Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Historic Homes vs. the Flood Zone

Image from the NFIP bulletin on Historic Structures
Our forefathers had the good sense to build inland in many cases.  Unfortunately, rising sea levels and beach erosion have brought the sea to the house.  FEMA, in an effort to reduce the risk of loss of property or life, has established minimum requirements for renovating homes in communities that participate in the flood insurance program. Ahem, all of Cape Cod.

For non historic houses in communities that participate in the flood insurance program, once the house has been "substantially improved", meaning 50% of its pre improved value, it must be brought into conformance with the National Flood Insurance Program requirements.  Note that in many places, "substantial improvement" is cumulative (though not in Massachusetts), so if you renovate your kitchen this year, and upgrade the heating system next year, and re-do the bathrooms in a couple of years, these all count together towards reaching the 50% improvement level.

These images from FEMA's bulletin help to visualize what is required to bring a structure into compliance once it has undergone "substantial improvement" or flood losses worth 50% or more of the value of the home.




However, a structure that meets FEMA's criteria for being a "Historic Structure" is not included in the 50% substantial improvement rule as long as changes or improvements do not result in a loss of the structure's historic designation.

This excerpt is from the following bulletin:

National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Floodplain Management Bulletin:  Historic Structures

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) gives special consideration to the unique value of one of our Nation’s most significant resources – its historic buildings, landmarks, and sites. It does so in two ways. 

First, the NFIP floodplain management regulations provide significant relief to historic structures. Historic structures do not have to meet the floodplain management requirements of the program as long as they maintain their historic structure designation. They do not have to meet the new construction, substantial improvement, or substantial damage requirements of the program. This exclusion from these requirements serves as an incentive for property owners to maintain the historic character of the designated structure (44 CFR §60.3). It may also serve as an incentive for an owner to obtain historic designation of a structure. 

Secondly, a designated historic structure can obtain the benefit of subsidized flood insurance through the NFIP even if it has been substantially improved or substantially damaged so long as the building maintains its historic designation. The amount of insurance premium charged the historic structure may be considerably less than what the NFIP would charge a new non-elevated structure built at the same level. Congress requires that the NFIP charge actuarial rates for all new construction and substantially improved structures (National Flood Insurance Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. 4015).
*changes in 2012 have eliminated this subsidy and a phased increase will bring all structures up to unsubsidized levels for flood insurance.

Does it make sense to incorporate mitigating building criteria to make an historic home more resilient in the event of flooding?  You bet!  There are many suggestions to help make your historic home better able to withstand flooding (outlined in the NFIP bulletin on Historic Structures).  But already, mis-information has resulted in antique homes being demolished because the owner perceives the substantial improvement rule to be too much of a hardship.  Historic Homes are unique in their construction and cultural value and FEMA has allowed for them to receive special consideration. This can make the difference in whether an owner decides to preserve a historic home.

So what makes a house "historic"?  According to FEMA's bulletin:



So you don't have to be individually listed on the National Register, your house can be listed as a contributing member in a National Register Historic District (like the Old King's Highway).  Or your house could be listed on the state listing of historic places (for Massachusetts, this is MACRIS).  Or, your house could be designated on a local inventory for communities with historic preservation programs (like your local historical commission which is an arm of the State's Historical Commission).

If you live in an AE zone or V zone, this is welcome news indeed!

For more info on substantial improvement requirements:

NFIP Substantial Improvement/Substantial Damage:Requirements and Definitions

Saturday, June 3, 2017

7 Things to Consider When Buying Your Historic Home on Cape Cod

1.  How tall are you?  Do you clamor for an early period home with an enormous hearth complete with beehive oven?  These early gems have wide pine floors, multi paned wavy glass windows, iron thumb latches and built in cupboards.  But what they usually don't have, is high ceilings.  Many late 17th century or early 18th century homes have low ceilings.  So if you are a contender for the NBA, you may want to look at a later period style home or a vintage 1940's reproduction.

2.  Basements.  Many of the antique homes on the Cape have what we affectionately refer to as a "Cape Cod" basement.  It is a circular pit lined with stone or, more commonly, brick.   At any given time it will fit your water heater, your boiler, your electrical panel, and if you don't weigh very much, you.  There will be no man cave, no movie theater, no basement tavern.

In this 1923 House Beautiful Kohler of Kohler Ad, the built in tub was a rare luxury!
3.  Bathrooms are a new fangled thing.  Some buyers will scoff at the little bathrooms that are shoe horned under the back stairs or into a closet off the kitchen.  But these are an improvement from the original "bathroom" which consisted of an outhouse, a chamber pot and a moveable tub placed in front of the kitchen hearth.  Sometimes kitchens and baths have been added to an ell off the older section of the house to accommodate those modern amenities.  If not, be prepared for more cozy bathrooms and kitchens- small in square footage but big on charm.
Early 20th century modern kitchen



A 21st century kitchen in an 18th century home

4.  Financing.  The condition of the home will be a consideration when choosing your financing options.  Some forms of financing may not work if the home has chipping lead paint or knob and tube wiring.  Never fear, there are financing options that work well for an antique home in need of some TLC (203k, HUD Title 1 Home improvement loan).

