HISTORIC PRESERVATION, INSIDE & OUT

Every update, upgrade or act of maintenance on an historic building has its historic considerations. It goes with the territory. In the City of Cambridge, in certain designated historic neighborhoods, the Cambridge Historical Commission must approve changes to the exterior of historic buildings in sight of a public way. So it was that we consulted with them on developing a standard for preserving the original clapboards and trim on this imposing Brattle Street Federal style facade, in order to maintain as much as possible of its early 19th century look and feel.

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HISTORIC PRESERVATION, INSIDE & OUT

THE CARPENTER’S APPRENTICE

I write to share a story that had us laughing, at first, and then got us talking about changes in the building industry, the culture, and in the generations. First the funny part:

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THE CARPENTER’S APPRENTICE

Municipal Permits and Schedules

After an owner has gone through the work of hiring an architect or designer, finalizing the design and then choosing a contractor, they are naturally eager to begin construction. Besides negotiating the contract, choosing materials and working out design details, there is the "small" matter of securing the correct permits to begin work. When we first started out in business, getting a building permit was a pretty straightforward affair. For smaller jobs, we could just stroll right into the building department  (now known as Inspectional Services), and walk out with a permit. Permits for jobs that were more complicated or had major structural elements might take a week or so to get approval. 

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Municipal Permits and Schedules

GLASS SLAB WALLS

These glass slabs make a beautiful wall for a shower stall, one with one of the best views in Cambridge, across the Charles River to the Boston skyline. They were an exacting task to install, as they are massive, half an inch thick, weighing 150 to 200 pounds each, the attachment points fixed and all parts transparent. There was no room for error in this part of the project.

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GLASS SLAB WALLS

COPPER ROOFING FOR A LIFETIME

The most durable, trouble-free roof in nearly any application is a standing seamed, double locked copper roof. Unlike shingle systems, including slate, there is no way for water to enter the eaves area because of ice dams. Unlike single locked (or face nailed) metal systems, there is no way for the metal pans (sheets) to come loose or allow water to penetrate. This means that they can be effective down to a very low pitch, as low as 6 inches in 12 feet (NOTE: Meaning 6 inches of rise in 12 feet of run, a.k.a. .5/12.)

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COPPER ROOFING FOR A LIFETIME

GETTING PAST THE BLAME GAME

Building construction often does not go exactly according to plan. In fact, you can almost plan on it. The question is, how do we manage the unexpected, and keep the project on track?

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GETTING PAST THE BLAME GAME

BUILDING RENOVATION STAIRCASE

Stairs are perhaps the most exacting of tasks required of the carpenter. Usually, framing specialists execute the structural frame, but for this demanding project, the finish carpenter insisted on building it himself. There were issues, such as code requirements for a continuous handrail, and accomodations made for a salvaged, original Victorian newel post. The master carpenter knew exactly what it would take to get it right the first time, so that’s how we did it.

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BUILDING RENOVATION STAIRCASE

GRANITE STONE FIREPLACE

This tightly laid granite fieldstone veneer in Belmont, is a tasteful and simple natural finish for a fireplace. The small, squared off stone units lend a low key, but satisfying, focus to this dining area.  The word "focus", in fact, is Latin for fireplace. Note the finished granite lintel spanning the opening, in contrast to the rough split granite fieldstones.

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GRANITE STONE FIREPLACE

OLD HOUSE, NEW FLOOR PLAN

The appeal of Victorian era period detail is undeniable, but their floor plans are in conflict with modern tastes which prioritize light and access. We marvel at their lofty ceilings, small room footprints and locksets on every interior door. It was a different world, clearly - - so down come the walls.

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OLD HOUSE, NEW FLOOR PLAN

MODERN SCREEN PORCH SYSTEM

Before the advent of air conditioning, screened porches were provided as cool sleeping areas, as well as places to relax outdoors. Traditionally, it was considered healthful to sleep in the cold night air, even into the late fall. You need not agree with the medical value of this assertion to embrace the pleasures of a screened living area. Note the depth of this addition, more an outdoor living room than a shallow “sitting” porch. The design and trim detail is traditional, and fully in keeping with the Queen Anne style (Victorian) main house. What is not traditional is the screen system itself, which has become more flexible and adaptable, due to modern lightweight materials and functional design.

