View of a preservation worker inside the National Park Service's Historic Preservation Training Center.

Preservation Primer: Best Practices for Historic Preservation

05/06/2021
By Preservation Maryland

Historic structures require significant repair and upkeep – but with routine maintenance the time and expense associated with those repairs can be substantially reduced. Equally important as maintaining the structure is making sure that those repairs are safe for historic buildings. Often, preservation-safe repairs cost the same or slightly more but can save property owners in the long-run. These preservation best practices are not a comprehensive or complete guide to every issue a property owner will confront but are a jumping off point for your next preservation project. 

Before you Begin

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards are one of the foundational pillars of most preservation projects. First established in the 1960s, they set the basis for how preservationists have come to think about their work. The standards vary based on the type of the project – whether it is preservation, restoration, rehabilitation or reconstruction. Definitions of these types of projects and the full collection of standards can be found HERE 

In general, these standards encourage first doing no harm. For historic buildings that means keeping changes to historic fabric to the absolute minimum and avoiding the unnecessary removal of important components, finishes and structural details.

Additionally, the standards emphasize repair over removal of features. Windows are a primary example of this theory in practice – repairing historic windows is always the best option and provides the greatest environmental and efficiency benefit to the historic homeowner.

Furthermore, the standards explore the challenge of adding new additions to historic structures. In all cases the goal is to blend new construction without damaging or removing historic fabric while at the same time not copying the historic resource and differentiating new construction through various means including different materials, scale, proportion, or massing. 

Common Issues to Consider

For structures built between the 18th  and early 20th centuries there are several common issues which regularly create challenges for repair and maintenance.

The following three issues only scratch the surface but represent the most common pitfalls confronting historic property owners:

NOTE: Most historic windows contain lead paint and should be treated with great care and in accordance with the EPA and OSHA Standards for lead safety.

Finding More Information

Every building is unique and has its own challenges. Fortunately, there is a large amount of material available online for historic property owners looking to learn more before they tackle the next big project. 

A good first place to begin is with the National Park Service’s Preservation Briefs. The fifty Preservation Briefs provide guidance on preserving, rehabilitating, and restoring historic buildings and can be found online HERE.

Looking for even more detailed information about specific case-studies on a challenging resource or building feature? The National Park Service’s Preservation Tech Notes are a good place to look to see if your issue has been dealt with before. They can be found online HERE.

Making your building energy efficient is a critical component of any preservation project. Fortunately, energy efficiency need not sacrifice historic integrity. Learn more about how to weatherize and conserve energy HERE.

Looking for a preservation contractor? PreserveList.org, powered by Preservation Maryland, is an online directory of contractors who do the work of preservation and can be found HERE.

DISCLAIMER: Inclusion on PreserveList does not constitute the endorsement of any company, service, or product by Preservation Maryland. Anyone seeking the services of providers included on PreserveList are strongly encouraged to request additional information, qualifications, and quotes before selecting and compensating any entity.

Financial Resources For Preservation

Historic preservation projects can be expensive. However, most projects don’t have to be tackled all at once – in fact the best projects are often phased. Initial efforts should focus on keeping rain out and addressing critical structural issues.

Funding for preservation projects in Maryland include:

Disclaimer: Preservation Maryland and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should always consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.

Perhaps nothing in preservation causes as much confusion as the National Register of Historic Places. Does it prevent demolition? Does it protect buildings? Can you change your paint color? Do you get tax breaks? Can you get a grant? Read our other preservation primer here to answer those and many more of the most frequently asked National Register questions.

Preservation Maryland

Preservation Maryland is Maryland’s first and largest organization dedicated to preserving the state’s historic buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes, and archaeological sites.

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