5.  Location.  Yes, you may still be able to find a lonely cottage down a long lane surrounded by the changing marsh.  But more likely, that historic home is going to be on Main St. surrounded by historic homes of different vintages and walking distance to a cup of coffee and the morning paper.  Also, ye old settlers shied away from building their homes on the ocean, though late 19th century homes appreciated the sea air.  If you want an earlier home that is waterfront, you may want to look to the rivers.


6.  Historic District approvals.  This, for some reason, strikes the greatest of fear.  What if I want to change the color of my door?  What if I need to re-roof?  Breathe, the process isn't as bad as it seems.  Even new houses in a historic district may be subject to architectural review.  But if you are an old house enthusiast, it is unlikely that you are going to want to change the exterior of your home to look like an airplane hanger.  And the historic district doesn't have purview on the interior.  The historic district protects the value of your home, preserves its setting, and is the reason that the Old King's Highway looks the way it does.

7.  Are you feint of heart?  The inspection for the purchase of your historic home is going to separate the sheep from the goats.  Be prepared to have a long laundry list that includes non functioning GFCI outlets, evidence of a previous powder post beetle infestation, and not-up-to-code tree trunks in the basement supporting the floor joists.  Don't panic, keep your eye on the prize.  It will be worth it!


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sweet Historic Cape in Yarmouth Port, Worth a Look


We were told it was not a drive by and they were right.  There is so much more to this antique than you would imagine just looking at from the road.  We Just previewed this 1820 Cape, listed by Team Tom Dillon at eXp Realty, situated on over an acre on historic 6A in Yarmouth Port and wanted to let our old house enthusiasts know about this nicely renovated antique. 
First, the house. Walking into the mudroom from the back door we looked right and saw the most charming laundry room. From the hallway we entered the kitchen. It has a bit of an industrial vibe with 6’ wide built-in Viking refrigerator, stainless steel open shelves, restaurant style center island and stove. One of the best features is that while you are waiting for your “pot to boil” you can relax in the sitting room portion of the kitchen that includes a wall of bookshelves for all your cookbooks.



Who doesn’t want their dining room off the kitchen? This house has a spacious dining room with fireplace that flows from the kitchen.  Although the fireplace is non-working now, the ambience is there and you may be able to convert it to gas if you choose.  After a fabulous meal in the dining room, we  imagined relaxing in the adjacent living room.  If hosting a large family gathering, both rooms could easily accommodate the relatives.
Upstairs was another pleasant surprise--3 spacious bedrooms and full bath with walk-in shower.  All the bedrooms are accessed off the hall. No old house quirk here, where you go through one bedroom to get to another. Yet, there was a door that connected two bedrooms, so if you have kids who like to be together, this house is perfect.  There is a fourth bedroom on the first floor with full bath including a tub if you prefer to be away from the kids or for all your guests who will want to visit you on Cape Cod.


The biggest surprise was the barn.  All we can say is wow! We walked into a huge room downstairs and then into a light filled shed roof addition behind it with sliding doors.  The doors led outside to a beautiful patio overlooking a large luxurious grass area and remaining acreage beyond.  Oh, did we mention that this property has 1.13 fenced acres? Perfect for the garden enthusiast or kids you want to have a private place to play. Upstairs in the barn was another large room with home theatre. Perfect for “movie night” with family and friends.




There is so much more to this totally updated property—too much to write in one post.  If this sounds intriguing and you would like to have a peek, click here or give us a call, 774-994-1337.

Happy browsing,

The Hassler Team

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Royal Barry Wills Crush


Looking for a house that is oozing with charm but also works well for today's living?  The classic Cape Cod homes that dot our landscape were an inspiration for the renowned architect Royal Barry Wills.  Though he also designed cutting edge modern homes, his traditional designs helped to catapult the Cape style home to the forefront of Colonial Revival American architecture during the first half of the 20th century.  Wills, born in Melrose Massachusetts in 1895, established his architectural practice in 1925.

Historic New England has Royal Barry Wills archive

A graduate of MIT in architectural engineering, Wills pulled inspiration from the language of traditional architecture for his cape style homes.  They evoke the feeling of a quieter time but incorporate modern kitchens and baths and the necessary garage of the mid 20's century.  He was a master of proportion and his homes can be recognized by their easy relationship with the surrounding landscape.


Online Archive

Now antiques in their own right, they can be the perfect home for someone looking for a unique, high quality home complete with nooks and crannies, without having to shoehorn a bathroom under the stairs.

Royal Barry Wills died in 1962.  However, if you want a new home, the company Wills founded continues designing magnificent homes today as Royal Barry Wills Associates.

Already have a Royal Barry Wills home? Lucky you!!  You can research original plans and drawings at Historic New England's archives.  Royal Barry Wills Associates generously donated their archive to Historic New England in 2014.