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MODERN SCREEN PORCH SYSTEM

DISORIENTED & DOUBLE HUNG WINDOW

Our carpenters’ ingenuity is constantly being challenged to produce real world construction solutions that charm, function and endure, but typically this ingenuity is hidden in the work. They are satisfied with that, as impeccable workmanship is their constant and ultimate aim. Generally, if the carpenter is seen in the work, then a mistake was made!

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DISORIENTED & DOUBLE HUNG WINDOW

MODERN BATHROOM, HISTORIC HOUSE

An historic house is under constant pressure from changes in the culture, which require interventions to accommodate modern tastes and technology. Nowhere is this so evident as in the kitchen and bathroom, where the space required seems to expand decade by decade to provide room for more cabinetry, appliances and fixtures.

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MODERN BATHROOM, HISTORIC HOUSE

STRIPPING HISTORIC EXTERIOR TRIM

Exterior paint layers build up over time, and accumulation of paint films will eventually fill and obscure original millwork details. An example is this Brattle Street Colonial Revival style house built in 1887. Built for Annie Thorp, a daughter of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it was inspired by her father’s eighteenth century Georgian house nearby. The “revival” style was exactly that, a late Victorian homage to a much earlier traditional style. Even so, 1887 to the present was plenty of time for 18 layers of paint to accumulate, effectively filling the gaps in the small dentils in the cornice and likewise distorting other details.

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STRIPPING HISTORIC EXTERIOR TRIM

HEATED BLUESTONE DRIVEWAY

Anybody north of a certain latitude knows to dread the chore of shoveling snow, so the idea of a radiant heated driveway has universal appeal. This bluestone paving makes a beautiful surface, but it is just the business end of a complex snowmelt system that melts the snow as it falls - - or the ice as it forms. This is a great concept, but frankly, expensive to run, as the driveway is a significant mass of masonry, located outdoors, in freezing conditions. Well, you get the idea.

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HEATED BLUESTONE DRIVEWAY

FOLLOW THE CURVE - - IN WOOD

Fabricating curved wood millwork is one of the most demanding tasks the carpenter faces, especially when the bent woodwork is to be exposed to the outside elements. Built in the late 1990s, the trim on this curved wooden fence did not stand the test of time. Furnishing privacy in a quiet Brattle Street neighborhood, it was rotted, infested with carpenter ants, and coming down on its own, with or without help.

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FOLLOW THE CURVE - - IN WOOD

URBAN BUILDING CONSTRUCTION PROBLEM SOLVER

Sometimes the master carpenter is like a musician, exhibiting the technical skill to make complex moldings turn a corner, leaving a perfect joint, one too tight to get a hair or a razor into. And sometimes they are there to solve deceptively simple but stubborn problems, like a basement access that is so awkward and inconvenient that it can’t be used from year to year.

 

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URBAN BUILDING CONSTRUCTION PROBLEM SOLVER

REFINISHING VICTORIAN WOODWORK FOR MODERN TASTES

The modern knock on the Victorian style is that it is both too busy and too gloomy, like the Addams Family. The modern taste runs to simple and light. Still, it is hard not to be awed by the lush craftsmanship that went into this paneled Victorian wood staircase, the rich, heavy panels and generous proportions and dimensions. And yes, it did need to be refinished, one way or the other.

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REFINISHING VICTORIAN WOODWORK FOR MODERN TASTES

HAPPY ACCIDENTS IN HISTORIC RESTORATION

Change happens to every building, as styles and standards evolve. Where to draw the line between preservation and evolution is a matter of judgement and taste. An example of this was the abatement of asbestos floor tile from a concrete floor in a classic mid century modern residence, by the noted architect Paul Glaser.

