Old homes come with charm and character that normally newer homes cannot match. When you think about its historical and architectural value, or even just all the stories an old house has quietly witnessed, a wish to preserve and restore what’s possible naturally draws out. But, significant work needs to be done for old house restoration and bring new life to it, and it usually comes with challenges and obstacles that you need to be prepared for.

Renovation and restoration

Giving shine to an old house requires combining renovation, which means upgrading old elements with new ones, with restoration, which means restoring parts of it with historical accuracy. The latter is a lot more expensive and demanding. On top of that, in case your house is listed in the category of historic homes by law, you need the approval of a Historic-home commission if you’re going to make exterior alterations. Either way, it’s advisable to consult design companies first and know exactly what you want done before any work is started. Finding the right balance between renovating and restoring what’s possible will give you the best results and ensure the value of your home doesn’t decrease.

Clearing the house of dangerous elements

Renovating an old house comes with a number of problems, specifically because many hazardous elements are present in the materials, and some of them are found only once the works start. Be prepared for this, and set aside 15 to 20 percent of your budget for sanitizing these potential hazards. This will not show on the outside, but it is actually the most important part, as it ensures the house is safe and healthy to live in.

Old Broken Abandoned House Vintage Dirty Room


Destroyed wall by moisture

Moisture presence is a big issue in older homes, as it leads to mold, mildew, and potentially termites as well. Just in case, be prepared for moisture behind wallboards and rotten studs which will have to be replaced before continuing any remodeling.

Foundation cracks

cracked wall

Homes built 50 years ago and further back didn’t use foundation sealer from the outside, which would have prevented cracks in the foundations and water penetrating. This is especially dangerous because cracked foundations are the source of radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that enters the lowest level of a building directly through the soil. The issue is usually resolved by sealing the building blocks from the inside in the basement.

Read more: Buying a house with a cracked foundation

Lead and asbestos

Caution asbestos

Lead and asbestos dangers are largely present in old houses. They’re harmless when left untouched, but dust from scraping or cutting materials during the project can be very hazardous. You can check by yourself if there is any lead in the paint, but other than that, you will definitely need a professional abatement company to find and abate these materials.

Lastly, once everything is abated, pressure cleaning the exterior wall is a good way to ensure a safe, sparkly clean new house. The professionals from Ryan’s pressure cleaning warn that this type of work needs to be done very cautiously so that no water would be retained in the walls and stress the importance of using environmentally friendly, harmless chemicals during the process.

Readjusting the floor plan

new house interior design plan

Older homes have significantly different layouts compared to modern ones. Most likely you’ll want to tear down some walls in order to get rid of corridors and invite some more light, creating better functionality and that open-space feel we’ve come to appreciate. Consult professionals first to determine the approximate home renovation costs. They will also ensure your desired adjustments maintain the structural integrity of the building and give you professional advice on maximizing the functionality of your home.

Plumbing and electrical

Plumbing installation

Galvanized steel pipes (which replaced lead pipes in the 1940’s) tend to get clogged frequently and corrode on the inside over time. Even if you somehow didn’t have the clogging problem so far, problems and rusting are inevitable in the future, so it’s advised to replace them with PVC or copper ones.

A lot of electrical upgrades and swaps will need to be done to bring everything up to code and ensure your safety – living in an old house with unaltered electrical wiring is actually quite risky. Electrical panels have to be upgraded in older homes because modern appliances use more electrical power than these old systems were built to endure. Old knob-and-tube wiring can start a fire, so be ready to change the wiring in the house, upgrade the amp service and replace two-pronged outlets (which are ungrounded) with three-pronged ones.

Aesthetic features

Once you’ve gotten rid of all the hazards, upgraded the systems in your home and adjusted the layout to your needs, you’re ready for the types of work that will give the house some shine. New flooring, plasterwork, cosmetic touches here and there and retouch for the doors and windows are all things that will visibly improve the quality of your home. This is the part where it’s extremely important how you approach the remodeling so that you don’t end up ruining the architectural value of your house. Think carefully about which elements you may want to keep in their original form and how you can conserve them. Or, consider getting adequate replacements that will suit the style of the house.

Remember, remodeling an old house somehow always ends up being more expensive than you expect. One of the biggest reasons for this is the previous bad renovation work that you will actually end up having to fix. Be sure to set aside 15-20 percent contingency or more (the older a house, the more problems you’re likely to run into). The most important thing is to be realistic, be cautious and prepared, and hire professionals you definitely trust, so that there will be no unpleasant surprises.

Read more: How to maintain an old house

Old House Restoration – How Can It Be Achieved? was last modified: May 13th, 2022 by Ronald Wolf
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