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Thread: Vinyl siding in an historic district

  1. #1
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    Vinyl siding in an historic district

    I have a sticky situation and would love any thoughts you might be inclined to share:

    According to a fairly new amendment to our zoning ordinance, the planning board must approve any work in the historic residential zone. We now have an application for residing of an old house (constructed in the 1890s). The house is currently sided with aging aluminum and looks awful. The owner wants to reside wtih insulated vinyl. We discourage vinyl in the historic district, but new vinyl will certainly be more attractive than old aluminum. The zoning specifies that original qualities of a building should not be destroyed, and their removal or alteration should be avoided. Previously, the board refused to approve new vinyl siding on a house that had wood siding. However, in this case the house is already aluminum. I am tempted to recommend that the board insist on wood siding, at least on the front of the house. But the homeowner will be irate. Wood, or even hardiboard, are more expensive than vinyl, and she says she needs the insulation this new siding will provide.

    Thanks for any advice!

  2. #2
    Has anyone done any archaeology to see what the condition of the original siding --presumably wood weatherboard --is? If it is generally sound, the aluminum may be removed, the siding primed and painted and the aluminum recycled to off-set some costs.

    The idea that insulated vinyl will dramtically reduce heating costs is fallacy. Heat loss through walls is minimal versus windows, doors and attics. My HPC considers it a non-starter. Additionally, frame walls are supposed to be able to breathe, to allow humid air inside the house to exhaust through the walls to the outside. Adding barriers to that transpiration will result in moisture build-up inside the walls and possible structural problems. Possibly mold as well.

    The devil is in the details as well. Historic profiles at windows, doors, corners, and other important character-defining elements are often lost to C-channels and J-channels. Historic surfaces appear flatter when synthetic sidings are installed.

    Vinyl is not a maintenance-free material and will periodically require cleaning and even -- YIKES! -- painting. If installed improperly, it will have unsightly bulges and a tendency to pull away from the structure.

    Be careful of ordering wood or hardiplank siding -- most HPCs or PCs cannot mandate restoration. Congratulate her for wanting to improve the structure (lay it on thick, if you have to) and find a way to work with her to meet your guidelines.

    Good luck!
    Je suis Charlie

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    Your setting precedence if you allow it. In our 7 historic districts three of them allow vinyl. There are stipulations such as the lap (3-4 inch only is permitted, depends on the year of your structures as to what is appropriate). Something we have found is that covering historic details does not have nearly the negative effects as removing them. If there is currently aluminum on the house, vinyl is going to look better and can still be removed in the future. Our Landmarks Board would require the applicant to determine if the original siding was still intact and require that the installation of the vinyl didn't harm the original wood, but would permit vinyl (they would request hardi-board). I would also require that the vinyl have the appearance of wood siding as opposed to the stuff that is beveled on the top.
    I hate seeing vinyl in our districts and more and more people are starting to request it on front porch materials, windows, etc...thankfully the Landmarks Board here in this City is very strict and has the mindset that these people bought into a historic district and need to work within the guidlines. There exceptions but very few.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Bubba's avatar
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    Vinyl siding is evil...

    The Connecticut Trust has a pretty good summary of the issue of vinyl siding in local historic districts (http://www.cttrust.org/index.cgi/1745), including some case law references on requiring wood siding as opposed to vinyl.

  5. #5
    The main issue you have with this case is that the home is currently sided with non-historic aluminum that is in poor condition. Do you know how long the aluminum has been on the home? What if the owner wanted to replace the current aluminum siding with new aluminum siding? Is vinyl directly addressed in your ordinance or guidelines? Although I have not seen photographs of the property in question, it seems to me that the property has already lost its historic integrity thus meaning adding vinyl siding would do nothing to further take way from its integrity. Like the previous reply mentioned, try to direct the owner to material that is similiar to the original, it seems to me that's about all you can reasonably do in this instance. If vinyl is allowed, make sure it is clearly spelled out on the record why it was allowed--to prevent further vinyl muck-ups in the district in the future.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Rumpy Tunanator's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ssc
    The house is currently sided with aging aluminum and looks awful. The owner wants to reside wtih insulated vinyl. We discourage vinyl in the historic district, but new vinyl will certainly be more attractive than old aluminum.
    What was the house's exterior origionally built with? I doublt AL siding. Tell them no, and to restore it to the origional build.
    A guy once told me, "Do not have any attachments, do not have anything in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner."


    Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro): Heat 1995

  7. #7
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    While a lot of ornament may have been removed to install the aluminum, there are often many original details remaining (patterned shingles, for instance).

    these two websites show some of the pleasant surprises one can find:

    http://www.broadwaydistrict.org/unveiling.htm

    http://jackiecraven.com/vinyl.htm

  8. #8
    Cyburbian dogandpony's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DoneGoneBlue
    The main issue you have with this case is that the home is currently sided with non-historic aluminum that is in poor condition. Do you know how long the aluminum has been on the home? What if the owner wanted to replace the current aluminum siding with new aluminum siding? Is vinyl directly addressed in your ordinance or guidelines? Although I have not seen photographs of the property in question, it seems to me that the property has already lost its historic integrity thus meaning adding vinyl siding would do nothing to further take way from its integrity. Like the previous reply mentioned, try to direct the owner to material that is similiar to the original, it seems to me that's about all you can reasonably do in this instance. If vinyl is allowed, make sure it is clearly spelled out on the record why it was allowed--to prevent further vinyl muck-ups in the district in the future.

    I think I'd differ slightly in the interpretation, since a lot of historic districts tend to have marginal buildings within them that either are not contributing to the character of the district, or may have lost some of their original character through insensitive alterations. I'd make the case that, within the broader context of the district and neighboring homes, putting vinyl would be inappropriate even if it's only to replace aluminum.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Trail Nazi's avatar
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    I would not allow the vinyl siding. It degrades the historic quality of the structure and the neighborhood. It will also set a precedent and it is so not worth the headache that has been created.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Bertrand's avatar
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    Our historic preservation ordinance would not allow the person to replace their aluminum with vinyl. Not the entire structure. If there was a minimal repair to one side, or an entire side which is not visible from the public right of way, then it would be approved.
    Satan in the Suburbs

  11. #11
    Quote Originally posted by dogandpony
    I think I'd differ slightly in the interpretation, since a lot of historic districts tend to have marginal buildings within them that either are not contributing to the character of the district, or may have lost some of their original character through insensitive alterations. I'd make the case that, within the broader context of the district and neighboring homes, putting vinyl would be inappropriate even if it's only to replace aluminum.
    I, in part, agree with you. Vinyl does look atrocious on old homes and in old neighborhoods and it doesn't belong. But how far do you go if you start making those types of decisions? For instance, do you require homeowners whose windows have been replaced with vinyl or an unoriginal design within the past twenty years (since most vinyl windows won't last much longer than that) to go back and replace them with a period style wood window? Historic districts are about preserving what is there and encouraging good rehabs, not necessarily taking every single building back to their glory days. If a building has already lost its integrity, a homeowner shouldn't be required to reestablish it. That is going a step to far and that is why historic districts get a bad rep from the public. To me, replacing vinyl with aluminum is no big deal (if the siding was wood or other original material it would be a completely different story) at least the homeowner is doing something.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian dogandpony's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DoneGoneBlue
    I, in part, agree with you. Vinyl does look atrocious on old homes and in old neighborhoods and it doesn't belong. But how far do you go if you start making those types of decisions? For instance, do you require homeowners whose windows have been replaced with vinyl or an unoriginal design within the past twenty years (since most vinyl windows won't last much longer than that) to go back and replace them with a period style wood window? Historic districts are about preserving what is there and encouraging good rehabs, not necessarily taking every single building back to their glory days. If a building has already lost its integrity, a homeowner shouldn't be required to reestablish it. That is going a step to far and that is why historic districts get a bad rep from the public. To me, replacing vinyl with aluminum is no big deal (if the siding was wood or other original material it would be a completely different story) at least the homeowner is doing something.

