Restoring an Older Home in the US

Thoughts on Restoration

older house restoration

Understanding the Challenges That Lay Ahead

Restoring an older home is not necessarily for the faint of heart or those who lack patience. In praise of antique edifices, they often exude a certain “character” which only age can impart that is thoroughly lacking in new construction.

However, older houses can be drafty, energy “inefficient”, lacking in closet space, might only have a crawl space rather than a full basement, have walls that are out-of-plumb, ceilings that sag, stairs that are inordinately steep, substandard electrical wiring, out-of-date plumbing – and the list goes on.

Enter the shining new home with sparkling, state-of-the-art kitchen, granite countertops, energy efficient heating and cooling system, packed with insulation, new plumbing and wiring. So why opt for the challenge of restoring “Wuthered Heights”?

renovating older house

The Siren Call of the Past Beckons

Certain people are attracted by the lure of owning an older home. Upon walking into an antique house there is that unmistakable sense of history that greets one, the feeling that multiple generations of prior inhabitants have trod the floors, that there have been births and deaths within, joys and sorrows. Wide floor boards that are well worn, numerous nooks and crannies, small rooms, multiple fireplaces, multi-paned windows – all speak of times past, and in some cases hundreds of years gone by.

That the house still stands, having endured countless storms and natural catastrophies, creates a feeling of permanence in a modern world caught up in rapid change. Whether it be mystique or pure romance, the older home appeals to the potential restorer in such a way that any inconveniences will not only be overlooked, but hopefully enjoyed as a part of the entire package. Finally, there are those who relish the often daunting task of the restoration process facing them, knowing that when they finish, they will have a place in which to live that has been resurrected by their own efforts.

Knowledge Is Power

Being prepared for the challenge of restoring an antique property means thoroughly researching the task at hand. While it’s easy to rely on a builder to accomplish what needs to be done, it’s far better to have the personal knowledge to ascertain whether the work performed is being done correctly. “Home Restoration – a step-by-step look at restoring a home” by Joe Keegan is one of many web sites dedicated to the subject. “Old House Journal.com” has an article archive resource accessing past topics. Knowing the difference between a sill and a gunstock corner post lends an air of credibility to an owner’s directives. The internet offers a treasure trove of useful information to aid in achieving this.

Enter the Contractor

There are many competent and reputable contractors, but the unscrupulous kind can also darken a restoration site’s doorstep, leading to general physical and financial mayhem. Don’t hesitate to contact references and prior customers requested of builders. Were they satisfied with the work done? Certain companies are known for restoration of antique properties – while they may be more expensive, they hopefully possess the expertise to do the work correctly. Get multiple bids, but don’t jump at the least expensive without researching that firm’s quality of workmanship. And be prepared that the finished project will probably cost more than the original quote.

Starting Down the Slippery Slope

Once a professional home inspection is completed and the house is pronounced sound enough to warrant the effort, the next consideration is at what point to begin the restoration process. If a farmhouse with rather plain, utilitarian details such as window trim and room mouldings is the candidate, it might be best to “gut” the entire house and, while everything is opened up, redo the wiring, plumbing, insulation, and add energy efficient windows. Opening up walls and tearing down ceilings can be done by the ambitious owner who wants both “hands on” experience and to save substantial dollars . It is sweaty, dusty, and dirty, and requires a good respirator mask, heavy boots, and a bottle of linament to get through the day and the resulting nighttime aches. But at the end of the proverbial tunnel, there is a very real sense of connection with the finished home.

Further considerations for deciding to restore an older home may include the location of the house (in a well-established area of older homes), the views from the property, the design of the exterior, and the historic value mandating that it be preserved.

When Extra Care Is Warranted

The potential restoration candidate might be a American Revolutionary War era colonial or an Antebellum Southern plantation home with lots of ornate detail that sets it apart. If history does indeed indicate that the house has special significance, extra care is warranted in ensuring that the restoration effort is not only carried out correctly, but also with extreme care to preserve the most minute of details. The caveat here is that costs associated with such an historic preservation may prove astronomical, so be certain to take such things into consideration before signing on the dotted line. When all is said and done, a well-planned restoration will hopefully yield “Home Sweet Home” without any bitter after taste.