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HAPPY ACCIDENTS IN HISTORIC RESTORATION

REPRODUCING HISTORIC SPACES WITH VENEER PLASTER

After a century and a half or so of building settlement and aftermarket alterations, the walls of any wood framed structure will be somewhat misaligned. When those walls are behind a mansard type roof, and intentionally tilted inward, then the forgiving virtues of a skim coat veneer plaster wall system becomes a critical tool for rendering wall planes in a faithful and consistent way.

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REPRODUCING HISTORIC SPACES WITH VENEER PLASTER

FLEXIBLE PROCESS CAN PRODUCE DEFINING DETAILS

Often it is the details that make the project, and sometimes these details only emerge in the process of construction, serendipitously. Such an example was this open plan apartment renovation, with a home office. As the work proceeded, the owner came to understand that he wanted more separation between his office and the adjacent dining room - - without having to give up the open feeling on other occasions. He preferred not to have the extra work done to make the opening smaller, to a size that could handle swinging doors, so Walter Mayne suggested barn doors because they can fit any size opening. They would also be different enough that they would work, even in an apartment where everything else matches. These barn type sliding doors were the perfect solution. The solution worked so well, that we returned to install  similar style doors to the opening from the office to the kitchen area.

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 FLEXIBLE PROCESS CAN PRODUCE DEFINING DETAILS

LESS CAN BE MORE WITH MINIMALIST DESIGN

Clean, uncluttered minimalist design is a modern look, appealing for what it leaves out, such as installation of door, floor and window trim. Certainly there will be a savings with such a design, since the carpenters get to skip this step and go home early?

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LESS CAN BE MORE WITH MINIMALIST DESIGN

MANAGING A HEARING BEFORE THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORICAL COMMISSION

The Cambridge Historical Commission is the official historic preservation authority for the City of Cambridge. If your property is in a formally designated historic or neighborhood conservation district, no permitted work can proceed without a Certificate from the Commission. 

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MANAGING A HEARING BEFORE THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORICAL COMMISSION

SATISFYING CONFLICTING AGENDAS FOR HISTORIC WOOD WINDOWS

In order to preserve the integrity of historic city neighborhoods, the Cambridge Historical Commission has the responsibility to oversee updates to architectural details on “places and buildings that are significant for their history or architecture.” This mandate most particularly applies to exterior details that are visible from a public way. This can present a balancing act when it becomes necessary to replace historic wood window sash with units, which must satisfy modern requirements for energy efficiency.    

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SATISFYING CONFLICTING AGENDAS  FOR HISTORIC WOOD WINDOWS

PRIDE AND THE MASTER CARPENTER

By Doug Hanna

Recently, the guy who does web marketing for our company, John Corbett, suggested that I write a blog post about the role of pride in producing top level craftsmen. Having worked at S + H maybe 20 years ago for a year or two, John recalled that every carpenter that he knew at S + H aspired to be the best, and had definite opinions on what constituted quality work. The carpenter’s trade requires vision, patience and total focus. Any lapses in attention are punished immediately as the work must be torn back and corrected. Intense pride in the result helps to keep the master carpenter’s head in the game.

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PRIDE AND THE MASTER CARPENTER

SALVAGE GIVES CONVICTION TO A MODERNIST ADDITION

When designing an addition to a 1949 bauhaus classic by noted Modernist Samuel Glaser, great care was taken to make the look and feel of the new work entirely consistent with the original. This meant that we were to reproduce existing millwork and trim details throughout the addition.

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SALVAGE GIVES CONVICTION TO A MODERNIST ADDITION

FINDING THE CARPENTER IN THE CRAFTSMAN STYLE

The Craftsman style is familiar to us all, and is still with us in a way that the Victorian is not. We are often called upon to apply Craftsman style detail in very un-Craftsman buildings. The Craftsman sensibility endures because it has a humane feel to it, as it retains the visible presence of the hand of the craftsperson (carpenter, mason, metalworker, etc.) that made it.    

 

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 FINDING THE CARPENTER IN THE CRAFTSMAN STYLE

LISTENING TO A BUILDING TO RESTORE PERIOD DETAIL

History is a funny thing. Sometimes, it gets erased. In construction, we call that a “gut job”, meaning that the existing finishes have been demolished, from the framing studs out. Times change, tastes change, but the spirit of a building remains the same, and calls out for restoration of its original purpose and intention.

