Canadian Woodworking

Heritage Homes

Author: Melissa Martz
Photos: Joe Martz (Lead Photo by Rob Brown)
Published: October November 2015

If your home has been designated as a heritage home, you must be sure to undertake any renovations properly. The purpose of the heritage designation is to ensure the look of a home or neighborhood is in keeping with its history.

Renovating and decorating a house to suit your individual tastes and needs to make it your own gives homeowners pride and satisfaction. It’s not that easy to make any change you want, especially on the exterior of your home and property that has been designated as having heritage status. You may not make all your renovation dreams come true; like making an addition that changes the architecture of the home, getting rid of a fence (you need to let it fall down naturally, with no manpower), or cutting a new hole for a window that would change the look of the house from the street view.

A heritage property is a record of a time and a place, and it is imperative that restoration focuses on repairing rather than replacing elements. If a repair is not possible, the replacement needs to be the same form and materials as the existing. New additions might have to be researched if there are missing features to adhere to the design for that historical era.

Each province in Canada has its own Heritage Act to adhere to. Each act thoroughly outlines the specific requirements for the alterations to heritage properties. In Alberta, for example (and the majority of provinces), designated heritage homes must gain approval with a Provincial Heritage Permit to ensure the history of the heritage property.  is not compromised in the restoration. But if you live in Nova Scotia, there are no official regulations by their Heritage Property Act; you are only asked to abide by the guidelines of the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.

Hutchison House
This home was built in 1837 by the residents of Peterborough, ON, for the town’s first doctor, his wife and their five children. Dr. Hutchison’s cousin, Sandford Fleming, briefly lived in the home in the late 1840s while he began his career in surveying. It’s now one of the oldest stone dwellings in Peterborough.

Henry Myers Cottage
One of the few buildings in Peterborough to retain its original front veranda lattice trellis. It was built in 1858 as an add-on to the original log cabin on the site. The new structure was covered with stucco, and is a good example of the Regency cottage style. (Photo by Rob Brown)

Like New
Konrad Sauer, a Canadian hand-planemaker who lives in Kitchener, lives in a heritage designated area, and has completed many projects to enhance the look of his home. All the work done needs to be in keeping with the original style of the home. One of his favourite home projects was this white oak storm door.

Heritage Designated Area
Many interior and exterior details need to be conformed to in order to maintain a heritage home. It would be unacceptable, for instance, to install asphalt shingles on Konrad Sauer’s home.

Cedar Shingles
Cedar shingles are in keeping with the original construction of the home, and were installed high on the front wall.

Traditional Turnings
Today’s off-the-shelf turnings rarely have the style required to maintain a proper look for a railing.

Why Even Consider a Heritage Home?

Why would anyone consider purchasing a designated home if there are stipulations of what you can or cannot do in renovating? The idea of not being able to “modernize” elements of the exterior of your home isn’t that difficult to comprehend when you look at older homes that have charm and character instead of the brand new cookie cutter homes. Heritage designation properties are located in areas that were developed a century or more ago. Therefore, these areas have mature tree lined streets, and the neighbourhoods are rich in local history that can include historical associations, events, or persons. As well, houses built decades ago were built with the construction methods that are unable to hold a torch to those of today. The difference in construction methods include walls made out of strong, withstanding plaster versus dry wall used in many, if not all homes and buildings.

The saying is very true: “they don’t make them like they used to.”

The rules and regulations for renovations refer to the exterior of the home, keeping the structure and design historically accurate, thus ensuring your house doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb amidst other heritage homes on the street. Designated properties have legal protection in that changes to the heritage character-defining elements may not be changed without a heritage permit.

A number of factors are evaluated to determine if a home or other should be considered for designation. These include age, architectural design, architect or builder, exterior condition, construction methods, integrity, contribution to its landscape or street scape, and/or the historical events or persons.

The Ontario Heritage Act requires all cities to list the properties that they believe have cultural value or interest, but are not designated heritage properties, on the Municipal Heritage Register. The act does not require that property owners be consulted. Listing homes can lead to designation, which has a substantial impact for the property owner. Just listing is adequate to knowing that your home is among the city’s prestigious homes. Since 2006, 650 properties have been evaluated to determine heritage significance. In PEI, there are approximately 800 listings of recognized heritage homes/buildings. In most provinces, grants are available to undergo approved renovations.

Konrad Sauer of Kitchener, ON has lived in his heritage district home in the city’s downtown core for 10 years. His home itself does not have heritage designation, but is located in a neighbourhood that has been designated, thus the same rules apply to the exterior of his home, even if the house itself is not designated. He says, “This house was built in 1850. Various elements are original: the front door, trim along the exterior of the house, and the chimney has been restored to look brand new. A few highlights of the exterior renovations I’ve done include a steel roof made of granular asphalt (stone pushed in tar portraying a rough texture surface), replacing windows with leaded glass, panes of glass around front door were refinished and put back, and white oak storm doors were installed.” Sauer’s favourite exterior renovations are the white oak storm doors and a cedar deck. The Sauers also completely renovated the interior of their home, but kept intact beautiful hardwood floors and wood trim.

When you know that your home has had a significant impact in your city to even be considered as having heritage status, you have the opportunity to save on the cost of renovations and make your property’s value even greater because of the designation. This can make up for not being able to do every renovation that might be on your original renovation dream list for your home.

Melissa Martz - [email protected]

When Melissa isn't writing about kids and woodworking, she's writ­ing on other topics, having a cup of tea or going for a power walk.

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