Old character houses are attractive for many reasons: high ceilings, rich timber floors, paned windows, spacious rooms with natural lighting, and wood-burning fireplaces- what’s not to love?
Unfortunately, many heritage homes need a bit of TLC before they’re move-in ready – old houses come with beautiful quirks as well as repairs and maintenance. To make it easier to call a beautiful old house your new home, we’ve made a list of the top things to consider when renovating an old house.
The first step to fixing up a retro house is figuring out what can be left alone, what needs repairing, and what you’ll need to replace. Many materials used in construction before the 1970’s are now considered health hazards. If the house still has the original plumbing, electrical, or windows update these to more modern versions for a safer, more energy efficient home.
Plumbing is one of the main “might need replacing” features, as plumbing pipes can be found in the walls, under or above taps and under the house. Check with your real estate agent on the materials used for plumbing and when it was last replaced.
Most piping in old houses has a lifespan of 25-50 years. Galvanized steel water pipes and lead service lines are a few problems you will run into when renovating. The existing steel pipes can lead to problems like corrosion and releasing rust to clog up shower heads. Lead service lines can seep lead into drinking water if the corroded material is present in the pipes.
How to update old plumbing
Have a certified plumber check to see which areas are salvageable. Remove and replace any parts that are unsafe or are likely to fail in the near future. Install pipes, service lines, and taps that are up to the current Australian standards.
Electricity is another key consideration that sets old homes apart from modern homes. Wiring can be found in the ceilings and walls throughout the entire house.
Most early houses had limited electrical wiring and switchboards. Nowadays, we are much more reliant on electricity, so you may need to update electrical wiring and switchboards to meet your needs.
Possible electrical issues in old homes include old wiring, insubstantial power, and dead outlets. Minor electrical issues include flickering and dimming bulbs.
Solution for problems with old electricity:
Have a registered electrician check the current wires – if any are malfunctioning or unsafe have them replaced or rewired. Add new switchboards and power ports as needed.
Old windows and doorways
It is likely that your dream home will have single or double wood paned windows and doors with a timber wood frame. While vintage timber windows are beautiful, they may come with a few unpleasant side effects.
Challenges with old windows and doors:
Most windows in old houses are made of timber and have simple locking systems. Back in the day, it was common to leave doors unlocked, hence the lack of concern with security and privacy fittings.
How to retrofit windows in an old house:
If you’d prefer to keep the existing timber windows, add a home security system to keep your home safe. Have current glass windows and doors replaced with glass that is up to the current Australian standards AS 1288:2006 – updating your windows to comply with current standards will boost the value of the property.
Did you know that more than 10mg of lead in a human body is considered lead poisoning?
Lead paint was used in many homes built before 1970, and was preferred because of its ability to dry quickly and its high pigmentation.
In December 1997 laws were passed requiring paint to be no more than 0.1 percent lead.
How to remove lead paint in an old home:
There are three ways to deal with lead painted walls. If you are DIY-ing this process make sure to wear protective gear – you do not want to inhale lead particles.
- Encapsulate existing walls with encapsulate paint.
- Strip the existing paint. Use scraping tools to carefully scrape paint from the surface. For mantles or window panels, the structure can be removed, taken off-site and dipped in solutions to strip off the lead-based paint.
- Window and door frames, along with other permanent wood panels around the house will need to be replaced if they contain lead paint.
Asbestos is one of the main things you should inspect for when renovating an old home. It can be found nearly everywhere: in the walls, shower, kitchen, eaves, gutters, chimneys, pipes, and insulation. Asbestos is a silent assassin if not properly dealt with – according to the ASEA National Asbestos Profile, over 40,000 Australians are affected by asbestos-induced disease Mesothelioma. A large percentage of this was caused by occupational exposure risks through unregulated projects like people renovating older homes.
The study also estimates that one-third of all homes built before 1990 contain asbestos. This includes the walls, roofs, carpet, and floors, along with eaves, gutters, chimneys, pipes, insulation, and more.
Ensure you are aware of the asbestos profile of the home before buying and have it removed before renovating. Alternatively, have a trained contractor remove the asbestos beforehand.
How to remove asbestos in an old home:
Asbestos is said to be harmless if left alone. However, if aggravated with high-pressure water or power tools, asbestos can become airborne, posing a threat to anyone who comes into contact with it.
To check if there is asbestos in the home, send a sample to a lab like NATA. Once the results are back you can start to undertake the asbestos removal project.
We would highly recommend having a professional Asbestos removals service to manage this project for health and safety reasons.
When renovating an old house start from the top and work your way to the bottom: roof, walls, doors & windows, then work your way through the floors and pipes.
After you’ve ticked off all the major considerations above it’s time to work on the fun stuff like design and décor.