Historic preservationists will tell you that their jobs are about more than simply preserving the past. Historic preservation of homes and buildings tells a story of the past, but it also creates a rich culture in the present and gives purpose for the future. In our guide to the historic preservation of homes and buildings, we explain the ins and outs of this important practice and why we benefit from this work.
What is historic preservation?
Historic preservation allows us to ask ourselves what’s important in our history. And when we know those answers, we can move forward in preserving those stories and values and growing in ways we can be proud of.
Historic preservation seeks to preserve, conserve, and protect homes and buildings. And as these physical structures are preserved, so are the cultural, social, economic, political, archaeological, and architectural histories of the places where they once stood. Historic preservation is just as much structural and physical as it is cultural and emotional.
When we invest in the historic preservation of homes and buildings, we’re communicating value to these structures that have seen and carried us through so much. Whether the preservation is cleaning, making repairs, refinishing, or even ensuring the correct histories of buildings are recorded, historic preservation maintains a building’s historical and structural integrity so future generations can benefit from these stories.
Why Do Historic Preservation?
Historic preservation requires a varied skill set. Preservationists must research the significance of the location and building, know the local and state regulations for construction on these sites, and know how to handle the old materials used to build these buildings and a plethora of other skills and knowledge.
Historic preservation is a significant undertaking. So why do we do it in the first place? Below are four benefits of historic preservation.
The first thing that comes to mind with the historical preservation of a home or building is the conservation of that structure’s history. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 prioritizes preserving our nation’s historical and cultural foundations found in homes and buildings across the country.
Historic preservation maintains our oldest, most historic structures, giving us a glimpse into the past and setting a foundation for our future.
Old buildings with a rich history attract business owners looking for a place to plant their company roots. Preserved and restored buildings often serve as cultural centers, and new businesses want to put themselves in these spaces.
By taking up residency in a historically preserved building, a company communicates that they care about a community and that the community benefits from the business’s economic development.
Older buildings were built with quality—now often expensive—today’s builders don’t typically use. Marble, artisan tile, the heart of pine: these are just a few examples of the materials used in older buildings. Intricate woodwork and ornate details set these older buildings apart from modern construction.
You won’t find the same artistry and character in today’s new builds that older, historically preserved homes and buildings boast. Historic preservation maintains the aesthetic beauty of these vintage structures.
As the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation reminds us, historic preservation and sustainability are natural partners. It takes an incredible amount of energy to build a new home or business or building of any kind. From harvesting trees to framing lumber, constructing a new building requires energy and causes forty percent of all carbon emissions here in the United States.
But historical preservation eliminates the need for new construction. Contractors and preservationists work together to breathe new life into old buildings, prevent demolition debris, and reduce energy use and carbon emissions associated with building a new structure.
Types of Historic Preservation
Within the field of historic preservation, experts take different approaches depending on the needs of the building and the goals for its future use. Below are the four types of historic preservation we see today.
Preservation of historic buildings keeps the structure as close to its original condition as possible. Preservationists and contractors only apply necessary measures to maintain the building’s functionality and safety.
In preservation, buildings are typically used as they were historical. Experts maintain the original materials and historical character to accurately picture how the building was used or set up at its construction.
In some cases, a historic home or building’s use has evolved, and changes must be made to the property. That’s when a preservation expert would choose historic rehabilitation as a treatment.
Rehabilitation efforts allow for repairs without damaging the historical character or materials of a structure. Unlike in preservation, rehabilitation allows for additions or alterations—as long as the construction doesn’t compromise the property’s historic integrity.
The historic restoration occurs when the features, form, and character of a building are accurately depicted while features from other, more recent time periods are removed from the structure.
Over the years, buildings undergo additions and alterations. Rooms are added, carpet covers the intricate tile and hardwood floors. In a historic restoration of a building, these alterations and additions are removed to see the structure as it was originally built.
Unfortunately, many historic buildings and residences fall prey to neglect, disaster, and the unavoidable passage of time. When this is the case, preservationists will utilize historical reconstruction to bring an old building back to life.
Reconstruction recreates destroyed or vanished portions of a historic property based on original design and a thorough archaeological investigation. Reconstruction allows us to understand a property’s historical value even if pieces of that property no longer exist.
Historic Preservation Stats
- The total number of active preservationists is 940,066, which is a growth rate of 5.18%
- Historic rehabilitation of residential spaces creates 50% more jobs than new construction.
- The Historic Preservation Fund, the primary source of funding for federal preservation, grew to $118.7 million in the fiscal year 2020.
Historic preservation enables us to understand where we’ve come from and who we are because of our past. By prioritizing historic preservation, we preserve the legacy of these old homes and buildings.
If you need help moving your historic building, please contact us, and we’d be happy to help.