When you are restoring an older home, you want to ensure that your finished rehab looks authentic. This is especially true if the house is a historic property.

In fact, some historical societies may require that the work you do remains true to the period in which the home was built. There is no doubt that this is a large part of the charm of having a historic house. But how can you make sure that your rehab does indeed look authentic? Here are 10 ways to help you keep your restoration as authentic as possible.

10 Steps to an Authentic Rehab

1. Do Your Research

This is the first step because it may be the most important piece of the restoration process and should take place before you start actually working on any projects. The internet will quickly become your new best friend. To know what is and isn’t authentic, you have to do your homework.

Research the house you plan to restore

Try to find any pictures of the house, both of the interior and exterior. Old pictures of the home can give you a first-hand look at what the house once looked like. Also, try to find any records you can that relate to the property in any way. If the house has a particularly storied past or is already on the National Registry of Historic Places, you may be able to find a good bit of information out there. Be sure to check with the local historical society because they may have pertinent information about the home. The local library is another good source for records of older places in the area.

Research not only the property you are restoring itself but also the period in which the house was built.

This will give you valuable insight into things such as the popular styles of the time period as well as a better understanding of what materials were used and why. Was there a war that caused a shortage of certain supplies? Knowing what was going on when your house was built can give you a much deeper insight into why things were done as they were. Nothing in the world can replace this research and without it, your rehab has very little chance of passing the authenticity test.

2. Include Restoration Costs in Financing

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Don’t forget to include the costs of renovations when you finance your property. Find a bank that is willing to work with you on covering the costs of the work that needs to be done to turn the property into the home you envision. In addition to loans, there are many grants available at both state and local levels that help with the costs of restoring historic properties. There are tax credits for homeowners of historic house as well.

3. Know Where to Shop

Finding authentic materials can be one of the most difficult parts of restoring a historic house. Usually, you can’t just go to Walmart and buy what you need. So, you will have to get creative with your shopping. Online sites such as eBay and Craiglist are good places to start but they are hardly the only places to find things like old fixtures. In addition to antique stores, check local thrift shops and flea markets. Keep an eye out for auctions and estate sales in your area. Remember that these types of places have a fairly high turnover with merchandise. Just because they don’t have anything that interests you this week doesn’t mean they won’t have it the next time you come. Make sure to check back often.

4. Make Friends

Making friends can help you in a multitude of ways. Make friends with the people who run the antique stores or flea markets. They can keep an eye out for the things you are looking for and let you know when something comes in. Having friends with home improvement know-how can save you a lot of money and frustration. Having a buddy who is a plumber or electrician can come in quite handy when restoring historic properties. You should also make friends with any other people you come across who are restoring houses. Their leftover supplies may be just what you need and vice versa.

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5. Give Yourself the Time You Need

Don’t rush the restoration process. Take the time to do things right. Another benefit of going slow is that it gives you time to find authentic materials. As mentioned above, most of the places you can buy things like antique fixtures, etc, don’t have these items in stock on a regular basis. They just get them as they come in. This means that it could potentially take you months to find what you are looking for. Giving yourself time to shop without pressure means that you have a better chance of keeping things authentic.

6. Expand Your DIY Knowledge

This step involves more research but once again, this is vital to an authentic restoration. To keep costs within reason you will likely have to do at least some of the work yourself. Unless you are already a licensed contractor, and even if you are, you are going to need to learn some new skills. The internet abounds with how-to guides on every home improvement project imaginable. There are also a multitude of videos on YouTube that will walk you through various projects step-by-step. Attending workshops that teach DIY skills is another way to boost your renovation know-how.

7. Repair Rather Than Replace

It would seem that this should go without saying but it is too important to be overlooked. Whenever possible, you should repair rather than replace if authenticity is your goal. For example, don’t go into a historic house and rip out all the plaster to replace it with drywall. Instead, patch the cracks and repair the plaster. Repairing may take more time than replacing, but it will save you money and keep things authentic.

8. Learn to Use Old-Fashioned Hand Tools

If you are restoring a historic house, power tools simply weren’t around when it was built. If you are wanting to restore a home like this, you should make every effort to learn to use old-fashioned hand tools. Modern power tools may seem faster and more convenient but they may be too high-powered for the job and could cause more harm than good.

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9. Be Gentle

Power tools aren’t the only modern invention that can cause damage to an older home. Always remember to be gentle. When using a cleaning product, always test it on an inconspicuous spot before applying it to a larger area. Similarly, you need to use caution when trying to remove paint. Products designed to dissolve paint can damage delicate surfaces, so test them first as well. When sanding off paint, make sure to go slow so that you don’t end up removing more than you meant to.

10. Know When to Call the Pros

The secret to restoring any house is to know when to call in the professionals. Some jobs, like plumbing and electricity, are too important (and dangerous) to be handled by anyone but a licensed pro. Often, the bank that provided financing will stipulate that certain work must be completed by a professional. However, you need to know when even smaller (and less deadly) projects are simply beyond your capabilities. Calling a pro in sooner rather than later can save a lot of avoidable headaches.

Restoring an old house to its former glory is no small undertaking. If you want to guarantee that your rehab looks authentic, then follow this guide’s advice and start doing your research today. With a little time and a lot of hard work, you will end up with the home of your dreams.

Featured image CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, by Onasill ~ Bill Badzo, via Flickr

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