University of Vermont


HP 203 Conservation Techniques for Historic Structures

  • Evening Division: Thursdays 5-8 PM A206 Old Mill Annex
  • Instructor: Thomas Visser, 213 Wheeler House, 656-0577
  • Email:
  • Office hours: Generally Tuesdays 11-12 and Thursdays 2-3
  • by appointment or by chance when my office door is open
  • HP lab: 656-4006
  • Course schedule:

  • Course Format

    This course is divided into two sections. Continuing Education students attend the Thursday evening lectures. Historic preservation program graduate students also Wednesday labs and have different assignments. The two groups are graded separately.

    Course Objectives

    The goal of this course to provide an overview of architectural conservation for students with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests by examining the physical properties of historic building materials, their deterioration mechanisms, and strategies for conservation. While the purpose is not to teach the building trades per se, this Continuing Education course is designed to serve students' academic interests in architectural conservation and supplement their practical technical preservation skills.

    Since we have a large amount of information to cover, the reading assignments are a very important part of the course. Each student will be expected to develop some skills on the computer as part of this course. Computers are available for your use in the library or in the basement of the Waterman Building. All students will be expected to log on to the course home page on the Internet at

    Please read the assignments thoroughly and critically before class. The lectures are intended to provide an overview of the topics and visual examples, but a significant amount of the material for this course is in the readings. Some questions on the quizzes may be based solely on the readings.

    All students are strongly encouraged to build a reference library on architectural conservation topics. In addition to the required text and Preservation Briefs, basic references are listed in the suggested reading list. These sources may be very useful when preparing the assignments. Most of these references are available at the library or on a "reserve" basis in the historic preservation lab (Wheeler 103). The resource library in the preservation lab also has files and references on many conservation topics. You are encouraged to consult these files and to contribute to them. You also are encouraged to develop your own files on conservation topics with photocopies of articles from such publications as the Association for Preservation Technology (APT) Bulletin and other sources.

    All written assignments are to be done on a computer or typed. Proof-read your work to correct spelling and grammar. Sloppy writing will be penalized. Late papers will be penalized unless permission is granted in advance for late submission. Extensions are only granted for circumstances beyond a student's control. If you anticipate difficulties, please call your professor. The course texts, Well-preserved,  The Old-House Journal Guide to Restoration,and the Preservation Briefs are at the UVM bookstore.

    Access and safety

    Each student is responsible for gaining permission to access to their project building. Each student also is solely responsible for their safety while at their project building and when in the laboratory.

    Examinations & grading

    Examinations will be in the form of five quizzes. Questions will typically be of the short answer type. Identifications of building materials and conditions may be based on architectural fragments and slides.

    Grades will be weighed as follows:

    Written assignments 1-7 50%

    Written assignment 8 15%

    Quizzes 25%

    Class participation & final presentation 10%


    HP 203 Evening Section Written Assignments 1998

    Assignment 1 (due Jan. 22)

    Select an historic local building (over 50 years old) to study. You must have access to it throughout the semester. Submit a brief (one to two page) written description of the building, including its location and a sketch drawing or photo of its front facade.

    Assignment 2 (due Feb. 5)

    Prepare a short (one or two page) history of your building using both archival sources and physical evidence. Supplement the history with photos of the building, copies of historic photos, maps, etc. Also include a timeline as a separate table that lists the dates and events which relate to the history of the building and neighborhood. List the approximate dates of significant alterations and additions based on historical and physical clues.

    Assignment 3 (due Feb. 12)

    Prepare a list of all the different architectural elements visible on the front facade, one roof plane, and one wall and ceiling of an interior space in your building. Present your information in table form.

    Assignment 4 Mortar analysis (due Feb. 26)

    Perform a "jam jar and vinegar" analysis of mortar from one location on your building. Submit the results as a report with recommendations for repointing if necessary. The report should characterize the components of the mortar with sufficient detail to enable a masonry to duplicate the samples.

    Assignment 5 (due March 5)

    Review your list of architectural elements submitted for Assignments 3. Add (cut & paste) to this list a descriptive paragraph and the approximate date of all the architectural elements, materials, and finishes. Present your information in table form.