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LISTENING TO A BUILDING TO RESTORE PERIOD DETAIL

THE OLD IS NEW - - WALNUT LIBRARY

The interior of this elaborate Victorian in Harvard Square had been gutted in the early 60’s. The new owners had a vision to create a room, a paneled library, which would feel as if it had been entirely original to the building itself. Their designers procured a couple of period architectural objects which provided focal points for the design of the room.

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THE OLD IS NEW - - WALNUT LIBRARY

DESIGN FLEXIBILITY AND RENOVATION OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS

Sometimes historic buildings can take their time giving up their secrets. In such a case, it is well to have a flexible project design, one that takes account of the surprises and opportunities that renovation of an older building can furnish. An example is this 1840’s Gothic mansion on Beacon Hill, designed by Richard Upjohn, who designed the main entrances to the Boston Common. Originally a single 23,000 SF unit, in 1965 it was gutted and entirely stripped of its original finishes and trim in order to partition it into 15 modern residential units. As part of this work, the ceilings were dropped from a lofty 13 feet down to barely 7 feet.

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DESIGN FLEXIBILITY AND RENOVATION OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS

Design Collaborations Between Contractor and Architect

One could argue that the best, and most organic design solutions involve input from the bottom up. S+H's skill set allows them to collaborate with architects to conceptualize designs that will not only delight the client, but provide functionality.

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Design Collaborations Between Contractor and Architect

ACCELERATED CONSTRUCTION SCHEDULES

One of the most common questions we get from owners, just after how much a project is going to cost, is “how long it will take?".  People who have experienced a renovation project before usually have a somewhat realistic idea of schedule.  We often say that were it not for permits and inspections, we might be able to shave months off a particular job. But the fact is that we, along with all of our above-board competitors, adhere to the requirements of municipal agencies and go by the book. This process has increased the length of projects more and more over the years. Not only does procuring a permit take longer, but once we have the permit, new types of inspections are required, depending on the town (such as screw pattern inspections in drywall… right Somerville ?).  

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ACCELERATED CONSTRUCTION SCHEDULES

WHY NOT STUCCO FOR EXTERIOR FINISH?

Use of stucco as an exterior finish is traditional in Florida and California, and is growing slowly in New England, as lumber of a suitable grade and species for exterior finish becomes harder to find. Historically, even in New England, some designers specified stucco as appropriate for the building style they had chosen. Though it is associated with dry or tropical climates, we can see it performing well here, over time, in historic buildings, especially early 20th century residences in towns like Belmont and Newton. This historic work is generally 3 coat stucco over wire mesh.

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WHY NOT STUCCO FOR EXTERIOR FINISH?

ON-SITE MILLWORK FABRICATION SKILLS KEEP PROJECT ON SCHEDULE

Construction of this Craftsman style home's new grand entry was an example of how on-site millwork fabrication skills can furnish design and production efficiencies, keeping the project on schedule. While a third party vendor will generally fabricate custom millwork more economically than can be done on-site, in this case, significant on-site fabrication enabled the carpenters to help resolve design approval issues in real time and keep the project moving. Like every industry, more specialization has been the tendency, causing changes in the role of the lead carpenter. This trend is driven by technology, and efficiencies of scale, but there are often times when there is no substitute for agile and responsive problem solving, based upon long experience.

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ON-SITE MILLWORK FABRICATION SKILLS KEEP PROJECT ON SCHEDULE

Flood Prevention with Stormwater Drainage Systems

As we see and hear about the epic flooding and destruction in Houston, it's hard to imagine what the Boston area would look like if it suffered a similar storm.  We are located on the Atlantic coast, and huge hurricanes can happen here (1938 and 1954, among others). 

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Flood Prevention with Stormwater Drainage Systems

Preliminary Guesstimates

We are often asked to provide preliminary estimates for building and renovation projects, prior to the development of clear and definitive plans and specifications. Estimates are, of course, more accurate, with a fully realized set of construction documents. But we know that preliminary estimates are a good way for architects and owners to get a rough idea of the cost of projects before fully committing to a design. Sometimes, preliminary plans have enough information to provide fairly accurate pricing, but in some cases, by necessity, estimates are more like guesstimates. In these situations, numbers will be based on our experience and whatever information we can gather from the architect and owner, regarding the level of finishes.

