While it’s no small task, renovating an older home can be a rewarding experience, as you never know what you’ll unearth along the way. Older homes have plenty of character and charm that can’t be replicated in new constructions.

Character can’t be replicated 

wood floorsAs you renovate an older home, consider restoring unique elements that contribute to the home’s character.

Some features may be apparent, such as old woodwork, moldings, light fixtures, and hardware. However, other gems may be hidden. Intricate tiling and floorboards are often obscured by old-fashioned carpet or linoleum and wood paneling may be hiding behind plasterboard.

No two historic homes are the same. The original features represent the home’s history, and if they’re in good condition, restore them and integrate them into your new home. These elements can make spectacular focal points and add personality. Make it a goal to keep many of the original features of the house while updating it to fit your lifestyle.

Many old homes were built to last

Even those that were built a century ago still have solid structures. However, you should still assess the foundation to make sure it’s solid. It may be out of level, but as long as it isn’t continuing to settle, you don’t have to worry about it.

Renovations will take longer

longer renovationsEspecially when remodeling an old home, expect your plans, budget, and timeline to change multiple times.

During the renovation, you will likely stumble upon unexpected problems, such as structural issues requiring additional permits or plumbing and electrical issues. Sometimes, old infrastructure has to be upgraded or replaced.

Also, if you’re restoring old features or removing years of paint and wallpaper, it must be done very carefully. This will require patience and will likely extend the timeline of your project.

The plumbing and electrical may be outdated

plumbingWhile the foundation was built to last, the plumbing and electrical work should be inspected as it may be out of date. Do this before even thinking about making aesthetic changes, as it’s easier to repair electrical and plumbing work before painting. 

Original copper, galvanized steel, and cast iron plumbing have a long lifespan. If the plumbing hasn’t been updated in the home, it is likely reaching its end of life.

Also, corrosion buildup can occur on the inside, causing lower water pressure or even rusty, orange water if left too long. This can lead to problems such as subsidence, structural issues and asbestos, as well as mold.

Old wiring is usually not a problem unless it meets one of two criteria: First, make sure you don’t have a breaker box made by Federal Pacific Electric (FPE). These breaker boxes frequently don’t shut off when overloaded, leading to the risk of fire. FPE is no longer in business, but their breaker boxes are still in homes.

Second, knob-and-tube wiring was state-of-the-art in the 1920s but is now a fire hazard. The rubber insulation can crack, exposing the wiring within. Plus, it was designed to run through walls with no obstruction; any insulation added later can increase the risk of fire.

Drafty windows can be made energy-efficient

windowsOriginal wood windows certainly aren’t the most energy-efficient, but with the right maintenance, they can last a long time. Instead of replacing the windows, consider fixing them up. It’s always more sustainable to keep something rather than replace it.

Many homeowners assume that drafty wooden windows should be replaced. Instead, upgrade them with weatherstripping and storm windows. Interior air panels and curtains also boost energy savings. Keep in mind that each window is different. While some may need to be carefully restored, some may just require seasonal interior air panels, weatherstripping, and exterior storm windows.

Plus, original molding and old wavy glass provide authentic character that can’t be re-created.

Old homes can harbor toxins

Lead and asbestos are common in old homes and can be a health hazard if they aren’t dealt with properly.

Lead was a popular ingredient in house paint for years before scientists discovered that this element could cause a wide range of health problems, from anemia to seizures to death, particularly in children.

The federal government banned the sale of lead-based paint in 1978. Most homes built before 1970 often have lead-based paint on the walls, doorways, stairwells, and baseboards.

lead paintLead paint that is in good condition poses little risk. However, if it’s deteriorating, it can pose a serious health hazard. Lead paint releases lead dust as it breaks down. Unfortunately, you can’t spot lead paint just by looking at it, but you can tell if it’s deteriorating.

Examine the paint to determine if it is peeling, flaking off, or in bad shape. When lead paint deteriorates it creates a pattern that looks like scales. Pay attention to paint on doorways or stairwells. These areas usually get more wear and tear, causing the paint to crack and peel. If you notice the paint is deteriorating, test it so you can address the issue immediately.

lead paint testHome testing kits for lead paint are sold at local hardware stores. The kit will require you to rub a solution on the wall. If the solution turns pink, there is lead. These kits are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. The problem is, the test only identifies lead on the surface. If the lead paint was covered up by new paint, the test won’t work.

To really tell if your home has lead paint, contact your local department of health or a lead testing service in your area. A professional can determine if there is lead paint in your home and if it is hazardous to your health.

If it isn’t hazardous, paint over it to seal it and prevent any lead fumes from entering the home. Use water-based paints or encapsulants, which seal the lead paint so it won’t chip.

You can also choose to cover the lead paint with drywall. This will also prevent it from getting damaged and exposing the home’s inhabitants to lead dust. 

Or, you can remove and replace the lead paint. This can be difficult, as breathing in the lead dust can be toxic. You’ll need to take proper safety measures, including wearing safety goggles, gloves, and a respirator. Consider hiring a professional so you don’t put yourself at risk.

BWBE is a Twin Cities remodeling company that was brought to life by two civil engineers. Our experience as engineers allows us to bring the perfect combination of design and functionality to every project. We are a trusted, experienced, and professional remodeling team that will work with you to get the most out of your budget. If you’re looking for high-quality home improvement at a price you can afford, contact us for a project estimate

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