Saving Face

Pipe-and-Clamp Scaffolding for Your Home

Pipe and clamp scaffolding.  Photo. J. Hatfield

Owning an historic Capitol Hill home brings with it a certain amount of responsibility, stewardship, and home repair obligations. As you walk around the Hill it’s fairly common to see a row house regally framed in scaffolding and draped in dark netting while brick is re-pointed or painted. On taller houses scaffolding is sometimes needed to access the roof or turret for repairs. The DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) requires a permit for any scaffolding that exceeds two stories. If you have a project that requires scaffolding you may not know that you have a choice when it comes to the type of scaffolding you can use. 

Joanne Hatfield owns a three-story home with a small front yard on East Capitol in Capitol Hill’s Historic District. Her roof was in need of repairs, and there was a leak in the turret. As a part of DCRA’s permitting process she had to submit drawings showing how the scaffolding would be secured to the house to protect the public. When reviewing the drawings, she saw that the engineer's plans called for anchoring the scaffolding into the façade of the house with expansion anchors. This process would involve creating holes in the brick and mortar. While these holes would be patched once the project was complete, Hatfield, who had invested in the costly re-pointing of her home, found this anchoring and patch method anything but appealing. Through some research she learned that scaffolding can be secured to a structure without anchoring if there is enough space. However, her front yard, like those of most Capitol Hill row houses, is very small, and it’s illegal to place any part of a scaffolding structure on a public sidewalk. Hatfield knew there had to be a way forward with this dilemma. 

As a first stop, Hatfield met with DCRA’s historical reviewer, who suggested securing the scaffolding to the house through the windows. An Internet research revealed a “tube and clamp” diagram described in a 1985 article from The Old House Journal. Also called “pipe and clamp,” this method secures scaffolding by attaching it to the exterior and interior house walls using windows as the entry point. The scaffolding pipes pass through an open window and are held against an interior wall, with the interior and exterior walls protected from marring with pieces of thick, stiff, insulation-type foam.

The two scaffolding construction companies that Hatfield contacted, Scaffold Resource LLC and Ladders & Things LLC, were each willing to install the pipe-and-clamp method on her home. According to them, while pipe and clamp is less invasive to the house façade it is less popular with homeowners as it’s more costly. Still, Ladders & Things uses this method on 50 to 100 projects per year. 

While the pipe-and-clamp method costs an additional $1,500, Hatfield is very happy with the results. As re-pointing can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, she considers the additional $1,500 for the pipe-and-clamp method a bargain. Her recently re-pointed historical façade was not damaged during the process, and she avoided having holes drilled into the brick or mortar. Although the holes would have been plugged and patched, they would still be visible and would mar the aesthetics of the façade. In addition the pipe-and-clamp scaffolding was a sturdier structure that allowed her to do some high-level exterior caulking, painting, and window cleaning.   

Still, there are drawbacks to the method beyond the additional cost. Any window screens must be removed, and windows must remain open a few inches for the duration of the work, as the scaffolding is attached to the interior and exterior walls. The early fall, late spring, and summer months are better suited for such a project, and newspapers and plastic bags can be stuffed into the open spaces to provide insulation against the elements. It’s also important to have a contractor who will stick to a timeline to ensure that the amount of time windows must remain open is kept to a minimum. In Hatfield’s case the scaffolding platforms prevented rain from coming into the house except for a few sprinkles, and she used fans to help keep the mosquitoes at bay. 

Hatfield notes, “It's up to us, as owners and guardians, to do what's best for our historical houses, and sometimes that takes more effort, more research, and possibly more money, but in doing so you're saving a piece of history.”

Catherine Plume is the blogger for the DC Recycler (www.dcrecycler.blogspot.com); Twitter @dc_recycler.


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