The Point’s Picks for December 9th

Well, it feels like winter is finally just about here! A strong storm the night before last ushered in a cold front and temperatures are now down in the mid forties, where I suppose they really ought to be.

…And did you know there will be a full moon tonight? According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, it’s the Full Cold Moon of December. Check it out, if you get a chance.

Once again, here’s a relatively short summary of some of the things that grabbed our attention this past week:

On Birmingham Point

We published an idea for a workbench, with a surface-clamping system based on the well-known Golden Ratio. This workbench will serve many applications, but it’s initially to be used in repairing and restoring a good many historic window sashes, frames, and trim. Here’s my initial layout of the bench top:

Golden Ratio Assembly Table

And just yesterday, the first of several sets of inset vises (for simultaneous assembly operations — I hope, anyway) arrived in the mail:

Veritas Inset Vises

I’ll do many more future postings, including a SketchUp rendering of the bench, as this effort progresses.

Historic Preservation and Energy Efficiency

These two topics are in considerable conflict these days, generating quite a bit of controversy and contentious debate. I believe older structures can attain comparable — in some cases, perhaps, even better — levels of performance as modern ones, without having to compromise their historic character, original workmanship, and materials.

But achieving this requires a far different retrofit approach from what’s often advocated by many home performance experts and building scientists. In a previous post, I’d coined the term historic home performance as a moniker for this hypothesized, preservation-centric approach to performance, and also published a manifesto outlining its essential features.

So, naturally, I took considerable interest in reading Austin Home Restoration’s recent post on their The Craftsman blog, entitled “How Much Is Enough?“, wherein the author emphasizes that significant differences in purpose exist between preserved vintage housing stock and the modern built environment, and that modern energy efficiency upgrade practices don’t apply equally to both. I share precisely the same sentiments (as most readers here are all too well aware).

And on the topic of historic window preservation and restoration, I found two other highly relevant postings on The Craftsman: “Five Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 1: Windows)“, and “Preserving Historic Windows“. Great reads that I highly recommend to anyone focused on these topics.

Termites!

To quote an old adage, there are only two kinds of homes: Those that have termites, and those that eventually will have them. It all got started this week with a great post by Todd Vendituoli on his Building Blox blog about termites, including some photos of rather impressive above ground termite nests that Todd discovered in the Bahamas.

This resulted in a spirited Twitter exchange between me, Todd, and Paul Hamtil about terminates and the things they like to eat, which includes paper. Paul then posted this interesting photo of terminate damage to paper drywall backing that he’d discovered. We’ve both seen termites penetrate the gypsum board itself for purposes of providing exit paths for the “swarmers”, which fly off to form new colonies elsewhere. In my own case, I’d discovered a number of such holes in drywall encasing an old beam. The beam was fine and had no significant damage, but the termites apparently used it as “chase” of sorts to provide an egress for the swarm. There were many dessicated old wings lying about the beam from the swarmers that didn’t quite make it out.

As much as I hate termites and what they do to homes, I can’t help but ponder at what amazing and well adapted insects they actually are…

So, that’s a wrap…every one have a great weekend and enjoy what’s left of the fall weather. Oh, and get out there and view that full moon tonight!

Postscript

Wow, this must really be my week for not paying attention. First, I completely forgot about the lunar eclipse following the full moon. Then, I find that while I’m sitting here writing away about historic windows, energy efficiency, and preservation, there’s this big discussion on the very same topics going on on Green Building Advisor. Pffft! Looks like a lot of great content. Here’s the link: Should Historic Preservation Trump Energy Performance?

“When we consider that our older buildings were built to function in a pretty low-profile energy economy there should be no reason for historic authenticity and green renovation to be at loggerheads.” (One comment from the GBA discussion)

About John Poole

My interests include historic homes, architectural preservation and restoration, improving the energy performance of old houses, and traditional timber frames.
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2 Responses to The Point’s Picks for December 9th

  1. Aha, so you already knew about the lunar eclipse? But of course. I imagine the termites told you whilst star-gazing via their ingress and egress. Or maybe someone pulled all their wings off and left them there to confuse you. Ah, get a grip…with those vises.

    • John Poole says:

      No, I had forgotten about the lunar eclipse tomorrow morning. Thanks for the reminder. Hope the weather clears here. So far, overcast and occasional drizzle! If you get up before dawn, you might be able to catch it from your neck of the woods.

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