Rehabilitating a Historic Home

The Heirloom and Landmark Sites Program is a joint effort of the City of Stillwater and the Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) to honor homeowners who maintain the historical character of their historic homes.

An Introduction

As the owner of a historic home, you may be aware of the valuable resource your home is to the historical character of Stillwater. This brochure is designed to give you some basic information on how to preserve, restore, or rehabilitate your home as part of the unique historical fabric of Stillwater.

Navigating the terminology of architects, contractors, and preservation specialists can be a "lost in translation" experience. Here are a few terms you should know as you talk with these specialists about your historic house:

Preservation is generally defined as measures that are necessary to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of a historic home. This includes ongoing maintenance and repair of historic materials and features, the stabilization of severely deteriorated materials, and limited upgrades for code-required work including mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.

Rehabilitation is work associated with an efficient, compatible use or re-use of a historic home through sensitive repairs, alterations, and additions while preserving those portions or features of a historic home that convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values.

Restoration is the process of returning a building to an appearance it had during a particular time period in history and may include the removal of current features and the replication of missing features.

The Basics

Best Practices

Your home likely includes many of the features outlined in this brochure. Here are some best practices you should consider as you preserve, rehabilitate, or restore your home.

Generally, deteriorated historic materials should be repaired and reused rather than replaced. For example, rather than replacing an entire feature such as siding, consider only replace severely deteriorated materials with new materials that match the old in terms of composition, design, color, and texture. If historic materials are unavailable or economically infeasible, use a compatible substitute material.

Historic siding is important when it comes to the overall appearance of a historic home. For most historic homes, wood-clapboard siding is historically appropriate. Wood-clapboard siding is a highly durable, long-lasting material when it is properly painted. In addition, it is easy to replace severely deteriorated pieces, and limited replacement is typically cheaper than completely replacing siding.

Replacement siding can radically change the appearance of a historic home and may result in the loss of important character-defining features. Replacement materials, such as vinyl and metal, can also cause other long-term problems since historic houses were not designed for these types of materials. If replacement siding is used, it should match the lap pattern, profile, and texture of the historic materials, and replicate the character-defining features of the historic materials.

Inappropriate replacement windows can severely detract from the character of a historic house. While replacement windows have grown in popularity, upgrading historic windows and installing quality storm windows will make historic window as thermally efficient as new thermal-pane windows. In addition, upgrading historic windows is often cheaper and more environmentally friendly than replacement windows.

If windows are replaced, new windows should match the dimensions, profile, operation, materials, and glazing pattern of the historic windows.

Front porches are one of the most prominent features of a historic house. For this reason, porches should be left open, and historical columns and guardrails should be maintained. Historical guardrails are often shorter than what is required by modern codes; however, the code for historic buildings often allow historical guardrails to be left in place or restored to their historical height.

Most houses constructed in the nineteenth century had wood-shingle roofs. In the early twentieth century, tin roofs became popular in Stillwater due to their fireresistance. In the mid-twentieth century, composition and asphalt shingles became the prevalent material for reroofing houses. Tile was not common in Stillwater.

A historic home should be roofed with materials that were historically found on the house. For example, if your home originally had wood shingles, it should be roofed with wood shingles or a compatible substitute. If it never had a tin roof, do not install a tin roof.

If you need to move an existing window or door or add a one to your historic home, try to locate it on the rear of your home or on a secondary elevation.

New Additions
If you need to construct an addition, try to place it on the rear of your home or on a secondary elevation. Additions should be stepped back (as pictured). The roof of an addition should have the same pitch as the historical roof and should not rise above the historical roofline. If dormers are added, they should be located on the rear of the home, or set back on a side elevation.

Case Study

The homeowner of this house searched through nine contractors before one agreed not to put vinyl siding on this historic house. Repairing the existing siding was important to the homeowner and to the historical integrity of the home and the neighborhood. The photo above shows the house as the original siding is being repaired prior to painting.

Preservation Briefs
Prepared by the National Park Service

Preservation Briefs prepared by the National Park Service have helped home owners, preservation professionals, organizations, and government agencies by publishing easy-to read guidance on preserving, rehabilitating and restoring historic buildings. Below is a list of available Briefs. To view more Preservation Briefs visit or click one of the specific topic areas below.

01: Assessing Cleaning and Water-Repellent Treatments
for Historic Masonry Buildings

02: Repointing Mortar Joints in Historic Masonry Buildings

03: Conserving Energy in Historic Buildings

04: Roofing for Historic Buildings

05: The Preservation of Historic Adobe Buildings

06: Dangers of Abrasive Cleaning to Historic Buildings

07: The Preservation of Historic Glazed Architectural Terra-Cotta

08: Aluminum and Vinyl Siding on Historic Buildings: The Appropriateness of Substitute Materials for Resurfacing Historic Wood Frame Buildings

09: The Repair of Historic Wooden Windows

10: Exterior Paint Problems on Historic Woodwork

11: Rehabilitating Historic Storefronts

12: The Preservation of Historic Pigmented Structural Glass
(Vitrolite and Carrara Glass)

13: The Repair and Thermal Upgrading of Historic Steel Windows

14: New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings: Preservation Concerns

15: Preservation of Historic Concrete: Problems and General Approaches

16: The Use of Substitute Materials on Historic Building Exteriors

17: Architectural Character - Identifying the Visual Aspects of Historic Buildings as an Aid to Preserving Their Character

18: Rehabilitating Interiors in Historic Buildings - Identifying Character-Defining Elements

19: The Repair and Replacement of Historic Wooden Shingle Roofs

20: The Preservation of Historic Barns

21: Repairing Historic Flat Plaster - Walls and Ceilings

22: The Preservation and Repair of Historic Stucco

23: Preserving Historic Ornamental Plaster

24: Heating, Ventilating, and Cooling Historic Buildings: Problems and Recommended Approaches

25: The Preservation of Historic Signs

26: The Preservation and Repair of Historic Log Buildings

27: The Maintenance and Repair of Architectural Cast Iron

28: Painting Historic Interiors

29: The Repair, Replacement, and Maintenance of Historic Slate Roofs

30: The Preservation and Repair of Historic Clay Tile Roofs

31: Mothballing Historic Buildings

32: Making Historic Properties Accessible

33: The Preservation and Repair of Historic Stained and Leaded Glass

34: Applied Decoration for Historic Interiors: Preserving Historic Composition Ornament

35: Understanding Old Buildings: The Process of Architectural Investigation

36: Protecting Cultural Landscapes: Planning, Treatment and Management of Historic Landscapes

37: Appropriate Methods of Reducing Lead-Paint Hazards in Historic Housing

38: Removing Graffiti from Historic Masonry

39: Holding the Line: Controlling Unwanted Moisture in Historic Buildings

40: Preserving Historic Ceramic Tile Floors

41: The Seismic Retrofit of Historic Buildings: Keeping Preservation in the Forefront

42: The Maintenance, Repair and Replacement of Historic Cast Stone

43: The Preparation and Use of Historic Structure Reports

44: The Use of Awnings on Historic Buildings: Repair, Replacement and New Design