The Period Home












A Period House is a residential structure originally built during a defined era and possessing a cohesive historic appearance and/or significance. The basic original construction details should allow feasible and reasonably-priced restoration into a fully functional residence.  An crumbling old log cabin or vinyl-clad tract house would probably fall outside the scope of this definition. The time frame for the original construction of classic Period structures is generally regarded as post-Civil War through the end of the Art Deco era but including classic bungalows built prior to World War II. In certain areas of the country, notably the Deep South, there were many magnificent structures built prior to the Civil War but the rarity of most still-standing examples would probably make these gems far better candidates for Historic Preservation than conversation to functional Period dwellings. The exorbitant cost to properly reproduce all the sawn-wood gingerbread ornamentation of a mid-era Victorian these days probably now also relegates tone of these opulent land-yachts into pricy Historic Preservation territory rather than more practical Period Home status as well.

Historic structures often exist outside the realm of practical and certainly cost-effective restoration as functional and practical dwellings, despite upgrades to modern code and livability standards. A great number of 1700's Colonial and Revolutionary stone structures in Bucks County PA have undeniable Historic significance but dubious utility as comfortable dwellings in winter with uninsulated exterior stone walls as a standard of their their original construction.

Proper Period restoration requires deconstructing the original structure sufficiently to allow repair and upgrade of all underwork to meet code and functional requirement as well as adding modern insulation, plumbing, electrical wiring, HVAC and other amenities. Most wood-framed structures built pre-WW1 used "balloon construction" with the outside walls built using long members (now called 'studs') reaching from the foundation to the roof in one piece with absolutely no fire breaks in the hollows behind the plaster-over-wood-lathe inner walls. Modern "platform construction" builds each floor's walls upon the ceiling of the previous story which then becomes the floor of the next story, providing an integral fire break. In California, in addition to mandated seismic considerations such as nailed-in joist clips and solid headers above all door and window openings, all framing must meet strict fire codes with extensive fire-blocking required in all walls.

Once the mandated underwork is completed and inspected, the fully refurbished framework is properly reconstructed and restored, using both original and current materials and best methods to recreate details, features and appearance as desired while retaining as much of the  original structure's intrinsic Period identity as possible.

The Period Home is extremely well represented here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Much like our city, itself a showcase of many vibrant and eclectic cultures and ethnicities, its public and private structures, both grand and humble, reflect a cornucopia of styles spanning many years and differing eras. All accents of Victorian, Gothic and Art Deco as well as many modern structures populate the diverse neighborhoods of our beloved Steel City. Many of their long-time current owners' care reflects the pride of their homes' original designers and builders while often adding such modern amenities as proper insulation, up-to-date plumbing and wiring, central heating and air conditioning systems plus high-tech kitchens, computers and entertainment systems.

Recently, the local real estate market has begun major changes, and a new term has appeared in the Period restoration lexicon here in Pittsburgh. A 'facade restoration' is a scam-like tactic employed by sleazy investors intent on turning a quick profit with what amounts to the classic 'quick and dirty flip' of a worn-out rent house but using a run-down historic or Period property instead. This is a very similar tactic to an 'oily' used car salesman offering a worn-out '55 Chevy with loud popes, chrome engine covers and some cheap fresh paint over Bondo-covered rust as a classic hot rod  to a wannabe but  soon-to-be disabused muscle car owner.

Older homes require special care to properly perform restoration, maintenance and upgrades. An original structure which has withstood the ravages of time extremely well could be irreparably damaged or even destroyed with the use of improper methods and materials by unscrupulous investors, unknowledgeable owners, shoddy contractors or inexperienced workers.


Wood - The exact sizes of wood originally used for framing most older houses as well as many of the wood species originally used for the interior trim, cabinetry and decorative features of Period homes are no longer generally available today. Also, today's commercially available framing lumber does not meet the same strength specifications as the home's original lumber. 

Most framing material used in older houses is 'full dimension', meaning a so-called '2 x 4' is  actually 2" x 4" in size. Modern 2 x 4's are actually sized 1-1/2" x 3-1/2", sometimes even a bit smaller, which can create problems when replacing framing members or adding onto existing older structures. Additionally, today's 'fast-growth' lumber does not have the same structural strength as the original old-growth wood used for most Period-home framing members. If the original 2"x12" full-dimension floor joists were replaced with new 2"x12" joists (actual dimension = 11-1/2" x 1-1/2") from Lowe's, 84 Lumber, Home Depot or even high-end Brookside Lumber, you would need 2 or 3 sandwiched together to have the same strength across a 10' span as 1 original old-growth lumber full-dimensional joist had!

Also, today's lumber is generally kiln-dried, a 'baking' process which increases the possibility of warping and may actually promote the formation of molds as moisture which was merely baked out of the wood's cell structure returns. Traditional air-drying is a more involved process necessary for proper dimensional stability of the finer wood used in Period cabinetry and trim work. Air-drying allows the wood's cell structure to shrink naturally, leaving it far more resistant to moisture and warping, allowing for a much smoother finished surface than kiln-drying, which actually explodes the cell structures while baking the water out of them in an oven!