How to Update an Old House Without Sacrificing Any of Its Charm

Historic houses can be a great steal, especially if they need a little bit of TLC. If you’re trying to learn how to update an old house, this guide will give you some terrific ideas. After all, your fixer-upper deserves some fine-tuning, but not at the expense of your wallet.

Below, you’ll discover how to update an old house without sacrificing its charm or breaking your budget. Have fun transforming your new-to-you residence into a dreamy spot that looks like it came out of a vintage postcard.

Pay Attention to Plumbing

Many older homes were built using plumbing materials that won’t last forever. Unlike today’s PVC pipes, lead-based and copper pipes will need to be replaced at some point.

Though the thought of plumbing repair might make you see dollar signs, take heart. Your pipes might not need replacement just yet. Still, you should have a plumber give your house a once-over. Even if you had a thorough home inspection, you’ll want to get a second opinion now that the house is yours.

In the meantime, pay close attention to any “red flags” related to your plumbing. For instance, do you hear a dripping sound every time the main bathroom toilet is flushed? Does your water pressure fluctuate for no particular reason, especially from one faucet? When was the last time your septic system was addressed?

Staying on top of your plumbing will help you avoid any types of plumbing emergencies. Plus, your house will be less susceptible to unwanted moisture build-up.

Extra “how to update an old house” tip: Smell a musty odor? That could be the presence of mold. Not only is mold unsightly, but it can be toxic and trigger health problems in humans and pets. Be sure to get any weird, mildew odors checked out by a plumber or other similar expert right away.

Get Those Ducts Clean

If your older home has ductwork, you probably have some kind of forced air heat and maybe central air conditioning, too. However, those ducts probably haven’t been examined for a long time. In fact, you may be in need of AC duct replacement or at least duct cleaning.

How can you tell if your ductwork is starting to work less efficiently? You may see visible signs of ducts that are no longer fitting together. You may also begin to suspect that some of the ductwork you can’t see, such as in the walls or between the floors, may be leaking air. For instance, one room might never get warm despite the others feeling toasting.

It may turn out that your ducts aren’t in need of repair or an overhaul, but definitely could use a thorough duct cleaning. Instead of grabbing your Shop-vac and trying to clean them yourself, hire an expert. Many HVAC check-up and maintenance providers offer duct cleaning. They’ll bring their special equipment to your house and remove all the debris that’s lingering in the ducts.

Will you notice the difference of your indoor air quality right away? Maybe. Many families do. Your air should smell fresher, whether it’s hot air from the furnace or cold air thanks to the air conditioning unit. Plus, you may even notice that your HVAC units take less time to get your house to your desired temperature.

Additional “how to update an old house” hint: Do you think your ducts might be dirty? A surefire way to tell is to look around the vents and registers. Dirty ducts often release particles through venting. The particles will tend to gather on the floor right around the vent.

Assess the Condition of the Siding

What was it about your house that made you buy it in the first place? Was it the way the siding reminded you of your last romantic vacation? About a third of couples tend to take romantic weekend or week-long getaways every year, so perhaps yours influenced your older home purchase. Regardless of why you purchased your property, you’ll want to look closer at the siding.

From far away, the siding might look picture-perfect and lovely. On closer inspection, don’t be surprised if your siding needs a bit of work. Residential siding can start to exhibit a few different and distinctive problems. Wooden siding may begin to rot away in places, especially locations where moisture has built up over the years. Vinyl siding can become dirty, covered in mold and algae, or faded. Other types of siding might be cracked, broken, or displaced.

If you start to see signs of wear and tear on your siding that you didn’t notice when you first laid eyes on the house, do something soon. Siding isn’t just there for aesthetics, after all. It serves the purpose of protecting the inside of your home from the elements. It can also help lock in your air and lower your utility bills.

Another “how to update an old house” recommendation about siding: Think you might need to undergo a full-fledged siding replacement project? Consider switching up the siding on your home. Many siding companies offer a wide array of siding options. Just make sure whatever you choose fits the overall ambiance of your home, as well as keeps it looking authentically true to its original construction date.

Craft Custom Locks and Hardware

If you purchase a house from about the middle of the 20th century, it probably will have regular types of locks and hardware. However, much older homes may come complete with some original locking mechanisms and hardware pieces.

In order to best use these vintage locks, you’ll probably want to get in touch with a licensed locksmith. The locksmith can help you maintain the health of older locks. A well-trained locksmith can even help you make or find replicas if the former owners modernized all the locks and hardware pieces in the house.

