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As an historic building specialist, John Leeke has been helping owners, tradespeople, contractors and architects understand and maintain their historic buildings for 20 years. He has been restoring historic buildings in New England for over 35 years and still spends a good part of his time “with hammer in hand”.

He has written on restoration and preservation topics for Old-House Journal magazine, Fine Homebuilding, The Journal of Light Construction and other national publications as well as his own Practical Restoration Reports.

We have reprinted selections from John Leeke’s Historic HomeWorks™ Question and Answer column on the maintenance and preservation of historic (and just plain old) buildings. A wide variety of topics are covered.

John Leeke • 26 Higgins St., Portland, Maine, 04103 • •

  • All
  • adaptive reuse
  • barn timbers
  • barns
  • bathrooms
  • beadboard
  • boring bugs
  • brick
  • carpenter ants
  • chimneys
  • clapboards
  • cleaning barns
  • columns
  • condensation
  • doors
  • flooring
  • foundations
  • framing
  • glass
  • gutters
  • homeownership
  • house moving
  • inspectors
  • insulation
  • lead paint
  • locksets
  • maintenance
  • masonry
  • moisture
  • mortar
  • paint
  • parging
  • plaster
  • plumbing
  • pocket doors
  • powder post beetles
  • products
  • refinishing floors
  • removing paint
  • repointing
  • sandstone
  • saving buildings
  • sound proofing
  • storm windows
  • storms
  • structural load
  • varnish
  • wall repairs
  • walls
  • windows
  • wood preservative
  • wood repair
  • wood rot

Bathroom History

“I have a lot of questions about my upstairs bathroom. What puzzles me is that all the plumbing for the bathroom seems not to be ‘original’ to the house — it all was installed cutting the joists and studs…”

Boring Bugs

“There are signs of wood boring bugs in my timbers. The main concern here in mid-coast Maine are carpenter ants and powder post beetles…”

Brick Wall Exposure

“I understand you’re the man to talk to! My wife and I are buying a home in historic Fells Point of Baltimore, and we would like to expose some brick on the interior walls. Do you have any ideas or procedures?”

Chimney Flue Lining

“I own a 1772 center chimney cape. The chimney is original with four fireplaces, one bake oven, and it serves the furnace and a water heater. I don’t want to use any of the fireplaces until I have it repaired…”

Cleaning Barn Timbers

“I’m in the process of converting a 150 year old barn into a residence in Cape Cod. The interior beams are Douglas Fir and have significant stains from dirt and other agriculture related materials…”

Column Bases

“We were wondering if we should replace the base of our column because of rotting wood or rebuild the section with epoxy?”

Door Panels

“We have a problem with our doors. The doors are various 4-8 panel doors. However the panels have a fair amount of movement within the door (back and forth between stiles, and up and down). Is this something we should glue tight?”

Exterior Paint and Clapboards

“I live in an old farmhouse in Vermont. The oldest part of the house still has it’s original clapboards that date to about 1830. Much to my dismay, the new paint is already peeling rather dramatically…”

Floor Finish

“What steps would you recommend in refinishing an old strip-wood (fir) floor in a high traffic area?”

Gutter Talk

“Do you recommend, as my regular hardware store owner does, preserving gutters with a 50/50 mix of raw (not boiled) linseed oil and paint thinner – or do you recommend something better?”


“Do I really need gutters on my house?”

House Moving

“I recently purchased an old wood frame house (40-60 years old) to be moved to my ranch property in Texas. The house is in good condition for a house that has been abandoned and vacant for more than 20 years…”

Insulation Retrofit

“Last year, we bought a 1850’s vintage house in Maine with no insulation. After paying our oil company too much we want to add some insulation…

Interior Storms

“Last winter our windows were drafty and cold. We don’t have the time or money to mount a major window restoration project before winter sets in again. What can we do to improve our existing windows…”

Lime Mortar

“The mortar on our 1840s Victorian home is falling out and the bricks seem soft. I have heard that repointing with currently available mortar supposedly would crush the bricks as it cures…”

Lockset Cleaning

“I have an old front door mortise lockset that is complete, but doesn’t work very well. The bolt doesn’t really spring very well. What are the steps for cleaning and restoring this thing?”