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Preliminary Guesstimates

Job Site Dangers in the Construction Business

By Doug Hanna

Building construction is a dangerous business. At a time when many jobs have moved from factory floors to cubicles, and from farms to malls, construction remains something that must be done on-site, by actual people. Those people, the people who work on your homes, face potential dangers every day. Electrical hazards, falls, and injuries from tools make up the majority of injuries suffered each year.

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Job Site Dangers in the Construction Business

Old, Virgin Growth Lumber and Alternatives

By Doug Hanna

Having worked on old homes and structures in New England for the last 40 years, we continue to be impressed with the durability of the lumber used before the 20th century. Most of the exterior trim installed in the 17th, 18th and most of the 19th century came from virgin timber. These were trees that had grown close together, undisturbed, sometimes for centuries. The result of this "slow growth " was a tree with much tighter ring patterns, which created a harder, stronger piece of lumber that had more resistance to rot and insect damage. One of the most remarkable common places we still see this type of trim lumber is in window sills. Though window sills take a beating, and they might look worn and rutted, many sills continue to remain almost completely sound, sometimes centuries after they were installed.

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Old, Virgin Growth Lumber and Alternatives

Local Historical Commissions - - On Your Team

You just purchased an historic house in an historic neighborhood. You have planned some needed improvements to the building and now your contractor or designer informs you that you need to meet with the local historical commission in order to get these changes approved. What is going on here? Isn’t this your property? What right does some unelected commission have to tell you what you can do with your own property?

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 Local Historical Commissions - - On Your Team

Deferred Maintenance, If Your Roof Could Talk

By Doug Hanna

Hey there, I'm your roof ... Hello?! Remember me?

Let's be open and both acknowledge that you don't usually give me the time of day until I start leaking.  It's OK, I'm used to being ignored. I noticed that you were a bit more attentive to my needs this winter, although only as it impacted you. Still, I like your involvement and new-found interest. But just to clue you in,  the other exterior components of  your house and I had it pretty rough these last few months. Known for the first hundred thousand years of human history as " the stuff that keeps water and wind out of the ... " ( and you can fill in the blank here: cave, tipi, igloo, yurt, hovel, house. double-wide ... ),  in the last 20 years we've somehow become your "building envelope." I don't know who thought we resemble a piece of stationery, but I guess I can see the analogy.

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Deferred Maintenance, If Your Roof Could Talk

Solutions to the Damn Ice Dams

By Doug Hanna

We're having quite a winter here in the Boston area. Here at S+H Construction, we are getting dozens and dozens of calls from unfortunate people who have water leaking into their homes from ice dams. Icicles can be beautiful, but they are an indication that some ice damming is taking place. 

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Solutions to the Damn Ice Dams

Contemplation, Planning and the Elements of Design

By Doug Hanna

Last night I looked out over a frozen pond with the full moon above. The shadows of the trees were beautifully etched in the snow. As I surveyed the landscape of the winter-that- never-ends, I've been thinking about the Native-Americans who lived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. They lived through winters like this, but spent the long winter nights in hide-covered wigwams. It certainly must have affected the mindset of these people, to live four or five months of the year inside structures made of saplings covered with animal hide, with the natural world locked away in the ice and snow.

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Contemplation, Planning and the Elements of Design

The Benefit of a Good Architect or Designer

By Doug Hanna

The residential construction industry is on the rise, which is great news. But lately we've noticed a tendency of owners trying to build or renovate without good, solid design plans. This is not anything new, but seems to be more prevalent these days. Perhaps it's a side effect of the recession, or, as one architect recently said to me "the commoditizing of our industry." I'm not quite sure the reason, but what I do know is that undertaking a home building or home remodeling project without a complete set of architectural plans is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

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The Benefit of a Good Architect or Designer

Urban Living Revisited

By Doug Hanna

After four years of self-imposed exile in the far suburbs I recently moved back to the city. There is nothing better than being out in nature with the blue herons, owls, hawks and flocks of turkeys you call your neighbors, but in time the solitude and beauty of living out in the woods can be offset by long and frustrating commute and the occasional feeling of isolation. Fun fact: In the past four years, I've driven approximately 40,000 miles for my daily commute alone, taking up upwards of 1,500 hours of time or around two months of my life. 

