Old House Network's 'Great Unveiling' Gets Down To The Nitty-Gritty

May 1, 2014

When you become a homeowner, gone are the days of calling the landlord for any creak or leak. Maintaining  a residence on your own can be a big responsibility - especially if you’re short on cash and unsure of what you're doing. 

And if you're home is of a certain age - say, in the days of lead paint - repairing that crack in the ceiling is going to take a lot more than just caulk and paint.

"80% of our houses in the US are younger than 50 years. Using modern materials on an old house can actually damage it," says Sharon Ferraro, one of the founders of the Old House Network. "So what we decided to do was to get together and teach workshops - hands on - 'This is how you do it.' Come and make the mistakes at our workshop, then you can go home and do it yourself."

Created in 2003, the Old House Network allows admirers and home owners alike to bond over their love of old homes and learn how to keep them in shape.

"What we do is try to give people enough information, that they can decide if they should hire a professional, or whether they should give it a try themselves. We also talk about things like building codes and building permits and electrical permits and all that kind of stuff - so they can make that decision," she says."

"[People] buy an old house and they say 'Well I need to update some of the wiring and I need to refinish the floors and I need to rebuild the front porch steps and it needs to be painted. So which one of these should I take on by myself?’"

Every few years the Network also stages a "Great Unveiling," where volunteers tear down old siding from an aging home. Ferraro got the idea from her friend Bob Yapp, a home preservationist and public television show host.

"I thought that was a great idea because it's something that volunteers can get involved with, it's something that a homeowner who really wants an old house but doesn't like the siding can just take it off and see what's underneath and what they want to restore," says Ferraro, who also works as the historic preservation coordinator for the Kalamazoo Historic District Commission.

This year, the unveiling will take place in the Stuart neighborhood on Elm Street, at the home of Jeff Siuda and Max Tibbits. The home's roof caught fire in 2010 after lightening struck the rooftop. Siuda and Tibbits were the fourth owners the home had had in four years. 

"Our fear was that this house was going to probably be torn down and there's so much of the character of the house left that we wanted to be sure it was saved and become another diamond in the neighborhood," says Siuda of the home, which he believes was built in 1886.

The fire was contained to the top floor, but the entire home is being renovated. There’s a chain of measuring, hammering, and sawing occurring both in and outside of the house.

The Stuart Area Restoration Association and Habitat for Humanity will also be involved in the unveiling. Siuda says the siding dates back to the teens, and their plan is to donate what is salvageable to other homes in need. 

Nostalgia aside, Siuda says maintaining older homes helps to keep property value in a neighborhood intact.

"When we had the great crash of the property values back in the 2000s', the Stuart neighborhood didn't go down as far as the other places, and the values have gone back up. So they've actually retained their value," he says. "The houses as people are statement about the community. These were folks that took lots of care in the building and a lot of pride in the building and we want to be able to preserve that as well."

Ferraro feels that the organization's approach of education by preservation is one that is constantly presenting new opportunities.

"It's amazing how generous people are when you ask them and when you have a specific purpose. Especially when your goal is to further empower people by teaching them skills. So you're not just 'I want to paint your house for you,' this is 'We want to teach you how to paint your house safely, so that your kids are safe, so that you're safe, so that you do a good job that's going to last a long time."

The Great Unveiling will be held on Saturday at 9 a.m.