Best Practices in Historic Preservation

Charleston does not remain special by accident. It is through deliberate and thoughtful action that we preserve our unique character. Most properties on the peninsula are under purview of the Board of Architectural Review, which serves as an important safeguard against the erosion of our city’s historic integrity. The DNA of preservation is found in the architectural details of historic buildings and it is because of these details that Charleston’s sense of place is unparalleled.

Why Preserve Historic Materials?

Character defining features of historic buildings should be thoroughly evaluated for repair and conservation, before resorting to replacement. These include windows, siding, roofing, columns, balustrade, and other architectural elements that characterize style. Both the material and form of these features are an integral part of a building’s historic integrity, and contribute to the character of the streetscape and neighborhood as a whole.

Many original historic features consist of materials that are irreplaceable today, such as old-growth lumber and terne metal roofing. When these intrinsic elements are maintained, they can survive generations, and it is often more sustainable and cost-effective to repair these elements, rather than replace them.

Before beginning a project on an historic building, it is important to understand the local design review process, which is based on a nationally observed framework of best practices in historic preservation.

Local Design Review
The City of Charleston Board of Architectural Review (BAR) was established in 1931 to safeguard the integrity and character of Charleston’s historic districts. Today, most properties on the peninsula are under the BAR’s purview. Visit the BAR website to learn more about the Board’s jurisdiction and the application process.

Click map to view high-resolution PDF of historic districts under BAR purview.

Nationally-Observed Best Practices

Preservation Recommendations

Historic windows are an important part of a building’s architectural character and worthy of preservation based on their design, craftsmanship, and aesthetic qualities. Routine maintenance is the best method to preserve historic wood windows, however, even when deteriorated, repair of existing windows is more practical and economical than many may realize. Selectively repairing damaged or rotten areas of historic windows to make them weather tight, in addition to installing interior storm windows, should thermally outperform new, double-glazed windows.

Before and after of window repair at 2015 Pro Merito Award-winner 36 Coming Street

Left: Interior storm window example Right: A well maintained historic true divided lite double hung wood window.

Window Resources:

In Charleston, traditional roofing materials, including slate and terne metal, are inherent to our city’s unique architectural heritage. Repair and recoating can often extend the lifespan of historic roofing for continued use. However, when replacement is warranted, it is important to utilize materials that replicate the form, texture and general appearance of the historic roofing to retain the building’s integrity.

Before and after of historic terne metal roof repair at 2019 Carolopolis Award-winner 9 Stoll’s All

Roofing Resources:

Wood Elements
Wood is an integral material to historic building construction in Charleston and forms many of the character-defining features of our local architecture, such as columns, balustrades, siding, brackets, cornices, etc. Through routine maintenance and repair, old-growth wood can last lifetimes and is a high-quality, durable material that is no longer easily sourced. Modern alternative materials, such as vinyl and fiber cement, are not compatible with historic buildings because they do not convey the same look and feel as wood, and do not have the same breathable properties, running the risk of trapping moisture and damaging historic material.

Comprehensive restoration of wood door surround at 2021 Pro Merito Award-winner 70 Tradd Street

Wood Element Resources: