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The 10 Commandments to Owning a Historic Home

When we walk out onto our piazzas and hear the quiet thumps of horse-driven carriages, we are often reminded how amazing it is to live in a historic property around Charleston. It’s almost a timeless sensation, as we know countless people have heard the same sounds for decades. But when it comes to owning a piece of history, it’s also our responsibility to maintain its prestige. As these homes age, we are forced to make repairs while still maintaining its historical properties. And if you think this is an easy task consider this:

  • The Historic District of Charleston encompasses more than 1,000 acres
  • The Historic District contains over 5,000 buildings dating from 1712 to 1945
  • Additionally, there are historic properties located just outside of the Charleston peninsula
Historic Charleston Homes for Sale
Credit: Historic Charleston Foundation

To help Charleston retain its historical qualities and to assist historical property owners, we’ve compiled a list of “thous shalts,” which will help you maintain the extravagance of your home. Here are our “10 Commandments” for maintaining and repairing your historic Charleston building:

Thou Shalt:

  • Document the changes you make before, during, and after your rehabilitation or restoration. Take lots of photographs, date, and label them.
  • Because all buildings develop over time, avoid focusing solely on the original building by tearing off additions or by restoring it to just one time period. Let the building tell its own unique life story.
  • Don’t “early up” or “fancy up” your old house. It’s the variety of house sizes and types that makes the city interesting and authentic.
  • Hire skilled professionals, including an architect and contractor experienced with historic buildings.
  • Make sure you have all the necessary approvals and permits before work begins.
  • New additions should be subordinate to the historic structure in size and overall design.
  • Water intrusion causes severe problems in historic buildings, like rot and termites. Having a good solid roof is one of the best ways to prevent water issues.
  • Changes to historic buildings should be reversible. Treatments should be as gentle as possible and replacement materials should be in-kind.
  • First, do no harm. Never sandblast brick, wood, or stone; and don’t use disc sanders to remove paint from wood surfaces. Activities like these can actually accelerate deterioration.
  • It is always better to preserve than repair. Better to repair than restore. Better to restore than reconstruct. Let’s keep Charleston real.

You can always ask us at the Historic Charleston Foundation for help and guidance when doing repairs on your historic home. We can also help you find old photographs and other research documents to restore the home’s original design and prestige. For more extensive guidelines, be sure to check out the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

The Historic Charleston Foundation

Established in 1947, the Historic Charleston Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve and protect the historical, architectural, and material culture of Charleston’s rich and irreplaceable heritage. To learn more, visit their website or contact them at (843) 723-1623. They’d be happy to talk to you about the preservation of historic Charleston!


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We write often to give you the latest insights on owning a home or property in the Charleston, SC area.