Editorial Feature

Renovation Considerations for Historic Buildings

Before renovating older buildings several issues should be considered first, particularly if the building is historic.

An assessment should occur of the building’s condition. A Historic Home Renovation Professional is a good choice as they will know how to inspect potential problems with the plumbing and electrical systems, the structure including, the foundation and roof, and the identification of damage such as water leakage. Whenever possible it is best to use some of the foundational elements to restore or replace sections of a building if historic preservation is a goal, although this may not be allowed at times due to new codes and laws.

Added to this list might be historic listing considerations on a register that dictates style preservation requirements. For example, historic DC brick homes require the expertise of Masonry Contractors in Washington DC who use traditional materials and methods to repair the brick and mortar properly. If the masonry joints are not tuckpointed properly, they will eventually show signs of structural damage and interior water penetration.

To find preliminary guidance in the U.S., go to the National Register of Historic Places or consult Local Officials connected to any Registered Historic District and then also work with a Contractor that specializes in older or historic homes to determine what aspects of the building must be preserved and then what can be modernized.

While the considerations do seem potentially byzantine and overwhelming, for those who wish to preserve old buildings, there are financial breaks. Federal rehabilitation tax credits are available once such buildings exceed $5,000 in expenses. The credits are either:

  • 20% for costs in rehabilitating any certified historic structure, meaning one listed on the National Register of Historic Places or located in a Registered Historic District, unless it is your home, or
  • 10% for any non-historic commercial edifice, meaning it has no formal historic certification, as long as it was constructed prior to 1936.

The 20% credit does not come without effort, in many cases. For example, a project, again, not your home, will have to be deemed by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a “Certified Rehabilitation” first by filling out an application obtainable from the National Park Service. If the building is not yet legally considered historic, Owners or Developers can check with a State Historical Preservation Office to find out how to get it registered.

As an example of someone going through these hoops, Robert Vaughan, the University of Vermont’s Director of Capital Planning and Management, had added to the National Register the Schools at the 10,000 square foot College Street building dating back to 1908.

As part of the building’s renovation, Vaughn both preserved walls and radiations but also made modern touches where feasible or required, such as adding a conference area to a finished basement. In addition, to meet standards in the building code related to accommodation of disability and modern fire protection laws, the team added a 3,000-square-foot addition at the rear complete with a fire-stair system and elevator as well as wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.

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