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State Historic Preservation Office

How do I rehab my historic building?

Whether you have just acquired a historic property or owned it for some time, you are the property's steward. That means you assume an obligation to provide care and maintenance in a way that is sensitive to its unique qualities of design, materials, craftsmanship and setting. The challenge lies in your ability to make the right decisions. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation provide guidelines on preserving historic properties. For more in-depth information, see the National Park Service's Technical Preservation Services.

Things to keep in mind

  • Maintenance is essential to preserving a property. Inspect your property at least twice a year, recording existing conditions and prioritizing necessary repairs. Critical areas of concern: roofs and gutters, windows, foundation, grading, exterior envelope including siding and masonry, and interior building systems such as heating, wiring and plumbing. Avoid the tendency to focus on cosmetics before addressing underlying problems.

  • Know your limitations. If the job at hand is beyond your abilities, call a professional contractor. View SHPO's Preservation Specialists Directory who have worked on projects meeting the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.

  • Even with the best maintenance program, some building parts eventually reach the end of their life expectancy. Roofs are a prime example: An asphalt composition shingle roof will require replacement in 20 years; wood shingle roofs have an expected life of 40 years; a slate roof may last 80-100 years. See Resources below for guidance in repairing or replacing deteriorated features.

  • It is always best to try to retain original materials. When that is not possible, substitute materials may be considered. Some examples: Timberline fiberglass reinforced asphalt shingles are commonly substituted for cedar shingles. Paintable cement-based siding may replace wooden clapboard; non-breathable materials such as metal and vinyl are strongly discouraged. When retaining historic windows, consider wooden-surround combination storm/screen units in lieu of metal or vinyl combination units.

  • The majority of preservation problems are due to water damage - from a leaky roof, faulty gutters, lack of downspouts/rain leaders, improper grading or poor ventilation. Before attempting modern solutions, it is important to understand building systems in use at the time of your property's construction. Avoid over-insulating and resist using sealers or water-repellant coatings on exterior surfaces. Both steps retard the normal evaporation of moisture from within.

Resources

  • Architectural Style Guides
    Style guides are essential to identifying the character-defining features of historic periods in American architecture. Many bookstores carry a variety of books and magazines on historic buildings and their styles. Tech Talk has a summary of architectural styles in Minnesota.

  • Do It Yourself
    Popular periodicals include the Old House Journal and This Old House magazine.

  • Continuing Education
    Some professional organizations such as the Minnesota Society of the American Institute of Architects offer courses for continuing education credits. The SHPO's annual Statewide Historic Preservation Conference offers continuing education credits to AIA members.

  • Building Products
    The monthly publication Traditional Building contains one of the most comprehensive listings of building products for historic properties. For a directory of suppliers and products, go to their web site.

  • National Park Service
    Technical Preservation Services offers a wealth of online information and tutorials on historic buildings and their preservation. The site includes the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

  • State Historic Preservation Office
    The SHPO administers the federal and state rehabilitation tax credit programs for income-producing historic properties. SHPO's Preservation Specialists Directory is searchable by specialty and keyword. The SHPO also provides technical advice on many preservation-related issues.

  • Heritage Preservation Commissions and Historical Societies
    Most HPCs offer design guidance to owners of designated properties that have been locally designated as significant. County and local historical societies have photographs and other historical sources in their collections that may assist building restoration.