6 steps to preserving historic homes

Phantom Screens / August 3, 2016

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There’s a certain amount of romance in owning a Victorian home or a historic row house. These residencies have a lived-in feel that’s full of interesting history. However, upgrading these houses to include modern conveniences can be a challenge. You want to maintain the facade and integrity of the original design while still adding necessary features. Follow these steps as you prepare to renovate your historic home.

1. Research

Research before you do anything. You should know the era your home was built in and the architectural trends of the time. Get to know basic construction and renovation techniques that are specific to historic buildings. Learn about the features of your abode. What kind of staircase does it have? Was there once an icebox where your fridge now stands? Are their picture rails, wainscoting or chair rails you want to duplicate? Become the expert on your house and implement design features that were common during the time it was built.

2. Have the home inspected

Hire a professional consultant with expertise in historic preservation and construction to do a walkthrough evaluation of your home. This person should be able to find trouble spots in your house that will need to be fixed. Sagging floors, cracked foundations and poorly placed electrical wires can all be issues. This evaluation will help you plan your renovation budget. There may be more necessary repairs than you initially thought, and the consultant can give you an idea of what you’ll pay to fix those issues.

The consultant will also be able to gather certain information necessary for registering your home as a historic landmark. The home’s “pedigree” will be determined by describing its original design, as well as changes made to that design over time.

3. Hire a good architect

You have a lot of decisions to make when renovating a historic home. How much can you change while maintaining the original design? Hire a good architect who has a background in historic homes to help you plan your project. Use the information you got from your consultant as a basis for what to discuss with the architect. For example, if the original windows need to be replaced, how will you do it? The architect might be able to suggest windows that have a similar look but are more energy efficient.
Other issues can be more complicated. Renovation technology has been designed for the purpose of upgrading historic buildings. Be sure the architect you hire is versed in these techniques. If you have to support an old beam, he or she should be able to account for it in the floor plan.

4. Choose the right materials

Work with your architect to decide what aesthetic features work best with your home’s design. You want to maintain the look of your historic house while making upgrades. Choose materials that look native but are more up-to-date. For example, Phantom Screens’ retractable screens can be fitted into the current architectural design of the home. They are completely invisible when not in use. Your porch will still look Victorian, but when you want to, you can release the screens to have a screened-in porch. Screen installation is simple and can blend into your home. Choose a wood that matches the original wood in your home.

5. Hire a knowledgeable contractor

The person actually building elements of your home should also be familiar with historic residences. The construction techniques the team uses should support the original look of the house. Don’t be afraid to get their opinion on the features you’re adding to the house.

6. One step at a time

There are a lot of potential changes to be made to an old house. Don’t get overwhelmed. Tackle each issue one at a time. Start with structural problems and work your way toward a new paint job.

Our very own CEO Esther de Wolde finished restoring a 1906 historic arts-and-crafts bungalow in Mobile, AL in the beginning of 2016. Learn more about her story and watch webisodes of her journey.