A problem that shouldn’t be a problem

To say it is totally unnecessary is just part of the story.

We have historical homes that are being gutted down to the studs.

This is because we have a regulatory problem in Massachusetts.     As much as there is talk of “sustainability” and of being “green”; reality is that absolutely the opposite is occurring.

In an effort to create highly efficient and GREEN homes, the regulations have virtually ruled out any building older than a few years from being compliant.     And in Massachusetts, plans are being made to put in even more stringent requirements through the Stretch Codes that will make buildings just a few years old not be able to fulfill building codes.

Contractors, in the hopes of achieving an occupancy permit often feel they have no choice but to strip a pre-existing house to the studs-only preserving the frame and the foundation and because of this now end up building practically a new structure.    The huge pressure on landfills is exacerbated by the dumpsters filled with this stripped material impacting the environment.     The huge irony is the replacement product is often short-termed in life expectancy and often consists of toxic materials which generate petroleum waste and the most prominent of all oil-based products, plastic.       These, because they have planned obsolescence of barely a decade, will in just a few years be also torn out and put in dumpsters and because of its durable nature, lasting for centuries filling up our landfills with not only petroleum-based products but with the potential for pollution for years to come.       

We are all supposed to be working toward a greener environment but in fact, we are actually accelerating this poisonous situation.

To show the insanity of this trend, the actual truth is pre-existing homes are already extremely “green” – all the manufacturing and use of resources has all been outlaid long ago.      Often the materials that were used are longer-lasting and came from local sources – and because they stay put they don’t threaten the environment by adding to landfills.     As the National Trust of Historic Preservation has stated,

the most environmentally green building is an historical structure.     

It is especially disastrous here in the Newburyport Historic District because developers feel they have no other way than to take our priceless historical treasures and strip them to the studs.

But here in Newburyport – it is strictly out of ignorance and should never have been allowed to happen.

There are numerous allowances and exceptions in permitting rules if you have an old house or are a contractor working toward renovating an old house.

-According to Massachusetts Building Code, One and Two Family, CMR-93.00 (Existing Home), 9309 Historical Homes. Page 872.

It is this incredible ignorance which is why education especially historic preservation techniques should be learned by the residents of Newburyport.       Millions of dollars can be saved and our community preserved by understanding that an old house does not need to be stripped to the studs.       The buildings are exempt from the stringent requirements.

As to what can be preserved and restored compared to what will need to be taken out is often left to the city’s building inspector to determine.     It is his responsibility to make sure that safety is maintained and that good building practices are sustained.

It is essential to have a good working relationship with Gary Calderwood, our local building inspector to help determine which rules can be exempted and what will need to be observed.     All parties needs to agree on what can be done before proceeding with a project.

Gary Calderwood has already said that he won’t “educate” owners of these exemptions.     It will be up to the wise resident and the smart developer to explore the exemptions and thus open themselves up to great savings.

In Disneyland, the historic house is left at the front door and more often than not leads into another theme-park like Tomorrow land.        As for the city, we are rapidly losing our true historical buildings and are being left with Disney-style neighborhoods.       Lost is the charm and sense of history beyond the front door and no faux-historic replacement can ever make it right.

Everyone in the Newburyport Historic District needs to educate themselves before pushing for renovations.


-P. Preservationist

This entry was posted in Conservation, Craftsmen, Demolitions, Developers, finances, Historic Demolitions, Maintenance, Planning, Preservation. Bookmark the permalink.

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