<photo>Detail of preserved exterior wood; Link to National Park Service
commercial building with decorative cast iron facade

Identify    Stabilize    Protect    Repair    Replace in Kind  

Identify, Retain and Preserve

Identifying, retaining, and preserving architectural metal features such as columns, capitals, window hoods, or stairways that are important in defining the overall historic character of the building; and their finishes and colors. Identification is also critical to differentiate between metals prior to work. Each metal has unique properties and thus requires different treatments.

photo of well maintained polychromed cast iron facade

The ongoing maintenance and repair of historic architectural metals is emphasized in the treatment, Preservation. This shows a detail of a well-maintained polychromed cast-iron facade in Petaluma, California, 1886 (O'Connell and Lewis, Architectural Iron Works, San Francisco). Photo: Don Meacham.

Not Recommended
Altering architectural metal features which are important in defining the overall historic character of the building so that, as a result, the character is diminished.

Replacing historic metal features instead of repairing or replacing only the deteriorated metal.

Changing the type of finish or its historic color or `accent scheme.


Stabilizing deteriorated or damaged architectural metals as a preliminary measure, when necessary, prior to undertaking appropriate preservation work.

Not Recommended
Failing to stabilize deteriorated or damaged architectural metals until additional work is undertaken, thus allowing further damage to occur to the historic building.

Protect and Maintain

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

Cleaning architectural metals, when appropriate, to remove corrosion prior to repainting or applying other appropriate protective coatings.

photo of conservator carefully stripping paint

Where chemical paint stripping is involved, careful planning of the sequence of work and inspection by an architect or conservator to ensure strict compliance with the contract documents is important to minimize the risk of problems. Photo: Raymond M. Pepi, Building Conservation Associates.

Identifying the particular type of metal prior to any cleaning procedure and then testing to assure that the gentlest cleaning method possible is selected or determining that cleaning is inappropriate for the particular metal.

Cleaning soft metals such as lead, tin, copper, terneplate, and zinc with appropriate chemical methods because their finishes can be easily abraded by blasting methods.

Using the gentlest cleaning methods for cast iron, wrought iron, and steel--hard metals--in order to remove paint buildup and corrosion. If handscraping and wire brushing have proven ineffective, low pressure grit blasting may be used as long as it does not abrade or damage the surface.

Applying appropriate paint or other coating systems after cleaning in order to decrease the corrosion rate of metals or alloys.

Repainting with colors that are appropriate to the historic building or district.

Applying an appropriate protective coating such as lacquer to an architectural metal feature such as a bronze door which is subject to heavy pedestrian use.

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

Not Recommended
Failing to identify, evaluate, and treat the causes of corrosion, such as moisture from leaking roofs or gutters.

Placing incompatible metals together without providing a reliable separation material. Such incompatibility can result in galvanic corrosion of the less noble metal, e.g., copper will corrode cast iron, steel, tin, and aluminum.

Exposing metals which were intended to be protected from the environment.Applying paint or other coatings to metals such as copper, bronze, or stainless steel that were meant to be exposed.

Using cleaning methods which alter or damage the historic color, texture, and finish of the metal; or cleaning when it is inappropriate for the metal.

Removing the patina of historic metal. The patina may be a protective coating on some metals, such as bronze or copper, as well as a significant historic finish.

Cleaning soft metals such as lead, tin, copper, terneplate, and zinc with grit blasting which will abrade the surface of the metal.

Failing to employ gentler methods prior to abrasively cleaning cast iron, wrought iron or steel; or using high pressure grit blasting.

Failing to re-apply protective coating systems to metals or alloys that require them after cleaning so that accelerated corrosion occurs.

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

Failing to assess pedestrian use or new access patterns so that architectural metal features are subject to damage by use or inappropriate maintenance such as salting adjacent sidewalks.

Failing to undertake adequate measures to assure the protection of architectural metal features.


Repairing, stabilizing, and conserving fragile architectural metals using well-tested consolidants, when appropriate. Repairs should be physically and visually compatible and identifiable upon close inspection for future research.

photo of repaired historic cornice with zinc modillion

This detail of a repaired historic cornice shows the zinc modillion and the leaf and egg and dart moldings after Preservation work, including repainting of the elements, has been completed. Photo: Michael Devonshire.

Repairing architectural metal features by patching, piecing-in, or otherwise reinforcing the metal using recognized preservation methods. The new work should be unobtrusively dated to guide future research and treatment.

Not Recommended
Removing architectural metals that could be stabilized and conserved; or using untested consolidants and untrained personnel, thus causing further damage to fragile historic materials.

Removing architectural metals that could be repaired, using improper repair techniques, or failing to document the new work.

The following work is highlighted to indicate that it represents the greatest degree of intervention generally recommended within the treatment Preservation, and should only be considered after protection, stabilization, and repair concerns have been addressed.

Limited Replacement in Kind

Replacing in kind extensively deteriorated or missing parts of architectural metal features when there are surviving prototypes such as porch balusters, column capitals or bases, or porch cresting. The new work should match the old in material, design, and texture; and be unobtrusively dated to guide future research and treatment.

photo of metal modillion that will be replaced in kind due to damage from a faulty gutter

Another example shows one metal modillion (left side of cornice) that has sustained damage from a faulty gutter. The damaged modillion will be replaced in kind during the Preservation work, while the intact elements of the historic cornice will be maintained and preserved.

Not Recommended
Replacing an entire architectural metal feature such as a column or balustrade when limited replacement of deteriorated and missing parts is appropriate.

Using replacement material that does not match the historic metal feature; or failing to properly document the new work.




The Approach

Exterior Materials
Architectural Metals

Exterior Features
Entrances + Porches

Interior Features
Structural System Spaces/Features/Finishes
Mechanical Systems



Special Requirements
Energy Efficiency
Health + Safety

The Standards



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Historical Overview