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Understanding the Historic Preservation Review Board Criteria for D.C. Homes

Understanding the Historic Preservation Review Board Criteria for D.C. Homes

  • Kyra Erika Agarwal
  • 04/10/22

If you're in the market for a historic home in Capitol Hill, it's important to know about the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and its criteria for preserving these homes.

As a potential homeowner, it’s important to understand the permit and design review process, design guidelines, and the inspections and compliance program run by the Historic Preservation Office (HPO). We'll also provide some tips on how to navigate this process if you're looking to buy or renovate a Capitol Hill home.

Permit and design review

For buyers interested in homes for sale in Capitol Hill and long-term residents of Capitol Hill real estate, it is important to note that new construction, building additions, alterations, repair, and demolition all require a Historic Property Building Permit. Additional home features that require permits are window replacement; site work; deck repair, replacement, or removal; garage repair and upgrades; fence repair, replacement, or removal; and retaining wall repair and replacement.

Historic Preservation review of your permit application is required when the work will impact the exterior of your property if your property qualifies as historic. Review is also required if the property interior has been designated as historic. If the work does not require a building permit, no review is required. A separate preservation permit or certificate is not required since clearance of the permit application by the HPO indicates preservation approval.

The HPO offers an expedited review of applications to long-term residents of homes for sale in Capitol Hill and new owners of Capitol Hill real estate if the work is minor, such as repairs and alterations that are unobtrusive. The expedited review can be completed as quickly as the same day. The non-expedited review usually takes a maximum of five business days.

Work that does not require a Historic Building Permit includes:
  • Routine maintenance like fixing loosened or broken materials like broken glass and painting the exterior (unless the building is an unpainted historic landmark).
  • Window work such as caulking, reglazing, weather-stripping, installation of new hardware, addition or removal of window screens and security bars, adding a window air conditioner, or adding an awning to non-commercial property.
  • Landscaping of trees and shrubs.
  • Addition of playground equipment on single or two-family properties.
  • Addition of decorative sculptures and other lawn ornaments.

Design guidelines

As for design guidelines, buyers interested in homes for sale in Capitol Hill and long-term residents of Capitol Hill real estate should particularly pay attention to the Design and Construction and the Window Standards.

Design and construction

When reviewing applications from long-term residents of homes for sale in Capitol Hill and new owners of Capitol Hill real estate, the board uses the design and construction guidelines to determine if the permit should be approved or denied. Considerations for exterior permit applications include:
  • What are the property's historical importance and nature of significance?
  • What is the property's current condition, with a focus on the current material integrity (how much deterioration is present)?
  • What is the proposed project's likely impact?
  • Is the proposed project reversible?
  • Does the project meet the appropriate practical, regulatory, and developmental regulatory constraints?
  • Does the proposed work meet the goals of the Historic Protection Act? Will it enhance or restore the historic landmark? Will it help adapt the historic property for modern use? Do intended changes preserve the existing structure or at least the character of the property?
Considerations for interior permit applications include:
  • Does the permit retain the property's historic purpose? If not, does the planned change retain the characteristics of the building and the local environment?

  • Does the permit acknowledge that the removal of historical materials, feature alterations, and removal of other historic interior characteristics will be avoided?

  • Will the permit honor the time period of the building's original construction? If the proposed change creates an incorrect understanding of the building's historical development, the permit must be denied.

  • Does the permit acknowledge that pre-existing changes with historical significance will be maintained?

  • Does the permit acknowledge that historic craftsmanship details will be maintained?

  • Does the permit aim to repair historic feature deterioration? Repair must always be attempted before replacement unless the deterioration is so advanced that repair is simply not possible. If replacement is required, ensure the permit aims to match the previous design as closely as possible in terms of materials, texture, design, color, etc.

  • If chemical or other physical cleaning methods are requested, they must be denied if known to cause damage to historical materials.

  • If the permit requests approval is for new construction, additions, or exterior alterations, it must preserve the historical materials used for the property. The new work must be identifiable when compared to the old but must be compatible with existing architectural design features to preserve the history of the property. New work should be able to be removed by future owners without damaging the original construction.


When reviewing applications submitted by new owners of Capitol Hill real estate and long-term residents of homes for sale in Capitol Hill, the board uses the window guidelines to determine if the permit should be approved or denied. The most basic considerations for window permit applications include:
  • Does the permit aim to repair existing historic windows? If so, does the permit aim to improve energy efficiency and sustainability through changes like reglazing, general repair, or the new addition of storm windows?

  • If the permit requests full window replacement, is replacement the only option? If yes, will the replacement honor the historical color, design, dimensions, finish, fit, profile, and size?

Inspections and compliance

While most owners of historic Capitol Hill real estate keep their property well-maintained and follow the required permit process, the HPO has a program for inspections and compliance reviews for those owners who do not keep their property in line with the historic guidelines.

As part of the inspections and compliance program, the HPO is authorized to issue a cease and desist order for unapproved construction, fine owners, and require a corrective return to pre-unapproved work status, monitor in-progress construction, and address the failure to comply with property maintenance codes for D.C. New owners of homes for sale in Capitol Hill should ensure any work they do on their new property is in line with the policies and procedures for historic preservation in D.C.

In summary, the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) uses specific criteria when reviewing permit applications for changes to historic Capitol Hill homes. The goal of these reviews is to ensure that any changes made to the property respect and preserve the existing structure and character of the home. HPRB looks at things like the purpose of the building, craftsmanship details, time period of original construction, and more when reviewing a permit application.

Looking for homes for sale in Capitol Hill?

If you're thinking about making changes to your Capitol Hill real estate, make sure to submit a permit application for review to avoid any fines or penalties. If you are interested in purchasing or listing homes for sale in Capitol Hill, contact Kyra Erika Agarwal today.

Work With Kyra

Kyra specializes in helping her clients navigate the complex process of finding a new home. Her impeccable interpersonal skills endow her with a deep understanding of her clients’ needs, while her ability to think creatively and strategically ensures that every deal is as seamless and efficient as possible. Call Kyra today to schedule a showing in Washington D.C.