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Urban Living Revisited

The Difference Between Cost-Plus and Fixed Cost Contracts

By Doug Hanna

Recently I attended a three-day retreat with a group of contractors from different areas of the United States. This was an introductory meeting to see if our company would "make the cut" and be voted into this advisory group of contractors. We were indeed voted into the group, and so will attend a couple of meetings a year going forward. We regularly meet with local contractor/competitors involved in residential renovation and building, at networking and trade association events, where we always have an interesting exchange of ideas and experiences. However, this retreat allowed for more direct and honest criticism to be exchanged (along with the excuse to eat and drink more than usual). The contractors in the group come from non-competing markets, giving them the ability to share experiences and advice in a more open manner, without giving away all the state secrets.

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The Difference Between Cost-Plus and Fixed Cost Contracts

Living In a Construction Site - - Stay or Go?

By Doug Hanna

It's one of my favorite Clash songs. But it's also the subject of this month's letter because I'm referring to the decision many owners face when renovating their home. Along with other questions we typically ask people, today it is more important than ever to know whether an owner or family intends to stay in their home during a renovation.

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Living In a Construction Site - - Stay or Go?

Contractors Insurance - - What Homeowners Should Know

By Doug Hanna

Remodeling your home or building a new one is always very exciting. The anticipation of finally having your "dream house" can sometimes overshadow some of the issues that tend to get lost in the shuffle. Yes, it is critical that you use a contractor, architect, and designer that are a good fit for your project. But in the process, it is critical that you make sure your "team" - specifically your contractor, carries the appropriate insurance. Proper insurance is the "safety net" that protects everyone involved.

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Contractors Insurance - - What Homeowners Should Know

What Contractors Wish Homeowners Knew

By Doug Hanna

Recently, I was asked a popular question from an editor at SheKnows.com, "What do contractors wish homeowners knew?" With the popularity of DIY-everything nowadays, homeowners may be feeling a little more ambitious to do their own home renovation or remodeling. While there are some projects that can be done without hiring a contractor, we feel the bulk of your remodel or renovation should come from a professional. Given the complexity of today's projects, the new building technologies and the increasingly rigorous requirements of municipal, state and federal agencies, most projects are better left to licensed contractors.

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What Contractors Wish Homeowners Knew

Why Use a General Contractor

Live and learn. That still holds true for us at S + H Construction, even though we’ve been in this business for almost 35 years. Some of what we learn falls under the category of “you can’t make this up,” while other things are just old realizations that get reinforced with each passing year. We’ve noticed that the learning process is also true for a new generation of homeowners who, just as with generations past, are learning by experience the enduring truths about renovation work and new construction, and why it’s important to hire a legitimate general contractor. With an abundance of home improvement and “home – flippers” shows, many people are led to believe that being a general contractor is something that anyone can do or manage while learning on the fly. 

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Why Use a General Contractor

Building Consultations - - Costs and Benefits

By Doug Hanna

A recent online discussion in the builder’s group NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) sparked some strong opinions from builders across the country. The hot topic being discussed is whether builders should charge for consultations and if so, how much. 

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Building Consultations - - Costs and Benefits

How to Choose a Contractor

By Doug Hanna

Contrary to the sworn oath of the brotherhood/sisterhood of general contractors, we builders do sometimes try to put ourselves in the shoes of the customer. We understand that it can be daunting for homeowners to start down the road of choosing a contractor. There are many aspects to take into consideration including quality, price, reputation, length of time in business, NSA watch-list status, etc. Notice that I put quality in front of price. Many people focus on price first, and while that is certainly important, especially if the budget is limited, selecting a contractor is not as simple as selecting, say, a trash can. 

