What Happened to Maintenance?

The throw-away ethic has become so engrained in our society that it has virtually eliminated the concept of maintenance.  Indeed we are consumers, and so we consume as if it were the most natural of habits.  At one time, there were business formulas that were founded on various types of maintenance: the house painter, the corner garage auto mechanic, or the television repairman. 

Society’s failure to sustain a culture of maintenance has resulted in a frail and underdeveloped industry.
The maintenance industry, as it turns out, was a wonderful contributor to the local economy – keeping local dollars circulating locally.

Maintenance, as it relates to heritage buildings is a concern for preservationists and those who own historic properties.  Unfortunately, the present reality is doubly challenging for home owners and carpenters because one or both parties often do not understand the concepts of in-kind replacement, honesty of materials, historic scale and proportion and heritage millwork.
It may be interesting to look back at a snapshot of what a healthy maintenance industry once looked like.  Consider for a moment how traditional tradesmen marketed their skills.  It was really quite simple.  They identified a niche market, staked their territory, and educated prospective clients as to what they offered.  The advertisement below is from 1903 and illustrates well the idea of creating a niche market.

Mr. Grant, though skilled in general carpenter work, stressed his particular proficiency with respect to bay windows and verandahs – two of the most common building additions of his time.

No one advertises this sort of skill today – yet the work and need is there – not so much for bay windows but certainly for wooden windows in general and especially verandahs.  Large numbers of heritage verandahs are in a wanting condition and require appropriate maintenance or complete rebuilds as was the case with this Craftsman style verandah below.

Verandahs are just one example, though, of the many skilled trade opportunities that exist in the historic preservation field as long as we believe in the value of maintenance and encourage young people to enter these trades.

The great challenge for those entering such trades though is that they need more than just the obvious skill set – they must also be able to foster re-creation of that maintenance culture – a culture that will protect original architectural details and components from replacement by poor imposters that are not only questionable in composition and scale but are often not produced locally.

How many beautiful homes have lost their dignity with the installation of pressure treated toothpicks?  How many wooden windows have been replaced with vinyl ones because no one bothered to do the math on the energy efficiency payback? – Often in the 80 to 150 year range even without any intervention to improve the outgoing wooden counterparts.

We all need to retrain ourselves so that we do not automatically assume new is better.  Sure, “new” has its lustre but it’s incredibly fleeting as there is always something newer.  Things that have gathered around themselves the charm of antiquity boast an enduring appeal.  Regular maintenance is almost always cheaper and often more aesthetically pleasing.

As well as being a cornerstone of historic preservation, maintenance is an important contributor to a few little things known as environmental stewardship, sustainability and local economic stimulus.

Posted by Joe Feb 06, 2012 Posted in Economic Sustainability Comments Off

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