Historic Masonry Reborn – “The care of historic brick and stone buildings in Maine”

By Stephen D. Jones, Building Envelope Specialists Inc.

The restoration and repair of historic masonry buildings can be challenging.   Owners who are using Historic Tax Credits to help finance their project are required to meet the standards of the Department of the Interior.

Masonry buildings are inherently difficult to repair.  Deterioration of the masonry assembly is often underappreciated, resulting in escalating repair costs.

On April 5th, MEREDA hosted a presentation by Building Envelope Specialists, Inc., WBRC Architects and Engineers and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.  As a group, these professionals reviewed and explained the important considerations of repairing a historic masonry building while honoring the historic restoration standards.

Historic Masonry Construction:

Historic masonry construction commonly consists of clay brick, stone and precast concrete units.  The exterior walls are normally load baring.  Mortar joints not only hold the masonry units in place, they also accommodate for expansion and contraction, and act as a moisture weep system.  Repairing these buildings can be costly depending on existing conditions.  Long lasting repairs occur if the building condition is properly assessed and appropriate repair details are applied.

Often building owners are under the misconception that masonry buildings last forever with little or no deterioration over the years.  The reality is that moisture from rain and snow easily penetrates masonry assemblies and causes damage.  When functioning properly, mortar joints help weep out the moisture that penetrates the masonry assembly.  Deterioration of masonry assemblies is often accelerated when mortar joints are repaired using the incorrect mortar recipe.  Dense mortar will hold moisture in, much like a dam, causing accelerated deterioration. In an effort to stop moisture from penetrating, owners will sometimes use sealants on masonry walls.   Masonry sealants will also accelerate the deterioration process by holding in moisture.  This often results in clay bricks spalling.  Understanding how historic masonry assemblies are designed to perform will lead to cost effective and long lasting repairs.

Historic Tax Incentives:

Historic Tax Credits have been used throughout Maine to help the building owners afford costly building repairs.  Meeting the standards of the Department of the Interior is vital for credit eligibility.  Using a historic tax credit consultant can be helpful due to the complexity of the program.

Basic eligibility requirements for state & federal incentives include:

  • Building must be listed in the National Registry of Historic Places or be “certified” within 30 months of the date the tax credit is claimed.
  • Building must be used for an income producing purpose for at least 5 years after completion of the rehabilitation.
  • The project must meet the IRS substantial rehabilitation test – OR – Must incur certified, qualified rehabilitation expenditures of between $50,000.00 and $250,000.00.
  • The entire rehabilitation project must be done in accordance with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission’s or the National Park Service’s interpretation of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.

Historic Masonry Building Repair Approach:

A masonry assessment is the first step to defining the scope of repair.  Using the data collected, a masonry consultant can define the construction scope required to restore the building’s exterior shell.   Definition of scope along with detailed construction documents can be used to quantify the cost of repair.  The Maine Historic Preservation Commission will use the construction documents to guide the building owner on what is required to meet the historic standards of the Department of the Interior.

Assembling the Repair Team:

A comprehensive consulting team should include an architect, engineer, historic consultant and a masonry consultant.  Together, these professionals provide the capacity to generate a thorough plan that will result in long lasting repairs and will also secure tax credit eligibility.

For more information regarding the repair and restoration of historic masonry buildings contact Stephen Jones sjones@building-envelope-specialists.net or Scott Whitaker swhitaker@building-enelope-specialists.net, and Steven Pedersen, steve.pedersen@wbrcae.com at WBRC.

For more information regarding historic tax incentives, contact Mike Johnson of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission mike.d.johnson@maine.gov or visit their website athttp://www.state.me.us/mhpc/tax_incentives/index.html

This entry was posted in Business, Member Articles. Bookmark the permalink.