    Assignment 6 Paint (due April 2)

    Select one significant painted surface which should be repainted. Document the condition of the finish, noting the causes of any deterioration. Analyze the chromochronology by the "cratering" technique using a magnifying glass. (Be sure to select a discrete location for the sampling.) Identify this location on the finishes analysis form supplied. List each paint layer visible and its color. Note which is the top layer. Specify appropriate, commercially available paints for refinishing with the final coat to match an earlier finish layer. Specify the paint manufacturer, line, type, color name and number and application techniques, including surface preparation. Consult (but please don't pester!) local paint stores for product information. If you would like to use the HP conservation lab microscope, please sign up in advance. A finishes analysis template is available at

    Assignment 7 (due April 9)

    Review your description list of architectural elements and descriptions submitted for Assignments 4. Add to this list an assessment of the condition of each element. If it is in good condition, say "good condition." If it is fair or poor condition describe the evidence of wear or deterioration.

    Assignment 8 (due April 16) This is a major term project, start early.

    Prepare a conservation assessment report for the exterior of your building and the one interior space. Add (cut & paste) to the lists prepared for Assignment 7. (Note missing elements and date replacements or repairs if possible.) Recommendations for conservation treatments should conform with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. If an item is in good condition your recommendation may be "no treatment recommended." List the specific products that are to be used. Bind this assignment with all previous assignments (with corrections) into one final report with a suitable cover, and a table of contents. This is a major term project. Start early! Outside research is expected for this assignment. This includes conferring with your professor (please make an appointment), contractors, suppliers, and professionals, as well as searching through periodicals, trade publications, journals, and books. Conservation reference files and publications are available "on reserve" in Wheeler Room 103. These reference materials are not to leave the room except very briefly for photocopying. The HP graduate teaching assistant for this course will serve as reference librarian. Information may also be available on the Internet. Include a list of sources at the end of your report.

    Oral Presentation (April 23)

    Class presentation. In a 10 minute slide presentation (10 to 15, 35mm slides only) summarize the conservation treatment recommendations for your project building. Important: Don't postpone this assignment until the last week. Allow time to review your slides and to retake some if necessary. If you feel uncomfortable about your photography skills or if you lack equipment, please see your professor for assistance.

    Required Texts (Available at the UVM Bookstore)

  • Preservation Briefs 1-34. Washington: National Park Service
  • Fram, Mark. Well-preserved, Erin, Ontario: Boston Post Mills, 1988.
  • Poore, Patricia, ed. The Old-House Journal Guide to Restoration, Dutton, 1992.
  • Primary References and Recommended Resources

    (Available at UVM Library or "on reserve" in Wheeler 103)


  • Bulletin, Association for Preservation Technology (At UVM Library, v 1 - v. 8 in Microforms, v. 9 - current issues in Periodicals)
  • Old House Journal
  • Traditional Building
  • Books

  • A Guide to Vermont Architecture. Montpelier: Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, 1991.
  • Ashurst, John & Nicola. Practical Building Conservation. New York: Halsted Press, 1988. Vol. 1-5.
  • Feilden, Bernard. Conservation of Historic Buildings. London: Butterworth, 1982.
  • Harris, Cyril, Ed. Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. New York: McGraw Hill, 1975.
  • Hoadley, Bruce. Understanding Wood. Newtown, Conn.: Tauton Press, 1980.
  • McAlester, V. & L. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Knopf 1988.
  • McKee, Harley. Introduction to Early American Masonry. Washington: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1973.
  • Mitchell, Eleanor. Emergency Repairs for Historic Buildings. London: English Heritage, 1988.
  • Nylander, Richard C. et al. Wallpaper in New England. Boston: SPNEA, 1986.
  • Phillips, M. W. & Selwyn, J. E. Epoxies for Wood Repairs in Historic Buildings. Washington: US Dept. of Interior, 1978.
  • Preservation & Conservation. Washington: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1976.
  • Recording Historic Structures. Washington: AIA Press, 1988.
  • Repairing Old and Historic Windows. Washington, DC: Preservation Press, 1992.
  • Residential Building Systems Inspection. Washington: APT Foundation, 1986.
  • Respectful Rehabilitation. Washington: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1982.
  • Slate Roofs. National Slate Assn., 1925. (Reprints from Vermont Structural Slate, Fairhaven, VT)
  • Structural Assessment. Washington: APT Foundation, 1986.
  • Technology of Historic American Buildings. Washington: APT Foundation, 1983.
  • Weaver, Martin. Conserving Buildings. New York: John Wiley, 1993.
  • Wilson, Forrest. Building Materials Evaluation Handbook . New York: Van Nostrand, 1984.
  • Other references
  • A Guide to Vermont Architecture is available through the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation in Montpelier (802-828-3226) for about $3.00 on request.

  • ©1998 UVM Historic Preservation Program
    Revised 3/8/98