Tech Tip: Reisley House Radiant Heat Repair

Tech Tip of the Month, September 2020: Preservation Briefs from the National Park Service

The Conservancy offers a wealth of technical information and support to Wright building stewards. Each month (or as often as we are able!), we will highlight a Tech Tip of the Month featuring useful information for those who own or care for Wright’s buildings.

If you’re looking for a source of information on the nuts and bolts of working with historic buildings, a good place to start is the National Park Service’s series of Preservation Briefs. The fifty briefs are available for free download and cover diverse topics ranging from “New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings” to “Lightning Protection for Historic Structures.” Briefs give historical background for each topic, describe approaches for addressing problems related to the topic and outline ongoing maintenance practices to minimize future issues. They also typically provide a reading list for further study.
Briefs address topics relating to a wide variety of property types, so translation to the unique circumstances found at Wright-designed properties will not always be direct, but the information they contain can assist in laying the foundation for knowledgeable investigation into an issue.

Topics that may be of particular interest to Wright building stewards include:

The briefs are also useful tools if you are seeking funding for your project. Whether you are a public site applying for a grant or a homeowner applying for a restoration tax freeze, referencing the briefs will indicate to a reviewer that you likely have a good understanding of best preservation practices.

In addition to the Preservation Briefs, the National Park Service has digitized its Preservation Tech Notes. The notes include case studies of preservation projects published between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s. While you should take care to confirm that techniques used in these early case studies are still considered appropriate, the notes present a number of interesting projects. The studies often focus on historically-significant buildings, like the Conservancy’s own home, the Monadnock Building in Chicago.

As you as you plan your restoration projects and work with contractors, architects and restoration specialists, remember that a project’s successful outcome is as often grounded in knowing what questions to ask as it is in what direction to give. As with our Tech Tips, the briefs are intended to provide pointers to questions you should ask and areas you ought to investigate further.

Tech Tip of the Month, July 2020: Regular Maintenance Pays Off

The Conservancy offers a wealth of technical information and support to Wright building stewards. Each month, we will highlight a Tech Tip of the Month featuring useful information for those who own or care for Wright’s buildings.

Keeping your Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in good repair helps you to experience your home as the architect intended, and the excellence of its design only increases the reward that ongoing preservation provides.

Of course, repairs cost both money and time, and it’s not always possible to allocate either of those on an immediate basis. Prioritizing projects is a part of homeownership. In the process of prioritizing, putting off (or “deferring”) regular maintenance can have very real dollar consequences. Consider, for example, a roof leak that slowly (or sometimes not so slowly) deteriorates wood framing, leading to significant structural issues. A less obvious case of deferred maintenance is the practice of putting off regular checkups on your heating system, risking system breakdown. The cost of regular maintenance likely would be significantly less than that of repair or replacement.

There appears to have been little study done on the monetary cost of deferred maintenance in the home. There are, however, a number of studies that have investigated the cost of deferred maintenance in large facilities, such as schools and healthcare centers. These studies start to give an idea of the magnitude of such costs. One study forecasts that for every dollar not spent on preventive maintenance, an owner can expect a 7% annual increase in the future repair or replacement cost of equipment. Another study looks at maintenance from a general budget perspective, projecting that for every percent a maintenance budget is decreased, an owner can expect a 4% annual overall increase in repair or replacement budget costs.

The unique materials and elements that make up a Wright-designed house will make these costs even higher. So for Wright-designed houses preventive maintenance will be even more beneficial. For example, rare items such as tidewater cypress and custom-designed hardware are more budget friendly to maintain than replace.

Also, consider the maintenance of surrounding structures and landscape. A homeowner recently mentioned that ignoring the rotting doors of an outbuilding led to the required replacement of its floor and roof structure as well… to the tune of $27,000! That was money could have been directed toward the main Frank Lloyd Wright structure!

Keeping up with regular maintenance will also benefit you if you decide to sell your house. For example, evidence of deferred maintenance can affect the appraisal of a house and therefore affect a potential buyer’s ability to obtain financing for the property.

Developing a regular maintenance plan is an important step in minimizing deferred maintenance, and providing you the peace that you hope for in your home. In coming months we will have a Tech Tip of the Month that will focus on the process of creating a maintenance plan for ongoing care of your Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home.