    I think that's where the local district commission has to do a bit of soul-searching and determine for itself when it's important, and when it isn't. Hopefully they've got some design guidelines which dictate not only what's appropriate, but WHEN it's appropriate to insist on "undoing a previous wrong".

    I agree, it's way too easy to say "Vinyl Bad! Wood Good!", and that's why it's so hard for a bunch of outsiders with strong opinions to chime in. Some owners (and their structures) can't support the cost of any upgrade. But, I presume that in order for a house to be within a district, the idea has some merit to it from a preservation standpoint, and would benefit the greater district.

    Of course, if this is one of several houses in a neighborhood that are similarly clad in aluminum or vinyl, then maybe it's the district itself that's the problem. If aluminum and vinyl are relatively rare, this house will probably be viewed by some as "the reason we adopted the district". The reality is that it's probably somewhere in the middle, and the folks on the district commission will have to look at the house and it's context.

    I agree with a previous comment, in the sense that once you allow it, it's hard to go back and hold anyone else to the this standard. It's hard to get the camel back into the tent...

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    And underneath is....asphalt shingles! And follow-up question about cement board.

    Thank you to everyone for your advice. I was still waffling on what to recommend when our building inspector told me that the the aluminum is covering up asphalt shingle siding , which is probably covering the original clapboard. I think it is a little much to expect the homeowner to completely restore the facade since it has been neglected for so long, and it is likely there is not much left. Also, it is not a wealthy neighborhood and there are few completely pristine historic houses in the district. So now I am leaning towards recommending that the board approve the vinyl with strict conditions:

    1. all previously installed artificial siding must be removed (ie aluminum and asphalt)
    2. width of vinyl "clapboards" must match width of original wood
    3. shutters must be correctly sized and mountedat the inside edge of the window frame so they appear to be working (although of course they won't be)
    4. vinyl siding must be properly vented so as to prevent any further damage to the underlying wood (what is left of it)
    5 No original exterior trim that may be discovered in removing old siding shall be removed.

    Does that sound reasonable?

    Also, my director thinks we should ask for cement board siding as an alternative to the vinyl, but I was wondering if hardiplank can be installed over the old wood or if that would require that even the orginal wood be removed? Anyone know anything about this type of siding?

    Thanks!

  14. #14
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Well....

    Allow the vinyl, with a condition that the owner (& future) allow the Historic Commission to come back and side the house (at least the front) with wood in the future (via grant/other funds) At least the vinyl will protect the home for the short term and be a little better than what's there now. there needs to be some kind of funding assistance for this sort of thing. Look for a grant or $ somewhere to side the front of the home with wood.
    "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
    John Kenneth Galbraith

  15. #15
    Cyburbian RandomPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ssc
    ... with strict conditions:

    1. all previously installed artificial siding must be removed (ie aluminum and asphalt)
    2. width of vinyl "clapboards" must match width of original wood
    3. shutters must be correctly sized and mountedat the inside edge of the window frame so they appear to be working (although of course they won't be)
    4. vinyl siding must be properly vented so as to prevent any further damage to the underlying wood (what is left of it)
    5 No original exterior trim that may be discovered in removing old siding shall be removed....
    If you are requiring that the aluminum and asphalt be removed, you should make a condition that someone come see what's underneath and make more recommendations at that point. It's possible that the old wood siding can be restored close to the cost of the new vinyl siding (if the asphalt shingles were put on for [gasp] aesthetic reasons somehow, years ago).
    The residents might have no idea of their other options unless you tell them. (I'm sure the vinyl company isn't saying, "hey, you should just restore what you've got instead of hiring us).
    How do I know you are who you think you are?