More on Bricks & Mortar

“I read with great interest your recent article on lime mortar. I am currently beginning brick restoration on a 1794 Georgian house using soft brick in a Flemish bond pattern. The whole house needs to be repointed…”

New Hope for Endangered Windows

“Three preservation organizations recently proclaimed their states’ historic windows as endangered. Are these promotional efforts doing any good?”

Old-House Inspectors

“I will be looking at a rural Virginia property that is for sale and would like some advice for what to look for as far as structural integrity. The property consists of a hundred acres and a 200+ year old two story two over two frame house…”

Painted Beadboard

“This past summer we painted our farm kitchen, which is wooden bead board wainscot and above that, horizontally laid bead board strips. Now that that winter is here and the kitchen is being heated, there are significant gaps showing up …”

Peeling Paint

“I have been told a paint job on my house built in 1900 will only last about 5 years. Yikes! Is this true?”

Piano Load

“On a home built in 1750, would it be possible for the weight of an upright piano to cause damage to the beams in the basement?”

Plaster on Brick

“Our house is a small one bedroom federal brick house built around 1774. All of the walls are brick and plaster. In many places the plaster has separated from the brick, creating bubbles away from the wall…”

Plaster Repairs

“I have an 1890’s building with plaster walls probably from the 1920’s or before. The plaster was installed for wallpaper since it has a rather rough texture. In one room, a skim coat of finish plaster had been put over the top of this original plaster (date unknown) and has developed several cracks both along cracks in the original plaster…”

Pocket Doors

“I have a 106 year old house, with one of its pocket doors off the runner…”

Pumping Mortar

“Have you had experience with pumping mortar into a stone wall for a repointing project? We had request to use the pump machine called the Putzmeister, a company known for large concrete projects…”

Sandstone Foundation

“I am the owner of an old home built right after the Civil war. As close as we can determine the house is about 130 years old. The basement walls are sand stone and are slowly crumbling…”

Saving Buildings

“In our town there is a group of National Registered Properties. They are a series of pre-Civil War buildings that are floundering around looking for a happy future…”

Sound Control

“We’re in the process of restoring and renovating a 100+ year old house into a B&B. We need to sound-proof the rooms…”

Source for Old House Products

I am seeking a source for items such as embossed tin ceilings, reproductions of door hardware, decorative metal, mantel and door frame carvings etc. Is there any catalog that would contain such items?

Stripping Painted Floors

“I want to remove paint from my old wide pine floors. I understand that historically most of these floors were painted, but I’d prefer to go with an unpainted butcher’s wax finish…”

Ten Tips for New Owners of Older Homes

“We just bought an old farm house. It’s in pretty good shape, but we know it’s important to keep up with things…”

Water Damaged Flooring

“I just found your website after discovering some recent water damage of an area of a wooden floor. The wooden floor has discolored and three of the boards have risen and buckled up, perhaps a 1/8″ up…”

Window Condensation

“By this time of year the conscientious homeowner has restored their fine old windows, installed weatherstripping and had new storm windows installed. A week later condensation and frost is building up and they cannot see out the windows…”

Window Glass

“I am an old house owner and I am looking for a source of cylinder glass for my old windows…”

Window Moisture

“My wife and I recently bought our first house. It is a circa 1900’s farmhouse in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. We got it for a pretty good price so we overlooked some of the apparent flaws that it had…”

Window Sash Track

“I have heard of a sash repair kit, basically you remove the molding and remove the window sash and replace the sash channels with those of the kit…”

Window Weatherstripping

“Some time since 1924 when our house was built, one of the owners tried to fix the counter weight ropes in some windows. They left out the zinc guide track which is really necessary to keep the wind out when the window is pulled down…”

Windows and Lead Paint

“Last fall I removed a double window from my dining room and replaced it with a French door. I tried to donate the window to the Boston Building Materials Co-op. They were unable to take it due to the high likelihood of lead paint on the windows…”

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