. Cool Roofs can reverse these impacts!  According to the NY Times article White Trumps Black in Urban Cool Contest

Here are some interesting diagrams from that outlines the impacts of when the sun hits a black roof versus a white roof from
Cool Roof Tool Kit.  As you can see you can see there are several environmental implications at hand.

black roof cool roof

Cool Roofs Lower Cooling Costs
A conventional roof can reach very high temperatures on a sunny, windless day. A Cool Roof creates a cooler building envelope, reducing the cost to cool the building in the summer.

Cool Roofs Offset the Urban Heat Island Effect
The Urban Heat Island Effect is a phenomenon in which the high concentration of dark material, such as asphalt and conventional rooftops, increases the temperature of densely built cities by up to five degrees. Cool Roofs mitigate this effect by reducing the number of dark energy absorbing surfaces.

Additional benefits

  • Cool Roofs prolong the life expectancy of the building cooling equipment, which doesn’t need to work as hard or as long to cool the building.
  • Cool Roofs reduce the electrical power of HVAC equipment which can run less frequently and with lower capacity.
  • Cool Roofs lower air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by reducing power demand.

How a Cool Roof Works

A Cool Roof is more than just a roof painted white. To be a Cool Roof, a roof must be treated with a specialized coating material that is lightly colored and has two unique properties: high solar reflectivity and high infrared emissivity.

Solar reflectivity expresses the degree to which a roof reflects the visible, infrared and ultraviolet rays that comprise solar energy. Surfaces with high solar reflectivity reflect more infrared and ultraviolet rays.

Infrared emissivity refers to the roof’s ability to give off its absorbed heat. Highly emissive surfaces are cooler than non-emissive surfaces since they have the ability to shed more absorbed heat at a faster rate.

A Cool Roof reduces the amount of energy absorbed by the roof which helps lower a building’s temperature and cuts energy costs.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact us with any comments.




Optomizing energy for historic homes


Are you wondering how to lower your energy bills without losing features that give your house its character? Are you concerned about how your decisions might affect the long-term maintenance or condition of your home?

Historic homes were constructed using different techniques and materials than most modern structures. They were typically built with environmentally friendly features such as:

  • Thick walls
  • Light-reflecting finishes
  • Operable windows and shutters
  • Vents
  • Awnings and porches to provide shade
  • Locally sourced materials

Older homes can be made more energy efficient. They simply need to be treated with a thoughtful, whole-house approach.

Maximize Your Home’s Original Energy Saving Features

Here in Albany, NY,  some of these considerations may be applicable to your individual needs:

  • In the northeast, saltbox-style houses were positioned so that the long slope of the roof directed the cold north wind up and over the house to keep the house warmer in winter.
  • House and buildings were grouped in an L or U-shape to create a sheltered dooryard in which to work.
  • In areas where the winters are cold, chimneys typically run through the center of the house to allow the heat to radiate into the rooms.
  • Thick masonry or adobe walls work in both warm and cooler climates. The walls provide thermal mass to absorb the sun’s energy during the day and transfer it very slowly to the interior. This helps keep the interior cool during the day and warmer in the evening as the heat works its way through the walls.

Owners of older and historic homes can continue to use these practical features as they were originally intended, or rediscover them, making use of their great energy-saving potential.

How can I establish a baseline comparison of where to start with my historic home?

Energy audits provide the best way to identify air leaks in your home. This comprehensive audit will create a roadmap of where and how to best make improvements on your home. This is especially critical with historic homes because air sealing can dramatically alter how moisture moves through the structure.

Here is a  video from NYSERDA that outlines the steps involved in assessing where the common inefficiencies are in buildings. (While the property they are looking at is in not historic, you can at least get an idea of the process)

Be sure to check out NYSERDA’s website that focuses on the Residential Opportunities.They also have their 2013 issues available on line to download
Comfort at Home
The diagram at the top of the page was found on the Edinburgh World Heritage Site. I liked it because it referenced what they call “Behavior Change” which essentially is the reduction for the need of energy.

