Structural Engineering of Historic Buildings


The structural engineering of historic buildings is often focused on retrofitting these structures with life-saving alterations such as fire safety equipment and earthquake proof systems. Historic buildings are often built soundly, but due to the age of the building materials, the structure may be unstable or unsafe in the event of a fire or earthquake.

Most historic buildings are exempt from the newer federal building codes, but if the building owner wishes to change the use of the historic building, such as opening it up to public access or running a business from inside the historic building, certain building code requirements must be fulfilled. This most often results in calling in a structural engineer or architect to assist with the retrofitting or alteration of the historic building.

Structural Engineering of Historic Buildings: Energy Conservation

Some historic buildings require structural engineering expertise to aid in the conservation of energy. With today’s rising energy costs, energy conservation is a necessity for many building owners. This often involves placing insulating thermal paned glass over the historic glass of the buildings to help reduce heating and cooling costs.

The addition of awnings and shading devices can also help with energy conservation without altering the historic structure. Insulation is often added, and masonry walls can be coated with a waterproofing substance to further aid in energy conservation.

Structural Engineering of Historic Buildings: Seismic Retrofitting

Seismic retrofitting concentrates on preserving the structural integrity of the structure and reduce the likelihood of personal injuries should an earthquake occur. Seismic retrofitting also seeks to limit the amount of damage the historic building incurs during an earthquake.

Seismic retrofitting of a historic building may include bracing or tying parapets, chimneys, or ornamentation on the structure. It also involves reinforcing the emergency egress routes inside the building to help preserve life during an earthquake. Floor to wall framing may be enhanced and masonry walls often require addition support to limit the amount of damage from an earthquake.

Structural Engineering of Historic Buildings: Fire Safety Retrofitting

Fire safety retrofitting in historic buildings is a common occurrence. Retrofitting fire safety devices poses a unique problem for structural engineers. The fire safety systems must provide maximum protection in the event. Emergency exits are also examining and altered when necessary to provide a route of escape in the event of a fire. For a detailed government report about retrofitting of historical buildings for fire safety, view theThe General Services Administration “Fire Safety in Historic Buildings” Report Here.

The structural engineering of historic buildings is a delicate procedure that requires the skill and expertise of an experienced structural engineer and a team of consultants. The preservation of historic buildings is a specialty area and one of great interest to many citizens. For more information about the preservation of historic buildings, you can visit The National Park Service website.

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