Challenges of Renovating a Historic Home

Challenges of Renovating a Historic Home

Restore and update your old home while preserving its historic charm

By Glyn Sheridan

Victorian Home
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If you love the idea of renovating a rambling Southern Colonial house or of restoring a gingerbread-detail Victorian home, you'll have plenty of work to keep you busy. However, along with the charm and romance of remodeling a historic property, older homes present special challenges when bringing them up to modern living standards. Maintain the personality and style of your historic home, while updating it to meet modern standards.


The foundation of a historic home may feature stacked stone construction or an early form of large-gravel concrete, but either may show signs of deterioration and crumbling. A foundation contractor can install support beams and tension cables if the basement walls show signs of movement or bowing. Alternately, a house mover can lift the home from the old foundation, while a basement contractor excavates and pours a new one.


Old wiring is inefficient and it may cause a fire if the electric circuits overload. New household appliances require additional outlets in every room, higher voltage service panels, and the installation of ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) in bathrooms and laundry rooms. An electrician can run new wiring within the existing walls, or a knowledgeable homeowner may rewire one room at a time, after tearing out old lathe and plaster, and before installing new drywall on the walls.


Old lead water pipes increase the risk of lead contamination in drinking water. In addition, old drainpipes and sewer lines may be narrow and they may clog easily. The historic homeowner should install new waterlines to ensure drinking water safety and replace an old sewer line or clean it out to remove tree roots.

Plaster Walls

Although beautifully crafted, old plaster and lathe walls increase the weight load on a home and they tend to crack and crumble. The time to replace these walls (and ceilings) is when you're also ready to re-plumb, re-wire and insulate. Certain projects -- such as recreating or re-patching historic crown molding -- will require a plaster contractor. For other home improvement projects involving plaster, it may be more sensible to be replace plaster with drywall.

Energy Efficiency

Old homes have an undeniable character all their own, but they are not energy-efficient. Single-pane, double-hung windows often open and close by way of a weight and pulley system, hidden by the wall. You may re-glaze the old windows, install storm windows or replace the windows entirely. In addition, cellulose fiber insulation may be blown into the wall spaces through drilled holes, or you may install insulation bats from the inside before hanging new drywall.

Heating and Air Conditioning

Historic homes were heated in various ways, none of them effective by today's standards. In addition, windows were the only source of cooling off summer heat. During renovation, you will replace gas-guzzling, gravity-flow furnaces and install ductwork if you want a central heat and air system. However, some homeowners prefer the charm of old radiant heaters. Fireplaces should be inspected and brought up to safety codes.


Part of the attraction of a historic home is its period siding and its decorative exterior trim work. While aesthetically appealing, old wood siding is susceptible to rot, bricks may crack and mortar may crumble. New, composite siding mimics many old siding styles and most masonry and brickyards can closely match historic bricks if you must replace a few. Stone and brick siding may require re-mortaring if there is extensive damage.

About the Author

Glyn Sheridan is a regular contributor to DexKnows.

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