, Newburyport, MA


April 4, 2014

National Register and building codes

To the editor:

One of the great things about having a historical house (over 50 years old) and the National Register of Historic Places designation is being exempt from the Massachusetts Building Code. In fact, there should be a little sign posted just outside the door every time the Historical Commission is meeting. This way, as requesters for demolishing a building make their way through the door, they’ll see this sign:

Anyone giving the excuse, the building does not meet code, will be summarily laughed out of the room.

The sign during the week could be posted at the Planning Office foyer too. Should cause some lightening of the load!

This, of course, is the great benefit for restoring and/or renovating an existing historic home — in that much money can be saved because stringent code compliance will not be necessary. Resurrecting a historic home is automatically a lesson in sustainability. The materials are not destined for a landfill and being re-used has a tremendous positive effect on the environment. Of course, there are exemptions that can’t be avoided, such as lead paint and electric, especially electrical wiring. Skimping on that compliance could make the whole equity thing go “up in smoke.”

We who live inside the Newburyport Historic District who have contributing structures are automatically eligible for this cost-saving exemption from the building codes. And as I have indicated, a historic home is unique in every way — if someone wanted to build a Federal or a Georgian or a Greek Revival today, they would fail. Being new buildings, the codes must be used and half of the specifications for those older styles would not be allowed, which is why the new buildings on High Street that copy older styles never exactly look right.

If you are not a “contributing” structure, all bets are off. The house will be required to submit to the now stringent building codes and cost much more.

It only pays off to restore or sympathetically renovate a historical home if the house has a National Register status.

Thankfully, our wise politicians from the past took the foresight to put a large part of the city on the register so many citizens could be exempt.

Jerry Mullins


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