Practical Reasons to Save Historic Buildings


Every historic building requires periodic repairs and, eventually, a restoration. However, as old building restoration can be an expensive and labor-intensive process, some owners of historic properties question whether preserving these old structures is worth the cost and effort. In this article, we'll discuss the many reasons why preserving historic properties is valuable — not just for the homeowner, but for the community and environment as well.


What Classifies a Building as "Historic?"

By "historic," we are referring to structures built before World War II. Common styles of historic homes in the United States include:

  • Log Cabin: These rustic, cozy homes were prevalent in the mid-Atlantic colonies up until the 1850s.

  • Saltbox: Dating from 1607 until the early 18th century, saltbox homes feature steep, shingled roofs and large chimneys in the center of the house. The few that survive today are found primarily in New England.

  • Georgian: These homes, built primarily between 1700 and 1780, feature a symmetrical facade, transom lights, paneled doors and a pedimented crown. They were built throughout the colonies in the 1700s. In the South, they usually have brick exteriors, whereas in the in the North, clapboards are more common.

  • Federal: Federal homes were constructed mainly between 1780 to 1820 and featured double-hung windows, a symmetrical facade and doors with ornate dentil molding. The style is largely based on England's Adamesque style and incorporates many ancient Roman ideas. Homes featuring this style are found throughout the country.

  • Greek Revival: These homes, which feature classical columns, full-width porches and pedimented 6-over-6 windows, were built primarily between 1825 and 1860.

  • Gothic Revival: Gothic revival homes mimic shapes associated with Medieval houses and churches. The style is characterized by steep roofs, first-floor porches and elaborate cross gables and bargeboard. This trend began in England and eventually made its way to the United States, where it was most popular from 1840 to 1880.

  • Italianate: Built primarily from 1840 to 1885, Italianate homes mimic rural homes in Italy and feature bracketed eaves, windows with ornate crowns and a paired-door entryway.

  • Second Empire: The second empire style is similar to the Italianate except for its mansard roof, which was named after François Mansart, a French architect from the 1600s. The roof has patterned shingles, dormers, two pitches and deep eaves.

  • Queen Anne: Popular between 1800 and 1910, the Queen Anne style is what most Americans would refer to as "Victorian" and is considered the first architectural style of the Industrial Age in the U.S. When the Civil War was over, munitions factories started making house parts as well as the machines used to cut wood trim. Railroads allowed these products to be delivered to many regions affordably. Paint technology had also improved, which allowed these houses to be painted in new, vibrant colors.

  • Shingle: Shingle homes feature shingles on both their roofs and exterior walls. These homes are also free-form and built into hills and rocks. These homes were most popular between 1880 and 1900, and they're mostly found along the New England coast.

  • Richardsonian Romanesque: Richardsonian Romanesque homes are asymmetrical and always built from brick or stone. They were most popular from the year 1880 to 1900 and feature Syrian or Roman towers and arches. This style was first popular for civic buildings, with the trend later spreading to residences.

  • Folk Victorian: Folk Victorian homes are characterized by their simple house form and ornate decorative trim. They were most popular between 1870 and 1910, during the Industrial Age, where wood-cutting machinery allowed average Americans to decorate their simple folk cottages with elaborate carvings.

  • Colonial Revival: This style emerged around 1880 following the 100-year anniversary of the country's founding, which made Americans nostalgic for their colonial past. This style is not a direct copy of the original colonial style, but rather a mixture of several early home styles including Georgian, Federal and Dutch Colonial. Millions of these homes are still in existence today.

  • Cape Cod: Built primarily between 1920 and 1940, these one-story cottages are characterized by a paneled door in the front with symmetrical windows on either side. They draw their inspiration from the colonial homes of New England, and although the original ones were usually shingled, Cape Cod homes can have stucco, brick or clapboard exteriors.

  • Neoclassical: This style of home has large columns, Composite or Corinthian capitals and massive pediments. This style of architecture was most popular from 1895 to 1950.

  • Tudor revival: Tudor revival homes features steep roofs, stone or stucco walls, narrow or double-hung windows and bay windows that are semi-hexagonal. Despite its name, this style more closely resembles that of Medieval homes.

  • Spanish Colonial Revival: Most commonly built in the years between 1915 to 1940, these stucco homes have arched doors and windows and a low-pitched roof made of red tiles. This style became popular following the 1915 Panama-California Exposition that took place in San Diego.

  • Craftsman: Craftsman style homes feature overhangs with brackets, porches with large piers and roofs with low pitches. This style was inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, which began in the late 1800s in England.

As the above list illustrates, many architectural styles reflect certain historical trends or cultural values and serve as reminders of our rich heritage.


Our Favorite Reasons to Preserve Historic Buildings

Here's a look at the aesthetic, environmental and economic benefits that come with restoring historic properties:

1. Older Homes Often Contain Higher-Quality Materials

Buildings built before World War II tend to contain materials of higher quality, such as marble and heart pine. Many contain wood that came from old-growth forests. In short, older homes can hold a wealth of treasures, some of which may not even be immediately recognizable. 
They also tend to have more charming furnishings, and much individuality and artistry went into making them. These characteristics of older homes remain attractive to homebuyers today.

Pre-World War II buildings also tend to be more solidly built. A home from 100 years that is still standing and in good condition is a testament to the quality of the construction — meaning that purchasing an older home may be a wiser long-term investment. 

