The City of Palestine has a set of design guidelines for residential properties such as houses, as well as a set of guidelines for commercial properties, such as businesses.
Both sets of guidelines address three types of treatments for Historic Properties:
- Repair and Maintenance: The process of preventing small problems from becoming bigger ones, and fixing things that have deteriorated. Historic Buildings were designed to be repaired, and property owners who conduct regular maintenance save on costs. Maintenance that strictly limits all repairs to existing materials or replaces with an exact in-kind match of material and appearance often does not require a Certificate of Appropriateness.
- Alteration: At times historic buildings need to be expanded or modified to make room for new activities or more space. Property owners can often obtain approval for alterations that do not detract from the historic character of the building and do not destroy important character-defining features and materials. Additions and alterations are most often made to existing historic buildings, but sometimes owners of historic properties wish to recreate from historic photographs or original plans known outbuildings or site features no longer present. At other times owners wish to add site features not historically present such as benches, lighting, landscaping, parking walkways, driveways, or fencing. Depending on the building, its location, the nature, and size of the lot some of these changes may be permitted, provided they do not detract from the original historic buildings or destroy important character-defining elements of an associated property or a historic district as a whole. The Historic Landmarks Commission will not approve additions or alterations that are incompatible with historic design, materials and other features.
- New Construction: The guidelines address the construction of new buildings, also known as infill construction, within historic districts and within the boundaries of individually designated historic properties. The guidelines offer suggestions for creating compatible new designs that will be harmonious with historic properties. The Historic Landmarks Commission will not approve new construction that is incompatible with historic design, materials and other features.
Historic wooden elements were often constructed of what is called “old growth” lumber. Old-growth lumber was harvested in the years before modern forestry practices selected for trees that grew quickly. Old-growth lumber is denser and more rot and insect resistant than modern lumber.
When replacing painted wooden elements, such as siding, priming all faces of the wood, instead of just the visible ones will add years to the life of the repair.
Note: Historic wooden elements such as windows are surprisingly durable and were designed with future repairs in mind. Wooden windows that at first appear to be obviously beyond repair often can be salvaged with the use of wood consolidation products, putties, and epoxies for minimal cost.
Historic masonry walls gradually allow excess moisture to escape, and painting generally traps moisture in the wall, keeping it from “breathing” Additionally, once a wall is painted, it will always require repainting, increasing maintenance time and cost.
Historic brick was often fired at a lower temperature than modern brick. Historic bricks generally expand and contract more. For this reason, historic mortar mixtures were softer and more flexible, using lime and less Portland cement than modern mortar. Using a modern Portland cement mortar on historic brick will cause the face of the brick to crack and fall off, shortening its life by years.
Much like a loaf of bread, when a brick is first baked, it forms a less porous outer crust that helps to keep out water and provides durability. Harsh cleaning treatments, such as sandblasting, wire brush scrubbing, and high pressure spraying damage this “crust” and shorten a brick’s useful life by years.
Historically, metal was used in everything from wrought iron fencing to cast iron storefronts to roof flashing.
Prompt removal or neutralization of rust extends the life of historic metal features by years.
Allowing dissimilar metals to touch one another can result in damage due to galvanic action. For this reason, it is important to make sure that appropriate fasteners are used when near metal.
A valuable source for anyone involved in the maintenance and repair of historic properties is the National Park Service’s Preservation Brief series. Each of these Briefs provides information about different aspects of historic building maintenance and repair without becoming overly technical.
These are available online at the Preservation Briefs website.