The Biggest Problems You’ll Run into When Renovating an Old House

DATE: Jan, 6   COMMENTS: 0   AUTHOR: Allan Azarola

Older homes have a distinct charm, which is often the reason why we keep buying them in the first place. Some of the period architectural solutions like intricate windows or solid plaster walls are rarely seen in newer building. On the other hand, renovating these aging beauties often comes at a price and even some of the modest remodels require a solid preparation and planning. Here are some of the most common renovating issues you may encounter.

Outdated layouts

Features and floor plans of period houses are very different from what homebuyers are looking for today. Comfort and convenience features like a master bedroom with an attached bath and an extensive walk-in closet were not something an architect would visualize 100 years ago. The incredibly popular open-floor plans between the kitchen, dining room and the living room were unnecessary back then, because people of property had live-in staff who prepared and served their meals. To sum up, vintage houses had a room for every single purpose, hence the many room names that are lost today. So, with these outdated layouts, expanding a space or rearranging the floor plan can be both tricky and expensive, especially if load-bearing walls need to be torn down. Always consult an architect or a civil engineer before you ask builders for a quote.

Hard-to-get materials

It is only logical that older homes were constructed by different building standards and codes and often with totally different materials than today. Rooms were smaller, as every space had its function, doorways were narrower and bathtubs were smaller, too. On the other hand, if you want to preserve your old home’s charm, finding the renovating materials that will match the rest of the house may be challenging. There are also environmental issues to consider, as back in the time not much thought was given to sustainability. You may need solid wood-panelled doors and oak flooring, both of which are different from today’s standards and materials used for homes today. You’ll be able to save some money but also stay in the eco-friendly zone if you shop at architectural salvage stores and reused materials centres.

Repairing bad renovations

The older a home is, the more likely it has been renovated by its respective owners. There are also chances that these renovations didn’t always follow the original design of the house. In the worst-case scenario, the previous ‘improvements’ have been made with total disregard to the rest of the structure. For example pipes to bathroom additions may run exposed between the floors instead through the walls. Some of these issues become evident only when the renovation is well underway, so having a capable contractor who can deal with such poor renovation work is more than important. If the home you are looking to renovate has stayed in the family for generations, chances are that you won’t run into problems like this. However, if it has changed owners, prepare to budget 15 to 20% more for unexpected problems and repairs.

Outdated utility lines

Older homes are often plagued by outdated electrical wiring and plumbing. Houses built prior to 1960s often have galvanized pipes for both home plumbing and sewer lines. These galvanized pipes, however, corrode over time and get clogged easily, so you’ll probably need to replace them with PVC or copper pipes. Aside from being inadequate for power ratings of today’s appliances, old electrical wiring can also be a safety hazard. Most homes from the Interwar period had wiring suitable only for electric lighting, and even something as small as a hair dryer can draw more power than the system can handle. The safest thing to do is to rewire the whole house with more reliable cables and groundings. However, if you run into problems, you can always rely on a 24 hour electrician service to sort it out.

Hazardous materials

According to health and safety standards from decades ago, lead and asbestos weren’t considered unsafe building materials. An old house will most likely have lead-based paintwork as well as asbestos in flooring, ductwork, ceilings and roofing. These materials aren’t harmful until disturbed, like during a renovation. Exposure to lead and asbestos dust can lead to severe medical problems, so it’s important to hire professionals who will detect, isolate and remove these materials from your construction. Afterwards, you can use more environmentally-friendly acryl paints and insulating materials.

When renovating an old house, you never know what hidden issue you may encounter. Although some of the renovation problems apply to newer homes as well, period buildings were made differently, with a different lifestyle on mind and with materials that were available and popular at the time. Still, if you are aware of potential problems, you’ll be able to establish a more realistic budget and timeframe to deal with them.

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