Building Doctors to make house calls in Bexley

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Ohio Historic Preservation Office Building Doctor Mariangela Pfister, shown with a "patient," will be in Bexley April 24-25 with colleague Mark Epstein to discuss how to repair historic homes and to provide consultations.

As we get older, all of us need special care – although not many of us will ever complain about wood rot or ant infestation.

But these are the kind of ailments that the Building Doctors of the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, coming to Bexley April 24-25, will be diagnosing for homes built before 1955.

"The goal of the program is to give people unbiased, sensitive rehabilitation advise, with no strings attached," explained Mariangela Pfister, coordinator of the Building Doctors presentations, now in their 30th season.

Unlike home repair contractors, "we have nothing to sell," Pfister said.

As part of the Ohio Historical Society, they do have a stake in seeing that the historic features of older buildings are preserved.

"It’s all about maintaining the historic significance and keeping the buildings functional," Pfister said.

They also realize that many people cannot afford to hire an architect for a home inspection, a service that can cost $200 an hour.

That’s why the Building Doctors offer their own kind of urgent care.

Pfister will be joined by Mark Epstein, head of the Resource Protection and Review Department and a trustee of the Bexley Historical Society. Both are Bexley area residents.

This is the first Building Doctors presentation in Bexley, and they are looking forward to learning about the many historic homes in the community, Pfister said.

The first session, Thursday, April 24, will consist of a seminar from 7-9 p.m. at Jeffrey Mansion, 165 N. Parkview Ave.

The first hour’s presentation will discuss issues of safety, roofs, drainage, basements and masonry, as well as providing information on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.

Following a short break, the Building Doctors will talk about wood, painting, windows, energy conservation, plaster, wood floors, and heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems. They will then take questions.

Many of the questions posed have to do keeping water and moisture out of a home.

Some of the home remedies that are ill-advised include powerwashing wood before painting and sandblasting brick, Pfister offered. Both allow moisture to penetrate and cause paint to peal prematurely.

The next day, Friday, April 25, Pfister and Epstein will go into the community to visit 10 properties within five miles of downtown Bexley, offering free on-site consultations.

They may recommend that a repair contractor be hired (although they do not provide referrals).

Hopefully, at the end of the sessions, the property owner is better informed about what needs to be done and about how to talk to contractors and architects, or even a design review board such as the one that oversees exterior renovations  in Bexley.

"We’re in the business of educating people about the right way to do it," Pfister said.

Building Doctors was launched in 1979 by Judith Kitchen, head of the Technical Preservation Services Department, to prevent the erosion of historic architecture.

"Many people thought they were doing the right thing, but they were destroying the buildings," Kitchen realized.

And when they’re gone, they’re gone, noted Pfister.

Pfister, a Massillon native, came by her love of venerable structures early on, as a 12-year-old volunteer at Spring Hill Farm, where she churned butter, made apple butter and conducted tours in period costumes.

Her hometown was also "loaded with historic buildings. I’ve always felt better in historic buildings. I’m wired for it."

An "amazing history teacher" in high school sealed her love of the subject and led to her earning a bachelor’s degree in history at Capital University, and a master’s degree in the field from Ohio State University.

She has been with the Historic Preservation Office for 20 years and is one of six Building Doctors who conduct seven sessions a year.

So what makes older buildings special, and why do they deserve special treatment?

For one thing, they don’t build them like they used to.

Pfister said that the old-growth lumber,wood, slate, and brick used back then was made better than what is available now.

Even poor-quality slate will last 80 to 100 years and can be preserved (rather than removed and sold by a dealer), she added.

Pfister advised her own sister, who asked about some "bumpy stuff" in her home that turned out to be stucco in the Tudor Revival style.

By restoring the original architecture, the value of the home probably tripled, Pfister said.

You don’t need a Ph.D. to learn from the Building Doctors.

"It’s not a mystery," Pfister said. "If a person like me with a master’s degree in history can do it, you can do it."

For information on the Building Doctor program, or to register for a home consultation, call 1-800-499-2470, or visit the web site ww.buildingdoctor.org.

Editor’s note: The print edition of this article for the week of April 21 had the wrong dates for the Building Doctor sessions, which will be conducted April 24-25. The Messenger apologizes for the error.

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