<photo>Detail of window arches above a rehabilitated storefront; Link to National Park Service
<photo>detail of masonry wall and decorative elements

Identify    Protect    Repair    Replace    Missing feature  

Identify, Retain and Preserve

Identifying, retaining, and preserving masonry features that are important in defining the overall historic character of the building such as walls, brackets, railings, cornices, window architraves, door pediments, steps, and columns; and details such as tooling and bonding patterns, coatings, and color.

photo of a historic foundation wall showing variety and arrangement of masonry and mortar

The variety and arrangement of the materials is important in defining the historic character, starting with the large pieces of broken stone which form the projecting base for the building walls, then changing to a wall of roughly rectangular stones which vary in size, color, and texture, all with projecting beaded mortar joints. Changing the raised mortar joints, for example, would drastically alter the character. Photo: NPS files.

Not Recommended
Removing or radically changing masonry features which are important in defining the overall historic character of the building so that, as a result, the character is diminished.

Replacing or rebuilding a major portion of exterior masonry walls that could be repaired so that, as a result, the building is no longer historic and is essentially new construction.

Applying paint or other coatings such as stucco to masonry that has been historically unpainted or uncoated to create a new appearance.

Removing paint from historically painted masonry.

Radically changing the type of paint or coating or its color.

Protect and Maintain

Protecting and maintaining masonry by providing proper drainage so that water does not stand on flat, horizontal surfaces or accumulate in curved decorative features.

Cleaning masonry only when necessary to halt deterioration or remove heavy soiling.

Carrying out masonry surface cleaning tests after it has been determined that such cleaning is appropriate. Tests should be observed over a sufficient period of time so that both the immediate and the long range effects are known to enable selection of the gentlest method possible.

photo of an iron stain on a granite post that may successfully be removed with a commercial rust-removal product in a poultice

The iron stain on this granite post may be removed by applying a commercial rust-removal product in a poultice. Photo: NPS files.

Cleaning masonry surfaces with the gentlest method possible, such as low pressure water and detergents, using natural bristle brushes.

Inspecting painted masonry surfaces to determine whether repainting is necessary.

Removing damaged or deteriorated paint only to the next sound layer using the gentlest method possible (e.g., handscraping) prior to repainting.

Applying compatible paint coating systems following proper surface preparation.

Repainting with colors that are historically appropriate to the building and district.

Evaluating the overall condition of the masonry to determine whether more than protection and maintenance are required, that is, if repairs to the masonry features will be necessary.

Not Recommended
Failing to evaluate and treat the various causes of mortar joint deterioration such as leaking roofs or gutters, differential settlement of the building, capillary action, or extreme weather exposure.

Cleaning masonry surfaces when they are not heavily soiled to create a new appearance, thus needlessly introducing chemicals or moisture into historic materials.

Cleaning masonry surfaces without testing or without sufficient time for the testing results to be of value. Historic brick damaged by sandblasting.

Sandblasting brick or stone surfaces using dry or wet grit or other abrasives. These methods of cleaning permanently erode the surface of the material and accelerate deterioration.

photo of sandblasting that has permanently damaged a historic brick wall

Abrasive cleaning methods include all techniques that physically abrade the building surface to remove soils, discolorations or coatings. Sandblasting has permanently damaged this brick wall. Photo: NPS files

Using a cleaning method that involves water or liquid chemical solutions when there is any possibility of freezing temperatures.

Cleaning with chemical products that will damage masonry, such as using acid on limestone or marble, or leaving chemicals on masonry surfaces.

Applying high pressure water cleaning methods that will damage historic masonry and the mortar joints.

Removing paint that is firmly adhering to, and thus protecting, masonry surfaces.

Using methods of removing paint which are destructive to masonry, such as sandblasting, application of caustic solutions, or high pressure waterblasting.

Failing to follow manufacturers' product and application instructions when repainting masonry.

Using new paint colors that are inappropriate to the historic building and district.

Failing to undertake adequate measures to assure the protection of masonry features.


Repairing masonry walls and other masonry features by repointing the mortar joints where there is evidence of deterioration such as disintegrating mortar, cracks in mortar joints, loose bricks, damp walls, or damaged plasterwork.

Mortars for repointing should be softer or more permeable than the masonry units and no harder or more impermeable than the historic mortar to prevent damage to the masonry units. This early 19th century building is being repointed with lime mortar. Photo: John P. Speweik.

