Five Essential Tasks to do Before Starting a Historic Home Renovation


It takes a dedicated homeowner to purchase a historic home with the intention of renovating it. From fixing water damage to dealing with applicable laws, the process of fixing up a historic home can significantly drain a homeowner’s time, resources and energy.

Despite the many challenges associated with historic homes, their unique beauty and charm simply can’t be replaced with a modern home. So long as you take careful steps in the beginning, reviving your Queen Anne or Tudor can be relatively painless.

Whether you’ve recently purchased a historic house or are currently searching for your dream home, here are a few essential tasks that you should do before diving into the renovation process:

  1. Get a Home Inspection

Every smart homebuyer will get a home inspection, historical or not. However, you’ll want an experienced inspector to look over your historic home.

Professionals who are familiar with historic houses will keep the time period of your home’s construction in mind when inspecting your home. With this perspective, they won’t unnecessarily paint your house as some sort of death trap just because certain aspects of the home’s design aren’t up to today’s building standards.

You can find a historical home inspector by looking at the Historic Building Inspectors Association’s list of members. If you can’t find a HBIA member near you, ask your real estate agent for recommendations on an inspector who will take your home’s architectural character into consideration.

  1. Make a Budget

Once you have read through your inspection report, it’s time to create a budget for remodeling projects. This is important to do before finding your historic home renovation crew because many contractors and architects will try to work within the budget you set.

When budgeting for your historic home renovations, be sure to leave room for unexpected surprises — and not always the good variety. Historic homes are typically at least 50 years old, making them a prime candidate for faulty wiring systems and aged plumbing.

  1. Build a Timeline

Most of us don’t have the means to go on a vacation for months on end while our homes are being renovated. To make your life easier during the remodeling process, start by tackling one issue at a time.

What can you afford right away and what will need to wait? Make a list of the most urgent projects that need to be completed, then create a timeline for when you want these projects to be completed. Once you have a plan, you can talk to your renovation crew and adjust your timeline based on their estimates.

  1. Build Out Your Historic Home Renovation Crew

As the saying goes, teamwork makes the dreamwork. If you want your dream home to become a reality, you need to start finding a team of experienced contractors, architects, engineers and historic property experts to help bring your vision to life.

This step is going to take time because it involves researching potential architecture firms that have experience with historic homes and buildings. If you live in a historic neighborhood, you might consider asking your neighbors for recommendations to make this step more fruitful.

Another potential resource is your local preservation review board or local government agency that deals with historic homes. They can potentially refer you to experienced architects and contractors who can help you successfully renovate your historic home.

  1. Check Applicable Laws

If you live and breathe historic homes, you probably know that renovating a home is different from restoring it. With renovations, you aren’t trying to recreate the same look of your old, Victorian-era windows — you’re replacing them entirely with something more modern.

Dramatic changes such as these may require the approval of a local or state board that deals with historic and architecturally-significant homes. Check with your local government to find out what you can and can’t do to your home before you do so much as dig a hole in your yard.

Speaking of legal matters, you’ll also want to know the rules regarding historic tax credits. If you’re eligible, this program can help you save a lot of money on repairs of your historic home.

Best Cities for Historical Preservation

There is a lot to consider before you dive into renovating a historic home. If you’re still searching for your dream home, these U.S. cities are full of historic houses that pack a whole lot of history and charm into their architecture:

  • Charleston, S.C. — From its top-notch dining and shopping to its rich history, Charleston offers undeniably attractive surroundings. With its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages and Gothic-Revival buildings, visiting the Holy City feels like stepping back in time. The city is serious about preserving its antebellum mansions and historic plantations while still offering a laidback vibe.

  • Savannah, G.A. — Although similar to Charleston in many ways, Savannah’s Historic District has its own unique history and appeal. This southern city is home to the oldest public art museum in the country, as well as the oldest continually operating theatre. If you decide to visit, be sure to check out the many historic townhomes and condos that line the city’s waterfront.

  • Boston, M.A. — Boston has long put efforts into preserving its many historic homes and buildings. With countless historic preservation organizations and a lengthy review process for renovating historic buildings, Boston’s neighborhoods are truly one of a kind.

  • Seattle, W.A. — The Harvard-Belmont Landmark District is a well-preserved neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Architectural styles in the area range from Colonial to neo-Georgian and Victorian. Part of Capitol Hill, the district was a departure point for the Klondike gold rush in the late 19th century.

  • Detroit, M.I — Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood is the oldest existing neighborhood in the city and was a hub for Irish immigrants during the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s. Although the neighborhood is modest compared to others on this list, residents of Corktown are serious about preserving its unique cultural heritage and integrity. Take a tour around the neighborhood and you’ll see plenty of restored Victorian houses that will serve as inspiration for your own renovated home.

Remember, you don’t need to completely renovate your home in a single go. Performing careful research of applicable preservation laws regarding historic homes and building a solid team with experience are critical steps toward successfully renovating a historic house.

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