You are here


Front porches began as places to enjoy the warm weather while still being protected from the hot sun or a sudden rainstorm. By the late nineteenth century, porches had become a common design feature on many types of rowhomes. Today, they remain a defining element in many of Lancaster's historic neighborhoods. Matching porches on a row of houses help to visually unify a block. A front porch also allows social interaction with neighbors and passersby, which is an important component in building and maintaining a sense of community in our neighborhoods.

Besides their social aspect, front porches -- as well as many rear porches and upper-level balconies -- are important parts of a building's architectural design and style. Many buildings were designed specifically to include a porch, for both functional and aesthetic reasons. Porches help to balance the overall massing of a building, while providing a spot to add fanciful details such as carved columns, brackets and railings that help to enliven a façade. In Lancaster, many early Federal period rowhouses with plain façades had porches added during the Victorian era. Unless an owner is restoring a house to its original appearance, a later porch addition may have historic value in itself, and it should be retained and preserved.

Porch Maintenance and Design Tips
- Paint wood porch elements regularly, which will help to protect the wood from undue weathering.
- Porch elements that have deteriorated should be repaired where possible.
- If missing or severely deteriorated elements must be replaced, replicate them by using an original component as a prototype or model.
- If components are replaced, keep in mind the scale or size of the original. (In other words, don't replace a round, eight-inch diameter column with a 2x4!)
- When installing a new, code-required handrail or railing where none existed before, select a simple design. Metal can be appropriate for masonry buildings. Modern "deck style" railings are not appropriate on the front of older buildings.
- Rest wood newel posts or bottom steps on a concrete or stone plinth, raising them above ground level. This will prevent "wet feet" and will help to control moisture-related deterioration.
- Do not add conjectural porch ornamentation, which often conflicts with the style of the house.
- Replace deteriorated porch steps with in-kind materials. The new steps should be of the same scale and dimensions as the original.
- Do not enclose front porches. Instead, consider roll-up blinds that can be removed seasonally.

Masonry Walls

The majority of historic buildings in the City of Lancaster are constructed with brick exterior walls. Brick is a durable building material that has been used to construct buildings in Lancaster since the 1700s. By the 1730s, there were already several local brickmakers. By 1873, there were ten brickyards in or near the City. Brick construction gained popularity in the 1870s when City regulations prohibited the construction of new wood-frame buildings to prevent fire hazards. Brick construction remained popular into the twentieth century. The development of the brick veneer process in the early 1900s allowed the look of brick masonry without the increased cost. Many rowhouses built in the 1920s and 1930s have walls of brick veneer over frame construction.

Brick has always been a fashionable construction material that gives buildings an appearance of permanence, and prominence. The visual character of brick buildings comes from the color, texture and pattern of the bricks, and the interplay with stone foundations and wood trim. The size, shape and color of the mortar joints in between the bricks also give masonry walls a unique appearance.

Even though brick is durable and long lasting, it still requires maintenance and care. With proper maintenance, masonry walls can last hundreds of years. Neglect or improper maintenance will hasten deterioration and can result in costly repairs. Using the wrong products or repair methods on masonry walls can cause severe damage.

Excess moisture in walls is the cause of most deterioration. The hard, kiln-fired outer surface of bricks helps to repel water, as does the profile of the mortar joints. The mortar between the bricks will eventually begin to deteriorate and will require repointing.

Mortar is the "glue" that holds the individual bricks together to form a wall. Over time, it is normal for mortar to deteriorate, loosen and fall away. Repointing restores the physical integrity of the wall, and the visual appeal of the building.

Sand, lime, and Portland cement are the three basic ingredients that make up mortar. Horse hair, oyster shells and ash were also sometimes added to historic mortar. The percentage of Portland cement, a minor additive to help accelerate mortar set time, should be limited. If the mortar is too hard, it can undermine the strength of the bricks by causing them to crack and break over time. Mortar should be softer than the brick in order to allow each brick unit to "move" within the mortar, as the brick walls expand and contract with seasonal changes in temperature. Too high a concentration of Portland cement will result in mortar that is excessively hard.

The use of lime mortar is recommended, as it is soft, porous, and doesn’t vary much in temperature fluctuations -- well suited to Lancaster's cold winters and hot summers. Generally, type O mortar (recipe below) is the best match for historic mortar found on most older buildings in Lancaster.

If you are not experienced in the trade, brick and other types of masonry repair and replacement is not something you should try on your own. It is best to hire a professional mason with experience in masonry restoration. Not all masons have knowledge of historic buildings, however, so don't be afraid to ask for qualifications, references, and recent examples of local work that can be viewed.

A proper repointing job will last 75 to 100 years, so it is a good long-term investment in your property!

