How to Restore a Victorian Home

How to Restore a Victorian Home

Preserving unique details and restoring those lost in remodels should be your goal

By Stevie Donald

Victorian Home
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Restoring a Victorian home is both a labor of love and an exercise in frustration. If you want to maintain the historical integrity of your house, resist the temptation to tear out old lath-and-plaster walls and replace them with easy-to-repair drywall. Instead find a plaster contractor, or spend countless hours learning how to renovate plaster and lath walls and ceilings. Walls are just one of scores of components that need work in a Victorian home to restore it to it original grandeur. Breaking the job into bite-size projects and knowing where and when to find help are critical skills.

  • What You Need to Know
  • Consult with and hire an architect and specialty contractors for at least some of the work unless you are prepared to devote a significant amount of time to learning all the required skills, purchasing or renting tools and equipment and learning how to use them. Be realistic about what you can do yourself and what you will probably need to hire out, such as roofing, custom millwork, plumbing and electrical.
  • Victorian homes were built in several distinctive styles. Learn as much as you can about your home's style and stay true to your home's roots when restoring it.

Step 1:

Assess your needs and wants. Consult with an architect to learn your options and ways to balance functionality and energy efficiency with restoration while maintaining the historical and architectural integrity of your Victorian home.

Step 2:

Establish a realistic budget while realizing that you will almost certainly exceed that budget. Restoring a Victorian home can take years, depending on how extensive the work is, how much you will contract out and how much you can do yourself.

Step 3:

Look into grants, tax credits and low-interest loans from federal, state and local sources. According to the National Register of Historic Places website, you may be eligible for tax credits and grants through the Heritage Preservation Services or from state historic preservation offices.

Step 4:

Save as much of the original material in the home as possible. The Old House Journal suggests that even old wood windows can be retrofitted to be energy-efficient. If your old windows have already lasted 100 years, it makes sense to repair them instead of replacing them with vinyl windows that may not last 10 years. Similarly, repairing the original plaster or old slate roof instead of replacing them with drywall or composition shingles will make better economic sense in the long run.

Step 5:

Find tradespeople and specialty contractors who have experience working on Victorian homes. Some of the skills needed to work on your home are becoming a lost art, such as glazing windows and refinishing Victorian-era wood trim.

Step 6:

Observe state and federal laws when hiring people and when disposing of old materials. Your Victorian home almost certainly contains lead paint and pipes, or has asbestos flooring, insulation or wall texture. Contact your regional Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office to find out what you and your contractors need to know about working with hazardous materials.

  • Tips & Warnings
  • Research your home's history through your newspaper's archives, city building office or historical society. You may want to replicate the exterior paint colors used at one time or restore original architectural details that have been destroyed or changed over the years.
  • Plan on making liberal use of architectural salvage yards and companies that sell salvaged Victorian-era building materials, from wood flooring to glass doorknobs.
  • Prepare for unexpected costs and complications, which are an inherent part of any remodeling project but can reach epic proportions when tackling a Victorian home restoration.

About the Author

Stevie Donald is a regular contributor to DexKnows. She has been a painting contractor since 1979.

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