modern standards of safety and security, energy conservation,
fire protection, or handicapped access. If strictly applied,
standard codes may call for alterations that damage the historic
or architectural character of a historic building.
Basically, building codes provide for two types of standards:
Prescriptive standards spell out precisely what materials
and methods of construction must be used to reach a
particular safety goal. They concentrate on the means of
making the building safe for people to live or work in.
Performance standards specify the result to be achieved
(i.e., the level of safety or protection) without giving
rigid instructions about how to get there. They focus on
the desired ends of safety planning. Generally, it is
better to use performance standards for historic
buildings, since they will allow greater flexibility in
finding ways to protect both the historic structure and
life and property. Life safety is always the most
important consideration. However, considering the intent
of building regulations may suggest ways to make the
building safe for human occupancy without destroying its
For further information:
Preservation and Building Codes. The Preservation Press,
National Trust for Historic Preservation. Washington, DC,
o Rehabilitation Guidelines 1980, # 1. Guideline for
Setting and Adopting Standards for Building
Rehabilitation. National Institute of Building Sciences,
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,
Washington, DC, 1980.
3.4.1 Fire and Life Safety. Complying with modern standards
for fire and life safety may present the greatest challenge to
successful preservation and continued use of historic buildings.
To some degree most historic buildings fail to meet modern code
requirements for materials, methods of construction, and exit
The Life Safety Code determines the required number of exits
based on the building's use and the number of occupants.
Normally, there must be two widely separated, enclosed, and
fire-protected means of exiting from any point in a building.
Safe access must be provided to fire-protected vertical and
horizontal circulation routes leading to the outside of the
building. Following prescriptive standards might require
enclosing existing open stairways, widening corridors or
doorways, or reversing door swings. But these actions would
change the historic appearance and architectural character of the
building. Rethinking the problem in terms of performance