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Old 04-25-2011, 09:25 PM   #1
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Historic District Renovation Help!


Hello!
My wife and I live in a Historic District. Our house was built about 1912, and is a regular wood lap sided shotgun with lath and plaster walls. We have no insulation, and our windows are in frightful condition. Our utility bills are astronomical, as you might imagine. You can feel a stiff breeze all winter long.

About this time last year, we contracted with a well known company to replace our wood lap siding with identical fiber-cement siding, install roll batting insulation and replace our windows (which are mostly painted shut, or if not just fall open) with wood dual-paned windows.

I want to stress here that we do not intend to change the appearance of our home in the least - we like the way it looks and want to keep it this way. We just want a more efficient home that does not require replacing the wood siding every few years (we are not allowed to have gutters)

We tried to do the right thing, and we took our proposal before our local authorities to obtain a permit. We were completely shut down, and every aspect of our renovation was aggressively denied. We were made to feel that we were commiting some crime for wanting to renovate our home.

The contractor was forced to refund our deposit, and here we are in our rotting home, paying through the nose for heat and AC, in an age where most folks get subsidized for making energy efficient upgrades to their homes.

My question is: what if we did it anyway? Someone told us that everything will be fine unless we try to sell our home (which we intend to do someday so we can retire somewhere more reasonable) in which case we may be forced to tear out our improvements.

Is there any validity to this? What can we do? We can't afford to have a "craftsman" come in and refurbish these crappy old windows, and I can't see spending the same money as we would on fiber-cement siding to keep putting up new wood and painting every 5 years, which is about as long as paint will stick to this house.

We are very frustrated. Also - we will get fined by the city if we dont paint our house.

Any opinions are apprecited.

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Old 04-25-2011, 09:39 PM   #2
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Historic District Renovation Help!


Hi subterran, first, were are you located?
I have done a lot of work in the historic district here in Orange, California.
In fact, everything that you mentioned I have done for homes here and more.
I don't understand why you need to change the wood siding on the house unless previous contractors have used cheap grade Doug Fir or pine for the siding.
Even without gutters, which I do not have either and my home has lasted 100+ years.
I am not soliciting work as I don't know were you live and I don't do construction work anymore anyway (except for family).
I do drafting & Design and lot of it for the district here though.
I know it can be tough but there are reasonable alternatives to every aspect of maintaining your home, you just need to get the right people on the case.
Do you have anymore specifics of what is demanded of you or what their objections are?

Andy.

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Old 04-25-2011, 09:40 PM   #3
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Historic District Renovation Help!


Whats the location? Who determined it to be historic? Is it just a historic neighborhood or is your house itself considered historic?

Also, there may be grants to help defray the cost for historic houses if you fall under the tighter ones.

I live in a historic neighborhood but my house isn't a historic house just for reference.
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Old 04-25-2011, 09:41 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by MLMIB View Post
Whats the location? Who determined it to be historic? Is it just a historic neighborhood or is your house itself considered historic?

Also, there may be grants to help defray the cost for historic houses if you fall under the tighter ones.

I live in a historic neighborhood but my house isn't a historic house just for reference.

Were are you located?

Andy.
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Old 04-25-2011, 09:46 PM   #5
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Historic District Renovation Help!


I'm just outside dc in maryland
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Old 04-25-2011, 09:50 PM   #6
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Cool, I know that there are certain Federal guide-lines for historic districts as I live and work in one. And of course being as I am in Ca. the state guide-lines are even more stringent, Do you find that to be the same in your area or are the Federal guide lines the only ones that you know of?

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Old 04-25-2011, 09:57 PM   #7
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I used to live in a house in hoboken, nj that was a historic district ( it was my fraternity's house) and we had problems, but we were able to get around it usually but maintaining the exterior look and we'd be good.

In my small town I live in now, the houses that are in the historic district (the whole town) but not historic houses usually are fine as long as they are friendly and say they are trying to conform to the neighborhood (and there are houses that havnt done that and got built, but they might have to fight and weight longer) while the houses that are determined to be historic themselves usually can't change the front appearance but can add on to the back from what I've seen.

In fact a grant was sent out to the town via email earlier about a state grant to encourage historic house to get an energy audit and take action.

The rules are usually work-able, but they do throw up red tape. Also, it's worth your time to engage the officials as early as possible. They can stop stuff and be in the wrong, but you don't want to have to waste the money and good will to sue. If it's local government (town) just explain and ask for their input.
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Old 04-25-2011, 10:36 PM   #8
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Thanks for your comments.

I worry about mentioning where I am, in case one of the people on the board might read this, and send an inspector. After all, we did just apply for a bunch of permits and got flunked. Let's just say I live in a major southeastern city that has the world's busiest airport. I live in a historic district - my whole neighborhood, not just my house.

So, I hear lots of folks saying I should try and work with them. I think not. I take serious offense to the way my wife was talked to by our board. Plus they pretty much said they would never approve me, so as far as I'm concerned, I'm done trying to ask.

Worst case, I figure I'll spend a fortune replacing the wood and painting yet again, and freezing to death all winter and ignore these windows.