2. New Business Owners Have a Preference for Historic Buildings

Jane Jacobs, the urban activist who wrote the groundbreaking book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, discussed the advantages certain businesses enjoy when located in historic or older buildings. She said that, while newer buildings may be a better choice for large chain stores, other more local businesses, such as bookstores, pubs, antique stores, ethnic restaurants and smaller start-ups, are more likely to thrive in more historic buildings. This is in part because of their trendiness and in part because they don't have enough money to invest in a new building. 

3. Historic Buildings Attract People

Considering all the downtown revivals taking place in this country, it's safe to say that people have a fondness for historical places. The materials used in older constructions, which often include heart pine, old brick and marble, convey a feeling of warmth that their new counterparts can't rival. With their awkward corners, mixture of architectural styles and remnants of different occupants, they're just more interesting to look at.

When looking at historic buildings, some people feel a sense of patriotism or pride in their country's rich heritage. Others might find them cozy and reassuring. Whatever the reasons may be, most people prefer to imagine themselves living in and surrounded by older buildings.

4. Historic Building Restoration Preserves an Aspect of a Town's History

When you preserve a historic property, you're not just saving wood and bricks — you're saving information about the lives of your ancestors. Historic buildings are visible, tangible remnants of a place's rich cultural past and allow residents and tourists to experience an area's cultural history. A historic property doesn't need to be associated with an important event in the city's past — it can simply give a glimpse of how our ancestors lived. Cities need historic buildings to give them a sense of heritage and permanency.

5. They Strengthen a Town's Future

Renovating historic buildings doesn't just solidify a town's past — it also can help to strengthen its the future. Downtown areas that have been historically restored attract tourists, festivals, art and various other activities that can lead to revenue, investment and growth. Dynamic historic downtowns can serve as the center of town life where people shop, dine and participate in a variety of recreational activities.

6. They're Good for the Environment

Although there are developers who believe that tearing down and building new is financially wiser, this practice cannot be continued indefinitely. It takes much more energy to tear down and rebuild than to restore.By preserving a historic property, the owner is promoting sustainability.

7. They're Good for the Economy

While the aesthetic and cultural benefits of historic building preservation have been well known for years, only recently have people become aware of the positive economic benefits that historic preservation can bring to a community. It's a great way to sustain the local economy, create jobs and generate capital.


8. Restoration Boosts Property Value

In the past few years, researchers have been conducting studies about how historic preservation affects property values in the U.S. The results suggested that, on the local and state level, properties located in historic areas appreciate much faster than similar properties located elsewhere.

These findings are a testament to how much buyers and sellers recognize the worth of historic properties, as they are the ones who determine their property value. Our society highly values structures that illustrate our collective heritage.

While historic districts often stipulate how certain things should look, they're not meant to burden property owners. These bylaws are in place to make sure a neighborhood's character stays intact. These laws also tend to lead to higher property values, as it lets investors know that the neighborhood will retain its character for years to come. In fact, local districts have the greatest positive effect on property value when they do the four following things: 

  • Have Clear Guidelines. They've written out guidelines specifying the design of the properties in the district. 

  • Dedicate Staff for a Preservation Commission. They have staff dedicated to historic building preservation. 

  • Participate in Active Outreach. The staff actively reach out to property owners, builders, architects, etc. and educate them on the guidelines. 

  • Maintain Consistency. The commission makes consistent, predictable decisions.

9. If They Go Away, They're Gone Forever

Once historic buildings are gone, you won't have another opportunity to bring them back.

Preserving a Building? Contact Huber & Associates

Huber & Associates are experts inold building roof restorationand preservation. For over 40 years, we have been preserving and restoring roofs of historic buildings considered culturally and architecturally significant. Along the way, we have developed valuable partnerships with businesses, homeowners, heritage societies and government agencies and have become well known for our expertise around the world.

Our knowledgeable roofing team has experience working with a wide variety of materials, including slate, clay tilewoodthatch and various metals. We strive to create beautiful, faithful restorations, focusing closely on the finishes, shapes and colors. We use cutting-edge materials and techniques to maximize the lifespan and durability of the roof. 
Our restoration projects include the historic roofs of churches, plantations, universities, museums and courthouses. We have worked on a number of properties that are historically designated, including the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC and the Bryce Canyon Lodge in Bryce, UT

As every historical structure is unique, we take a careful, individualized approach to all of our projects. We begin by carefully considering what your project requires and creating a plan of action that preserves your original roof as much as possible and also improves its durability and energy efficiency through the addition of modern upgrades.

Our process consists of the following three steps: 

  • Assess the damage. We begin by determining the location and degree of the damage since it is often not immediately recognizable. We may need to remove some shingles or other parts to examine underneath. We might also inspect the inside for leaks or other signs of a damaged roof. Our expert technicians will assess all of this information to gain a comprehensive understanding of your roof's condition. 

  • Research the history. Significant damage may require us to conduct extensive research. This may involve consulting photographic and archival records to determine the appearance of your roof when it was in its prime. We might also look into using materials and tools that are historically accurate. 

  • Repair the damage. How we go about this step depends primarily on the materials involved and the degree of the damage. Whenever possible, we try to use original materials, especially for elaborate features, which are often pricey to replicate. In the case of clay tile and slate, we examine the shingles one-by-one and only replace the damaged ones.

If you're an owner or manager of a historic property and would like your roof to be beautifully and faithfully restored, schedule an appointment with an expert at Huber & Associates by filling out our online form or by calling us at (386) 478-7243. We'd also be happy to answer any questions you may have about our restoration process.