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State Historic Preservation Office

Tips for Damaged Historic Buildings

Historic properties are especially vulnerable to storm damage due to their prominence of location, distinctive design, and fragile materials. Unless assessment and remedial action are taken immediately, these resources will be lost, as they are truly irreplaceable.  While the situation may seem discouraging at first, with careful planning and sensitive attention, even severely damaged properties may be returned to their former quality.

When disaster occurs, it is important to remember not to make hasty decisions. As we admire these properties for having “stood the test of time”, it is imperative that we must take time and seek guidance in making critical decisions about their future. Owners of properties should consult architects, engineers, and experienced contractors during the decision-making process.  Structural damages and conditions affecting safety must receive first consideration. Remove hazards from fallen trees and power lines immediately, taking care to retain as much of the pertinent materials to the property as possible. 

Tip #1:  Thoroughly check for damage to the foundation, structural walls, and roof.  Bracing and temporary supports should be added to any structural members that are unstable – joists, beams, studs.  Damaged roof deck, joists, and rafters can be reattached where possible, or removed and replaced if necessary.  Damaged chimneys should be stabilized if possible; if removal is necessary, salvage bricks that can be reused.

Tip #2:  Make the building weathertight!  Water infiltration can do serious damage to a building.  Use plastic tarps, plywood, and other materials to keep out the elements.

Tip #3:  Allow for some natural ventilation for drying out the interiors of buildings that have sustained water damage.  Do not use heaters. Use of heaters can cause additional damage, especially to wood elements such as flooring, trimwork, paneling, and wood ceilings.

Tip #4:  Save any architectural details or features – even if they don’t belong to your building!  Elements from other buildings might have blown on to your property, and the owners of those elements would appreciate your help!  Barge boards, finials, and other decorative elements should be retained if at all possible; even if these elements cannot be reused, they can be used as templates for duplication.  Secure the building to discourage vandalism or removal of interior decorative features.

Tip #5:  If possible, take photographs of the building’s condition before and during the process of evaluation and rebuilding.

Tip #6:  Complete a Damage Assessment.  Such an assessment helps to understand the various materials that make up the building (i.e., brick veneer on wood stud framing; stucco finish on brick; interior plaster; wood floors; etc.), and the types of damage that have occurred to these materials (i.e., missing brick veneer; cracked stucco; interior plaster damage; buckled wood floors; etc.). Assessment tools are available through the State Historic Preservation Office.

Tip #7: Don't hesitate to ask for help! The State Historic Preservation Office at the Minnesota Histoircal Society is prepared to provide assistance.