November 6, 2011 by: Ben Heimsath

Historic preservation myths are repeated so often, the only way to counter them is with facts and accurate information.  This is the first in a three-part series in order to counter a significant bias against older buildings.

Historic Preservation UUMC exterior resized 600In the course of working with historic structures over many years, it has become apparent to all of us at Heimsath Architects that there is a lot of misleading or outright false information out there.  When these mistruths are repeated often enough they take on a ring of authority.  We'd like to dispel the most common historic preservation myths about renovatons in general, and preservation specifically. 


Historic PreservationMyth No. 1:  “This building has lasted a 100 years, so why do I have to do anything to it?”

Just because your building is historic, doesn’t mean it will last forever.  Historic structures need routine maintenance just like newer buildings.  If you do the routine maintenance then you don’t have to do huge, expensive restoration projects – unless you want to. 

 It is true, maintenance may cost more on a historic building than a typical contemporary structure.  Construction techniques and materials from 50-100 years ago may require more hands-on work or specialized craftsman.  But the trade-off is the increased quality of the building or the details being maintained.  For example, clay tile roofs with copper flashing will far outlast the composition tiles and galvanized flashing more common today.  The modest extra investment in maintenance may have a huge payoff in the decades to come.

Historic Preservation Myth No. 2:  “This building is about to fall down.”

We've heard this far too many times. This generally comes up when someone has an unpopular agenda, trying to get rid of an existing building.  Buildings that have been neglected may have problems, especially if they have been exposed to weather for long periods of time, but usually the problems are fairly straightforward to address.  This is especially true of wood frame structures.  Rotted timbers and framing can cause portions of buildings to collapse, but proper shoring and reworking can quickly return the building to a usable state.

Historic Preservation Apartment before

We salvaged this structure for a garage apartment.  See our previous blog about the project.

The reality is that nearly any old building can be structurally repaired.  However, the cost of structural repairs may or may not be worth the investment.  We've evaluated buildings that could have been repaired, but weren't particularly valuable.  Restoring them wouldn't give the owner enough to justify the cost.
Historic Preservation apartment after resized 600
Here's the garage apartment we preserved by saving the old structure.

But this myth inhibits discussions about whether or not the investment is worth it.  Someone claims the building has to be torn down and the conversation gets cut off.  Only once in the fifty-plus years we've been in business did we encounter a building that really was "beyond repair."  As it turned out, it was just a portion of the building that was compromised.  That portion was removed and the rest of the structure was readily preserved. 

Historic Preservation Myth No. 3:  “No one does that anymore.” 

Historic Preservation CPH parging resized 600It’s true that there are not as many craftsmen out there today who understand historic structures, but they do still exist and work on historic buildings.  They may be hard to find if you don’t know where to look. Masons, carpenters, roofers, plasterers, painters, and window and door restorers that know about or specialize in historic work are still out there.  Many of them work all over the country going where they are needed.  The internet has helped make the search for these specialists easier.  There are also architects and general contractors that specialize in restoration that can help find these craftsmen.

Look for the next two blogs in this series in the next few weeks.

 Can't wait?  If you would like to see the entire series, download  "Historic Buildings - Eleven Myths Dispelled" now.


Heimsath Architects has collected some great information for anyone interested in historic preservation or older buildings.  Here's the link to our Historic Preservation Resource Page.

Adaptive Re-use/ Historic Preservation