Wondering what kinds of locks would be historically accurate for your home? Go on a weekend online hunt. Investigate your type of house, and figure out what its locks and hardware should look like. Then, go antiquing in person or virtually. You may be able to find period locks and hardware that you can buy and install.

A special “how to update an old house” consideration about locks: Remember that older locks may not provide you with the security you have come to expect out of newer locks. In that case, you may be better off switching out old locks on all exterior doors but keeping them on internal doors for decorative appeal.

Have the Roof Checked Out

You probably had someone examine your old home’s roof before you bought the property. Of course, this might not have happened if you bought the home at auction or inherited it from a relative. After you’ve moved, you should still hire a roofing contractor to give it a once-over.

Your roofer should take the time to not just look at the roof from the ground, but get on a ladder and check out the shingles or other roofing material. A vintage house is terrific. A vintage roof is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s much safer for you to hear that you need roof repair or even a roof replacement than to risk leaks and other roofing problems.

Just as you did with the siding, consider switching your roofing material to better fit the look and charm of your house. Don’t be afraid of choosing a different style of roof, such as moving from an expensive slate roof to a more moderately priced roof constructed with contemporary shingles in a historically acceptable color.

Even if you don’t believe that you need a new roof anytime soon, think about having your roofer conduct a thorough roof cleaning. Roof cleaning can get rid of all the grime that’s accumulated over the years, leaving the roof better able to handle seasonal precipitation and intense sunshine.

More tips on how to update an old house: Want to keep your house looking fairly “old” but add a modern twist? See if adding solar panels to the roof could help you reduce your reliance on the utility grid. When positioned correctly, solar panels won’t necessarily take away from the attractiveness of your house. They’ll just make it easier to open those electric bills every month! Plus, some solar panels may come with tax incentives that could help you next April.

Repair Any Water-Damaged Areas

Even if you aren’t worried about your house having moisture issues at the moment, it may have succumbed to water damage in the past. Signs of water damage can include stains along the bottom of the wall, dark stains running down the sides of walls, and musty odors that stick around even though you’ve cleaned up.

A water damage restoration service can help you properly address and fix any water-damaged areas and rooms. Why hire someone who’s a professional in the industry? First of all, if you have any black mold, you’ll need help getting rid of it for good. Secondly, water damage experts can work with you to figure out how to make repairs to your home. They also have the necessary equipment to determine the extent of the damage.

A “how to update an old house” side note: While water damage can be fixed, always make sure that the damage isn’t going to come back. For example, if it looks like water damage came from a leaking window, ensure the window doesn’t leak anymore. That way, you won’t have to constantly deal with water damage every time it rains or snow begins to melt.

Work With a Preservation Service

Just how old is your house? If it’s quite historic, you may not want to update it alone. Rather, get some advice and assistance from property preservation services.

Someone who’s well-versed in property preservation techniques will be able to help you understand how to restore your home without destroying its uniqueness. If your house is on a historic register, you may actually have to contact a preservation service before making any major changes, anyway.

Preservation service providers can also help you get in touch with other homeowners in the same situation. You’ll be able to share tips and experiences, which can assist you as you begin to figure out ways to bring your old home back to its earlier splendor.

A “how to update an old house” preservation-related comment: Head out to the antique stores on a regular basis. You never know what older treasures you might find that would be perfect in your home!

Don’t Disturb the Wildlife

You might not be the only creature who finds your house utterly irresistible. From bats that have made your attic their home to squirrels that have nested between your walls, plenty of animals are attracted to homes.

Even if you think you can take care of your critter problem alone, resist the urge. Instead, call a wildlife control specialist. The last thing you want is to deal with an angry raccoon or family of irritated possums. Let a professional handle the job.

Wise “how to update an old house” words: Don’t lay out traps or poisons in your home to catch larger rodents or animals. Your pets could get into the traps or eat the toxins.

Consider Refinishing Instead of Replacing

Did your home come with features like granite countertops that you sense could be past their prime? Before buying new countertops and ripping out the old ones, explore the possibility of refinishing or refurbishing original items throughout your house.

Ironically, the cost could be about the same to revitalize older amenities, adornments, and surfaces. But nothing looks quite as breathtaking as an original hardwood floor from 100 years ago. You will be amazed at how different a lot of objects and materials in your older property can appear after they’ve been spruced up by experts.

A last “how to update an old house” suggestion: One item you probably won’t be able to bring back to luster is a very old carpet. Even if you love it, the carpet will probably have to go. When you replace it, consider looking for a textile that mimics the historic architectural period of the house. That way, the installed carpet will fit right in and not stand out in an unappealing way.

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