What is Historic Renovation?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 March 2020
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Historic renovation is a renovation of a structure which is designed to respect, retain, and restore its historic character. In the case of a structure which has not been substantially altered since it was built, historic renovation can focus on rehabilitation to bring the structure back to its former state of glory. Structures which have been altered may need more substantial work to reverse the alterations, determine which parts of the structure were changed or destroyed, and restore the structure.

Commonly, specialists are consulted to oversee a historic renovation. These specialists include architects and contractors who are familiar with structures from the same period, so that they can mimic building techniques used when the structure was built. Some people aim for a very high level of authenticity, trying to replicate historic materials and techniques as much as possible, while others doing historic renovations are willing to use modern techniques as long as they do not compromise the historic character of the structure. Modernization may include installing or replacing electrical systems, putting in a more efficient heating system, using energy efficient glass in vintage window frames, and so forth.


Doing a historic renovation can be tricky, as it requires addressing a number of different needs. In areas such as historic preservation districts, people may even need to comply with local government officials while they do their renovation. For example, the exterior paint may need to match an approved list of historic colors, or the outside of the structure may need to remain unchanged, which means that additions, changes in paint color, and so forth cannot be made.

The first step in a historic renovation involves examining the structure to determine what needs to be renovated, thinking about about how the structure will be used and how it would have looked originally. It is common for people to do some research on the structure to learn about its history, looking particularly for old photographs, floor plans, and other documentation which can be used in a historic renovation to stay true to history. During the inspection, options and renovation techniques can be discussed so that a plan can be developed.

The historic renovation process can include sourcing of salvaged and replica material from the region, as well as consultation with structural engineers who can confirm that the structure is safe or make recommendations for meeting the building and safety code without compromising the historic integrity of the structure. In many regions, particularly fine examples of historic renovation may be recognized with commendations from the local or regional government, which can include a plaque outside the structure.



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