Guidelines on Flood Adaptation for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings

Greek Revival house Greek Revival house

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This Greek Revival house sits close to the ground, with little visible foundation. A 2011 flood inundated the first floor (photo below). The house was substantially elevated to reduce future flood risk.

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The house was raised on a new foundation with flood vents, and a change in the stair design and materials breaks the stairs into two smaller runs. Plantings and new fill also help disguise the change in height.

Greek Revival house in a flood.
All photos courtesy of Julie Nucci and James Overhiser, Owego, New York

Flooding risk has long been a major challenge for many historic properties. Changing weather patterns, stronger hurricanes and other extreme weather events, sea level rise, increased nuisance flooding, king tides, and continuing development in floodplains are some of the factors increasing the risk of flooding events, both in terms of their frequency and magnitude. Some historic properties that have never flooded before may now be exposed to this risk, and those that flooded infrequently in the past may experience more instances of flooding or of water reaching higher levels than ever before.

The goal of the Guidelines on Flood Adaptation for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings is to provide information about how to adapt historic buildings to be more resilient to flooding risk in a manner that will preserve their historic character and that will meet The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. These guidelines should be used in conjunction with the Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings that are part of The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring & Reconstructing Historic Buildings (Part 1: Preservation and Rehabilitation (PDF), Part 2 - Reconstruction and Restoration (PDF)). Like the Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings, these guidelines are intended to focus primarily on historic buildings and their site and setting.

Guidelines on Flood Adaptation for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings

The treatments described in the Guidelines may be considered as means for preserving historic properties located in floodplains and making them more resilient to flooding hazards. While many of these treatments can be undertaken with minimal effects on the historic character of a property, some may require more change than would normally be acceptable in other contexts. Consequently, only buildings with a demonstrable risk of flooding should be using the adaptive treatments described in the Guidelines. Adaptation treatments should reduce the risk of flood damage as much as possible, but should do so without destroying significant historic materials, features, or spaces.

Purchase hard copies of the Guidelines at the GPO Bookstore. GPO Stock Number: 024-005-01372-5

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Watch this introductory webinar to learn why the National Park Service developed the Guidelines and how you can use them.

Learn more about the Secretary’s Standards and Technical Preservation Services.

FAQs - Flooding Adaptation, Climate Change & Sustainability