You’ve decided it might be fun to restore a Victorian house. Restoring an old house can be a time-consuming and costly endeavor. Putting a few moments of thought into it before beginning can save you time and expense in the long run, though.
Find Your House and Develop Your Vision
Victorian-era homes have won your heart. You’ve decided to jump in with both feet to restore a Victorian house to its former glory. But where do you start? Start with a list. Don’t be afraid to dream.
Decide what you want in your house. Determine the level of restoration you want to achieve. Will you be installing all the modern conveniences? Do you want a small house or a huge mansion? If you decide to restore the house to historical standards, have you researched what special requirements you will need to qualify for historical registration? How much money do you have to invest? Are you planning on selling the house after renovation? Have you researched resale values in the neighborhood where you’re shopping?
What to look for while shopping for a Victorian house.
Victorian-era homes are usually those built between 1837 and 1901. However, some of the architectural design carried on as late as 1910. There are several different styles of Victorian home:
- Second Empire
- Queen Anne
- Richardsonian Romanesque
There are a few things that make Victorian-style homes easy to spot when you’re shopping:
- The use of textured, or scalloped-style shingles
- Steep roof lines, commonly with a prominent front-facing gable
- Non-symmetrical design
- BIG porches, usually wrapping around the front and one side of the building
The asking price for your purchase is something else to be conscious of when searching for a house. If you plan to sell after your restoration project is complete, make sure that the initial purchase cost and expected renovation costs do not exceed the resale value you can expect. Most people who renovate homes for resale intend to make a profit from each sale. That has to be incorporated into your plans and budgeting from the beginning of the project to the end.
What to avoid when shopping for a Victorian-style house.
Avoid houses with major structural and foundation damage. You might be able to make it look adorable, but the initial cost of restoring the structural integrity will be exorbitant. If you aren’t sure what to look for while shopping, don’t hesitate to hire a professional assessor to tour the home with you. A few hundred dollars to pay a professional for a few hours will save you heartache and thousands of dollars later.
The William Livingstone House pictured above was demolished in 2007. There are many more like it in the city of Detroit, Michigan. Those with major structural damage are marked for demolition. Those with “good bones” are available through the Detroit Land Bank, usually for a small percentage of their eventual value. Communities all over the country have similar programs.
If you are a novice, with little-to-no experience at home restoration, you should avoid major projects and shop for a house that needs more cosmetic-level repair. You can advance to larger projects as you learn and gain experience.
You’ve Bought A House – What Should You do Next?
Make lists. Use a spiral notebook or a binder to keep all your lists and information in one place for easy reference.
Things that need a professional contractor.
You’ll need a list of items in the house that require a contractor to repair. These items will need to conform to building codes, which your contractor should be familiar with. They will most likely require scheduled inspections from the local building code department. Since building codes differ from community to community, you might need to research your local requirements.
Things that you can do on your own.
Make a second list of all the things you can do on your own. This list might be as simple as paint and wallpaper. If you are comfortable working with power tools and wood, your list might include all the baseboards and trim, doors, and windows. If you are familiar with plumbing or electrical work and it doesn’t require a licensed contractor, add these things to your personal list. Always try to work within your comfort zone at first – for everything else, bring in a friend or contractor.
Materials and expenses.
Keep track of materials and expenses. A running list works well for this. Things you need; things you have; associated costs, etc. If there are building permit or inspection costs, these should be included on this list also. If you are working within a strict budget, this list will allow you to keep everything on track and within your budget limitations.
Permits and inspections.
A hired contractor will normally handle permits and inspections. If you are doing all the work on your own, you will want to maintain a list to track these items. If you perform a bit of research at the beginning of your project, it will limit surprises after you start. In order to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy (COO) from your local municipality, you’ll have to conform to all local building code requirements.
Knowing When to Hire a Professional
Old homes have brittle bones, and sometimes they break easily. If you have decided to do your own plumbing, but find out that every single pipe in the house requires replacement – you might want to call in a pro. If you had planned on doing all the electrical on your own and realize after starting that nothing in the house is properly grounded – you might want to call in a pro. Electrical and plumbing are the largest stumbling blocks when it comes to obtaining the coveted COO.
Maintain the authentic Victorian look and feel in your home with new and used fixtures.
If you have decided to leave the home as authentic as possible, you’ll have to decide what to modernize and what to leave antique. It is usually recommended to upgrade and modernize things like heating, air conditioning, electrical, and plumbing. These can all be done while still maintaining the Victorian “feel” in your home.
With the internet at our fingertips, searching for replacement fixtures for your house becomes incrementally easier. With a few clicks of your mouse, you will locate a plethora of sites like eBay and other auction sites. There are niche sites that specialize in finding and reselling authentic Victorian-era fixtures.
You can find new, Victorian-style lighting fixtures and everything imaginable at online emporiums like House of Antique Hardware. Vintage Hardware and Lighting specializes in renovated hardware and lighting, in addition to having new reproductions. Old House Lights deals in restored, ready to hang antique light fixtures.
A minimal amount of research will turn up all the hardware and fixtures you will need to give your house a complete feeling of authenticity, while allowing you to update to current building code standards.
Enjoying Your Masterpiece
Once the work is done the inspections are complete, you have two choices with your new house. You can either move in and make it your home, or you can sell it to a buyer that is looking for the beauty and authenticity of a Victorian home; without the hassle of renovating it on their own.
Making it your new home.
If you decided to move into your restored Victorian house – you now have more decisions to make. Will you be furnishing your new home with authentic furnishings, or just doing the modern-day comfort option? Authentic furnishings can be used, refurbished, or brand new reproductions. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Selling your project and moving on to the next.
If you began this restoration as a money-making venture, it is time to put your project on the housing market. Assuming that you did your research when you were in the shopping phase, you purchased in an area that has a good resale rate.
Now is the time to reap the benefits of all your hard work – this is where you collect on the sweat-equity you have poured into the project. Set a realistic, fair market value. If you use a real estate agent, be sure to figure their commission into your budgeting.
Wrapping up and Review
Enjoy your house renovation project. To quickly review the seven steps outlined above:
- Research and buy a worthy house
- Develop your vision – what do you want to accomplish with your renovation?
- Make lists, and then make more lists – contractors’ jobs, your jobs, fixtures you need to obtain, etc.
- Don’t forget permits and inspections – review local building code requirements
- Work, work, work
- Schedule the final inspection and obtain the COO
- Enjoy your new home, or make a hefty profit from selling your restored masterpiece
Seven not-always-so-easy steps from novice Victorian-era home renovator to accomplished restorer of history. We hope you have enjoyed this short overview of what it takes to restore a Victorian house.