Best Practices in Preservation

Investing in communities through best preservation practices strengthens historic fabric and urban vitality. Good conservation methods for the appropriate treatment of historic buildings, sites, and landscapes support long-term investment in cities and neighborhoods. Best practices range from the micro-level of restoring original historic features of a building to the macro-level of strengthening communities through thoughtful reinvestment.

Historic Seattle offers guidance on best practices in preservation through technical assistance by connecting people with the appropriate resources. The following are frequently requested topics of inquiry and helpful sources of information:


According to the documentary “The Greenest Building,” over the next 20 years Americans will demolish one third of our existing building stock (over 82 billion square feet) in order to replace seemingly inefficient buildings with energy efficient “green” structures. It is often said that the “greenest” building is one that is already standing. The work of the Seattle-based Preservation Green Lab advances research that explores the value that older buildings bring to their communities, and pioneers policy solutions that make it easier to reuse and green older and historic buildings. The Green Lab’s groundbreaking study, “Older, Smaller, Better: Measuring how the character of buildings and blocks influences urban vitality,” demonstrates the unique and valuable role that older, smaller buildings play in the development of sustainable cities.

Economic Benefits of Preservation

Historic preservation through the rehabilitation and reuse of buildings, revitalization of neighborhoods, and heritage tourism has demonstrated economic development benefits for cities large and small. Learn more about why and how preservation not only maintains community character but also makes economic sense through the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation’s website and through PlaceEconomics, a private sector firm with extensive experience in the measurement of the economic impacts of historic preservation.

Preservation Briefs and Secretary of the Interior’s Standards

Published by the National Park Service, the Preservation Briefs provide guidance on preserving, rehabilitating, and restoring historic buildings. They help historic building owners, architects, and contractors recognize and resolve common problems prior to work. Currently, there are forty-seven preservation briefs available for viewing online. Each brief covers a different technical preservation topic such as repairing historic wood windows or preserving ornamental plaster.

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties are common sense historic preservation principles in non-technical language. They promote historic preservation best practices that will help to protect our nation’s irreplaceable cultural resources. The Standards for Rehabilitation are the most commonly used approach because they allow for flexibility in the repair, alterations, and additions to historic buildings – all while preserving the features that convey its historical, cultural, or architectural value.

Window Preservation

Original windows are among the most important architectural features of a historic building. They help define architectural style, craftsmanship, and design. They can often be repaired and restored rather than replaced. And with proper maintenance, original windows last a long time. Both the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation offer information about preserving historic windows.

Building History Research

A foundation of solid research is important for any preservation project or advocacy issue. Understanding a resource’s history, original design, alterations over time, and significance greatly helps to inform a rehabilitation project or advocacy issue. Local, regional, and state archives and libraries provide a wealth of research materials and information on buildings. For a comprehensive research guide, refer to the Seattle Public Library’s publication Researching the History of Seattle and King County Buildings.


Photo: King Street Station in Seattle, Historic Seattle Preservation Award recipient for the 2014 Beth Chave Historic Preservation Award for Best Restoration Project. Source: Historic Seattle