What Are the Biggest Challenges You Meet When Renovating an Old House?


There are several hard-to-beat reasons why many homeowners prefer older homes to new ones: the craftsmanship was often better back in the day, the finishes and fixtures have the rich patina of aging, and there are architectural features and detailing that are characteristic of the era in which the house was built. For others, the structure of old houses just feels more solid and settled. However, while no one can deny that older homes have character, no one can deny that they are challenging to renovate, as well. Here are the top five renovation takes that you should keep in mind.

Unsafe materials

If a house was built before the 1970s, there’s a good chance lead paint and asbestos were used. Asbestos used to be a big thing for the better part of the past century: its excellent insulating and fire-retardant properties gave it many applications in flooring, popcorn ceilings, roofing, and even HVAC systems and pipework. Only when new owners began tearing down and remodelling those houses, have the adverse effects of asbestos dust been discovered. Although asbestos products are relatively safe, when broken, cut or disturbed in any other way, the fine fibrous structure of this naturally-occurring mineral releases highly-irritant particles into the air, which are easily inhaled. While hardware stores offer DIY lead paint testing kits, when it comes to asbestos, you can’t do much than call professionals to detect and remove this material from the structure.

Original materials no longer available

Apart from unsafe materials which used to be a standard only decades ago, older homes were constructed with quality materials and elements which are completely different from what we have today. For example, bathtubs were smaller, doorways narrower, and rooms had a smaller square footage, as well. so if you’re determined to keep your home’s original character, you may have to go to great lengths finding materials that will match the rest of the house. For example, for renovating a century-old Brownstone, you’ll need solid wood panelled doors, and thin oak flooring, both of which are very different from the standards and materials available today. One of possible solutions might be shopping at architectural salvage stores or contacting professionals who specialize in remodelling period homes.

Outdated electrical

When many old homes were built, chances that grounded outlets were either not required by the building code, or required only in locations where water fixtures are present, like kitchens, bathrooms, and basements. The codes have changed, however, and apart from having to replace ungrounded, two-pronged outlets with three-pronged ones there are other parts of electrical installations, like connector boxes, fuse boxes, switches, and even insulation, that are considered unsafe by today’s standards. Also, back in the day, households owned much less appliances, so power requirements were much lower, as was the number of outlets per room. Now, before you go looking for your screwdriver and wire cutters, keep in mind that unlicensed electrical work is not only dangerous, but also illegal in many countries. Homeowners in Australia, for example are well aware of penalties for DIY electrical work and would always rather hire a reliable electrician in Sydney, than risk not only fines, but also their property.

Cracked foundation

While old homes have often been built sturdier from the ground up, the truth is their foundations don’t always stand the test of time. For example, in concrete blocks which have been used up to mid-1960s, the cinder portion is not as structurally sound as the cement, so if there are cracks, water may penetrate and cause further deterioration. At that time builders typically didn’t use foundation sealer on the outside, and digging up the landscape and pavements to do the exterior sealing is no one’s idea of solving the problem. Sealing the inside of the blocks, for example in the basement may solve the issue, but you should also look to divert as much water from the foundation using drain pipes and landscape grading.

Obsolete plumbing

Since the advent of modern indoor plumbing, and up to 1960s, galvanized pipes have been used for both in-house piping and sewer lines. The problem with galvanized steel is that they corrode over time, which easily leads to clogs. Copper and PVC pipes used today are much safer and resistant to corrosion, so replacing the old ones makes much sense, especially since it’s much cheaper to do it during a renovation, when they are already exposed. In some suburban neighbourhoods, old homes’ drains used to be connected to the sewer system through wide bore clay pipes. Although clay was once considered ideal for the purpose, aged clay pipes are highly susceptible to tree roots which may wrap around and damage the joints.

Although these issues are important to consider, the biggest mistake you can make is not to set aside enough money for the renovation. If your home has been well-maintained over the years, you probably won’t run into problems, but old homes are like a box of chocolate…


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