How to Tell the Age of Any Home or Building through Architecture

You’re never too far into wandering before a certain desire strikes. Look out at the diverse steel-and-stone crowd of a skyline, and soon enough when becomes a burning question. WHEN was that majestic house or funky tall building built? WHEN did they put THAT there?

And of course, Why follows close behind, morphing, as it will, into complex-er territories. WHY is that building shaped like a bell?, WHY does a roof look so funky? WHERE are the windows? WHAT was life like for tenement workers?

We understand that so much of an adventure’s excitement comes from curiosity, and we want to feed that fire by offering a layman’s Architecture Guide that could apply to nearly every city in America. So read, memorize, print, or take with you the next time you’re on the streets pinning down decades in an effort to paint the town Familiar. At the very least, we hope this reference will enrich your city experience by drawing your eyes to the details that make life — and exploration — so sweet.

Part 1: If These Walls Could Talk

We’ve all heard the phrase, but this time we’re going to put on our Studio Engineer ears to learn what the (exterior) walls really do have to say. Read on to discover how the outside walls of a building can provide clues to its birth-era.

White Brick House Architecture can tell its Age
Manhattan’s white-bricked Imperial House (est. 1959)

White brick — This became very popular in the Post-War 1950’s and is still used in some parts now. So, if a building has white brick, it’s safe to say that either it was repainted, or the building was built after World War II.

via Chicago Treasure Houses

Faux stone — “Knock-knock!” “Who’s- whoa, that rock sounds HOLLOW…” Well, that’s a big origin clue. Because the earliest appearance of faux stone generally occurs around the turn of the 19th century, it’s safe to say that this wall was likely built sometime in the 20th century or later. This type of facade came into practice as other materials, such as steel and concrete, allowed for once-foundational materials to become decorative, in turn providing the aesthetic on a budget.

Cast-iron — Take a refrigerator magnet around town and try this one out. Especially fun in SoHo of New York City — if the magnet sticks to a columned frame, it was likely built between 1840-1880, during the time of mass-produced cast iron.

These frilly molded materials were a cheap extension of the revivalist period in America, providing industrial buildings with high ceilings and large windows that let in lots of light. However, cast iron proved to buckle in the heat without the help of brick encasing, and this short-lived trend gave way to the sturdier age of steel.

Structural Brick — Is the brick on your building structural? How to tell: If the brick pattern has headers (the smaller, side-squares of the brick) showing, it means the brick is sideways, thus the wall is wider, and it was built to create a thicker load-bearing wall. The most popular style in the States is the Common Bond brick pattern, where a row of headers appears every 5-7 stacks.

Look around ANY city and you’ll start to see this pattern everywhere. Structural load-bearing brick walls were much more common before the age of steel reinforcement, which started around 1850 and took a few decades to become the norm in the States. After that, you’ll see more of the shallower Running Bond without headers.

Concrete blocks — If the building is built with cinder blocks, it can’t be older than the 1837 — because that’s when the first concrete block house was built on Staten Island.

Brownstone — This was cheaper than brick and started off as a lower-income solution around the 1800’s, but it became much more popular in the Romantic Movement, when dark/earthy materials were in favor, and reached its peak in 1860. Most New York brownstones were built in the 19th century.

Patterned brick — Reached a peak of popularity in the Victorian Era. So if you’re seeing an intricate brick pattern on the walls, this is a big clue. Flouncy!

Corner Quoins — A quoin is the extra-large brick on the edge of a facade. It’s like the icing corner on a gingerbread house, and if it’s on your building, it often points to the Victorian Era 1860’s-70’s.

Georgian Manor – Extra Large Brick Exterior

Log, Wooden Walls — Possibly Colonial, unless you’re looking at a vacay resort! 😉 Tip: If the wooden structure is minuscule in proportion, please direct to Lincoln Logs.

Who Are Log Cabin People? Summit Daily has the answer!

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Top 20 Roof Types: Costs, Design Elements, Pitch, & Shapes

The value of the roof over your home cannot be overstated. Sure, we all know it’s primary purpose is to protect us from stormy weather and prevent animals who may otherwise drop things on our heads.

GAF Timberline HD Shingles on a Gable Roof with Fake Dormers on a Two-Story House

Bonus points for keeping strong winds outside, where they belong, and stopping the sun from baking us under intense heat. Oh and those critters agile enough to climb walls, yes they too can take a well constructed roof as a fair warning that they are not welcomed to stay, rent free. 😉

“At least we have a roof over our head.” – said no one, ever, who cared about the quality and character of their house.

For us civilized creatures, the home roof is both a basic necessity, and, when done right, a thing of beauty. It has lasting value and adds character to what is otherwise a box, we call home.

This guide to roof styles is for anyone looking for inspiration or information to update and/or replace their existing roof. Or perhaps you are considering an addition to your house, an added structure to your property or even a new home altogether. Whatever the case may be, let us guide you through the many details that make for a roofing project.

We have a huge variety of styles for you to browse through and lots of ground to cover before we get there. We’ll talk about shapes, concepts, pros and cons of various materials and their costs, planning considerations and what makes for character (hint: combinations and willingness to be bold with designs). Whatever your roofing needs may be, we’ve done our best to leave no stone unturned. So, let’s get on with it!

First Things First

As exhaustive as our guide may be, it must be emphasized that a quality roofing installer is your best friend in translating design ideas into a finished product that is up to snuff.

An architect or interior designer can assist with plans, and a carpenter type may suffice on smaller projects.

But a roofer is the indispensable craftsman who likely has the experience, knows the trade according to regional traditions and has the process down to a practical science.

Our goal is to help you, help them in being a viable partner in that process. 😉

So, the purpose of a roof, everyone knows. It’s the basics of shelter. But functions of a roof are a good place to start on a path toward understanding the science. Don’t worry, we’ll do our best not to put you to sleep here. 🙂

First there is Drainage.

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Skylight Installation Costs: Velux, Fakro, Kennedy

Skylights transform a room, bringing in the outdoors from above, like a window on the sky. Benefits include natural light that reduces the need for artificial lighting and room ventilation with skylights that open.

This skylight buying guide covers top brands, their products and prices, installation costs and skylight options.


On average, you can expect to pay between $1,375 and $2,210 to install a new fixed or vented skylight measuring up to 30 by 48 inches in size/window dimensions.

All else being equal, it will cost a lot less to install a new skylight during the construction of a new home.

Re-roofing is the next best time to install a new skylight on your property, while cutting-in a hole to install a skylight in the existing roof will be significantly more expensive.

Your home’s location and local cost of living will have a material impact on the total cost installed. The relative ease of roof access will also impact costs.

The table below provides a further breakdown of costs for materials and installation:

Low Average High
Skylight costs: $35-$125 $275-$535 $1,400-$2,000
Installation costs: $275-$735 $1,100-$1,675 $1,985-$2,400
Total installed cost: $485-$860 $1,375-$2,210 $3,385-$4,400
Features: Plastic
Skylight or tube
Up to 22″
No blinds
Plastic or glass
Fixed or vented
Skylight or tube
Up to 30×48
Blinds optional
Manual or remote open
Electric or solar
Up to 34×70
Blinds optional
Remote open
Electric or solar

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