Renovating Historic Old Town Alexandria Homes

Renovating a Historic Old Town Alexandria Home: Navigating the BAR

October 23, 2017 | Inside Old Town | By: The Goodhart Group

Renovating a Historic

Old Town Alexandria Home

Here’s what you need to know to

navigate the Old Town BAR!

Renovating a historic Old Town Alexandria home? There are a lot of rumors out there about the can and can’t do’s in the historic district. So if you are about to take on a project, or are considering buying a historic home, and have questions you aren’t alone.  The question that comes up time and again from our buyers and guests at our open houses at historic Old Town homes: What type of renovations or alterations can be made to these homes?

The answer? It varies! Much depends on where the property is located within Old Town and if the homes is of historic significance.

{Psst… Thinking about buying a historic home? Read our guide on buying a historic home here!}

The Basics

In Old Town, there are two historic districts, the Old and Historic Alexandria District and the Parker-Gray Historic District. You can see the boundaries in the map below. If a home is not located within a historic district, you are free to renovate as you please (of course, in accordance with regular City regulations and permits). If a home falls within one of the two historic districts, exterior architectural features subject to public view from a public street fall under the Board of Architectural Review’s (BAR) purview and authority.

The purpose of the BAR is to evaluate proposed development plans and their effects on Alexandria’s historic structures. While these BAR regulations can sometimes be challenging to uphold, we are all thankful they help maintain the unique charm of our well-preserved city for residents and visitors alike.

The BAR can approve some changes administratively without a hearing, such as “ordinary maintenance, or any repair or replacement with the same design, color and material… which does not result in the substantial removal of an exterior feature that is considered to have historic and/or architectural significance; and does not perpetuate a condition or treatment considered to be, by BAR policy, inappropriate or incompatible…” The guidelines for each historic district vary slightly; we explore them below.


If you need to replace a feature’s material, the policy is as follows:

  • Identify, preserve, maintain and repair original material
  • Where staff confirms that the original material cannot be repaired, replace to match the original material.
  • Where original material is unknown, and where specifically allowed by BAR policy, materials may be used which were commercially available when that portion of the building was originally constructed.

General rules of thumb:

  • ROOFING: “Original roofing or existing roofing which has acquired historic importance over time such as metal roofing should be preserved and repaired whenever possible. If it is not possible, replacement should match the original in design, color, texture and other visual qualities and where possible, materials and installation method to the maximum extent possible.”
  • WINDOWS: “Existing historic windows and fanlights should be retained. It is the general policy of the boards not to approve wholesale replacement of existing historic windows. By board policy, modern hollow vinyl windows with sandwich muntins are not considered appropriate on any building.” A building permit is always required for all window replacements in the historic district.
  • EXTERIOR PAINT COLORS: Surprisingly, exterior paint does not require any approval or permit UNLESS you would like to paint previously unpainted masonry.


The Northwest Quadrant’s Parker-Gray Historic District guidelines are a little different, categorized into early (pre-1932) or later (post-1931) architectural classification. There is also a hierarchy of elevations, meaning whether it is street facing, side facing or rear facing.

General rules of thumb:

  • WINDOWS: All windows can receive approval administratively without a hearing. Pre-1932 historic front-facing windows must be repaired and retained. Replacement windows must comply with the Alexandria Replacement Window Performance Specifications. If they are side or rear facing, they cannot have vinyl, sandwich muntins, they must match historic operation and light configuration and cannot be tinted or have reflective glass. Post-1931 homes cannot have vinyl, sandwich muntins or tinted or reflective glass if they are less than 15 feet from the front property line. If it is more than 15 feet from a property line, there is no review needed for pre-1932 or post-1931 homes and you can use any material, operation or configuration, but you cannot use tinted or reflective glass. A building permit is always required for all window replacements in the historic district.
  • SHUTTERS: Pre-1932 homes that are front facing require review and administrative approval. Review is not needed for post-1931 homes or for anything side or rear facing. Guidelines include retaining and repairing historic shutters and hardware, installing openable shutters with hinges, using wood and solid through the core, millable and paintable composite material. Additionally use approximately-sized shutters to the window opening so they completely cover the window or door opening when closed. You should not remove historic or handcrafted shutters and hardware, screw or bolt shutters into the wall. You may not use hollow vinyl or add shutters to a structure to make it appear older.


Owning one of the many charming Old Town homes is truly something special but remodeling one of is no easy feat. There is a lot to know before renovating a historic Old Town Alexandria home.

If you have any questions about renovating a historic Old Town Alexandria home, please reach out. We’ve help many Old Town historic homeowners navigate this process. We can also recommend contractors experienced in historic home renovations.

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