The Power of QR Codes


Most people interested in historic places enjoy learning about site history. For instance, the public may like to learn about detailed historical information, heritage values and information pertaining to site location. Throughout Alberta (and listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places), there are 339 Provincial Historic Resources, two Provincial Historic Areas, 211 Registered Historic Resources and approximately 157 Municipal Historic Resources. How could information about these sites be shared with the public? 

What are QR Codes? 

The emergence of small adaptable square bar codes called QR codes could be an option. QR (Quick Response) codes are funny looking square bar codes that can be scanned from your cell phone’s camera, provided your phone is enabled with decoding software. Each code can be embedded with all kinds of information including text, URLs or other data. 

QR Code (bottom right-hand corner) featured on a Government of Alberta advertisement.

My first experience with QR codes was three years ago when I participated in an urban race in Edmonton. The race was part scavenger hunt and part puzzle solving, which largely involved finding particular locations by solving riddles about Edmonton and completing certain tasks. A portion of the race involved using your cell phone to find QR Codes.  Since the race, I have noticed a gradual increase in the use of QR codes. They are in advertisements and located on the packaging of various consumer products. 

The Japanese, creators of the QR code, wanted a way to embed content that could be quickly decoded. Created in 1994, the Japanese have integrated the QR code into their everyday life. In a place so densely populated, where lack of space is an issue, the QR code allows for much more information to be available to those who want it. Although QR codes are most commonly used for reading a URL and accessing a website, QR codes in Japan are also being used in unique ways. QR codes can be used to allow people to purchase items from cashless vending machines by scanning QR codes with their cell phones. 

Check out the QR Code for Ophelia Liew's email address.

QR Codes and Historic Places: 

Could QR codes be used to provide information on individual historic places, and also for walking tours, historic districts and areas? The compact size, the ease in generating new codes and the popularity of camera enabled cell phones are all factors that suggest the ease of using QR codes. It would be interesting to investigate if QR codes could be used as a new and effective medium for displaying and accessing information about Alberta’s historic places. 

Heritage Conservation Advisors would find this technology useful as we refer to two main conservation management tools on a daily basis: the Statement of Significance (SoS) and the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. Each designated historic resource in the province has a Statement of Significance, a one or two page document that outlines the site’s heritage values and character-defining elements. Anyone with an appropriate type of cell phone would have the ability to retrieve the Statement of Significance by being directed to the Alberta Register of Historic Places. 

Written by: Ophelia Liew, Heritage Conservation Advisor

Read about where we work! Check out the QR Code for Old St. Stephen's College's Statement of Significance.

Not Just a Pane: Historic Windows


Windows are an integral part of a building system. They transmit light, control heat flow, are a means of egress, frame exterior views, and are significant elements that contribute to the design of the building. Windows are complex units and are made up of many different components that can be decorative, functional or both. 

Why are historic windows important? 

Historic windows are often character-defining elements. Character-defining elements are the materials, form, location, spatial configurations, uses and cultural associations or meanings that contribute to the heritage value of a historic place and must be retained in order to preserve its heritage value. Furthermore, historic windows are elements that directly reflect a site’s craftsmanship and design and are usually constructed out of particular materials. They are usually quite detailed and in some instances retain original glazing units.

Left to Right: Beatty House, Rimbey; Cronquist House, Red Deer; Pine Lake Holy Trinity Church, Pine Lake

Common misconceptions about historic wood windows 

On a daily basis I field questions about the replacement of historic wood windows. A typical case is a historic site with historic windows that have not been looked at in some time and have deteriorated to some extent due to weathering. A common misconception is that replacement of these historic windows with a modern unit is cheaper and will increase the thermal efficiency of the building through higher R values. 

Research in performance standards for timber sash and case windows in Scotland has taught us that estimated costs including painting of window components, repairing damaged putty and re-caulking where necessary within a regular maintenance program eliminated the cost of a major restoration project every five years. Another thing to consider is that modern sealed units, when they fail are not maintainable and must be replaced outright. 

It is also interesting to learn that a single glazed window in conjunction with an exterior or interior storm window is comparable to a modern sealed unit. A single glazed window has an R value of 0.6 while a single glazed window with wood storm has an R value of 2.0. The top of the line triple glazed window with low E coating and argon has an R value of 3.5. Overall windows in general are thermally inefficient in comparison to a typical wall with 4” batt insulation that has an R value of 12. 

Planning for historic wood window conservation work 

When planning for any conservation work we always take the approach of minimal intervention. Preserving historic material and maintaining historic material is the first step and outright replacement, if necessary, is the last option. 

In most cases simple epoxy repairs to wood, adequate prepping of the wood surface (manual scraping), the application of an appropriate primer and brushed on layers of exterior paint is all that is needed to repair historic windows and to prevent deterioration.

For more severe cases, putty replacement, replacement of broken or damaged glazing, and dutchman (splicing in of new wood) may be required. 


  • Historic windows have heritage value.
  • Historic windows have demonstrated good durability and maintainability.
  • Always assess and document each window before proceeding with conservation work.
  • Compile historic photographs and refer to the Statement of Significance in your planning process.
  • Minimal intervention should be the first approach.

Remember, you can save on costs and achieve the same thermal efficiency through conservation.

Written by: Ophelia Liew, Heritage Conservation Advisor