Lessons Learned from This Old House

I always count it a privilege to be asked to work on an historic home. When I spend a few hours measuring it up, I try to imagine the families that lived there, their experiences and the times they lived in. There are lessons we can learn from an old house about design, comfort and style. In our current quest for ‘green building’, it’s interesting to analyze home design and construction of 150 years ago. There is an ‘economy of scale’ in 2 storey construction; the foundation is smaller and by ‘stacking’ the floors, we are lessening exposure to the elements. Building materials were sourced locally; bricks came from nearby brickyards and lumber was milled from trees on the property or surrounding farms. The familiar wrap porch was popular not just for its appearance- it cooled the hot summer air before it entered the house. When air conditioning meant opening the windows and doors (not flicking a switch), many historic homes had transoms above the interior doors that allowed hot air to escape and which aided natural cross-ventilation. So let’s take those lessons learned and incorporate them into current design. We can carefully consider the size and shape for our homes, source stone and brick from Ontario, and incorporate reclaimed wood materials. And, let’s bring back the porch and natural air-conditioning.


Restoration Tips

In order to preserve our already depleted stock of historic homes, here are some important restoration tips. Start with a thorough structural analysis that will identify any components that need replacing or upgrading. My opinion is that if any part of a building has survived for 100 years or more, is dry, does not show evidence of rot or mold, and is structurally sound, then by all means, incorporate it into the design.

Replace windows and doors with energy efficient units and ensure proper sealing and caulking. Many companies manufacture styles that are historic replications while meeting or exceeding current energy standards.

For the exterior of brick and stone walls, do not sandblast or paint. When repointing, use a lime mortar mix. To protect the walls from water penetrating, ensure roof overhangs and all sills are wide enough to wick water away.

Generally, it is best to leave existing rooflines intact. Replacing the roof initiates the requirement for the new roof structure to meet current codes (larger rafters, heavier ridge beams). It has been my experience that this affects the roofline’s proportions, character and heritage value. To upgrade insulation, most often we can spray foam between the existing roof rafters.


Welcome to Winter Seasonal! In a meeting last week with a client, he said, “You must really have fun with your work… it must be so exciting to see the finished product after dreaming it up in your head!” And he is right!! There is an amazing sense of satisfaction, particularly taking an old structure and ‘making it new!’ Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and I wish you and yours all the best in 2016!

This 1870’s home in Essa Township was a ‘gem-in-the-rough’ waiting for a new life. John Konrad of Konrad Construction could see its potential. He purchased the property, planning began, drawings were prepared and permits obtained. Then John and his crew began the hard work and after a few months, the house was put on the market. Christian and Sheila Hawkes had looked at the house when it was first up for sale, but its rough condition was more than they were willing to take on. After viewing the finished house, they couldn’t believe the transformation, and purchased it right away. The house is perfect for their family, and the rural property with its outbuildings is ideal for their business operations, Totally Covered Event Rentals.

1. Architectural Design: Jane Cameron, Life Home Design
2. Structural Engineer: Steve Boyd, Quaile Engineering
3. Builder: John Konrad, Konrad Construction, 705-458-0152
4. Homeowners: Christian and Sheila Hawkes, Totally Covered Event Rentals,
5. Brick Masonry Repointing: Clarence deWinter Masonry, Bradford, 905-775-4754
6. Roofing: Rick Rhodes, Shelburne Roofing,
7. Windows and Exterior Doors Manufacturer: Strassburger Windows & Doors,
8. Lumber and Window Supplier: H.F. Smith Home Hardware Building Centre, (705) 458-4462
9. Wood floors: Refurbished by Konrad Construction
10. Kitchen: Chris’ Wood Shop, Ottawa, 613-754-2908

Hermit Cookies

I guess I’m on a nostalgic kick… old houses… old recipes! When my late mother-in-law was married in 1946, she was given a cookbook called ‘Canadian Cook Book’ by Nellie Lyle Pattison, Director of Domestic Science at Central Technical School, Toronto. (It was first published in 1923 and reprinted seventeen times…now that’s a popular cook book!) This ‘Hermit Cookie’ recipe has been enjoyed by four generations of our Cameron clan!

1 c. butter
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. raisins
1 1/2 c. chopped dates
1/2 c. chopped nuts
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 TB. boiling water
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice

Cream the butter, add sugar gradually. Add eggs well beaten, then fruit and nuts. Add baking soda mixed with boiling water, then add the flour sifted with spices. Drop from teaspoon onto buttered baking sheet 1” apart. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
(I have been cutting down on the sugar and it still tastes great. The recipe also adjusts well to gluten-free flour.)

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