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How to Maintain the Charm of an Older Home When Remodeling

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Which features to keep and which ones to replace on a historic home

One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to renovate an older home is to implement trendy improvements rather than timeless ones, as Nicole Curtis, host of HGTV’s “Rehab Addict,” relates. She recommends home owners make repairs and updates that remain true to the house’s era. Here are eight tips for remodeling a historic residence while preserving many of its original details.

Make conservative structural changes

Per Houzz contributor Laura Gaskill, some older homes will have structural issues to address, such as rotting wood or a leaky roof. It’s wise to make a list of the pros and cons of gutting versus tearing down certain features, before completing those renovations, as Gaskill advises. If you do have to totally eliminate something, you can still save a few original features like windows, floorboards and doors to maintain the house’s historicity.

Use caution when modernizing the bathroom and kitchen

Per Country Living contributor Elizabeth Finkelstein, bathrooms and kitchens are two of the most popular areas to renovate in historic homes. However, it’s best to be conservative when deciding on which features to throw out and which ones to preserve. Before updating these two rooms, research the style of those rooms when the house was built to see which historical features you can keep and which ones can be updated to offer modern convenience.

Properly update plumbing and electric

Older homes often have outdated plumbing and electric systems, which can present a safety hazard for you and your family. Gaskill recommends installing copper pipes as well as bringing the electrical wiring up to code. This upgrade will also help protect your house from structural damages that result from plumbing or electric issues.

Keep original walls

As tempting as it might be to knock down some walls to open up the floor plan, it’s often wise to leave walls alone. Many people regret eliminating “extra” walls later on, when they realize they miss the original floor plan. To avoid this mistake, Curtis suggests living in the house for six months before deciding on whether to tear down any walls.

Keep cabinets

If the older home has solid wood cabinets that could use a facelift, Curtis advises stripping and refinishing the wood rather than replacing the units. Modern cabinets are usually composed of modern Medium Density Fiberboard or melamine, which are less moisture-resistant. Not only will the solid wood units last longer, but keeping them in place will preserve the house’s original cabinetry style.

Refinish sinks and tubs

It’s common for homeowners to swap out old sinks and tubs for brand new ones. Not only is this modification costly, but it can also clash with the historic style of the home. Refinishing a porcelain tub will set you back about $400, according to Curtis. That’s significantly cheaper than the estimated $1,000 cost of installing a new one. 

Repair windows

Some homeowners ditch original windows because they’ve been poorly-maintained or have leaks. However, these features play a key part in maintaining the house’s historic value, as Curtis relates. Instead of getting rid of the original windows, repair and add weather-stripping to them so they’re more effective. Another option would be to replace the windows with storm windows that adhere to the house’s era.

Save wood floors

Another common faux pas is to remove old wood floors or cover them with modern tiling or carpet.  Preserve the historical accuracy of the home and save some cash by refinishing the original wood floors, as Curtis suggests. If there are damaged sections of flooring, replace just those sections.

By implementing these eight strategies, you can enjoy adding some contemporary comforts to your older home while retaining some its original style.

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