I’m confused: The walls in the wood shed of my old New England farmhouse are made of rough wooden boards. Are these boards shiplap? It’s a hundred miles from my house to the ocean…. —Jordan T., Tiverton, RI It’s not clear when the definition of the term shiplap shifted from a type of overlapping joinery […]
By Yankee Magazine
Aug 03 2017
I’m confused: The walls in the wood shed of my old New England farmhouse are made of rough wooden boards. Are these boards shiplap? It’s a hundred miles from my house to the ocean…. —Jordan T., Tiverton, RI
It’s not clear when the definition of the term shiplap shifted from a type of overlapping joinery used in boatbuilding to a decorating craze for fixer-uppers. Despite their current popularity as a rustic finish for shabby-chic rooms, the rough-sawn boards in your wood shed are probably the exposed sheathing boards that were nailed to the stud framing of the house when it was built. Most often these boards were just heavy planks, butted up against one another vertically or sometimes diagonally. These boards gave rigidity to the house frame and provided a surface onto which the siding could be nailed. In some higher-end buildings, the sheathing boards could be “shiplapped,” using boards that had been finished with a rabbet, a little step-shaped groove running the length of the board so that it fit snugly against its neighbor.
So, if shiplapped sheathing was applied vertically, what are those horizontal boards we see on home shows? It’s hard to say, since regional construction methods vary historically, but the other common use of shiplap came in the early 20th century, when shiplapped siding in 8-inch and 10-inch widths was an alternative to clapboard, or beveled, siding on bungalows and cottages. In any case, chances are the rough boards you see in your back shed are just garden-variety sheathing — but if you’d like to upgrade your style, you might consider whitewashing them and calling them “shiplap”!Sally Zimmerman, Senior Preservation Services Manager
Dismantling a house to save it: Does it work? —Jenn J., Middlebury, VT
Old houses are coming down all over New England, and the calls and emails arrive at preservation groups almost every day: What can we do to save this untouched Federal farmhouse / intact early 18th-century house / pattern-book Gothic Revival cottage? If it can be moved, the developer will have it dismantled so it can be “saved.” Can you help us preserve this house by telling us how it can be taken apart?
Unfortunately, once things have gotten to this point there’s probably not much that can be done. Moving a house a short distance to a new location, which was once a common preservation “solution,” is now nearly impossible, since the conditions that first created the problem — the scarcity of open lots in highly desirable real estate markets — apply equally to finding somewhere else to put the threatened house. While there are specialty contractors who can responsibly deconstruct and store the building, this option is truly a last resort. In many cases, it would be preferable to put local preservation efforts into fundraising to document the structure with professionally taken photographs that can be archived for future reference.Sally Zimmerman,Senior Preservation Services Manager
My radiator is rusty with flaking paint. What should I do? —Nancy R., Antrim, NH
The predominant central heating system in New England during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cast-iron radiators are durable and can be refinished. There are companies across New England that will handle the entire process for you; alternatively, you can bring your radiator to a body shop or similar facility to complete the preparation work before you paint it yourself.
Begin by removing the radiator, which generally can be done by a qualified plumber or pipefitter. The next step is to remove any rust and failing paint, usually by sandblasting. Then the radiator should be finished with either a powder-coat paint or a spray paint. Apply an even coat of primer and three even top coats of paint for maximum durability. The paint should be meant for use on metal and suitable for high heat. While you can paint the radiator any color, traditionally the most common colors are silver, white, and black. The radiator can then be reinstalled to keep you warm — provided you still have enough money after all that for your heating bill!
Dylan Peacock Preservation services managerGot a question about an old house you need answered? Submit your questions to Historic New England at: Editor@YankeePub.com. Historic New England is the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive regional heritage organization in the nation. Historic New England shares the region’s history through vast collections, publications, programs, museum properties, archives, and stories that document more than 400 years of life in New England. For more information visit: HistoricNewEngland.org.