2015, January 23 | Friday 4:30 am

by Peter Samuel

Frederick City’s poorly written historic preservation guidelines sometimes obstruct preservation. Consider the way they impact a building with a couple of deteriorated old chimneys of soft brick and lime mortar. Both of them ‘wick’ water into the roofspace producing perfect conditions for mold and rot.

Flashing between the chimney stacks and the roof are a difficult and expensive CentralChimneyNE2224maintenance issue. Broken mortar or caulk at the flashings can be another source of water infiltration.

Water finding its way into the building via a chimney can damage ceilings, cause electrical short-circuits in ceiling fittings as well as promoting rot of wood members. Absorbed into the exterior brickwork of the chimney damp can promote freeze-thaw damage, and extending down inside the building damp can leach out lime mortar and gradually cause the soft older bricks deep inside the building to decompose.

I have two such troublesome chimneys at 102W3rd St. Like many chimney stacks in houses built when wood and coal were the available fuels. The house went to oil, and WestChimney2220now gas, requiring way smaller flues. Most of the chimney flues are redundant. We have a single gas boiler for hot water and heating and of course it uses just one of five old flues in the two old chimneys.

As part of a rebuild of the roof deck the consulting engineer and a couple of roofing contractors all suggested taking the brickwork of the chimneys down below the roof deck so the new membrane roof finish layer would only be penetrated by a 6” or 8” stainless steel flue. Such circular flues use a custom collar that seals them to the membrane. An efficient, low maintenance arrangement.

That solution would also provide platforms for the roof beams to bear directly down onto the chimney structures, a structural improvement over some very indirect and problematic load paths for the main roof beams, presently.

A structural problem and chronic water infiltration would be remedied at the one time and the building given a solid, long-lasting roof.LkgWestNotVisv22202

Real historic preservation, I say.

Trouble is Frederick’s Guidelines flatly prohibit it. No ifs and buts. Verboten.

Two provisions bar the logical recommended solution.

Under Chapter 5 Guidelines for Rehabilitating Various Building Elements section L Treatment Guidelines for Roofs we have a flat prohibition of any change in the roof form at:

“2. Character-defining. Roof form is an important character-defining element of a building. Roof form shall not be altered or obscured.” (p86)

As if this is not enough there is specific prohibition under section P. Treatment Guidelines for Chimneys “Chimneys are character-defining features that must be retained… They add visual interest to the district’s skyline and character to individual buildings. Chimneys that are no longer used must be retained and with Commission approval may be capped with an unobtrusive cover….” (p90).

GuidelinesFact is there are chimneys and chimneys. Some undoubtedly are prominent and part of the historic facade of a building and their loss would detract from the historic skyline and the character of the building of which they are a part. But other chimneys are barely visible from any street, or from anywhere on the ground.

In my case the chimneys are rather centrally located to a low-slope roof and hence barely visible from any street.

Doesn’t matter under the Frederick Historic District Guidelines. All chimneys regardless of prominence or visibility must be retained.NCtChimneyOppCtyHall2247

Is there any offsetting language that can be cited in support of the more weather tight, water-proof result from removing the chimneys? Surely in 48,000 words spread over 161 pages the Frederick Historic District Guidelines might mention the importance for historic preservation of keeping the rain water out.

There’s not a word in the Frederick Guidelines on the need for water-tight roofs, just a slew of provisions making water tightness more difficult.

Apologists for the Frederick Guidelines often say that their stupidity is imposed by the US Government and that federal grant money for historic planners would be jeopardized by any revisions. They also make the claim that Frederick’s Guidelines are based on the US secretary of the interior standards and guidelines.

If only… in the case of chimneys and roofs.

US sec interior standards far more sensible

The US Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines say about the roof that its shape and features such as chimneys is “an important design element of many historic buildings.” (p24 Building Exterior, Roofs in “The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings,” 1991.)

RedBrickGeorgian2246Note the word “many” which concedes that some historic buildings may have chimneys that are not an important design element and which could allow the elimination of chimneys not visible from the street.

Next sentence in the US secretary of the interior document is: “In addition, a weather tight roof is essential to the longterm preservation of the entire structure.” (p24 Building Exterior, Roofs in “The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings,” 1991.)

A commonsense removal of old chimneys that are not prominent and are not an important design element is encouraged by the US guidelines especially in so far as they spell out the importance of weather tight roof to historic preservation. But it is flatly prohibited by stupidly written Frederick Historic Guidelines.

AUTHORSHIP: The Frederick Guidelines in an Acknowledgements preface say “Text by Barbara Wyatt.” In efforts to understand how such awful Guidelines could have been written we spoke to Barbara Wyatt who said she had written one early draft. But she said she had no further involvement having been pushed out of her City job by the then Mayor as the Guidelines work was just beginning. She said after she left to work for the US National Park Service there were many rewrites. It was committee-written. The Guidelines document as adopted apparently has few traces of the Wyatt draft. The attribution of authorship to Wyatt is therefore incorrect and unfair.


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