Historic Home Renovation Mistakes to Avoid During Rehab

10:10 Sep 2023
Historic Home Renovation

A historic home renovation can be a very challenging undertaking for anyone including a contractor that does not have the experience in assessing and evaluating the existing structure and the restoration of damaged surfaces in need of maintenance or repairs.

Houses that are 80 years old or greater are candidates for a historic home renovation even if they have had previous modifications or remodeling updates.

Homes of this vintage require a special approach of renovating or preservation than more recent built homes. This is due to the different types of construction products and techniques that were used to build houses back in the day.

Given their unique architectural style & design, renovating such a house is nothing like renovating a house recently built.

It requires a lot of research and creativity to understand how to incorporate the changes without hampering the unique characteristics of your historic house.

In short, conducting a historic home renovation is a tricky business, and hence you should not take the project lightly.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is risking the longevity and endurance of your historic home renovation by incorporating the random DIY ideas mindlessly.

After all, a vintage house renovation is not the same as contracting to build a custom house.

With a historic house you need to test the structural integrity and test for hazardous materials used in the building and you are constrained by a host of existing factors that make renovating changes extremely difficult. While in the case of building ground up you can include almost everything you want from ground zero.

To learn about the process of custom building to compare this process to home renovation visit our links.

As you may have just read, a home renovation should be managed by an experienced professional renovation contractor.

During the balance of this article, we will share with you even more mistakes you must avoid while contracting a historic house renovation.

Learn about the many mistakes that can occur during a historic home renovation in Houston

Historic Home Renovation

Underestimating the Renovation Cost

A historic home renovation requires careful and thoughtful planning, material testing, developing a “as-built” drawing and creating detailed construction documents.

Conducting a structural analysis and evaluating the MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) systems by qualified professionals will help define the most important priorities.

Using these construction documents and a clearly defined scope of work can provide the instruments to prepare a schedule of value for the renovation cost.

Without well-defined house renovation cost, an allowance schedule based on real quantities it is easy to run considerably over budget.

The engineer reports will provide you the recommendations required for any necessary repairs or upgrades that may be required to extend the service life of the building.

Not Conducting the Necessary Construction History Research

Unless you have evaluated the house foundation thoroughly, it is going to be difficult to build the superstructure based on it. That goes for the frame structure and MEP systems as well.

You need to research the history of the existing architectural style of your house to understand which renovation ideas are feasible and which are not for renovating.  

Firstly, you must determine the year the house was constructed and what kind of architecture design, style, and material usage were prevalent during that period.  

Second, if you want, you can research the local tax appraiser and visit local history society to delve into the history of period-based homes and ownership records.

Researching the history will also clue you in on possible environmental hazards that might remain hidden in your vintage house. Wondering what we are talking about?

Well, lead paints and asbestos are the environmental dangers found in historic homes. Proper licensed abatement removal of these elements is highly desirable to ensure that no harm is done to the environment or human lives.

For this reason, we suggest you hire a seasoned renovation contractor and let the expert handle it all on your behalf.

Being experts, such contractors can also help you adhere to the legal requirements and obtain planning permission without much hassle.

Apart from your heritage house, are you planning to invest in another property?

Cannot understand if you should buy a second-hand house or buy a new one?

For assistance in understanding the many factors to evaluate resolving your dilemma, visit our blog; Build | Buy | Renovate.

Adding a Home Addition That Is Not Architecturally Consistent

Carefully consider the idea of a home addition for additional square footage if you want to avoid a complicated historic home renovation.

A home addition as part of to a home renovation can present enormous architectural difficulties blending new concept space design with the archaic architecture of your house.

If not integrated properly, a home addition might look like an appendage instead of appearing like an original part of the house.

If you are committed to the need for additional space a careful evaluation is necessary of the structural feasibility and the proposed space plan recommendations.  

Expert and experienced renovation contractor will study the architectural outlay of the property and carve out a space for incorporating an addition.

But, if they are not convinced of the feasibility, you should not push it. Had it been a more recently built house, a home addition would not have been much of a problem.

If a home addition is a feasible option we recommend a preparing a house addition check list as a preconstruction strategy.

If a proposed home addition is not feasible, you might consider opening up the space by removing some walls and adding some clearstory windows. Heritage houses typically have small room sizes and are limited on natural light.

Not Balancing Energy Efficiency with Originality

Heritage homes have a special charm and appeal but they are not energy-efficient in most cases.

Afraid of disturbing the original elements, homeowners often avoid making sustainable changes in such houses.

But not finding a balance between originality and energy-efficiency is a mistake.

We understand some retrofit ideas like adding sliding instead of brick in place of historic windows can disturb the aura of the place, but you can opt for other retrofit ideas that let you find a midway between the two.

Original windows commonly have functional issues especially if they have not been maintained. Prepping windows by sanding and painting and adding weather stripping to windows and doors instead of replacing will likely be more cost effective and maintain the original architectural style.

Insulating older house can be difficult because the interior walls are often plaster. They require making small openings in each wall bay to port foam insulation. Attic spaces are typically assessable for blown or batt insulation at any time.

Another energy reducing activity is making safe and hassle-free choices by replacing the old appliances with the new energy star-rated products.

Moreover, you can also get rid of old lights and replace them with LED lights that you think might go well with the overall setting of your old home.

To understand the current energy-efficiency of your house, you must conduct an energy audit of your historic property. 

While you may not be able to transform your heritage house into a LEED-certified building given its structural constraints, you can still explore the benefits of owning a high-performance house.

Please visit our video on LEED certified homes.

Historic Home Renovation Houston

Simply Repairing Before Replacing Conditions in Your Old Home

Before you prepare the design, documents and strategize the scope of work, you must understand that repair is commonly accepted as more important than complete replacement when it comes to a historic home renovation.

Given our expertise, we do not say this without a reason. Unique and belonging to a certain time period, the architectural style of your heritage house is perhaps rare to be found now.

Also, chances are high that its building matching materials and fixtures are not likely available commercially any longer.

In such a case, you cannot randomly select some materials and use them to repair or refinish products that are in distress. In these cases, it is common to have these products custom crafted.

Not only will it spoil the character of your historic house, but this experimentation can also pose a threat to the entire architecture style by hampering the longevity.

Planning to replace gilded mirrors with geometric-shaped mirrors?

We suggest you keep certain elements intact because they tell the story of your house and its legacy.

Also, incorporating something so contemporary would seriously look out of place in your traditional styled house.

We know recessed and accent lights are in vogue these days, but never remove the vintage-inspired classic chandelier from your living room.

Bear in mind that random replacements can turn your historic house renovation project into a disaster.

And if you ever plan to buy or build a contemporary home, you can take some ideas from our blog on contemporary home design.

Hiring the Wrong Home Renovation Contractor

One of the most underestimated mistakes is hiring the wrong renovation contractor who does not have qualifications or experience to properly contract for a challenging project.

As we have mentioned, vintage houses were built with different methods and materials and require the home renovator to be comfortable and competent in this type of general contracting.

 The most effective home renovation contractor for these services is a professional home renovator that offers design to build contracting services. They are able to develop design and engineering needs as they materialize.


While you are preparing and planning the designs, make sure you have the budgetary leeway to fulfill all the changes.

Historic home renovation can be unpredictable because certain problems may pop up unexpectedly while the project is still in progress.

So, cutting corners is only going to prevent you from renovating your historic house in the best way possible.

One of the best home renovators in Houston, Marwood Construction will be happy to guide you through the process.

Book a consultation and embark on this ambitious journey.

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