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Old House & Barn Expo Showcases Growing Interest in Older Buildings

 

Manchester, NH - Strategies for care and repair of old buildings were featured that the recent Old House & Barn Expo sponsored by the N.H. Preservation Alliance. Do-it-yourself projects were a top priority, along with using locally sourced materials and services, energy efficiency, and job training. The every-other-year event drew over 2,000 people and is considered the largest of its kind in the region. The next Expo will be in the spring of 2026.

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Young People: A New Wave of Interest in Old Buildings

The Expo attracted dozens of younger homeowners and job seekers. Exhibitor Sue Booth of Vintage Kitchens observed that there were “many younger homeowners who are prioritizing work needed on their homes, and lots of optimism regarding future projects and improvements.” Booth is a board member of the Preservation Alliance and her company was an event sponsor as well as an exhibitor.

Students and apprentices at the show learned about various career paths, and master craftsmen stressed the importance of finding the right mentor. North Bennet Street School, the Heartwood School, Sanborn Mills Farm and The Stone Trust were exhibitors and available for consultation about their classes and curricula. Teachers and students from some of New Hampshire’s Career and Technical Educational programs participated, as did representatives of the Student Conservation Association. 

With many craftspeople retiring and lots of preservation work around the state, the Preservation Alliance is pleased that young people are looking at entering the old building trades. Understanding and Advancing the Preservation Trades, a recent report by UNH Cooperative Extension for the N.H. Preservation Alliance and three of its statewide peer organizations, noted

very high job satisfaction and good pay in these specialized trades and documented the preservation trades most in demand: plastering, masonry, and carpentry.

In our research and discussions about preservation trades workforce development, a topic that comes up often is how very many middle and high schools have cut shop class. Today’s youth don’t have as many chances to try skills like carpentry and metalworking in school or clubs. Jada Lindblom, Preservation Alliance board member and lead author of the study, observed: “At the Expo, it was exciting to see families and young adults exploring the demonstration areas and interacting with tradespeople in action. This event provides a very unique opportunity to showcase crafts and trades in ways that can spark lifelong interest in these careers and passions.”

Housing Needs and Preservation Solutions

Ian Blackman, Sue Booth, Rodney Rowland, Arron Sturgis, Steve Bedard and others in the old building trades shared examples of how old houses and barns can be adapted to accommodate changing needs. Larger old buildings can be divided up, offering “micro” home possibilities that are popular in both cities and rural areas. Many municipalities are stepping up efforts to require or encourage accessory dwelling units to ease the housing crisis. 

Presenters Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein, founders of Cheap Old Houses, advised buyers to be respectful of the building’s historic character and features, and to be patient and take on repairs incrementally as their budget allows.  They recommended concentrating on essentials first, such as fixing a leaking roof or resolving water issues in a basement.  For many aspects, they suggested homeowners learn the skills to do some of the work themselves.

Other homeowners at the Expo were looking to further their goal of staying in their homes as long as possible. In addition to keeping up with maintenance, there are simple changes that can facilitate this. Adaptations in lighting placement, electrical service and Wi-Fi strength are often more helpful and affordable than other physical changes.

Energy around Energy

Beverly Thomas, Deputy Director of the Preservation Alliance said that energy efficiency continues to be a top priority for people renovating or restoring older homes. "As the experts remind us, there’s nothing greener than renovating or repurposing an existing building,” said Thomas. “There are so many new options available that haveminimal impact on the character of an old home,” she added.  “Old windows can be preserved and heat retained by adding exterior or interior storm windows, installing weather-stripping, or fully repairing the sash and reglazing the panes, often work that a homeowner can do. New heat and cooling exchange systems can be introduced into older homes with minimal disruption, and appropriate insulation that doesn’t permanently alter historic features can be added.” 

Dylan Peacock of Historic New England spoke about energy efficiency in a talk on Saturday, and Scott Hanson of Hanson Historic Consulting offered Snug as a Bug in a Rug: Insulation and Ventilation for Historic Houses on Sunday. Innerglass Window Systems and Allied Windows offered storm window options, and ReVision Energy and many other contractors and window specialists talked to attendees about energy-related strategies.

Traditional Crafts For Old Houses

Demonstrations of traditional crafts were another highlight of the Expo, showing visitors how items such as braided rugs, upholstery, hand-weaving, gilded picture frames, stenciled wall decoration, and rope are created according to traditional methods. Fine craftspeople also demonstrated wood turning, carving, furniture and musical-instrument making, and were available to fulfill orders and commissions. 

A highlight of the show for many was the Timber Framers Guild’s two-day construction of a 14’ x 14’ traditional timber frame, built by experienced framers and apprentices.  The handsome frame was fully assembled in time for it to be raffled late Sunday afternoon. Visitors had seen pegs being made, mortises cut, and hewn beams notched and assembled, largely with hand tools, during the two days of the Expo. Excitement about old barns ran high throughout the show. Many visitors were drawn to the booths and contractors who specialize in reviving these iconic agricultural structures and doing building assessments to help owners know where to begin.

“It’s reassuring and inspiring to see this growing commitment to traditional arts at the same time that people are using new technology to get more done,” said Beverly Thomas of the Preservation Alliance. “People of all ages seem drawn to these traditional, beautiful and practical creations that use local materials.”

Sponsors of the Old House & Barn Expo are Fifield Building Restoration & Relocation; Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program; Innerglass Window Systems; New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts; and Vintage Kitchens. Also: Coldwell Banker Realty, National Trust Insurance Services, Preservation Timber Framing, and ReVision Energy. Media Sponsors include Louis Karno & Company,New Hampshire Home, NHPBS, and Yankee

The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance is the statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings, communities and landscapes through leadership, education and advocacy.  Owners of old properties and leaders of community preservation projects give high marks for Alliance resources, workshops, awards program, Seven to Save endangered list, and behind-the-scenes tours of historic properties. For more information, contact the Alliance at (603) 224-2281 or www.nhpreservation.org.

 

 

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