Guidelines For Salvaging Historic Building Materials In The Event Of A Disaster
- Procedure code:
- Preservation Notebook Series - Gsa
- General Requirements
- Reference Standards
- Last Modified:
GUIDELINES FOR SALVAGING HISTORIC BUILDING MATERIALS IN THE EVENT
OF A DISASTER
This procedure includes guidance on what to look for and what to do
in a disaster to minimize financial and cultural loss at a historic
property. Disasters such as fire, floods, and structural failure
are never anticipated. Fire drills and emergency evacuation plans
reduce the safety threat that sudden crises and ensuing panic pose
to building occupants. In the same way, the loss of costly
ornamental finishes and craftsmanship in historic buildings can be
reduced by planning in advance for effective recovery of damaged
All building managers, construction engineers, maintenance
supervisors, and other individuals directly responsible for the
management and protection of historic property should familiarize
themselves with these emergency salvage guidelines. IN THE EVENT
OF A DISASTER, CONSULT THE REGIONAL HISTORIC PRESERVATION OFFICER
(RHPO) AND THE REGIONAL FINE ARTS OFFICE (RFAO), AS APPRPRIATE, IMMEDIATELY. First step is do a complete photo-documentation of the existing conditions, post-disaster prior to salvage. Provide copies of these guidelines to all
Contractors and Government personnel involved in clean-up, debris
removal, and repair operations. DO NOT THROW AWAY MATERIALS
WITHOUT APPROVAL OF RHPO/RFAO. Label all salvage as to building, room
and location in room for future documentation.
A. For Metals, Stone, Structural Glass, Ceramics, and other
Noncombustibles, Waterproof Materials:
1. SALVAGE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. IF POSSIBLE, LEAVE IN
PLACE. These materials survive most disasters completely
intact. Damaged ornamental metals and stone can often be
repaired at far less expense than they can be replace.
Locating new matching stone for a replacement may be
impossible if the original quarry is closed. Even
completely shattered stone may be ground for use in
composite patch repair of cracked or chipped stone
2. Salvaging ornamental metals, including grilles, fixtures,
and hardware saves the Government the cost of expensive
custom casting. REMOVE ORIGINAL METAL HARDWARE FROM
SEVERELY DAMAGED WALLS, CEILINGS, FLOORS, DOORS AND
3. IF ORNAMENTAL METALS ARE SEVERELY DAMAGED, RECOVER THE
LEAST DAMAGED PIECE AVAILABLE FOR EACH UNIQUE TYPE OF
HARDWARE/FEATURE. The intent is to obtain models to
fabricate/replicate elements. For every piece that can
br reproduced directly from an existing element, the time
and expense of design is eliminated in the casting
B. For Woodwork and Ornamental Plaster:
1. Immediately separate intact and partially damaged
material from severely damaged/destroyed material.
Retain all intact woodwork.
2. In cases of major damage, recover samples of each
ornamental feature for replication. Salvage the least
damaged examples of each different type of plaster
ornament and each millwork feature, including doors,
windows, paneling, baseboards, columns, plasters,
door/window trim, etc.
3. If possible, get whole pieces. If this is not possible,
try to gather enough pieces to assemble into a whole
element. Broken plaster castings can be glued together
and built up, where damaged, to create a mold for
replication. Remember, making molds from existing
elements is much less expensive than sculpting new
plaster and wood pieces to create a mold from nothing.
C. For Flooring:
1. Leave surviving flooring in place for evaluation by an
architectural conservator. If the floor is severely
damaged or unstable, preserve, at a minimum, one complete
floor section extending from its center to the wall. The
intent is to preserve enough material to show the floor
pattern, color, and layout, including the locations and
widths of borders. Select the most intact section of the
floor to salvage.
2. Leave in place as much of the wall-floor edge as
possible: the edge of the floor often provides a complete
"footprint" for reproducing wall features such as
columns, wainscoting, and built-in furnishings.
D. For Artwork: Salvage as much as possible, whatever the
condition. Consult with the Regional Fine Arts Officer prior to salvage efforts.
E. General Clean-up:
1. Use non-chemical, non-abrasive methods only. Vacuum;
brush with soft bristled, non-metallic brushes; or damp
(water) wipe using well-wrung cotton rags.
2. Do not use detergents or other proprietary cleaning
products on unpainted wood or metal. Always rub in the
direction of the grain. Immediately buff surfaces dry
with soft, cotton cloths.
END OF SECTION