Fire Safety Retrofitting Guidelines For Historic Buildings

Procedure code:
Advisory Council On Historic Preservation & Gsa, 8/89
General Requirements
Reference Standards
Last Modified:


This procedure includes guidance on planning appropriate fire
safety treatments in historic buildings.  General applications for
fire safety retrofitting are outlined below along with treatments
that are recommended and not recommended for those applications.
This material has been extracted from the GSA Fire Safety
Retrofitting publication issued jointly by the Advisory Council on
Historic Preservation and the General Services Administration.
Refer to this publication for detailed information on the
importance of fire safety retrofitting, the assessment process and
implementation in historic buildings.


A.   Recommended:

    1.   Maintaining the historically significant building fabric
         within exit corridors without sacrificing fire safety

B.   Not Recommended:

    1.   Permanently altering the appearance of the historically
         significant ceiling, floor, or wall materials in a
         corridor to accommodate an exit access corridor.

    2.   Removing historically significant openings and doors to
         accommodate an exit access corridor.

    3.   Adding new doors or openings that would permanently alter
         the appearance of the historically significant building
         fabric to accommodate an exit access corridor or
         permanently closing off significant openings.


A.   Recommended:

    1.   Maintaining the exiting stairway's significant historic
         characteristics and satisfying fundamental exiting

    2.   Constructing new exiting stairs, if required to augment
         existing requirements, so that the alteration of the
         existing plan of the historic building fabric is

B.   Not Recommended:

    1.   Totally enclosing an historically significant open stair
         without considering alternate means of satisfying
         fundamental exiting requirements.

    2.   Permanently altering the appearance of historically
         significant fabric to accommodate a new stair.


A.   Recommended:

    1.   Placing new stairs to satisfy exiting requirements so
         that the stairs do not detract from historically
         significant facades or the setting of the building and
         are not readily seen by the public.

    2.   Constructing the new stairs from approved materials and
         methods, and in a style that provides a distinct
         differentiation between old and new.

    3.   Minimizing the physical alteration to the existing
         historic facade at the points where the new stair
         contacts the building.

B.   Not Recommended:

    1.   Locating new stairs on facades that are historically
         significant or visible to the public.

    2.   Matching new stair construction with existing historic

    3.   Altering an existing historic facade to accommodate a new


A.   Recommended:

    1.   Maintaining historically significant doors where a fire-
         rated door is required as a component to the means of

    2.   Constructing new fire-rated door is required as a
         component to the means of egress.

    3.   Attaching the historic door to an approved fire-rated
         door assembly without permanent damage tot he historic
         door, where replacement of the historic door might
         otherwise be required to conform to a means of egress.

B.   Not Recommended:

    1.   Altering or removing a historic door without considering
         viable alternatives to meet fire safety requirements.


A.   Recommended:

    1.   Installation of passive fire suppression materials so
         that the significant historic fabric of a building is not
         permanently altered.

    2.   Installation of fire proofing materials as required to
         augment existing nonconforming historic construction so
         that the significant historic fabric of a building is not
         permanently altered.

    3.   The evaluation of equivalency concepts for existing
         construction so that the least amount of alteration to
         the fabric takes place.

B.   Not Recommended:

    1.   Permanently altering the appearance of historic walls,
         ceilings, and floor construction or the removal of
         significant existing historic building fabric to
         accommodate passive fire suppression.

    2.   Installation of new partitions that damage historic
         features or historic character of the spaces.

    3.   Addition of modern materials over existing historic
         building fabric.


A.   Recommended:

    1.   Evaluation of each historically significant space within
         a building for the selection of the best-suited fire
         sprinkler system type.

    2.   Piping routes, sprinkler head types, styles, colors, and
         locations implemented so that the historic fabric and
         visual integrity of the building are least affected.

B.   Not Recommended:

    1.   Routing sprinkler pipe so that it is exposed to view
         within the historically significant building fabric.

    2.   Putting sidewall mounted sprinklers into plaster cornices
         and reliefs.

    3.   Furring down ceilings in significant interior spaces to
         conceal piping.


A.   Recommended:

    1.   Installing fire extinguishers without the permanent
         alteration of the appearance of the historically
         significant building fabric.

    2.   Using surface mounted fire extinguisher cabinets in areas
         where recessed cabinets would alter the significant
         historic fabric, such as marble wainscoting.

    3.   Using recess mounted fire extinguisher cabinets where

    4.   Selection of a fire cabinet style that is least obtrusive
         to the surrounding historic fabric.

B.   Not Recommended:

    1.   Installing fire extinguishers and/or cabinets on existing
         historically significant walls in a manner that
         permanently alters their character and appearance.


A.   Recommended:

    1.   Retrofitting smoke and heat detectors and required
         electrical conduits so that they are not unusually
         prominent or do not affect the significant historic
         fabric of a building.

B.   Not Recommended:

    1.   Installing smoke and heat detectors in historic plaster
         relief or cornices.

    2.   Installing smoke and heat detectors on the surface of
         ceiling that are historically significant.


A.   Recommended:

    1.   Locating fire alarms where routing of conduit will not
         permanently alter the historic fabric of the building.

    2.   Selecting the style of alarm systems so that their
         appearance is in harmony with other architectural
         elements of the historic building.

B.   Not Recommended:

    1.   Installing fire alarm pull stations in such a manner that
         they detract from or permanently change the appearance of
         the historic building or area.

                         END OF SECTION

Last Reviewed 2015-06-09