Ask Hannah Holmes

Hannah Holmes

Home Rx

Realtor/science writer/self-proclaimed “house geek” Hannah Holmes on taking the shine off new construction, similarities between home and ice cream buyers, and more.

Illustrations by Christine Mitchell Adams

Have a question for Hannah?

Send your Maine home or garden conundrum to and we may feature it in an upcoming column.

Some people say a metal roof is the way to go because the snow slides off. But isn’t it really noisy when it rains?

metal roof noise

If you research this subject, you’ll soon encounter references to “a study from the University of Lulea, Sweden.” Rain striking metal roofing, that study (allegedly) concludes, is only four decibels louder than on asphalt roofing. And both are quieter than a normal conversation.

But as a long-time science writer, I’m queasy about quoting any study I have not personally read. And I cannot locate that Swedish study.

It may not come as a surprise that installers of metal roofing say noise is a red herring. Their point is well taken: In the past, metal roofs were most common on barns and sheds. Without the dampening effect of plywood sheathing and attic insulation, those buildings reverberated like snare drums. But residential metal roofs are installed atop heavy sheathing and secured with sturdy fasteners.

Lacking the ability to conduct my own experiments, I am tempted to sidestep this question with the following observation: If, as is so often claimed in Lulea, Sweden, rain on a metal roof really is about as noisy as a conversation, and you can hear a conversation through your metal roof, then your attic is probably due for an insulation upgrade. More useful than this (definitely) is the free metal roofing guide available at:

How does being two blocks from a cemetery impact a home’s value?

selling a home near a cemetery

Oh, now I’m dying to know! Happily, the national realty chain Redfin studied this. In 2013, the company found that a house within 50 feet of a cemetery took seven weeks to sell, instead of about six. This data fits nicely with what I call “The Rule of Rum Raisin.”

Why does the ice cream shop scoop through a carton of vanilla 10 times faster than a carton of rum raisin? Because any additive that makes the ice cream more complicated will reduce the number of customers who find it an acceptable option. It’s not that most people are mad-passionate about vanilla. It’s that you lost a swath of them when you added the rum. Then you lost some more when you added raisins.

Houses are like that. Most people in need of a home can settle for vanilla. But if you add something unusual — pink countertops or a spiral staircase — fewer people will go for that. Add a cemetery, lose a few more customers.

That house will sell, just as the rum raisin ice cream will. And it will sell for just as much as a vanilla house. But it may take a little extra time for that buyer to arrive.

We are thinking about renting in Maine before buying. Any suggestions on how to find a place?

renting a home in Maine

We get that question daily,” Portland real estate broker and president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association Brit Vitalius says with a sigh. “Unfortunately, the Maine market isn’t big enough to support large rental agencies.”

People arriving on our fair shores are often shocked to learn that the first place to look for rentals is on Craigslist. That’s right, you shop for an entire house on the same website where you’d go hunting for a used washing machine. Increasingly, real estate websites like Zillow carry rental listings as well. Vacation rental sites such as VRBO and Airbnb are also worth a look. Especially in the off-season, homeowners may be happy to have a reliable tenant for an extended period.

When renting long-distance, use extreme caution: Scammers steal real estate listing photos, then advertise the homes as rentals. Google Map the address and cyber-stalk the landlord’s name. Check the town’s assessing records to confirm ownership. (Those are often online.) Even then, I wouldn’t part with a cent until I had seen both the home and its owner with my own eyes.

How can we incorporate some of the charm and character of an old house into a new build?

adding old charm to a new house

Time equals texture. A hundred years ago, houses were made by hand, sometimes one person’s hands. There are limits to what one person can lift. So old houses tend to be characterized by their many small parts. Thanks to hand-spread plaster, or thousands of shingles, or small pieces of glass, old houses started life with a ton of texture. Over the decades they accumulate even more, in the form of patina.

These days, a house is usually assembled from larger sheets of material, whether composite siding, drywall, or big expanses of glass. The result can look a bit sterile, compared to an old, hand-built house.

But before you begin texturizing your new home with an old bicycle chain, you might commit to a theme: Greek Revival, Shingle style, or Craftsman, for example. Then, door and window molding is one of the easiest ways to conjure the past. Older profiles are often wider, and more deeply carved, than modern ones. Bookending molding with repro corner blocks with motifs such as bull’s-eyes or rosettes will also telegraph age. (Find rare patterns at HARTTwood in Wallagrass.)

Beadboard wainscoting, cabinetry, and even ceilings add texture in a hurry, but check your theme before slapping it up. Ditto for crown molding. Elements that make today’s open floor plans feel more intimate — thresholds, French doors, pillared pony walls — will also impart an older-house feel without blowing the flow.

Hannah Holmes is a real estate broker at Keller Williams Realty Greater Portland and the author of four science titles, including The Secret Life of Dust and Suburban Safari. A veteran renovator of old houses, she blogs about humans and their territorial issues at