Tips for restoring a historic house

The ultimate challenge for the home remodeling enthusiast is the experience of purchasing an renovating a historic home—to keep its historic charm but make it functional for a 21st century family. As fixer-uppers go, historic homes are as challenging as they come. Before such an undertaking, here are a few tips you should keep in mind.

Make sure you’re ready

Though remodeling can do a whole lot, it’s still going to be a very old home at the end of the day and old homes have their little quirks. They may be a little crooked, the rooms may not be evenly heated or cooled, and it’s going to need a lot more in the way of maintenance. Ask yourself if these are deal breakers for you. Some homeowners are willing to put up with an awful lot just for the charm of living in an older home. Others need all of their 21st century comforts and that isn’t always feasible with an older home even with extensive remodeling.

Structural issues first

When renovating a historic home, you need to start by addressing any potential structural issues. You don’t want to blow through your budget only to discover you don’t have enough left to address a problem that’s essential for the home’s structural integrity. Water damage is an indication of structural issues especially when it’s found on the ceiling or floors, around the windows, and on the sill plate (the bottom-most horizontal part of the home’s foundation). No matter how expensive, you have to tackle these problems first even if it means sacrificing a big chunk of your renovation budget.

Hire the right contractor

Restoring a historic home isn’t a job for the DIYer, no matter how skilled. You’re going to need a general contractor and you’ll want to hire someone who has experience working with older homes. A local historian with insight into how the home was built may also be a good asset, especially if he/she is knowledgeable about the processes that were used to restore other historic homes in the area.

Start small

If this will be your first time purchasing and renovating a historic home, don’t buy a mansion. Every remodel will entail some unforeseen costs but for historic homes, the unforeseen costs can be much, much higher. So start with a smaller home and set aside more for your budget than you think you’ll need.

Quality over quantity

Better to spend more on quality materials and workmanship and tackle less projects than to try to renovate everything but do it poorly. If you’ve followed the previous advice, and purchased a more manageably-sized home, you may be able to restore it perfectly as opposed to patching up a few areas on a larger home.

Practical upgrades over aesthetic ones

Aesthetics is the more fun part of remodeling but before you get carried away with the custom cabinetry or selecting paint colors for the interior, you need to think about practical upgrades first—ones that will prevent further damage to the home. Make it watertight, replace the roof, fix the windows, make sure there’s no problems with the masonry.

Embrace the quirkiness

With the exception of quirks that are truly problematic, you should just learn to embrace the fact that part of having a historic home is dealing with quirks. If the floors are uneven but the structural integrity of the home is sound, don’t spend a fortune trying to level them, find a way to accommodate that feature of the home into your design.

Forget about central heating and air

A popular upgrade for historic homes if centralized heating and air. Since this is so foreign to the original blueprints of a historic home, there’s virtually no way to do it without spending a lot of money and drastically changing the home. You’re better off buying some fans for the summer and some baseboard heaters for the winter. If you’re not crazy about the look of baseboard heaters, you can purchase baseboard heater covers to help disguise them a bit and make it blend in better with your design scheme.

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