Own a Historic Home? These Regulations Could Affect Your Remodeling Plans

There’s something unique and charming about a historic home. The features in these century-old properties are rarely found in new construction, and the location of these homes typically feature mature trees and greenery – something that you don’t always see in new developments.

When it comes time to make a few changes or updates to these types of homes, you might have to cut through some red tape first. Remodeling a historic home isn’t as easy as drafting up a blueprint, ordering the materials and making changes. There are regulations that need to be adhered to prior to starting your remodeling project in order to avoid getting slapped with fines.

What Makes a Home Historic?

historic home

Designation as to what is deemed historic will vary from one town to the next. Many historic properties in the US that are at least 50 years old are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a list of historic buildings that’s maintained on a federal level.

If your home is found on this list, it could qualify your property for loans, grants, and tax incentives for renovation work if you agree to have the work comply with the authentic standards of the historic and original craftsmanship and design of the home. But even properties that are younger than 50 years old can still be considered historically significant by local commissions.

Regardless of the age of the home, a number of factors play a key role in influencing a commission’s decision to deem a home historic, including:

          • Architectural quality and significance

          • Association to a historically important individual event

          • Site of archeological findings

State Regulations of Remodeling Historic Properties

home regulations

Before remodeling an existing historic property, you might have to abide by the specific regulations in your state. Many states require that any permits or funding for remodeling work be reviewed by a state commission to determine if there will be any impact to a historically relevant property.

Just because your property isn’t listed on the National Register of Historic Places doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require any review on a state level. The state reserves the right to impose restrictions on the type of work you want to do on your home after review.

Local Regulations of Remodeling Historic Properties

Not only are there certain restrictions and regulations imposed on a state level, local authorities also place regulations on remodeling work to historic properties. These regulations tend to be a part of the local zoning bylaw or a historical property preservation bylaw. In this case, the local commission will review the renovations that you plan on undertaking, and will issue permits for the work if approved.

Is Your Home Considered Historic?

historic home features

There are certain areas that are considered to be historic. Under these circumstances, any property in the area is considered historic. If that’s the case, every home will have to be reviewed by local authorities before any remodeling can take place. Other localities rely on the national or state register when considering a home historically significant, which can make the home subject to local regulations.

To find out if your home is considered officially historic – and therefore subject to review – you can check out your town or city hall. You’ll then be directed to the zoning regulations that would apply to the work you intend on doing on your home.

If your home is in fact historically relevant, you’ll then need to find out what kind of restrictions you’ll have to abide by before you start taking hammer to nail. You’ll need to learn what types of designs are allowed or recommended.

To make this easier on you, there are plenty of architects and contractors who are well-versed in remodeling historic homes who you can be referred to at your town or city hall. These experts have experience appearing before the commission, and understand what they tend to approve, and what they don’t.

If you plan on swapping old elements for newer materials, this could raise commission concern. The rule of thumb in this department is whether or not the new materials resemble the material being replaced. It’s also got to be just as durable – if not more – than the material being replaced.

Thinking of Tearing Down Your Historic Home? Before You Do…

remodeling historic home

You’ll be subject to certain regulations if you plan on completely ripping your home down, regardless of whether or not it’s got any historic value. While this method will allow you to avoid sticking to regulations about remodeling the existing building, it’ll set off different forms of regulations.

Usually, you’ll have to give notice to the local historic commission that you intend to tear the home down and build a new modern home in its place. There’s typically a lengthy waiting period before a decision is communicated – usually between 6 to 12 months after you’ve provided written notice.

During this time, the commission will have a chance to review the work being proposed, and any other pertinent parties have the opportunity to react and communicate their opinions or concerns about this work.

Understanding the rules of preservation on historic homes will streamline the path for your renovation project. Regardless of the work being done, it’s up to you and your contractor to start communicating with the commissioners as soon as possible before any plans are finalized. Building inspectors might be willing to compromise within reason, but the chances of coming to an agreement are boosted if these conversations start before you even whip out your crowbar and sledge hammer.