by James L. Hamilton, Boston Edison Historic District, Detroit, MI
Columns are always a character defining feature in historic buildings. Keeping columns in good condition is essential for historic preservation.
Columns can be maintained, repaired, and restored. If owners don’t know this, they may conclude that the only solution to damaged columns is replacement. It is not.
Knowing what to do is the key to saving columns.
Preventive maintenance is the first step in preserving columns.
Moisture is the main concern. Columns deteriorate when moisture gets trapped inside and cannot evaporate away.
• Wood rots
• Paint peels
• Columns come apart or crack
Keeping columns dry is the principal goal of preventive maintenance: Caulk, Paint, Vent.
Caulk at all joints and seams to keep water out. But don’t plug vent holes!
Paint. A solid paint film also keeps water out.
Vent. Hollow columns usually vent out the top into the building framing. If necessary, air vents can be added to columns to let air circulate inside and evaporate away any moisture.
Bases often are the first element to begin to rot. Be sure that water drains away from column bases and does not pool around them.
Repair and Restoration
If columns do deteriorate, the important thing is to know that they can be repaired and restored. If it’s a big column, it could be a big repair! But it’s always possible.
I have collected articles by persons who are (or have become) experts in column maintenance, repair, and restoration. The articles collected here demonstrate how-to-do-it. With their guidance, owners can undertake the repairs.
Dealing with contractors is more successful when you know what needs to be done and how it should be done, even if you cannot do it.
The web site can help owners. An owner who knows that columns can be repaired and knows roughly how to do it will not be misled into doing the wrong thing.
One example: contractors may tell you repair is impossible, because they don’t know how to do it! Don’t believe it. Contractors want you to do what they know how to do.
Another example: contractors may tell you they can fix columns, when in fact they do not know how. The danger is that they will do something incorrect. Either the problem won’t be fixed properly, or the repaired column won’t look right. Ask how they will do repairs.
The web site can help contractors. An owner may have a reputable and trusted contractor who has the carpentry skills to do column repairs, if he/she just knew what to do and how to do it. In such a case, a contractor can use the web site to learn from experts how to do a first-class repair or restoration.
Knowledge is Power.