Type O Mortar Recipe
1 part white Portland cement + 2 parts hydrated lime or lime putty + 8 or 9 parts sand of historic color

Doors and Windows

Doors and windows are key architectural components on a building, serving both a practical and aesthetic function. Their size and design balance a façade, and often give important clues to the age and style of a building. Doors signify "welcome," drawing attention to an entrance. Windows help to bring the inside and outside worlds together. As architectural elements, windows can cover up to 30 percent of the surface on a historic building.

Because historic windows and doors were so carefully integrated into a building's design, it is usually not appropriate to replace them. To alter these features in any dramatic way is to lose the original intent of the builder and diminish the value and historic integrity of the building.

Because doors and windows receive constant use, and are exposed to the elements, they do require regular maintenance. Proper weatherization and regular preventative maintenance are the most practical -- and economic -- ways to ensure the longevity of doors and windows.

Repair rather than Replace.

Often the condition of deteriorated wood windows and doors looks worse than it really is. Even if individual units are severely deteriorated, replacing all the windows and doors in a building is seldom necessary. Repair or selective replacement of specific deteriorated parts is the best approach. Elements such as sills, which are particularly susceptible to weathering, can be repaired or replaced without replacing the entire window. Likewise, peeling paint, broken glass, stuck sash, or high air infiltration are all problems that can be remedied, and are not valid reasons for replacement.

The use of storm windows and storm doors is encouraged to protect original wood elements, as well as increasing energy efficiency. The most basic repairs of caulking, putty and weather stripping will also make old windows and doors more energy efficient.

If a window or door is beyond repair, choose a replacement that is a close match for the original feature. Simple paneled doors appropriate to Lancaster's residential architecture are widely available. Likewise, window manufacturers offer a range of historically styled replacement windows. Several manufacturers also make custom-sized sash to match historic sash, which can be an affordable alternative to replacing the entire window unit.

Maintenance Tips:
- Regularly inspect and repair weather stripping, caulk and glazing putty.
- Repaint as needed.
- Make sure the joints around frames are tight.
- Caulk any loose or open joints to prevent the infiltration of air and water.
- Inspect window sills and door thresholds for water damage or deterioration.

Preventative Maintenance

The City of Lancaster is distinguished by its surviving stock of historic buildings, some more than 200 years old. Whatever a building's age, its long-term upkeep and survival depends upon periodic inspection and regular maintenance.

Some property owners wait to perform maintenance only after a significant problem arises. Unfortunately, major problems usually carry major price tags. Periodic inspections, followed by regularly scheduled maintenance, is the best way to identify small problems and minor deterioration before the building suffers significant damage.

Property owners can download a Preventative Maintenance Checklist to help them organize their inspections and track their maintenance schedules. When inspecting your building, keep in mind that damage visible in one area could be caused by a problem originating somewhere else. You might have to look carefully to determine the true source of the problem. For example, cracked plaster on a living room wall may be the result of a broken gutter, as rainwater has seeped through the outside brick walls.

Keep in mind that work on older buildings can disturb lead paint and asbestos, which may be present in materials used prior to 1980. Since disturbance of these materials can cause health problems, learn about the risks before starting your maintenance or rehabilitation projects. For information on the City of Lancaster's Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Program, call the City's Housing Rehabilitation and Lead Specialist 717-291-4705.

Any work performed on historic properties in Lancaster should be guided by historic preservation principles based on The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. Reading through these principles will help property owners to think about planned projects, whether a routine repair or a major alteration.

If your house is 50 years old or older, it may contribute to one of Lancaster's historic districts. Even a house built in 1950 can contribute to a historic district, since it may convey information about popular architectural styles, building materials, and lifestyles in the decade it was built. A building does not have to be 200 years old to be a valuable asset to the City's architectural heritage, and deserving of appropriate care and maintenance.

Maintaining, Repairing, & Rehabilitating Historic Buildings

All buildings deteriorate over time. This normal deterioration is caused by natural environmental factors such as seasonal weather, wind, sunlight and fluctuations in temperature. Insects, rodents, birds and vegetation can also cause damage, as well as man-made factors such as chemical pollutants in the atmosphere, neglect, and destructive alterations.


Regular maintenance is the first and best way to preserve your building and protect your real estate investment. Well-maintained buildings help to create strong, stable neighborhoods and keep the City of Lancaster an attractive place to live, work and visit.


Historic buildings in Lancaster have survived for decades -- in many cases, for several centuries -- thanks to the high quality of their design and craftsmanship, the durability of the building materials used, and ongoing, attentive and preventative maintenance by their owners. With the proper treatment, these buildings will continue to survive and contribute to Lancaster's unique character.