  16. #16
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The One
    there needs to be some kind of funding assistance for this sort of thing. Look for a grant or $ somewhere to side the front of the home with wood.
    That is a great idea. I do think it would be terrific if the city could provide some funding assistance. Right now the neighborhood feels put upon. Kind of like "unfunded mandates," I guess! Of course, in the big picture, their property values will go way up when the historic district is fully restored...

    Thanks again for all the input.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian dogandpony's avatar
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    Depending on the person, you might be able to appeal to their maybe wanting to set a good example for others.
    "John, I know this is a bit different from what you wanted to do, but a restoration may not cost you much more, and I'd love to be able to point at your house and say 'here's a guy that did it the right way'."
    In the meantime, for when this comes up again, look at developing a preservation awards program where people who do the right thing are recognized for their efforts. Sometimes people just want to be acknowledged for their efforts.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dogandpony
    Depending on the person, you might be able to appeal to their maybe wanting to set a good example for others.
    Unfortunately not this particular applicant. I just called her to get color samples and got berated wtih a diatribe on the stupidity of the historic district. It is too bad, because this area is a truly historic part of the city, dating back to the 17th century. In fact, it is one of the earliest settlements in the state.

    Grants! I need to find grants to help restore these houses....

  19. #19

    If Too Strict, People Won't Make any improvements

    Remember that if you are too strict on improvements, property-owners will avoid making ANY improvements. As a result, you will be stuck with ugly discolored aluminum siding as opposed to more attractive vinyl siding.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    Update - vinyl siding denied

    Thanks for all the advice.

    Here is what happened:

    The board reasonably offered to approve vinyl siding on the sides and back if the hoomeowner would restore the wood on the front. Homeowner said no. So the board suggested that she go to the ZBA and argue hardship, but that the planning board was not going to issue a certificate of appropriateness for vinyl siding without a variance because it would set a precedent. Applicant then stormed out of the meeting. Will the fun never end???

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    Here is the newest deal on the one next door to me. She said she was going to do Steel siding and the historic committee agreed because they said it would be easy enough to come back later and bring back the original.
    Now her budget has not allowed her money to do that so she has decided to use a new spray on product that has 1000% elastisity. So not knowing how that works as far as what it does to the original wood, she is spraying it on and the heritage commission has no clue.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

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    My board approved vinyl on a house in one of our districts last night
    Surprised me a little because my recommendation was hardie board. The applicant said that there have been recent incidents with hardie board pulling away from the structure on houses that used hardie board as a replacement material (anyone experienced this); he said its ok on new structures but on older structures, the nails pop if not installed correctly and do so even installed correclty in some cases
    So the board approved an ok looking vinyl; the thing that pi$$es me off is that all of the wood is there currently, its just thats it rotting and "the applicant is a single woman and doesn't want the maintenance of painting the structure in the future" (ooohhhhh, that pi$$ed me off!!)...then they went even further and asked to install composite/vinyl columns on the front porch, thank goodness the board denied that request.
    Why oh WHY can;t these people realized the benefits of preserving these beautiful structures? And WHY can they not realize the cost of restoring the few rooted boards is much cheaper than covering everything with crappy vinyl???

  23. #23
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Ahh.....

    Its all about the funding people! If an identified historic area is important enough to a "community" then the "community" better be able to pony up with some $$$!! If this isn't the case, then the most important goal of any historic commission or community is to protect the resources in the best way possible, even if that is to allow a temporary fix until $$ can be found Even if the funding source is tiny at first (pays for one or two structures a year....) that is still a great source of pride and will be the best way to champion protection of historic property. First you need to convince existing owners that their property is historic and deserves special attention.
    "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
    John Kenneth Galbraith

  24. #24
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Sort of expaning on The One's comments- historic preservation needs to be a community based effort- if all the onus to restore and maintain historic structures is on the indivisual property owners it is quite likely the preservation effort will fail. If homeowners look at owning a historic structure as an economic burden- they will allow the structure to fall into disrepair and that it worse than any vinyl siding. If historic preservation is important to your community then there needs to be some sort of tax incentive or similar method to encourage homeowners to preserve the historic character.

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