Stabilization w/ Passive Solar Bonus

Historic preservationists understand the term “stabilization” to mean putting the brakes on further decay of historic structures by making them watertight, structurally braced, and resistant to animals, vegetation and vandals.  Also known as “mothballing”, stabilization measures are taken to protect a vulnerable building until restoration and utilization of them can occur in the future.

In the case of an early 20th century barn which was deteriorating, the need to use the building immediately was too pressing to allow for a complete restoration; a partial restoration resulted.  The interior of the barn had acquired a pleasantly rustic character due to the numerous gaps in the siding from assorted holes and deterioration.  The light-dappled effect experienced within the structure was pleasing and seen as a priority to retain.  A plan to stabilize and simultaneously utilize the structure became practical with the use of clear corrugated plastic panels.

The plastic panels not only protect the wood siding and the weathered appearance, but also stop wind, rain and snow from penetrating the numerous gaps in the walls.  The panels were extended into the ground, over the foundation, so also offer protection from mice and insects.  The first panels used had a slightly violet tint to them which darkened the appearance of the wood siding; two sides were completed before the decision was made to find a perfectly clear siding.  The clear material is what is shown below.

Once the installation was completed, another benefit was immediately realized; the panels function as solar collectors and significantly warm the interior during the day!  Simply by covering the barn with these panels, the space became warm, dry, quiet and free of wind whistling through the interior as it had previously.  The weathered exterior is now frozen in time and the interior walls are still peppered with random bits of daylight… truly a win/win/win situation!  And the best part?  It’s easily reversible!

Now encased in clear plastic, the building’s appearance varies more dramatically than before (dependent upon weather).  The siding can be virtually invisible on a cloudy day while taking on a reflective quality in the sun.

The installation process was described in a previous post, and the following photos show the end result:

Recently restrored in a manner consistent with the condition of the other 3 walls, this weathered facade is about to be “frozen” in time…


The panel installation starts to span the facade.


The panels are carefully fitted around projecting Craftsman style window and door casings.


This opening in the wall was one of many left as-is; it now functions as a defacto window.


The same window at dusk!


Missing siding provides beneficial light in obscure corners of the interior…


…and appears like this inside.


A vintage Dari-Kool sign is now free from further weathering.


Corner boards and other trim will be painted in the future.


Stabilized and yet simultaneously cleaned up and ready to use… with solar gain as an added bonus!


Here are some more images of the effect created on the interior:


Tools get some free illumination.


Nail holes and knotholes produce a starlight effect.


Tomatoes thrive in a former doorway.


And now, a few night-time views…


Up close, the camera’s flash really brings out the weathered wood…


…and from a distance creates a playful rippled effect. Vehicle headlights do this in an even more dramatic manner!


Because our yard light distorts true colors, I converted this image to black and white. As you can see, the siding is virtually invisible here.  This photo was taken without the flash.




8 Responses to Stabilization w/ Passive Solar Bonus

  1. That is a really cool solution! I love that it stabilizes, is reversible if desired, and creates something visually interesting. Good work!

    • As the panels are marketed for greenhouses and pergolas, they are supposedly UV-resistant so should last longer than a paint job (they are more affordable than painting with the associated prepping and repairs!). The only drawback for preservationists is the decidedly non-historic appearance, but even that is beginning to grow on me (It is visually interesting, as you noted… especially at night! I will add a night view of it to this post). Who knows… if I still like it in 10 years it may become a permanent solution!

  2. What an amazing idea! I live in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and it is both a rural community with lots of beautiful old farm structures, but also awash with wonderful old houses. I’m going to share this with every old house and farm owner, and historical group I can Think of. This is brilliant, and I’m into solar and energy efficiency too.

    • Thanks, ANSC! I love Eureka Springs… if we hadn’t gotten this farmstead in Kansas, Eureka Springs was the next option – it has an energy I’ve not encountered anywhere else (not to mention a much higher-than-average preservation consciousness and incredible architecture). Thanks for helping to spread the word… I hope that this technique will be embraced by people everywhere to help buy time for our rapidly dwindling stock of historic structures.

  3. Genius. Wish I had thought of this when I had my old barn. My only concern would be with our fine feathered friends, has there been any problems with them flying into it?

    • I haven’t noticed any problems with birds… I think the plastic is just visible enough that they aren’t fooled by it like they can be by plate glass. However, some of the more aggressive vines and weeds have tried to work their way into the overlapping seams. We may have to seal those joints with a bead of clear silicone if it becomes a problem. So far I’ve just been able to pull up the offending weeds.

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