Guidelines For Rehabilitating Historic Buildings: Health & Safety Code Requirements
GUIDELINES FOR REHABILITATING HISTORIC BUILDINGS: HEALTH AND
SAFETY CODE REQUIREMENTS
U.S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Preservation Assistance Division
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.
HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE REQUIREMENTS:
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.
- Identifying the historic buildings' character-defining
spaces, features, and finishes so that code-required work
will not result in their damage or loss.
- Undertaking code-required alterations to a building or
site before identifying those spaces, features, or
finishes which are character-defining and must therefore
- 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.
- Altering, damaging, or destroying character-defining
spaces, features, and finishes while making modifications
to a building or site to comply with safety codes.
- 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.
- Making changes to historic buildings without first
seeking alternatives to code requirements.
- Providing barrier-free access through removable or
portable, rather than permanent, ramps.
- Installing permanent ramps that damage or diminish
- Providing seismic reinforcement to a historic building in
a manner that avoids damaging the structural system and
- Reinforcing a historic building using measures that
damage or destroy character-defining structural and other
- 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
- Damaging or obscuring historic stairways and elevators or
altering adjacent spaces in the process of doing work to
meet code requirements.
- Installing sensitively designed fire suppression systems,
such as a sprinkler system for wood frame mill buildings,
instead of applying fire-resistant sheathing to
- Covering character-defining wood features with fire-
resistant sheathing which results in altering their
- Applying fire-retardant coatings, such as intumescent
paints, which expand during fire to add thermal
protection to steel.
- Using fire-retardant coatings if they damage or obscure
- Adding a new stairway or elevator to meet health and
safety codes in a manner that preserves adjacent
character-defining features and spaces.
- Radically changing, damaging or destroying character-
defining spaces, features, or finishes when adding a new
code-required stairway or elevator.
- 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
- 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