For a current list of pre 1962 Royal Barry Wills homes:

pre 1962 Royal Barry Wills for sale on Cape Cod

More info:

Jeff Wilkinson, "Royal Barry Wills"; Old House Journal July-August 1992

November 2009, Retro Renovation blog post Royal Barry Wills


Friday, April 1, 2016

The White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs


This post should be subtitled "How did I not know this was a thing".  I was rummaging around my favorite book store, when I came across a jewel in their used book section.  The object of my desire was a worn portfolio of architectural essays, entitled "The White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs", which was barely held together with a clip.  I brought it home and upon researching further, found that the bi weekly series, edited by architect Russell Whitehead, had a long history in documenting historical architecture in the United States.


The White Pine Series was born in 1914 and was supported by the Northern Pine Manufacturer's Association of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and the Associated White Pine Manufacturer's of Idaho as an advertising vehicle for using Eastern White Pine in building.  As such, the focus was initially on exterior details and highlighted colonial New England Architecture to capitalize on the colonial revival fever sweeping the nation.

When, in 1924, the White Pine Bureau ceased its sponsorship, the series continued with other advertisers but broadened its focus to include interior and public buildings as well as southern buildings.

In 1940, the series was discontinued, largely because many of its contributors began working on the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) created by the New Deal.  Whenever I am researching the history of a property, HABS is usually my first stop as it is a wealth of history, photographs and architectural drawings of historic properties, especially 17th, 18th and early 19th century buildings.  I also look up info in the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS).

However, this series was new to me and so exciting because it often relates structures to a theme, such as 19th century entries, 18th century mantels, etc rather than taking a building in isolation.  Also, the detailed drawings and photos in this series of interior features are a delight.  This series could also be very useful to people building a new home who want a classic look.



If you are wondering what the chances are of your finding the series in a used book store, fear not! Much of the series has been reset and printed and can be purchased on Amazon.  Also, the series is in the public domain so you can see many of the bi weekly publications at online libraries.  Also, publications from 1914 through 1931 are available online (with printing capabilities) through Eastern White Pine sponsored by NELMA.





Saturday, October 17, 2015

Barnstable Village Antique Homes Open House

Now this is how to spend a beautiful crisp fall day!  Tomorrow, Sunday Oct 17 from noon to 3 PM, join us for a multi broker antique homes open house!  I'll be at 3688 Main St. w/Ellie Claus, armed with cookies and cider.








Thursday, October 1, 2015

When Getting Plastered is a Good Thing

Newly plastered walls and ceiling
If you haven't had work done to your home in a while, you may be surprised to learn that the dominance of sheetrock with mud and tape has slipped as many builders and homeowners choose blue board with a plaster veneer as their finish of choice for walls and ceilings.  This is especially good news for old house owners whose plaster is damaged or was removed and replaced with sheetrock.
If you do have original plaster, it is worth noting that in many cases it can be restored and resurfaced for less cost and better quality than replacing with newer materials.  Original plaster has a flexibility that modern replacements lack. Properly maintained it can last many years and have the added benefits of mold inhibiting characteristics and an unparalleled authenticity.

Though our house has much of its original plaster on lathe, the original plaster was removed on the ceiling and badly damaged on the front interior wall.  We felt that smooth modern sheetrock with mud and tape would stand in stark contrast to the subtle texture and visual movement of the original plaster.  So, we turned to Leigh Draper, a local plasterer with many years experience to help us with our restoration.  (Leigh services the Southern Massachusetts and Cape Cod area.  His phone number is 508-264-3497).

Though Leigh seemed a bit surprised by our request to leave the surface of the plaster less than perfect (he could make it as smooth as a mirror), he used his ample skills and talent to match the original plaster in our living room, dining room and entry.

Applying veneer plaster requires both knowledge and skill.  The plaster must be mixed and applied before it becomes too hard and unworkable.  Ambient temperature and humidity also play a large role in the success of the plaster finish.

Living room wall original plaster and blue board on right wall
and ceiling.

The top of the original plaster was badly damaged where
it met the ceiling.  Leigh filled the gap with plaster prior to the finish coat.

Mesh tape covers the joints on the new blue board on
the ceiling and right wall.

The plaster is mixed when ready to apply.

Detail of infilled area at top of wall where
it meets the ceiling.
First coat is put on seems



Finish coat turns a light grayish white when dry.
Ready for primer!

The ceiling reflects the light.  Plaster can be left
without paint and pigments can be added
to the plaster.
Painted with Farrow and Ball Slipper Satin on walls,
Elephant's Breath on trim, and Off White on floors




Dining room painted with Farrow and Ball Slipper Satin on walls,
Old White on trim and Off White on floors
For more information on the history of plaster and restoration of plaster:

Article on benefits of old plaster in Period Homes Magazine article "Plaster Perfect", March 2007.

The National Park Service has created this brief on the history and maintenance of plaster walls: "Repairing Historic Plaster Walls and Ceilings"