Tips to Weatherize Your Historic Home
The devastating freeze from Winter Storm Uri brought Houston to a shivering standstill. Residents across the state experienced burst pipes and extensive home damage. For many Houstonians, it was a crash course in learning about residential plumbing.
We talked with Roman McAllen, associate architect, and Houston’s Historic Preservation Officer, about the storms impact on old houses. With plumbers across the city spread thin, McAllen was the go-to guy among his family, friends and neighbors with urgent leaks and burst pipes. He offered a few tips to help Houstonians be prepared for future freezes.
"The plumbing in historic homes is especially prone to freezing," McAllen said, "People building homes in Houston 100 years ago worked with the materials on hand to construct houses. For plumbing that mean galvanized steel pipes; those pipes are now showing their age.”
As for keeping cold air out, McAllen says historic homeowners can be quick to blame old windows. But before you make a move to replace or repair your widows, McAllen said you should be aware of regulations that apply to historic homes that impact original windows. Email questions to the historic preservation team at [email protected]. If you plan to replace original historic windows, please request a pre-application design review with the HOP team or apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness through the preservation tracker.
"Windows are not the culprit many people are led to believe they are when it comes to climate control. Windows play a role, but insulating the floor and attic are more critical, especially in pier and beam homes,” McAllen said. “Original historic windows should be preserved. They were made with old growth lumber, are infinitely serviceable, and can be restored to a point that air infiltration is at a minimum. There are inexpensive easy ways to prepare for freezing temperatures by temporarily weatherizing your old windows."
Knowing it is too easy to play Monday morning quarterback, reluctantly McAllen offered some lessons learned from this and previous freezes:
• Know where water enters your home and how to turn off the main valve at the street. Purchase an inexpensive water key, a long-handled tool, used to turn off the water. Keep it somewhere accessible in your home or garage.
• Consider wrapping exposed pipes with a string of non-LED holiday lights and leaving the lights on to warm the pipes.
• If you live in a pier and beam home, consider blocking off the vents and crawl spaces around the perimeter of the home to help retain heat.
• If a pipe bursts, turn off the water as soon as possible to minimize damage and maintain system pressure.
• Know what type of pipes exist in your home: galvanized metal, copper, PVC or PEX?
• Familiarize yourself with common emergency plumbing repairs and the parts they require. It's a good idea to have a few extra fittings on hand before a freeze hits as they will be in short supply after pipes burst across town.
• Get to know your local plumbing and hardware stores. Staff at the local stores are familiar with the homes in the neighborhood and can be quite helpful.
Read more disaster recovery resources for historic homeowners.