5 Questions to Ask Before Renovating Your Historic Home

Whether you bought the historic house for its architectural charm or it’s been in the family for years, if you plan on renovating, you’re going to need to make an effort to keep it looking historical.

  1. Is your renovation allowed?

Before you even get started you need to figure out exactly what you’re allowed to do to your home. Check to see if it’s on the National Registries of Historic Places or if it’s in a designated historic district. Then go to your local preservation society or historic commission with your plans. They’ll be able to help you figure out what you can update and what needs to stay true to the time period your house was built. And don’t forget about your neighbors! If they’ve done any kind of work on their house, chances are they went through the same process. Ask them for guidance and advice.

  1. DIY or contractor?

If you’re painting or sanding floors, it’s definitely possible you can do it yourself. But if you start to get into anything structural, electrical, or plumbing, you’ll probably want to hire a contractor--one with experience working on historic homes. Those three areas can be tricky on any home, but when you throw in outdated technologies and just general age, they get a whole lot trickier. Save yourself the headache and hire a professional.

  1. What damage/danger is there?

An older home has had a lot of time to get damaged. Before you start, make a note of things like water damage, you might find out it’s more extensive than you thought once you start working. Older houses can also have some hazardous material in them--like asbestos or lead paint. While it’s not usually an issue if you leave it alone, once you start tearing it down or otherwise disturbing it, you’re going to want to work with a professional.

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  1. What’s your budget?

You need to have a set budget for any renovation project, but a historic home is likely to throw you some curveballs. You never know what might find under that paint, behind the wall, or in the ceiling. So be sure to set part of your budget just for the unexpected. And don’t forget alternative ways of paying for the project, like a home equity line of credit (HELOC).

  1. What’s your timeline?

Repairs and renovations can take a long time in a newer home, but with a historic home you’re also throwing in the additional stress of preserving the house. Set a realistic timeline and have a backup plan for how you’ll live in the house while you’re working on it. And always be prepared for delays.