Things to Consider When Renovating an Older House

You chose a 100-year-old home because of the neighborhood and the character of the house.   But there are many issues that come along with an older home. If you’ve lived there for a while, you’ve undoubtedly discovered many of these issues that the home inspector didn’t even mention.  Inspectors are definitely not contractors!

There’s no need to be frightened and sell!  Most issues can be solved by a good contractor.  There is much to consider before you dig into any major renovations.

Your planned renovations may mean taking everything down to the studs.  This is no easy task when most old homes interior walls are lath and plaster, not drywall.  And what you can find when the lath and plaster is taken down—electrical wiring, plumbing pipes, heating and cooling ducts as well as insulation—can quickly add to the costs of the renovation.

Because there are so many unknowns when you open up walls, please don’t watch YouTube and think you can do it yourself.  Hire professional contractors, preferably ones who have worked on old homes before and understand the problems that may arise.

If the house is older with historic features, you may want to preserve or replicate them to keep the character you liked in the first place.   A good general contractor can guide you on replacing, salvaging, or repairing historic trim, etc.

Houses that are considered a historic landmark can benefit from some tax breaks.  But that also means that you will be extremely limited on your renovations, mainly on the exterior. Any changes to the exterior, even as small as shingle style and color, will have to be approved.  Usually, windows will have to match the existing windows, not an easy task. Even siding, paint colors, hardware, outdoor space and plantings may be restricted.

The footprint and square footage of the existing old house, along with the size and measurements of your lot, determines the maximum size and location of any planned addition. There are formulas in local zoning laws that calculate buildable space, with setbacks requirements.

If you can’t add-on to your home, there are other options.  You might want to consider knocking down existing walls to create larger, more open rooms.  You may want to renovate the basement or attic space into a living finished office, family room, or master suite.

Today, kitchens are usually open to the living rooms, and include islands or peninsulas for eating space. Powder room additions are also popular in older homes that don’t have a first-floor bathroom.  Other popular add-ons include having a washer and dryer closer to the bedrooms upstairs or converting the basement into a family room.

If load-bearing walls are removed, existing water, gas pipes, ductwork, and electrical wiring may need to be rerouted.  Some kind of bracing, like ceiling beams and support poles, will be needed.

One 100-amp circuit box may not be enough—especially if there are only a few slots left to upgrade electricity to accommodate heavier duty appliances, more lights, and a new HVAC, which add to the load of amps and circuits.  At least one 200-amp capacity electrical panel will probably be necessary.

The addition of toilets, tubs, showers, and sinks may not only require the relocation of pipes, but it may create a need for more water pressure in the home.  Increasing the water supply from the main sewer to your home can be expensive, but it will assure a good flow of water throughout the home.

While the plumber is there, have them make sure there is no lead in the existing pipes, valves, or faucets.

Many old homes are not at all well insulated.  Renovating and adding space is a good time to upgrade and add insulation.

These are just a few of the many possible issues that should be considered before renovating.  A highly qualified contractor has likely already dealt with all these issues, and more, many times.  Hiring a contractor is always a good idea, but is imperative in an older home.

Jim Edwards is the Renovation Advocate.  His clients love how he gives them the options and advice from years of real world construction experience.  He has seen it all, fixed it all and helped homeowners create the home of their dreams. Jim can be reached at or by calling (608)480-1057.

Posted in Basements, Bathroom Remodel, Home Additions, Home Inspection, Home Renovation, Kitchen Remodel, Windows.