What do I need to know about renovating old homes?

Wondering what you need to know about renovating old homes? Embarking on a renovation is both exciting and daunting. Renovating an old house can be particularly worrisome without adequate preparation and research. In this article, we will explore valuable information when renovating an old house from the experience of a building company that frequently completes historical home renovations.

Research is key to determining whether the old home you want to renovate is heritage listed. A heritage listing means any alteration, modification, or restoration of a home needs to meet rules determined by the local council and requires special approval by a historical committee. Generally, the rules are in place to keep the façade and streetscape consistent with the original. Any restoration needs to be sympathetic to the original dwelling, including its construction period. An extension must not impact the facade or streetscape. An extension should be clearly separated from the original residence as a new section.

An architect specialising in period homes will further assist you in function yet sympathetic design and rules and regulations. In addition, your interior designer and/or builder, with historical experience, will understand material selection to ensure a continuation of the period of the home throughout construction. Choosing a Builder who has expertise in residential project management will ensure no detail is missed.

The goal is to preserve as much architectural detail as possible, including the restoration of key elements such as fireplaces and mantles and decorative plasterboard cornice.

Your builder must have detailed knowledge of period construction and replica materials to ensure your home’s renovation doesn’t impact the look and feel of the space. Transformations occur when your construction team enhances the features of your home that you fell in love with when purchasing it for its historic charm. Historic homes can be a bit out of level and require a builder that knows how to work with antique construction techniques to blend in new or replacement elements in your build seamlessly. We love these homes for their quirks; managing imperfections instead of correcting every minor detail is key to keeping the character and feel of the home.

Old homes were built on foundations that can cause structural issues if not addressed correctly. The foundations may require underpinning, careful replacement, or the introduction of adequate pest control methods. Water damage caused by original plumbing or waterproofing techniques is generally the most common cause of subfloor damage in a historic home. We recommend a building inspection conducted by a certified building inspector for any home that has been newly purchased; if you don’t already have one, this will identify locations that need immediate attention when planning a renovation. It will guide you on where to start your old home renovation.


Problems Renovating old homes

Problems when renovating old homes are inevitable. Be prepared for them so that you can deal with them upfront.

When pricing historic home renovations, your builder should clearly state what expected or potential rectifications are included in the construction costing. Older homes are beautiful, but they can come with hidden problems in walls or under floors that hit the bottom line. Be sure you understand how the pricing can inflate when unexpected construction costs pop up. Make sure there is some contingency in your budget to allow for this.

Problems we see pop up consistently in older home renovations are asbestos removal, electrical circuit upgrades, complexities in providing appropriate heating, subfloor rectification, pest damage, and rising damp.

Always get your construction professional to check for latent asbestos before modifying any detail in your home. Asbestos, when disturbed, can create toxic dust that causes severe lung disease. Any asbestos present in areas of your home that could be disturbed requires removal by licensed professionals.

Older electrical circuitry is very dated and can present fire and safety hazards in the home if to adequately dealt with. We always urge our clients to include meter board and wiring upgrades in their renovation plans for the utmost peace of mind when making a historic home their forever home.

We didn’t heat homes in the past the way that we heat homes now; consider improving the thermal efficiency of your home. Improvements can be made by re-glazing original windows, introducing insulation or insulative materials, sealing drafts, or replacing the heating with efficient technologies. When installing a new heating system into your historic home, don’t crank the heat immediately! The materials that have sat in a consistently cooler temperature need time to adjust to their new environment. Quickly applying dryer, hotter conditions can warp lining boards or trims.

Understanding the static environment of your home is essential to identify any issues with moisture ingress or rising damp. Watermarks, humidity readings >60% or excessive mould growth can signal moisture ingress. Your builder will identify any rising damp issue and rectify by installing underfloor ventilation or, in more extreme cases, the application of waterproof barriers. Moisture ingress can also occur from leaking roofs, poor window/door flashing, or leaking pipes.

And last but not least, enjoy the journey. The satisfaction of restoring and enhancing a piece of Australian history is a wonderful motivator.

Our projects