December 28, 2017

How to Protect Your Historic Property

You can never be too prepared when it comes to protecting your historic property. A careful and preemptive plan can greatly reduce or prevent problems for your home. Focus on documentation, effective building maintenance, and proper risk transfer to help reduce losses. Complete the following steps after your historic property is obtained, and after any major changes occur to the property.

Damage from Hurricane Harvey in Bayside, Texas

photo by: Associated Press

Effectively protect your historic property from natural disasters and more with these tips.


  • Document. Keeping physical property and personal property documents will help provide quick and precise replacement or repair after a loss. These documents may also be required to prove the validity of the historic property to the National Register of Historic Places. Keep these files up-to-date and in an orderly manner. Site plans, property layouts, and diagrams will be instrumental in completing an accurate replacement after a loss.
  • Photograph. Keeping photographs can be extremely important in providing accurate portrayals of the property and its layout. Often, a photograph may be the only original “diagram” left of the property. Photography can also help to document and recover missing items after a burglary or theft. A digital recording of the property can help police identify items faster.
  • Obtain copies of valuations and receipts. Keep current valuation of the property and personal property receipts of work completed.
  • Check current replacement costs on historic items. With changing real estate markets and other economic factors, reviews of the property and items should be completed at least annually for an accurate and up-to-date replacement value of the property and its contents.
  • Keep information on disc or hard copy. All the above information should be kept as a hard copy in a fire-resistant enclosure, with a backup copy in electronic form. Hard copy items should be scanned into a computer or transferred to some form of electronic media, such as a smart phone. An additional copy should be maintained off premises. This will help ensure that a current copy of the documents exists in the event of a major loss.

Building Maintenance

  • Electrical systems. These are subject to damage and fire because of their age and possible lack of proper maintenance. Detecting and correcting electrical problems early can assist in preventing a fire loss or damage to the property or its contents.
  • Plumbing systems. These systems are also subject to damage and deterioration because of age and possible improper maintenance. As pipes age, an increasing number of cracks and other severe deteriorations can occur. These can cause major water damage and possible mold infestation.
  • Roof systems. In historic properties, a number of roofing systems can cause serious damage to the structure and building contents if not properly maintained. Roofing systems can range from wooden thatch and ceramic tile to metal roofing materials. Each roofing system has a specific maintenance requirement—for example, wood roofing requires more attention than metal. Keeping all roofing systems properly maintained can reduce or prevent major water, wind, and mold damage. Proper roof maintenance can also help control power, as well as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) costs.
  • HVAC. In the event that a historic building has HVAC, its maintenance and upkeep is critical to maintaining a pleasant environment and keeping HVAC costs to a minimum. Most historic buildings with HVAC systems have been modified or had these systems added.
  • Infrared thermography. This tool can be extremely useful in determining problems with roofs in addition to electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems. Infrared can be used to detect hot spots in electrical wiring and transformers, water leaks in the plumbing systems, roof leaks, and water damage in roof systems and areas where heating and air conditioning are escaping the building because of structural damage.
Hurricane Irma damage, Big Pine Key, Florida

photo by: Al Dia, Miami Herald/AP

Keeping your home's electricity, plumbing, roofing, heating, and cooling up-to-date goes a long way in protecting it from harm.

Risk Transfer

  • Certificates of insurance. Certificates should document that the policy has been amended to include the property owner has been added as an insured on the contractors’, vendors’, or tenants’ policies.
  • Combined single limits. At least $1 million in combined single limits should be required for general liability. Consult with your insurance representative to be sure of the correct amount.
  • Listed policy number. General liability insurance should have a listed policy number. Do not accept contractors with TBA, binder, or other unlisted policy numbers.
  • Review contracts. Have an attorney review all contracts with your insurer prior to signing.
  • Look for and discuss unfavorable agreements. Watch out for contracts with contractor-favorable “indemnity” or “hold-harmless” agreement wording such as “The Building Owner will hold [your contractor] harmless for any unfavorable actions completed by [your contractor] while completing work for The Building Owner.” Be sure to discuss such provisions with your attorney before signing such agreements.
  • Research reputable contractors. Use reputable contractors and subcontractors who have experience in historic property reconstruction or renovation, and check references of contractors or vendors prior to hiring.
  • Ensure adequate coverage. Be sure that all contractors, vendors, or tenants in the property are properly insured. This will also help you make an informed decision about the level of coverage required for your property or if current insurance coverage is adequate.

This information was provided through an insurance carrier of National Trust Insurance Services. We are able to provide solutions for various unique properties by utilizing a multi-carrier platform. If you have any questions regarding properly protecting your historic building, contact us today at or 866-269-0944.

As a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Trust Insurance Services is a resource to clients and members alike. For more information on proper coverage for historic properties, visit or call or 866-269-0944.

Announcing the 2024 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

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