Removing deteriorated mortar by carefully hand-raking the joints to avoid damaging the masonry.

Duplicating old mortar in strength, composition, color, and texture.

Duplicating old mortar joints in width and in joint profile.

Repairing stucco by removing the damaged material and patching with new stucco that duplicates the old in strength, composition, color, and texture.

Using mud plaster as a surface coating over unfired, unstabilized adobe because the mud plaster will bond to the adobe.

Cutting damaged concrete back to remove the source of deterioration (often corrosion on metal reinforcement bars). The new patch must be applied carefully so it will bond satisfactorily with, and match, the historic concrete. Replacement stones tooled to match original.

Repairing masonry features by patching, piecing-in, or consolidating the masonry using recognized preservation methods. Repair may also include the limited replacement in kind--or with compatible substitute material--of those extensively deteriorated or missing parts of masonry features when there are surviving prototypes such as terra-cotta brackets or stone balusters.

Applying new or non-historic surface treatments such as water-repellent coatings to masonry only after repointing and only if masonry repairs have failed to arrest water penetration problems.

Not Recommended
Removing nondeteriorated mortar from sound joints, then repointing the entire building to achieve a uniform appearance.

Using electric saws and hammers rather than hand tools to remove deteriorated mortar from joints prior to repointing.

photo showing how the historic character of a brick wall is changed by insensitive repointing practices

Some aspects of a building's visual character are fragile and are easily lost. This is true of brickwork, for example, which can be irreversibly damaged with inappropriate cleaning techniques or by insensitive repointing practices. The historic character of this front wall is being dramatically changed from a wall where the bricks predominate, to a wall that is visually dominated by the mortar joints. Photo: NPS files.

Repointing with mortar of high portland cement content (unless it is the content of the historic mortar). This can often create a bond that is stronger than the historic material and can cause damage as a result of the differing coefficient of expansion and the differing porosity of the material and the mortar.

Repointing with a synthetic caulking compound. Using a "scrub" coating technique to repoint instead of traditional repointing methods.

Changing the width or joint profile when repointing.

Removing sound stucco; or repairing with new stucco that is stronger than the historic material or does not convey the same visual appearance.

Applying cement stucco to unfired, unstabilized adobe. Because the cement stucco will not bond properly, moisture can become entrapped between materials, resulting in accelerated deterioration of the adobe.

Patching concrete without removing the source of deterioration.

Replacing an entire masonry feature such as a cornice or balustrade when repair of the masonry and limited replacement of deteriorated of missing parts are appropriate.

Using a substitute material for the replacement part that does not convey the visual appearance of the surviving parts of the masonry feature or that is physically or chemically incompatible.

Applying waterproof, water repellent, or non-historic coatings such as stucco to masonry as a substitute for repointing and masonry repairs. Coatings are frequently unnecessary, expensive, and may change the appearance of historic masonry as well as accelerate its deterioration.


Replacing in kind an entire masonry feature that is too deteriorated to repair--if the overall form and detailing are still evident--using the physical evidence as a model to reproduce the feature. Examples can include large sections of a wall, a cornice, balustrade, column, or stairway. If using the same kind of material is not technically or economically feasible, then a compatible substitute material may be considered.

Not Recommended
Removing a masonry feature that is unrepairable and not replacing it; or replacing it with a new feature that does not convey the same visual appearance.

The following work is highlighted to indicate that it represents the particularly complex technical or design aspects of Rehabilitation projects and should only be considered after the preservation concerns listed above have been addressed.

Design for the Replacement of Missing Historic Features

Designing and installing a new masonry feature such as steps or a door pediment when the historic feature is completely missing. It may be an accurate restoration using historical, pictorial, and physical documentation; or be a new design that is compatible with the size, scale, material, and color of the historic building.

Not Recommended
Creating a false historical appearance because the replaced masonry feature is based on insufficient historical, pictorial, and physical documentation. Introducing a new masonry feature that is incompatible in size, scale, material and color.




The Approach

Exterior Materials
Architectural Metals

Exterior Features
Entrances + Porches

Interior Features
Structural System Spaces/Features/Finishes
Mechanical Systems



Special Requirements
Energy Efficiency
New Additions
Health + Safety

The Standards



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Historical Overview