Restoring a Historic Home
Careful planning and patience will pay off in the end
By Robert Ferguson
Restoring a historic home is a challenging but rewarding task. Extreme organization is important in both your research and the way you approach the project. Photos can be a big help when restoring a house to its original state. National and local tax breaks or grants are available for most historic home restoration that can help reduce or defray the costs of the project. The grants can be difficult to obtain but are worth it. Know what the home needs before applying for the grants.
- What You Need to Know
- Make sure you get bids from multiple contractors who are experienced in working with historic homes in the area. Ask your neighbors or real estate agent for referrals.
Search for photos of the home in news archives at the local library or look for blueprints or other documents at the building department. Sometimes the original paperwork will have details about materials that went into building the structure. Find similar historic homes in the area and take pictures of them. Ask any longtime neighbors about changes or original distinctions of the house. Research the building practices of home construction around the time the house was built.
If practical and not too costly, remove any existing changes that were not included in the house originally; things such as awnings, shutters, room additions, porches and decks.
Hire an architect and/or engineer to inspect the home for structural damage and other hidden circumstances. Have a plumbing and electrical contractor inspect the house as well for problems. It's OK to replace the wiring or plumbing without destroying the integrity of the restoration. (And, in fact, many building departments will require it.)
Paint the exterior of the home with colors that were prominent during the time when your house was constructed.
Look for hardware replacements. Check antique stores for replacement doorknobs and other hardware items. Advertise in newspapers and magazines for replacements or look online.
Restore interior moldings. Some molding types are out of production and cannot be purchased. Use the home's original moldings to finish as much of the main areas as possible. Then use a similar type modern-day molding to finish the less visible areas. If you have the budget for it, you may be able to find a carpenter or woodworker who can duplicate your original molding.
If you want to maintain the original windows, you may need to replace parts. Find original window replacements by driving through older neighborhoods to look for condemned homes of the same era. Contact the owners and try to purchase the windows, doors, hardware and even some plumbing fixtures. Local antique stores or hardware stores may also have the replacement parts.
Keep plenty of patience on hand when restoring historical properties. These projects can overwhelm even the most seasoned of remodelers. Choose your contractors wisely by hiring those who have proven experience in historic home preservation.
About the Author
Robert Ferguson is a licensed building contractor with more than 30 years of experience, focusing primarily on residential remodeling, repair, renovation and construction.
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