Historic Preservation - Technical Procedures

Guidelines For Rehabilitating Historic Buildings: Health & Safety Code Requirements
Procedure code:
National Park Service, Preservation Assistance Division
General Requirements
Reference Standards
Last Modified:
Guidelines For Rehabilitating Historic Buildings: Health & Safety Code Requirements
Last Modified:


U.S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Preservation Assistance Division
Washington, D.C.

NOTE:  Although the work in these sections is quite often an
important aspect of rehabilitation projects, it is usually NOT part
of the overall process of preserving character-defining features
(maintenance, repair, replacement); rather, such work is assessed
for its potential negative impact on the building's historic
character.  For this reason, particular care must be taken not to
obscure, radically change, damage, or destroy character-defining
features in the process of rehabilitation work to meet new use

An illustrated booklet addressing the Secretary's Standards and the
guidelines is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office.
The title is "The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for
Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic
Buildings", ISBN 0-16-035979-1.

Each of the guidelines included in the booklet mentioned above have
been separated into individual entries for specific use in HBPP.
This standard represents one of many guidelines included in the
booklet and describes RECOMMENDED and NOT RECOMMENDED applications
of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards as they relate to
Health and Safety Code Requirements.  For a list of the Secretary
of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation, see 01091-04-S; For
general information relating to the purpose, organization and
content of the individual guidelines, see 01091-05-S.  Both of
these entries should be referenced along with the information
contained in this document.


As a part of the new use, it is often necessary to make
modifications to a historic building so that it can comply with
current health, safety and code requirements.  Such work needs to
be carefully planned and undertaken so that it does not result in
a loss of character-defining spaces, features, and finishes.

1.   Recommended:

    -    Identifying the historic buildings' character-defining
         spaces, features, and finishes so that code-required work
         will not result in their damage or loss.

    Not Recommended:

    -    Undertaking code-required alterations to a building or
         site before identifying those spaces, features, or
         finishes which are character-defining and must therefore
         be preserved.

2.   Recommended:

    -    Complying with health and safety code, including seismic
         codes and barrier-free access requirements, in such a
         manner that character-defining spaces, features, and
         finishes are preserved.

    Not Recommended:

    -    Altering, damaging, or destroying character-defining
         spaces, features, and finishes while making modifications
         to a building or site to comply with safety codes.

3.   Recommended:

    -    Working with local code officials to investigate
         alternative life safety measures or variances available
         under some codes so that alterations and additions to
         historic buildings can be avoided.

    Not Recommended:

    -    Making changes to historic buildings without first
         seeking alternatives to code requirements.

4.   Recommended:

    -    Providing barrier-free access through removable or
         portable, rather than permanent, ramps.

    Not Recommended:

    -    Installing permanent ramps that damage or diminish
         character-defining features.

5.   Recommended:

    -    Providing seismic reinforcement to a historic building in
         a manner that avoids damaging the structural system and
         character-defining features.

    Not Recommended:

    -    Reinforcing a historic building using measures that
         damage or destroy character-defining structural and other

6.   Recommended:

    -    Upgrading historic stairways and elevators to meet health
         and safety codes in a manner that assures their
         preservation, i.e., so that they are not damaged or

    Not Recommended:

    -    Damaging or obscuring historic stairways and elevators or
         altering adjacent spaces in the process of doing work to
         meet code requirements.

7.   Recommended:

    -    Installing sensitively designed fire suppression systems,
         such as a sprinkler system for wood frame mill buildings,
         instead of applying fire-resistant sheathing to
         character-defining features.

    Not Recommended:

    -    Covering character-defining wood features with fire-
          resistant sheathing which results in altering their
         visual appearance.

8.   Recommended:

    -    Applying fire-retardant coatings, such as intumescent
         paints, which expand during fire to add thermal
         protection to steel.

    Not Recommended:

    -    Using fire-retardant coatings if they damage or obscure
         character-defining features.

9.   Recommended:

    -    Adding a new stairway or elevator to meet health and
         safety codes in a manner that preserves adjacent
         character-defining features and spaces.

    Not Recommended:

    -    Radically changing, damaging or destroying character-
          defining spaces, features, or finishes when adding a new
         code-required stairway or elevator.

10.  Recommended:

    -    Placing a code-required stairway or elevator that cannot
         be accommodated within the historic building in a new
         exterior addition.  Such an addition should be located at
         the rear of the building or on an inconspicuous side; and
         its size and scale limited in relationship to the
         historic building.

    Not Recommended:

    -    Constructing a new addition to accommodate code-required
         stairs and elevators on character-defining elevations
         highly visible from the street; or where it obscures,
         damages or destroys character-defining features.

                         END OF SECTION

Last Reviewed 2015-06-02