Dan Kolbert on Respecting the History of a House
In college, Dan Kolbert, owner of Kolbert Building in Portland, majored in history. Although Kolbert became a builder, not a historian—“I totally stumbled upon this,” he says—he came to realize that an understanding of history still factors into his career in construction. Kolbert tells MH+D Inside Out why he respects a home’s history and how he stays up to date on building technologies that preserve today’s houses for the future.
Q. What types of projects do you work on?
A. We are mostly a renovation company, so we like old houses—we like making them perform better and recreating details. Although we work on a pretty wide range of projects, I think we’ve got a reputation for being interested in funky projects. We also focus on energy efficiency, on the rare occasion that we build a new house.
Q.What do you like about working with older houses?
A. It’s fun learning about the history of the house by studying what’s been done to it over time. Sometimes, for example, I’ll find a window that’s been covered up. I open up a wall, and there’s this window that was buried between the plaster, drywall, and siding. I always find interesting stuff buried in the floor, like old newspapers, marbles, or clay pipes, if the house is old enough. It’s always exciting to find something like a legible newspaper from 80 years ago. It’s pretty cool that it survived. There’s valuable information in these old houses about how people lived, and old houses also preserve the history of the craft.
Q. You also came up with the idea for a building discussion group in Portland. What are the sessions like?
A. We do the discussion groups down at Performance Building Supply once a month. Steve Konstantino at Performance Building Supply sets up a grill. People bring food and beer. And we always encourage people to bring in case studies, if they’re working on a project and they want to get feedback. It’s been a good way to share best practices.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for the meetings?
A. We were having lunch with some friends of ours from Horizon Residential Energy Services Maine, and we realized that we were seeing a lot of the same challenges. We thought, “why aren’t we sharing this information better?” In 2009, when we started, it was the beginning of a very exciting period, when the internet and digital technology were making it more possible to gather and share information in the building world. And Portland had gotten picked as a pilot site for LEED for Homes, so we got some of the very first LEED projects in the country. I think that sparked a lot of interest, too. We started out very small, but it’s grown.