Roofs Matter!

I just went into the fact that a roof and it’s material is not important for historic preservation.    The primary function is to protect all the precious things like furniture, moldings and of course, people.      You can quibble over asphalt and slate and rubber and tar ad infinitum but if it keeps the elements out who cares?

But roof styles are a different issue all together!       The shape of the roof is a hallmark of the building’s style.   

I was hanging out at the Planning Office last week and saw the plans for a row house down on Auburn Street.    Other than the fact it faces the Old Hill Cemetery, it wasn’t much concern to me since it is outside the Newburyport Historic District.     But I took one look at it and said, ‘Ugh’ – a flat roof.

One, the absence of it just deadpanned the style – looked like something out of Lawrence – some kind of tenement building.      The absence of a roof drained any aesthetic value out of the design.

Two, the weather in New England demands some kind of peak in the roof.     Sure, you can point to all the school buildings in town with flat roofs but if you go inside, don’t trip on the buckets where the leaks are.     Water has a knack of always finding the weak spot on a flat surface.

Three, the property value by cutting out the roof is gone.     If you want top dollar, you get a building that’s attractive.     Buyers or renters, they will put up with just so much. (Unless the foolish builder is seeking subsidized housing status – Hardly fits Newburyport).

On a house, and in particular a specific style demands a roof that is appropriate.     To attract the right type of buyer, you want them to be proud to own the house.   

If Federal or High Georgian, a hip roof is appropriate.Hip Roof

If Greek Revival, then a simple gable. Gable Roof   

If Georgian then either gable or gambrel.Gambrel Roof

If Second Empire, then a Mansard roof is attractive.Mansard Roof

Either way, when it comes to roof styles, the line and shape are key features of your house’s appearance.   

Now this brings up dormers and skylights.     First, dormers should be well-proportioned and appropriate to the style of the home.    If you are desperate for more light, then put the unsympathetic long dormer behind the house out of view of the public’s view.      This has been a long issue of dispute between the Newburyport Building Department and the Historical Commission.     The former has been approving these ‘destroyers of style’ for years and they really do harm the historic nature of our City.     

Unsympathetic Addition And in the end, destroys the re-sell value of the home if a ghastly structure that reflects ‘bloating’ becomes the most dominant feature.     Most people ‘get it’ as to what Newburyport is all about.     They want to live in historic homes – not beach houses and McMansions.       The windows in the new dormers should relate in position, style and width to those on the wall below. (Height is dependent on the style of the house.)    The temptation is to make the dormers as big as can be to increase space.    But the style may require small dormers – if that defeats your space needs, PUT THE DORMERS BEHIND THE HOUSE.

And this goes for skylights.    If you want to be serious about your historic home but want more light – PUT THE SKYLIGHT BEHIND THE HOUSE AND OUT OF THE VIEW OF THE STREET.

If we adopt the attitude that we are stewards of the home, it helps everyone.     Living for the selfish now means having to jump hoops when you resell the home so the average buyer is attracted.     By keeping the look and feel of the historic neighborhood will help keep your home values high  – just use common sense and look at the historic homes in your area for ideas.*

-P. Preservationist

* In spite of the fact we have a couple of ‘thuggish’ realtors in the area, the vast majority understand historic Newburyport and can recommend alterations that will enhance value and help you avoid alterations that make it difficult to resell your home.     The Historical Commission, though not necessarily motivated by the re-sale value of your home, can also give practical advice on making alterations that won’t detract from the style.


About P. Preservationist

Dedicated to the Enrichment & Preservation of Newburyport
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