You've been scouring real estate listings, surviving a bidding and maybe a free-standing Victorian or Federal style rowhouse – and wanting to bring it into the 21st century. You may think the hard part is over, but renovation experts say plenty of pitfalls remain. We asked them where most homeowners trip up.
Not researching the history
Digging into your home can be fun, but it can help you make beautiful decisions and avoid costly mistakes. Architect Anik Pearson recalls a New York client who wants to install a pool in his basement. Manhattan that existed in the waterways, wetlands and hills existed, and discovered a river underneath the townhouse. "They poked a hole in the basement and sure enough, there was what running water. The river was still there. "
You can aid the renovation process by conducting your own research ahead of time. Look at old maps from your local historical society or online through the U.S. Geological Survey, educate yourself about which materials are right for your home's climate and setting, and visit a museum that has period rooms based on your home's era. Look back at the real estate listing, if you can, because many agents of older properties include a backstory and ownership history. There are also books – such as "Victorian Architectural Details" by A.J. Bicknell & Co. and "The American Builder's Companion" by Asher Benjamin – that show historical precedence, proportions, and shape differentiation between, say, victorian gingerbread and gothic revival. "Pearson says." All of those styles have been carefully recorded in these books, "Pearson says.
Many homeowners consider bypassing a professional for what they think are easy cosmetic alterations. But they can cost more than an architect's fee. A common example is when homeowners try restoring curb appeal with quick-and-dirty fixes, such as power-washing a stain or painting at ugly house color.
Caution: Although in newer homes it's safer because modern paints do not contain harmful substances. But simply a new coat should not be a problem for DIYers.
"Cosmetic improvements that do not affect DIY projects," says Naomi Miroglio of San Francisco-based Architectural Resources Group. But it does not matter if you are older than you. "She points to replacing faucets in bathroom sinks, typically an easy DIY project homes. "The cutouts in the porcelain for the faucet and knobs are at different dimensions than current faucet assemblies. One has to look for salvage pieces or custom-order them. "Miroglio also recommends leaving electrical and plumbing to work because of the safety risks.
Adding pristine, new elements
Many owners of older homes will either refinish the original elements, such as the woodwork, or install reproductions. Juxtaposed with the worn details, however, these pristine copies or gleaming finishes can look out of place. Worse yet, some of the materials used in decorative reproductions paint the quality and durability of the original materials.
"Some contractors think it's more trouble to save pieces than work around them," Miroglio says. "You might have four beautiful capitals and one bad one. They'll be sharing them all to look the same. Often it's a cheaper material inside like Styrofoam. "
Or, she adds, they'll strip and re-stain the wood floors, resulting in an overly pristine appearance that's a lot of character. Instead, she recommends retaining some of the aged look. "It's arrested decay: You stop it from decaying but avoid making it look brand new."
The elements could not be in perfect condition, such as light fixtures with a worn metal finish. "I have even seen layers of scrub paper and exposed plaster kept intact with a clear coating applied," Miroglio says.
Architect Adam Zimmerman of Zimmerman Workshop agrees: "Nothing looks more like antique details directly adjacent to these are deliberately trying to match. The new wants to highlight the dilapidated the old really looks. "He offers a trick to avoid this:" Let's say you have historic baseboards and you decide to build a new wall. We might borrow the baseboards from other parts of the home for the wall. Or, if you have to mismatch in the same room, use similar style and scale, and then break old from new so they're not in direct contact. It always comes down to the details. "
Installing vinyl windows
Older, unrenovated homes are not going to win any awards for energy efficiency. So many homeowners target those drafty wooden windows for replacement. But architects caution against choosing modern vinyl options.
"Even though a wood window may cost a lot more than vinyl or aluminum, the wood is worth the investment because it can survive a hundred years," Pearson says. "Vinyl clad will not last for more than 10 or 20 years, and metal clad is better than vinyl but in arid climates."
Looking at it from a conservationist standpoint, Miroglio argues: "It's always more sustainable than just replacing it. We work hard with homeowners to understand how you weatherize wood double-hung windows. Maybe they just need new putty. "
Tiptoeing around technology
Implementing modern technology, such as home automation, is a hot topic. Fortunately, the nature of WiFi means there's no need to rewire the house or install high-tech devices out in the open. There's no reason a thermostat has to be in plain view. You could keep it in a closet and use a hidden sensor that no one sees, "Pearson says.
So you can find that in a modern way but look old-fashioned. "There's a market for this type of product now," says Fauzia Khanani of New York's Studio For. Shops with Rejuvenation and House of Antique Hardware carry reproduction push-button light switches with discreet dimmer functions, for instance.
Being afraid to remove walls
Architects are divided on the idea of opening up historical homes. But older floor plans can clash with modern-day living, and a well-renovated and expanded kitchen, for example, can increase the value of most properties. And an open concept might serve some families better than a compartmentalized layout. "It's important to work with the original spatial organization, but some historic structures did not originally have kitchens. They were additions, "Miroglio says. "Search areas are ripe for adapting, and the kitchen as the center of a house is really big."
"It's perfectly acceptable to knock down walls," Pearson says, but this can go beyond a kitchen space. There is a history of people altering structures, adding on wings at different times. We are just one step in a larger picture. What's important is that the structure is not torn down but reused. "
Zimmerman says. "If you expect to sell the home in the future, keep in mind that" value is directly connected to things like square feet, kitchens, and room and bathroom count, "Zimmerman says. "Reducing any of those on paper – like the house size or number of bathrooms – would certainly work against you. These are marketing prospects prospective buyers read before even deciding to view a property. "
Khanani warns that it's possible to go too far in the hunt for an open concept. In older homes, "each room had a specific function and there is a transition, or doors or a threshold." She adds, "There is something about each one of those spaces that makes it unique the House."
Adding square footage
Most architects agree that additions, when done with care, are acceptable. But not all additions are tasteful. Khanani points to a Victorian New York's Hudson Valley that she recently renovated. "There is an awkward addition to what is functional but looking like an appendage and not part of the original design intent," despite it being stylistically matching the finishes and details of the rest of the house. And its placement at the side of the house made it visible from the street. Khanani removed it completely, and there uncovered a beautiful bay window with a window seat, which she restored. Then, to reclaim the square footage lost, she also designs on the back side of the house that's about the same size as the previous addition.