Free Advice - Preservation of Your Old House

About Historic Preservation Briefs

cross section of adobe brick wall on a stone foundation
Traditional Construction of the Houses of Calatañazor, Spain. Cristina Arias/Getty Images (cropped)

What used to be mid-century modern construction eventually turns into old house restoration. To assist homeowners and preservationists with upkeep and repair of older properties, the United States National Park Service (NPS) prepares standards, guidelines, and educational materials — FREE for anyone. These Preservation Briefs, written by technical preservation experts, speak to a variety of issues. Here is a sampling, with links to summaries and full content:

Ensure Your Home is Energy Smart
Ensure Your Home is Energy Smart. Photo by xiaoling sun/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images

Preservation Brief 3: Is your old house an energy hog? The solution may be easier and less expensive than you think. Tip: Forget the vinyl replacement windows — air loss from windows accounts for only about 10% of the total air loss in most buildings. Check out these cost-saving tips from Preservation Brief 3, Improving Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings.

Taos Pueblo in New Mexico
Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. Photo by Wendy Connett/Robert Harding World Imagery Collection/Getty Images

Preservation Brief 5: Traditional adobe bricks are sustainable and energy efficient. They are also unstable and subject to natural deterioration. Find out more about this ancient building materials, including why original adobe architecture has the protruding wood vigas.

Vinyl Siding is a Tempting Solution, but What Will Happen to the Lovely Oval Windows?
Vinyl Siding is a Tempting Solution, but What Will Happen to the Lovely Oval Windows?. Photo © Jackie Craven / S. Carroll Jewell
Preservation Brief 8: Should you attempt to restore the original siding of your old house? Or, are there times when using substitute materials such as vinyl or aluminum siding is the best solution? This technical paper provides guidelines.
Chipped paint between two windows on a house in Salem, Massachusetts
Chipped paint on a house in Salem, Massachusetts. Photo ©2015 Jackie Craven

Preservation Brief 10: Removing paints down to bare wood surfaces using harsh methods can permanently damage the wood. So how do you resolve problems of chipping, cracking, and flaking paint? This preservation brief offers detailed technical advice, and we've given you a summary with plenty of links.

Massive concrete walls with openings near top of flat roof
Unity Temple by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park, Illinois. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Preservation Brief 15: Even if our homes are not made of concrete, we often find problems with our concrete foundations. Chicago-based civil engineer Paul Gaudette and architectural engineer and historian Deborah Slaton, both of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, explain concrete's history, use, symptoms of deterioration, and preservation and repair in this easily understood 2007 Brief.

Neighborhood Houses in Turn of the 20th Century American Suburbia
Neighborhood Houses in Turn of the 20th Century American Suburbia. Photo by J.Castro / Moment Mobile / Getty Images (cropped)

Preservation Brief 17: Learn the three-step process professionals use "to identify those materials, features and spaces that contribute to the visual character of a building." You probably already know where to look, but the Architectural Character Checklist puts it all in one place.

Brick, Wood, and Stucco Combine to Give This House Natural Decoration
Brick, Wood, and Stucco Combine to Give This House Natural Decoration. Photo by Keith Getter/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images

Preservation Brief 22: The recipe for stucco has changed over the years. Which recipe should you use? This preservation brief gives detailed technical information on restoring and preserving historic stucco and includes recipes for historic stucco. We've summarized the 16-page Brief and provided links to all of the original documents from the  National Park Service. Stucco is more complicated than you might think, but it sure is interesting.

The Mystery of an Old house in Rural Montana
The Mystery of an Old house in Rural Montana. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images

Preservation Brief 35: That mysterious house on the hill could be your house. How do you solve the mystery of history? This lengthy and detailed guide from the National Park Service introduces the investigative skills you'll need as you research your old house and seek answers to architectural problems.

Also see Showing the Evolution of an 18th Century Farmhouse, a sidebar article in the print version of Brief 35.

Man with tape measure measuring the width of a used door in a salvage store
Architectural salvage, like good solid used doors, may contain lead paint. Photo by Jason Horowitz/Fuse/Getty Images

Preservation Brief 37: Architectural salvage may be a good idea, but old painted items could be hazardous to your health. If any part of your house was built before 1978, chances are it contains lead paint, which can be toxic when paint chips or dust are ingested. This guide provides the technical information you need to reduce the lead paint hazards in your old house.

Doors and windows open onto front porch of a bungalow
Doors and windows open onto front porch of a bungalow. Photo by Purestock/Getty Images

Preservation Brief 45: Authors Aleca Sullivan and John Leeke begin this 2006 Brief with the ironic observation that the functional use of the porch — protecting an entrance from the weather — is also the reason for its vulnerability. Especially for the common wooden porch, "open porches are constantly exposed  to sun, snow, rain, and foot traffic, and thus subject to deterioration, perhaps more than other parts of a building." Their free expertise is most helpful for every homeowner with a porch.

Technical Preservation Services

Preservation, rehabilitation, and restoration. These are the three legs of any old house stool. But they are also responsibilities of any homeowner, even for owners of new houses. The National Register of Historic Places Program is administered by the US Department of the Interior's National Park Service. Each of these Preservation Briefs - nearly 50 of them listed on the TPS website page - gives guidance to assist homeowners and organizations with the responsibility of caring for an historic property. The Briefs are also useful when owners apply for tax incentives and grants to defer the costs of preservation. But the information is free to all. Your tax dollars at work. The National Park Service is not just Smokey the Bear.