4 Things to Consider When Renovating an Older Home

4 Things to Consider When Renovating an Older Home
  • Opening Intro -

    Renovating an older home comes with a set of challenges that don't exist in newer construction.

    While most homes are built to be sturdier and last longer than newer builds, their materials can sometimes be harmful and costly to replace.


As the building industry developed, better and less harmful products were used.

Regardless of the building material challenges, renovating an older home can be a really fun project. Older houses are built with a certain charm that you don’t find in newer builds. It’s really exciting when you can take the old-world charm and combine it with new architecture and finishes to create something really special.

Costly Renovations

Unfortunately, unforeseen costs can easily happen with older renovations. It can be very hard to determine exactly what a room needs before it is ripped down to the studs. Luckily there are some things you can consider to help mitigate those costs while taking on an old home renovation.

One good rule of thumb is to not plan to spend your entire budget on the renovation. Leaving a little wiggle room in the budget allows for those unforeseeable expenses to be covered when they come up.

There is nothing worse than having to switch gears and realizing you didn’t set aside enough to cover everything. Instead of moving forward, you will find yourself completely switching gears and possibly not be able to do everything you wanted.

Setting aside 10% of your budget gives that wiggle room so that surprise costs won’t derail you.

Every Home Has a History

Every home has a history. One of the first things you should do when considering a home renovation is learning a little about yours.

Of course, it’s fascinating to find out how big the property once was, or if anyone famous ever lived there, but this is more important than that.

If you are renovating a historic home, there may be certain guidelines you must follow to protect its history. Even if it’s not protected in any way, knowing things about the house can only help you down the line.

Of course, the disclosures provide you with answers to the basic questions of if there was ever a fire, or if there were ever any plumbing issues. The problem there is it’s only as accurate as the last owner knows. Knowing a house’s history is knowing exactly what kind of house you are getting.

There have been stories of people purchasing homes that they were told have no basement, but a small crawl space was discovered with stairs and a full basement underneath. This was not known to the previous owners so they would have had no reason to put it on a disclose statement.

Another reason this is so important is to check the area to see if there is anything under the property. Mines were very common for a long time, so depending on the region of the house, it is extremely possible there is a mine underneath. Not only will you then know to check for mine subsidence, but these homes also often need radon mitigation systems.

In larger cities, subways may have run under your property, and while they may no longer be in use, the tunnels still exist down there.

If the property was well researched, you will have a better understanding of exactly what you need to look for and budget for during renovations. Remember, surprises are rarely good when it comes to costly renovations.

Pre-Reno Inspection

Another important thing to consider when renovating an older house is to have a pre-renovation inspection completed by a certified home inspector. Just like they would when you purchase a house, the inspector is going to go through your home and check everything for safety.

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      some home energy ideas to consider      

Why is this important? It erases the unknown. You may have already been planning to rewire the room that you are tearing down walls in, but an inspection can lead to the discovery of whole-house knob and tube wiring. Now you are faced with rewiring the entire house. Discovering this in the middle of a project will certainly blow your budget.

Planning for it ahead of time gives you the advantage of already figuring in the cost when you are budgeting for everything else.

Some of the things that inspectors look for include:

  • Safe Wiring
  • Asbestos
  • Rusting Pipes
  • Rotting Beams
  • Mold
  • Termites
  • Water Damage
  • Foundation Issues

Even more important than budget is safety. Knob and tube wiring can be extremely dangerous and can even contribute to an electrical fire in your home. This may have been fine when the home was bought, so it wouldn’t have been caught on the initial inspection if there was one. There is no point to an amazing renovation if your house burns down, so these inspections can help keep you safe.

Checking for asbestos is particularly important. Older homes were often built with asbestos before we knew how bad it was for you. If asbestos is found in your home, there is a very particular mitigation to get rid of it and keep everyone safe in the meantime.

While sealed asbestos is not harmful, any cracks can start to emit particles into the air and damage the lungs. If you are demolishing walls, you will likely have to have it removed before the renovation can continue.

As you can see, pre-renovation home inspections can really be beneficial. Making this your first step can help you lay out your budget and ultimately your plan for the full renovation.

Saving Energy

One of the greatest cost-saving reasons for renovating an old house is being able to upgrade to materials that are more energy efficient. While everyone’s goal should be to use less energy, the biggest place you’re going to notice is in your bank account. There are many way to see how you can make your home more energy efficient.

