Remodeling a Historic House? Here’s What to Know Before Making Changes

There’s an undeniable charm and mystique about owning a historic house. The architectural details– from ornate moldings and woodwork, to stained glass and fireplaces–are reminiscent of living in a bygone era. It’s important to preserve these architectural details. If your historic home is starting to show its age and you’re considering remodeling it, you should be aware that if the house is in a historic district or is listed on the National Register of Historic Properties, you will be limited as to the kind of renovations you can do. Before starting a project, be sure to visit your historic commission. To help give you an idea of the process, we’ve included information from the Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Zoning website.

What is considered a historic home?

Any structure considered for placement on the historic register must be at least fifty years old and the following criteria shall be used in consideration:

  • Structures that retain their original appearance and architectural integrity using the rating system as described in the historic resources element of the general plan;
  • Structures that  represent character, interest or value as part of the heritage of the city;
  • The location as a site of significant historic event;
  • The identification with a person or persons or groups who significantly contributed to the culture and development of the city;
  • The exemplification of a particular architectural style or way of life important to the city;
  • The embodiment of elements of outstanding attention to architectural design, detail, materials or craftsmanship.

The Permit Process

Prior to being issued a permit to remodel or alter any historic structure (with the exception of minor exterior modifications), the design review board will review the proposed changes and make recommendations to make certain the proposal is consistent with historic preservation guidelines.

The following guidelines are used to evaluate any proposed alteration to structures on the historic register:

  • When altering or adding to historically significant structures, the historic character of the original structure shall be retained. Any changes shall be guided by the policies of the city’s historic resources element and specific plans where applicable.
  • Alterations and additions to any historically significant or architecturally significant building shall not introduce some new or conflicting element and shall complement the prevailing architecture.
  • Every reasonable effort shall be made to provide a compatible use for the property which requires minimal alteration to the building.
  • The removal or alteration of any historic material or distinctive architectural features shall be avoided.
  • Changes which may have occurred over time are evidence of the history and development of the building. These changes may have acquired significance in their own right and shall be preserved except where such changes have occurred inappropriately.
  • Distinctive stylistic features or examples of skilled craftsmanship which characterize a building, structure, or site shall be preserved.
  • Deteriorated architectural features shall be repaired rather than replaced, wherever possible. In the event replacement is necessary, the new material shall be the same material as the original if at all possible, or shall match in composition, design, color, texture, and other visual qualities. Repair or replacement of missing architectural features shall be based on accurate duplications of features, substantiated by historic, physical, or pictorial evidence rather than on conjectural designs or the availability of different architectural elements from other buildings or structures.
  • Surface cleaning of historic structures shall be conducted carefully and gently. Sandblasting and other cleaning methods that damage historic materials shall not be utilized.
  •  Contemporary design for alteration and additions to existing properties shall not be discouraged when such alterations and additions do not destroy significant historical, architectural or cultural materials, and such design is compatible with the size, scale, color, material, and character of the property, neighborhood or environment.
  • Wherever possible, new additions or alterations to structures shall be done in such a manner that if such additions or alterations were to be removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the structure will be unimpaired.

For more information about remodeling your historic home visit the Laguna Beach Zoning and Historic Preservation website,

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