If you own a historic home, especially one registered with either an HOA or an historic society of any kind, you know that restoring or upgrading it can be a very difficult task and most of your choices need the approval of one or more committees. You probably own this home because you enjoy the history of it and want to show it off, but perhaps it needs some repairs or just a little flair. Curb appeal upgrades can be the most difficult thing to get approved as it often needs to be “period authentic” since it is visible to everyone passing by. So you may be required to use wooden or metal, typically wrought iron, accents. Your choice of material for these pieces will impact the lifespan and maintenance required for the final project.
For wood choices it may be possible to use more rot resistant species such as cedar and/or cypress for the outside of your home. Exterior wood applications always start off looking good and add value to the home, but wood can rot and that rot can spread to your siding then into your home. For this reason you will need to apply some ongoing maintenance such as repainting every 3-5 years or caulking each spring. Wood that goes through hot and cold seasons will contract and expand a lot and need that maintenance to keep from developing long term problems that need further replacement. By resealing every few years and sanding and painting issues as they develop you will be able to maintain maximum beauty and withstand the test of time better than other woods.
Metal can rust and leave stains that have to be sanded out and then painted. Having metal items that are powder coated with paint as opposed to hand painted can add longevity as the powder coating process is an electrostatic process that allows greater coverage and adhesion of the paint which entails a longer life span. Powder coating can last 5-10 years and hand painting and sanding can be applied over the finish if the paint fades in the sun or shows signs of chipping over time. Some HOAs may allow the use of aluminum products over wrought iron as suitable replacements.
What if there were a better alternative?
HOAs and Historical societies often reject plastic materials out of hand because they look plastic, they have the shiny toy look to them, and often act more as a detractant than an attractant. But composite PVC and other composites like TREX boards look and feel very much like wood with a whole lot less maintenance. Composite PVC is a no rot, bug free alternative that requires very little seasonal maintenance, and if properly installed and cared for, can last a lifetime. It's designed to mimic the same sheen as wood and can even hold paint to give an authentic look. It's commonly used for replacing trim, fascia boards, and accessory items like window boxes and exterior shutters.
Ask your manufacturer for a sample of the material first for whatever alternative materials you think might work. HOAs generally require to see alternate materials and approve them before allowing you to restore a historic home with something more modern.