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How to Choose a Contractor

Volatility in the Greater Boston Real Estate Market

By Doug Hanna  

The current crazy ride in the local real estate market may seem unprecedented, but it's happened before. In 1981, as new parents, my wife and I bought a triple-decker in Somerville. The day we moved in, the neighbor from across the street strolled over and greeted me as follows: "Ya paid too much for it!"  Three years later, when we sold the house for more than twice the amount we paid, I paid a visit to my neighbor, who had become a friend, and gave him the news. He just shook his head.

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Volatility in the Greater Boston Real Estate Market

Cambridge Historical Marker Returns to Original Location

On April 30th, S+H Construction assisted the Cambridge Historical Society and placed a historical granite marker, from the year of 1880, to its original location after being uncovered at a construction site, where it previously sat for 66 years. The marker was inscribed in 1880 by the city of Cambridge as a part of their 250th anniversary of their founding. The marker was at the corner of an 1869 building at Dunster and Mount Auburn and it marked the site of the first meeting house erected in 1632. When the building was demolished in 1929, the marker was dumped in a landfill near Fresh Pond. In 1947 the Continental Can Company built a factory on top of the marker and there it sat for 66 years until its discovery this year at the Fawcett Street construction site.

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Cambridge Historical Marker Returns to Original Location

A Win For Solar Energy Installations in Massachusetts

By Doug Hanna

A recent court decision should help increase the number of solar panels installed in the Commonwealth. Last month, the Massachusetts Superior Court issued a summary judgment that overruled part of a 2009 memorandum to wiring inspectors from the Massachusetts State Board of Electrical Examiners (BSEE). The BSEE memorandum stated that only companies controlled by master electricians were allowed to advertise or contract for solar photovoltaic (PV)  projects in the state. A few companies, including S + H Construction, had been cited by the BSEE as being in violation of this memorandum, had been issued summonses and were facing significant fines. These actions threatened to change the standard structure of many solar companies in Massachusetts.

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A Win For Solar Energy Installations in Massachusetts

The Radiance of Radiant Heating

By Doug Hanna

Radiant heating heats objects like the furniture, the drapes, the dog, and you. We are big fans of radiant heat and have been installing both kinds, forced hot water and electric, since it became popular about 15-20 years ago.  In whole house renovations the walls and ceilings are exposed so the opportunity for installing radiant heating is easier and therefore less expensive.

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The Radiance of Radiant Heating

Geothermal Wells - - Drilling for Free Energy

Yes, you can drill for free energy in your own backyard, without fracking or contributing in the slightest to your carbon footprint, by sinking a geothermal well. This technology enables you to tap into the earth to provide heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.  Outdoor temperatures change with the seasons but below ground, they remain steady. About four feet below grade (in eastern Massachusetts), temperatures remain constant year-round, around 50 – 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  A geothermal system leverages this temperature differential by circulating water below ground in order to heat (or cool) it, relative to the surface temperature, in order to furnish virtually free energy. This energy can be used for heating, cooling or for hot water.

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Geothermal Wells - - Drilling for Free Energy

New Systems - - Old Radiators

Existing cast iron steam radiators can be easily reused in modern heating system upgrades. Sometimes richly detailed, these radiators are often part of the original design fabric, and homeowners want to retain them, just as they would for any original historical element in their home. In addition to their historic beauty, their greater mass enables them to hold and radiate heat for a longer time than conventional, modern finned copper pipe, thereby contributing to a steadier mean temperature.

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New Systems - - Old Radiators

Historic Roxbury Puddingstone - True Native Stone

One of the most beautiful and interesting local historic materials found in the greater Boston built environment is what is called Roxbury Puddingstone. This is a native sandstone inlaid with granite pebbles and fragments of quartz and then metamorphisized into something hard enough to build with. Historically, it was used to build masonry walls and foundations throughout the Boston area and quarried in Roxbury, Brookline, Brighton and Newton. In many cases, quarried is too formal a word, as the stone used was often blasted out of the building site itself, in the process of excavation. 

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Historic Roxbury Puddingstone - True Native Stone