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In almost every renovation, older windows are replaced. This is one of the easiest ways to make your home more energy efficient. Older windows start to break down around the edges and allow the air to flow in and out of the home. In the summer, having your cool air seep out through window cracks can make it difficult to cool down the room, forcing your air conditioner to work harder to keep the house cool. 

Bad windows are most noticeable during the winter months when you can hear the wind whistling into your home, bringing with it a nice chill in the air. Once again, your furnace has to work a lot harder to heat up your home.

Doors work the same way. Ensuring your doors have a good seal will keep the air in your home to the temperature you desire, not letting the outside air in or your home’s air out.

Replacing your HVAC and Central Air Conditioning is another way to keep your home more energy efficient. Older systems require more energy to run and aren’t as effective at heating and cooling.

Additionally, they can be costly to maintain if parts break. Of course, regardless of whether or not you are replacing an older HVAC system or just maintaining the one you have, consistently replacing the filters will keep your system running better and more efficiently.

If you are doing a full kitchen renovation, replace your appliances with all new energy efficient appliances and watch the savings roll in.

Even things you may not think of, like water-saving toilets, can save you money by a simple, relatively inexpensive upgrade. While there may not be anything wrong with your current commode, if you are doing a full reno of the bathroom, why not make it more energy efficient and save some money month to month?

Pay Particular Attention to the Plumbing

One area that seems to get most homeowners at some point is plumbing. Almost everyone has had a sewer or pipe back up since moving in. What you don’t want, however, is an expensive plumbing problem during your dream renovation.

Plumbing here is referring to everything that has to do with water in your house. One of the most common renovation questions is asking do all homes need a sump pump? The answer to that is not necessarily. But this is where it’s important to really know your home.

If you sit in a low-lying area or your basement has flooded in the past, there is a good chance that it would be extremely beneficial to install a sump pump in your basement. These pumps take the water that collects and flush it away from the house.

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      some bath appliances to consider      

Another situation where it is essential to install a sump pump is in an area of high rain. If your area gets a lot of rain or has flooding potential, it can save your basement from getting ruined. Particularly if you have a finished basement or storage area in the basement area.

Many old houses use lead pipes throughout the house. Upgrading your pipes can help the taste of your water and ensure there are no leaks or blockages. Copper is the best type of piping to upgrade to for taste, but there are other options that are good also.

Replacing the piping doesn’t have to be hard if you aren’t experience extreme backups. Simply follow the existing pipe flow plan with your new pipes and you will be good to go.

Water damage from pipe problems can be a serious problem. It can cause mold that you may not detect without a little investigation. Getting rid of mold can be a tiresome, expensive process that must be carried out by professionals to ensure everyone’s safety.

Along with mold there is always the possibility of weakened or fractured beams. If they are load-bearing beams you are looking at a lot of money and work to get them stable again. A few rotten beams and some mold could blow your whole renovation budget if you didn’t know about them to begin with.

Don’t Be Afraid of Technology

Even if you are striving to keep that old house charm, there is no reason you should stray away from new age technology. Gone are the days of having large, ugly thermostats in the middle of the room. You can now have your thermostat conveniently tucked away in a closet with just the sensor hidden in plain sight.

Technology like blinds that are able to be drawn by your cell phone or on a timer or lights that are on a timer will not take away from the old house charm you are looking to preserve. They will simply make life a little easier for you.

other valuable tips:

Have Fun With Your Renovation

Renovations can be stressful. There can be a lot of unexpected expenses, timeline extension, hold ups with materials, or just delays in general. The most important thing to remember when renovating any house is to enjoy the process.

Old houses have so many advantages that newer homes don’t have. They have quirks that are so unique to the era that the house was built in that it would be a crime to get rid of them.

These are usually things that you can’t put into a new home, or even recreate in a renovation. They are what usually make people fall in love with the home to begin with.

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Preserving all of that uniqueness and charm can really add a lot of value in your renovation. After all, if you wanted everything brand new, you would probably choose a new build over a renovation to begin with.

Doing your homework before starting a renovation can save you time and money in the long run. Being prepared for surprises along the way, both financially and with time, can keep you centered and focused if things start to go south.

If you take these tips into consideration when renovating an old home, you will be able to sit back and really enjoy the process and your newly renovated home.

Image credit: renovating an older home by twenty20.com

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