Think about areas of the country that might engage in historic preservation and Phoenix probably doesn't leap to mind. Nor, perhaps, do Cleveland, Spokane, Wash., or Valparaiso, Ind. Spokane alone has invested more than $150 million in the restoration, preservation, and reuse of historic buildings since 1991; among other economic impacts, the projects generated an estimated $3.2 million in tax revenue from the sale of building materials for those projects.

Photo: Charlie Brown / Colorado Blue Spruce Seedling Courtesy Gaver Tree Farm & Pumpkin Patch LLC, Mount Airy, Md For various reasons, including the awareness and popularity of green building and the downturn in new housing activity, historic preservation is a hot ticket nationwide, and a potential profit niche for lumber dealers. The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) in Washington counts more than 115 state and local staffed historic preservation groups or agencies. And while no one, including the NTHP, officially keeps track of such entities, the NTHP has seen a 165% increase in the number of state-level, federally funded historic preservation offices since 1993.

Historic preservation was envisioned in the late 1960s and operated through the 1980s as a process to preserve architecturally and culturally significant buildings. But it's evolved to meet the times. "It's gained a new dimension with the awareness of other issues, like climate change and sustainability," says Valecia Crisafulli, director of the Center for Preservation Leadership at NTHP. "Demolishing old buildings fills up our landfills and wastes energy," and erases icons of architectural styles that date back centuries.

Buildings in neighborhoods that qualify for the National Register of Historic Places are protected by more than strict preservation or restoration efforts–perhaps down to using only "in-kind" materials that may or may not meet building codes, energy standards, or construction practices.

Most historic preservation projects, however, are simply those designated as such by the increasing number and political weight of local historic agencies as requiring extra care to preserve their architectural character. Engineered siding, for instance, might be acceptable if it replicates a solid wood clapboard. Insulated windows pass if they simulate the same size and operation as the original fenestration.

"You can only do so much with a historic home, especially on the exterior," says Tom Kronenberger, a restoration specialist in Middletown, Conn. "But there are options to accommodate modern sensitivities and standards."

For instance, Kronenberger relies on paintable molded foam or fiberglass materials to replicate wood trim details that would be cost-prohibitive, or even impossible skillwise, to replace and are easier and less expensive to maintain.

"I'd rather look at something that may be replicated than have the building torn down because the owner couldn't afford to restore it," Kronenberger says.

Steve Plath, who restores and rehabs historic homes in the San Francisco area, also deals with preserving architectural character while upgrading projects to modern seismic standards. "It generally doesn't impact any visual aspect," he says of bolting and reinforcing old foundations against earthquakes. Old bricks, meanwhile, are often difficult to replicate, given changes in manufacturing and the color variations between lots both now and back then.

Plath and Kronenberger, however, have a professional and personal passion for preserving history. "I'd just as soon see an in-kind replacement if we can find it, especially on the street side of the house," says Plath of the attached or tightly sited rowhouses in several San Francisco neighborhoods. "On the rear, you can go with a manufactured window and gain that value."

Both men have honed their sources for replication and in-kind products: lumberyards for basics, specialty shops for custom orders, and salvage yards for some products. They also use the Internet to produce items.

"The industry has grown up a lot," says Plath, including new homes that look to copy the architectural styles, if not performance, of older homes. "And it continues to grow."

–Rich Binsacca