US Environmental Protection Agency
Edinburgh World Heritage

Historic Wooden Windows

window imagaes

There are many resources out there that can explain the  facts and myths of the replace vs. restore historic windows debate. Despite the bad rap windows account for only 10-15% of energy lost through mostly air filtration. One thing to do is to make sure your windows fit tightly by repairing them and adding weather-stripping, interior or exterior storms and interior window treatments.

According to the Weatherization Tool Kit by the Division for Historic Preservation, they suggest avoiding replacing historic windows with new windows. You may find asking yourself why bother because of all the extra time and effort it takes.
But here are some reasons that will encourage you to restore your historic windows:

  1. Replacement windows are often more expensive, they have a limited life span.
  2. Replacement windows can change the character of your historic home.

If you live in a Historic District in Albany you should check with the Historic Resources Commission (HRC) to follow their suggested protocol. It is important to be aware of what we talked about way back in the first post. Check with your local agencies!

Here is a diagram of common windows to historic buildings found through NY State:


The key component is to think about each individual window. Creating a survey system of each window and door will be really helpful. Simply rate the windows (poor, fair, good, excellent) Once you have a survey of each window you can account for the individual circumstances of each one.

Common Problems with historic windows:

  • Sticky Windows/ Loose Windows
  • Replacing Glazing and Putty
  • Sash Cords and Weights
  • Cracked Paint: If your house was built prior to 1978, trim and window elements likely contain lead. See Environment Protection Agency for regulation

Here is a diagram from the Division for Historic Preservation NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation of where the air infiltration occurs most often:


A. Weather-stripping should be installed at the jambs, the sill, the head and the meeting rails. Use a thin putty knife to slip behind the stop and lightly pry off. This will allow you to remove the sash and install spring bronze.
B. Spring bronze is a good choice for the jambs. The strip is nailed to the jamb channel along the interior side of the stop or parting bead.
C. An interlocking strip is best for the meeting rails. When the window is closed, the strips close off any air gaps. The sash lock pulls the meeting rails tight.

Here is six minute video from Mac Bagala called Window Restoration 101. The video outlines the process involved in restoring a historic window. He has even included a soundtrack for your enjoyment. I really enjoyed seeing the entire process and while we often just want to get our windows un-stuck and opened, I can now see the patience and craftsmanship involved in restoring old wooden windows.

In addition, John Leake a Maine preservationist has a great resource on the web as well as a book called Save America’s Windows that is a very useful guide.

Here are further resources for your use:

Embracing Energy Efficiency
PRESERVATION: Closing the door on vinyl windows
What Replacement Windows Can’t Replace
Seven to Save Endangered Property List, 2006 Original and Historic Wood Windows Repair and Preservation

Brochures & Guides

2008 Window Tip Sheet, National Trust for Historic Preservation
Historic Resource Commission Ordinance, Windows
Wood Window Repair Handbook

We have a list of local specialists in Albany that we’d be happy to share with you.
Please contact us if you have any further questions.

Vunlerable exterior parts of a historic home


The exterior diagram outlines the vulnerable elements of your home that are most susceptible to deterioration and drainage.  Before undertaking any kind of maintenance, repair or improvement, you should keep a record of the existing condition of your house. Typically you should check it every fall and spring to prevent small problems from worsening. Regular and through inspections are required to maintain a historic home.

Here is a typical Time Inspection Timetable that may be helpful to understand the frequencies of the inspections.


Developing a Maintenance Plan

  • Assess the condition of your property using an inspection checklist
  • Determine how often you will inspect each element
  • Identify which items you can appropriately inspect yourself
  • Identify those items for which you may need a professional to inspect the property
  • Maintain a list of qualified professionals, contractors, and tradesmen that may be contacted for advice, recommendations, or repairs.
  • Develop a timetable for maintaining, improving, and repairing items that need attention.