Renovating their house to period accuracy is the dream of many historic homeowners. The pleasure of bringing a treasured old home back to its former glory is unique. It can seem an overwhelming task. But those who are up to the challenge are cultural heroes. Restoring our country’s past is a goal worth aiming for.
Unfortunately, many historic homeowners have no idea where to start. And sometimes, they make unfixable mistakes when going about the restoration. Some of these dire errors are in failing to plan properly for restoring a historic home. Others don’t understand the unique needs of a historic restoration.
Restoring a historic home comes with its own unique challenges. It’s not like renovating a mid-century modern or 1980s Cape Cod. Older homes, whether they’re registered and strictly regulated or not, often suffer from a renovation. Historic homeowners tend to make grievous mistakes in three areas: planning, renovating, and furnishing.
Historic Homeowner Often Fail To Plan
1. Failure to Plan for Future Needs
If your beautiful historic home has survived 100 years, then it deserves for any renovations to last another 100 years. Talk to a general contractor to create an overall plan to ensure that any current upgrades will accommodate future needs. The replacement of the electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems should allow for any future planned additions. Make sure the panel will accommodate adding outlets to rooms currently without service. Ensure that new HVAC equipment is installed to allow extension of ductwork. Plumbing supply and waste should accommodate future baths or outdoor hose bibbs. All work should be coordinated with the final renovation in mind.
2. Failure to Plan for Financial Contingencies
Even a relatively straightforward home renovation needs a built-in contingency budget for unexpected expenses. For historic homeowners, experts recommend an additional 10 percent to the average 10 percent contingency fund. Yes, that equals a 20 percent margin, an additional $200 dollars for every $800 you plan to spend. Until you’re knee deep in the plaster, you may not have a realistic idea of how much it will cost to stay authentic with your home renovation.
You won’t be able to rely on stock items for your renovation. You may need to pay extra for hazardous materials in the demo (such as asbestos or lead paint). Make sure that you allow enough funds to do it right.
3. Ignoring Tax Advantages
One way to help fund your renovation is to take advantage of any tax credits available. Over 30 states in the U.S. have programs to support historic homeowners in their renovations. Many provide income tax credits when you take on this mission.
If your home qualifies and is documented by the National Register of Historic Places, do your homework and find out how to take advantage of these programs. You will need to get your rehab approved by your state’s historical preservation board, but it may very well be worth it.
4. Failure to Document the Renovation
That said, don’t fail to document every step of your renovation. Floor plans, electrical panel diagrams, and other schematics help you make future repairs. Knowing what materials have been used is the first step in keeping it maintained. It’s also a good idea for any tax deductions you’ll be taking for the improvements. Include photographs, which become a sales tool down the road if you decide to sell. The care and thoroughness you’ve taken with your renovation will increase your home’s value.
Mistakes Historic Homeowners Make During Renovation
Educate yourself on what renovations are worth the money. Many historic homeowners think that tearing everything out and replacing it with new is the way to go. For the most part, they’re wrong. In fact, you can do more damage with an “upgrade” than you think.
People who love historic homes want them for their original charm. In many cases, the age and wear in design elements is part of the charm. In some cases, spending $5,000 dollars to replace an old hardwood floor will drop your home’s value.
5. Historic Homeowner Shouldn’t Replace Windows
Many historic homeowners discount the importance of the old, leaky windows in their property. For discerning buyers, the old windows add to the historic value of the home. If your old home is a registered historic property, you may even be penalized for replacement the originals.
And even if the home is just old, rather than technically “historic,” it can take up to 90 years to recover the cost of replacement. It’s just not worth it. The windows in old homes were meant to last for 100 years. Historic homes were built in an era when families lived in the same house for hundreds of years. What they need is to be restored and maintained.
6. Replacing Old Fixtures with New is an Offense
Speaking of replacement, many historic homeowners are keen to keep the renovation quick and easy. Instead of taking the time and effort to repair and refurbish the homes historic elements, they rip it all out and put in new stuff. Often, the replacement materials are much lower quality than the original. This includes flooring, cabinets, and countertops. Even bathroom fixtures can be refinished. And not only is it cheaper, it adds value to the home.
Historic Homeowners Can Make Bad Refurbishing Decisions
Once the home is back in great shape, it’s time to add the details. Adding the finishing touches like hardware, lighting fixtures, and furnishings is like the cherry on top of a historic renovation. But homeowners often go to extremes. And they can do too much as well as too little.
7. Historical Homeowners Shouldn’t Sweat Every Period Decor Detail
A grand family home is meant to house generations of kith and kin. Some historic homeowners go overboard, insisting that every room is “staged” to period. Unless the homeowner is planning to open a museum, this is a ridiculous idea. In the past, the historic home has housed the goods and from the generations previous. Families hold on to beloved chairs and dining tables. While young members jump onto the latest fashionable colors. Things accumulate over time.
8. But Don’t Discount Period Details
When you do have to replace fixtures or finishes, do your research. You may want to install a modern stainless steel range for convenience. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add period hardware. Check with architectural salvage and replica companies. Many will have the door plates you need. If a previous owner has modernized the kitchen, you can still replace the missing medallions and switch plates.
9. Many Historic Homeowners Are Stuck in the Past
You may be tempted to recreate every detail of life during the home’s era. But you need to be practical. A historic home should be livable for many more years. Good quality, authentic materials with old-world craftsmanship is far more durable than knock-off replica décor. If you don’t take the time to refinish your hardwood floors, all the antique chintz curtains in the world won’t help.
Historic homeowners need to think of the future when planning their renovation. And this brings us back to the first mistake home renovators make: Failure to plan. The families living in the home will have changing needs. They may need to finish the attic for an unexpected set of twins. Can your electrical panel handle it? You may decide to partition the attic in your historic old home for extra income. The electrical panel can handle it, but will you be able to provide a private entrance? Or did you install the heat pump in the way?
Restoring our country’s history by preserving our historic homes is a noble pursuit. It’s a mission, and like many missions, it’s a long road with an end goal that sometimes seems intangible. Such an important project deserves the time required to do it right. It requires good planning and patience. Taking the time to restore your historic home’s unique features is the best way to preserve both its charm and its value.