While most renovations encounter unexpected complications, renovating old houses—those built prior to World War II—can be particularly challenging. Knowing some of the pitfalls in advance can help you prepare both financially and emotionally.

Many old homes have been remodeled before, and these older changes can present problems for new renovations, especially if done by a do-it-yourselfer or an unethical contractor. Sometimes the problems are readily apparent, but often they’re hidden behind walls and under floors, discovered only when renovation begins.

Aesthetic Considerations
From Victorians to Italianates, Prairie Style to Craftsman bungalows, to Greek and Tudor Revivals, old houses feature unique characteristics that many homeowners want to preserve, even in extensive remodels. Working with old materials, such as plaster, requires craftsmanship.

These classic homes often boast special features such as ornate fireplaces or wood burning stoves that need to be restored and brought back to safe, working condition. Vintage elements, such as custom moldings, can be replicated or even carefully removed and reinstalled as needed.

Many old houses are located within historic districts and may be subject to rules and regulations of local and national historical societies. Historic districts can be found throughout the greater Chicago area, from LaGrange to Geneva, from Oak Park to Hyde Park, and all along the North Shore, from Evanston to Highland Park and beyond. A qualified design professional will help you navigate the red tape of historic commissions.

Upgrading
Renovation is a good time to address old-house problems. Old houses almost always have insufficient or outdated heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) systems, and a good renovation plan will address all these issues. Reinsulating with high-efficiency materials can fix hot and cold spots, and lower energy costs. New windows and storms can also enhance energy efficiency.

Renovation often means increasing electrical service to your home to meet the needs of 21st century living. Sometimes, the whole house must be rewired to provide enough outlets, offer proper grounding, and eliminate hazards (such as knob and tube wiring).

Renovating an old house can require a complete plumbing overhaul. Outside, pipes from the water main to the house may need to be replaced ensure adequate water pressure and supply. Inside, old pipes become clogged over the years, constricting water flow, and many old houses were built with cast iron pipes, which rust from the inside out.

Old House Hazards
Many old houses were constructed with hazardous materials that are no longer permitted by current building codes.

Asbestos, introduced in the late 1800s, was used to create fireproof materials in a variety of building applications. It was found to release cancer-causing fibers when disturbed and was banned in the 1980s, but many older homes still have asbestos. Removal is dangerous and must be done by trained professionals, adding to the time and expense of renovations.

Other hazardous conditions often uncovered during renovation include:

  • faulty wiring and insufficient electrical service
  • lead pipes
  • structural or foundation issues

Preserving and enhancing an old home with a quality renovation can be both challenging and rewarding. Working with a qualified design professional can help make the process less stressful and ensure a successful renovation.


If you would like to learn more about finishing your attic space and how it could work in your home, contact Airoom to schedule a complimentary designer consultation. Or browse the remodeling galleries at Airoom.com.