My question was: If I just do it and don't ask, is it possible I can't sell my house, because they might inspect it, notice the renovations and tell me I have to 'undo' it? Anyone ever heard of such a thing?

Thanks!

Last edited by subterran; 04-25-2011 at 10:38 PM. Reason: Forgot to tell my district!
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Old 04-25-2011, 10:52 PM   #9
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Historic District Renovation Help!


The answer to your questions is a resounding YES, It is possible you will not be able to sell the house or at the very least have major trouble selling it.
They can tell you that you have to "undo" it or face fines and/or possible jail time and major expense.
It has happened here a few times that home owners who did not adhere to the regs had to spend major dollars to bring the house back to original condition.
One such house is just down the street form me on the same side. Five years ago he actually demo'ed the historic part of the structure and was not allowed to build what he intended, he has to bring it back to the original condition and is in the process of doing just that. At huge expense, he and his family are living in the addition that they built to the original structure before trashing the front part.
I have pictures of that little fiasco.
Another homeowner built an unpermitted addition and resided with non-like materials (Hardy type siding) and he blew through two stop orders. He had to tear it down and find the right siding or face possible jail time also. So it does happen.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it is more important that you do what is mandated by law or just sell the house and let someone else deal with it.


Andy.
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Old 04-25-2011, 10:52 PM   #10
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If it's already off to that bad of a start and you just do it I'd expect a neighbor to rat you out or for someone to notice the work. They will find out. And they might make you remove it all, I don't know how they can forcibly do it, be it through fines or taxes or police force or court, but I'd expect them to work to persuade you. IMHO, if it's just a historic district you should be able to find a workable solution. Feel free to pm me if you'd rather talk offline about it.
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Old 04-25-2011, 10:55 PM   #11
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Both went through the courts and ditto for me on what MLMIB said.

Andy.
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Old 04-26-2011, 12:54 AM   #12
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Historic District Renovation Help!


And just to frame this conversation right, your not dealing with just a home owners association, who can only put leans on your house( I think, I don't do HOA's) where they are basically complaining and only have recourse through the sale of the house like you described.

Your dealing with a government entity, and all that it entails. Historic districts can be your friend, it means the neighborhood will more or less be the same in 20 years as when you moved into it. It doesn't mean the materials MUST be, especially if it's only a historic district and not historic structure, but it means the character of the neighborhood will be the same.


Feel free to reach out to either of us through PM, you may have to suck it up a bit and lie through your teeth ("yes I'd be happy to do that" and "your so smart") but it'll be worth the quality of life and saved energy costs.
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Old 04-26-2011, 07:24 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by MLMIB View Post

Your dealing with a government entity, and all that it entails. Historic districts can be your friend, it means the neighborhood will more or less be the same in 20 years as when you moved into it. It doesn't mean the materials MUST be, especially if it's only a historic district and not historic structure, but it means the character of the neighborhood will be the same.
We have one of those districts in my town. A bunch of snobs on a quasi judicial board oversee what the "home owners" can and cannot do.

Sounds like something only a second amendment solution can fix.


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Old 04-26-2011, 08:06 AM   #14
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Amen to the snob part. You make a huge mistake if you move into any true historical district (HYSTERICAL District)....... UNLESS you know how to ingratiate yourself to the board, (my wife says I can't say 'kiss-A55'), and have almost bottomless pockets. You will end up throwing thousands at the renovations needlessly, and you will never do what you want, but rather only what THEY decide you can.

And, you will likely never accomplish any of this without using only the specific companies the board approves of.
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Old 04-26-2011, 09:12 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Willie T
Amen to the snob part. You make a huge mistake if you move into any true historical district (HYSTERICAL District)....... UNLESS you know how to ingratiate yourself to the board, (my wife says I can't say 'kiss-A55'), and have almost bottomless pockets. You will end up throwing thousands at the renovations needlessly, and you will never do what you want, but rather only what THEY decide you can.

And, you will likely never accomplish any of this without using only the specific companies the board approves of.
Just to get it off my chest:

1) you both knew you were moving into historic districts, if you didn't that's a problem between you and your real estate agent. I'd you did you accepted all that comes with it.

2) chances are you moved into the house because of the neighborhood character and are enjoying the benefit of knowing the character of the neighborhood won't change. If the flip side is a little bit of paperwork, your getting off pretty good.

So if you came here to bash historic
Districts I hope you don't expect any sympathy from me.

Now, most of the work you described might be able to be done from the inside using spray foam that can be blown through a small hole to fill the wall cavities.

If you want to go through the outside, here is a resource describing the historic district protection stuff in your state from the towns prospective, step 11 is the part of interest to you.

http://gashpo.org/content/displaycon...=289&txtPage=1

and info on tax incentives

http://gashpo.org/content/displaycon...xtDocument=483

That and all my previous advice stands. The commission is probably a bunch of neighbors with a keen interest on preservation. They might come off as snobs but it's in part because it's something not everyone understands and there are rules. If you went in assuming it was just a box to check and assuming it'd pass because your you, I'm not surprised it didn't.

Best of luck

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