So, you are thinking about restoring a historic house. You’ve either found a house that you simply have to have or maybe you are still on the hunt for the perfect place. You’re ready to take the plunge. Now what? Well, now the fun starts. Things are about to get real. Here are 15 tips and tricks for restoring a historic home that will have you living in your dream house before you know it.
Before You Start Restoring a Historic House
1. Know What You Are Getting Into
You need to prepare yourself for owning a historic home. It isn’t all old world charm, or rather, it is. To begin with, you need to understand what “restore” actually means. When you are restoring a historic home, you are attempting to return its interior and exterior to a particular date or time period. You may also find that there are restrictions as to what you can and can’t do to a historic house that is enforced by various historical societies. This isn’t a negative, per se. After all, that’s kind of the point of owning a historic home, right? It’s just something you need to know from the start. If you are a person who thrives on having every modern amenity that comes out on the market, owning a historic home isn’t going to be your cup of tea.
2. Watch for Water Damage
Water can damage the structure of a house and is often not taken seriously enough by potential homebuyers. When you are considering buying a house, keep a sharp eye out for any water or signs of water damage. Doing this one little thing can save you a lot of headaches in the future. If you see water damage and decide to go ahead with purchasing the property anyway, this needs to be number one priority on your fix-it list to prevent further problems before they start.
3. Educate Yourself
Once you have found your dream house and begin thinking about restoring it to its former glory, you need to do as much research as you can. Find as much information as possible about the house itself. Any pictures or records you can locate about the property will be invaluable to you. It will also help you to find a new appreciation for the house. But don’t stop at just the house. Research the time period in which the house was built as well.
4. Research the Details
When you are restoring a historic house, the internet is your friend. Once you have researched the house and the time period, it’s time to research the various individual projects you plan to undertake during the restoration process. You want to do this as soon as possible (preferably before you decide to buy the house) because this is the only way you will know how much work it will take to turn the house you have found into the house you envision it being. The internet abounds with how-to guides for just about every home improvement project under the sun. Even better, there are also videos available that walk you through the process step-by-step.
5. Be Prepared
Financing is arguably the biggest hurdle to be faced after you decide you want to restore a historic house. When you go to the bank and ask for money, it really is a situation where the more you know, the better. Go in with a plan of not only what needs to be done and how much it will cost, but also how you intend to get the work done.
When You Start Restoring a Historic House
6. Start Small
Regarding the actual size of the house itself, start small. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The restoration process can be stressful, so don’t overwhelm yourself from the very beginning. If this is the first time you will be restoring a historic house, don’t choose a house with 17 rooms. Go with a smaller home that needs less work.
7. Be Patient
Don’t fall into the trap of setting a deadline that you can’t meet. No restoration is without its own unforeseen disasters. Without a doubt, you will run into problems that you didn’t anticipate and things will take longer than expected. A beautifully restored home doesn’t happen overnight. So, expect the unexpected and be patient.
8. Know When to Call a Professional
There are some things you can do yourself. There are others you can’t. If you want to successfully restore a historic house, you will have to learn the difference. On some projects, you may not have a choice. City ordinances or the bank that provided your financing may require that certain work is completed by a licensed professional. You need to know when a project is beyond you and it is time to call in the professionals.
9. Pace Yourself
This one kind of goes along with being patient, but it is more than that. Plan to do one project at a time. Choose where you will start and tackle that before you try to move on to the next item on your list. Focus on one thing at a time. When you are restoring a historic house, slow and steady really does win the race. If you don’t pace yourself, you will be overwhelmed before you barely even begin.
10. Know Your Limits
If you want to survive the restoration process, you need to know your limits. Whether it is your plumbing prowess or how long you can go without sleep before losing it, knowing your limits is vital if you want to restore a historic house and keep your sanity. However, knowing your limits isn’t quite enough. You also have to be willing to take a step back and ask for help.
11. Fix the Important Things First
When you begin restoring a historic house, you don’t want to start by painting the walls. That is, assuming you are talking about a home that truly needs restored rather than redecorated. You need to take care of the important things first. Primarily, you need to fix any problems with the roof, windows, and masonry right off the bat. These are the areas that allow water to leak in, and as discussed above, this can lead to structural damage.
12. Keep the Plaster
The plaster walls in old homes are often in disrepair. If at all possible, you should keep the plaster as this is a vital part of historic houses. If a contractor tells you to tear out all the plaster and replace it all with drywall, back away slowly and find a new contractor. When repairing cracked plaster, it is better to fill in the cracks and then sand them down rather than using tape, which rarely holds up well over time.
13. Clean Gently
Be gentle when you finally get into your historic house and begin cleaning. Old wood and fixtures need to be cleaned gently. Check to make sure that any modern products won’t damage the surface you are trying to clean. You don’t want to ruin any of historic treasures you have found when you try to clean them up. Read the label of any products you use and test them first on an inconspicuous area before using them on a larger scale.
14. Be Careful When Removing Paint
As with cleaning, you want to be careful when you are removing paint from woodwork. Make sure that you don’t end up removing more than you intended to. Use caution with products that remove paint and go slow when using a sander. Remember, once you take it off, you can’t put it back on.
15. Keep Your Sense of Humor
This is quite possibly the most important tip to keep in mind when restoring a historic house. Things will go wrong. It will be stressful. At times, you may even think you made a horrible mistake by deciding to take on the renovation process in the first place. But if you can keep your sense of humor and see things through, you will end up with the home of your dreams.