Those who appreciate the importance of preserving history and the lessons it teaches wince whenever another historic property is lost to progress. The more of these properties we lose, the weaker the connection to our past becomes. It is for this reason that history lovers work so hard to make sure historic properties are maintained whenever and, however, possible. Yet doing so is not easy. There are plenty of challenges in the maintenance of such properties in the 21st century, especially with ever-evolving technology and architectural standards.
We have identified four key areas in which historic property preservation is especially challenging today. Overcoming these challenges is all about learning how to adopt modern technologies and practices without harming preservation goals, a task that is not always easy
1. Window Design and Installation.
As the eyes are the window to the soul, a historic property’s windows give us real insight into the character and integrity of the building in question. Technology has altered window design to improve energy efficiency at its core, without necessarily worrying about historic preservation. Thankfully, there are ways to accomplish both goals. For example, there are numerous examples from around the country of original glass and window sashes having been used to create new windows that are both code compliant and true to history.
2. Exterior Paints and Stains
It is much harder to find appropriate paints and stains for the exterior of a historic building than to find similar products for the interior. Exterior paint and stain must be able to withstand the weather and environmental pollutants and, at the same time, remain true to the past in terms of color, shading, and texture. In some cases, this can mean having paint or stain custom-made to be accurate to a particular period or local neighborhood. Lastly, exterior paints and stains need to meet government regulations without appearing to look like modern products.
3. Replacement Roofing
Replacing the roof of a historic property may be the biggest challenge of all. A big part of the problem is that the architects and builders of the past utilized roofing materials that may not meet modern building code requirements. Untreated wood is but one example. The challenge is to find contemporary materials that meet regulatory standards yet still look like the products of the past. This makes roofing an expensive proposition in terms of both materials and installation.
4. Communication and Coordination
The fourth and final challenge of maintaining historic properties has nothing to do with building supplies or materials. Rather, it is the challenge of communication and coordination between all of the players. At center stage is the entity tasked with ensuring historic preservation – whether that entity is at the local, state, or federal level.
Far too many projects become bogged down as a result of a failure to communicate between preservation authorities and contractors. Such communication problems can be made worse by subcontractors who were not necessarily preservation-minded, and who rely almost entirely on contractors to make sure they know exactly what needs to be done. If preservation authorities and contractors are not communicating well, it is nearly impossible for those same contractors to adequately communicate needs to their subcontractors.
Maintaining historic properties involves a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Nevertheless, it is well worth it. Every property that can be saved is another property that enables us to keep that connection to the past. Historic property preservation should be a priority at every level of government, and among local communities as well.