An Older Home Can Be a Blank Canvas for Your Remodel

Glen Taylor

The house we are working on is what I like to call a "fixer-upper opportunity," in the good sense of the term. A 3-bedroom, 1 bath, with a full basement. Built in 1918, this house is old, with creaks and character, but it is solid as a rock. It has a full basement, and the foundation is strong and dry as a bone. There's a nice large kitchen, and a large claw-foot bathtub in the bathroom. There is a large bedroom on the second floor with a cedar closet, and attic space left large enough for us to potentially add an upstairs bathroom.

The Problems

The house was purchased as a foreclosure, a fact that may be making those of you out there who have looked at foreclosure homes cringe. The home was missing doorknobs, toilets, sinks, and nearly all of the copper plumbing in the basement, all of which were presumably taken by the previous occupants to sell for cash.

A larger issue was the wiring. The whole house was wired with the original knob-and-tube wiring, with decades of illegal and potentially dangerous modifications, such as splices without junction boxes. There are no ground-fault circuit interrupters in the kitchen or bathroom.


Instead of replacing the 40-year-old boiler, I opted to tear out the radiant heat system and replace it with central forced-air heating. This was surprisingly affordable, and a high-efficiency furnace let us take advantage of the generous current rebates.

Finding Contractors

I can do a lot of the work for general home improvement, but there are two things I won't touch: plumbing and electricity. I can install toilets and sinks, and replace light fixtures and outlets, but that's about it. I made sure to get a minium of three estimates, and checked up on my contractors before making a choice.

The Basement Remodel

I decided early on to put basement bedrooms into the large basement. All of the windows are the right size and shape to count as egress windows, which are required by law for any basement sleeping area. I discovered that I could fit 3 decent-sized bedrooms into the basement, and still have a laundry room. I used steel studs, which don't harbor mold, for the walls.

The Best Laid Plans...

Here are some lessons I learned that you shouldn't have to. First, don't make assumptions on whether or not you need permits for a project. Find out by contacting your city government. Getting permits too late can cause delays and additional fees. Second, if you're getting ductwork installed, do that before any plumbing or electrical work. Plumbing and wiring can work around ducts, but not the other way around.

The Continuing Story...

Work continues on the new home. There is a lot still to come. We have to complete the basement walls and paint, and then put in a subfloor and floor. After that, we're going to tackle the big project of installing a second-floor bathroom in what is now attic space.

A remodeling project takes a lot of time. A project like this is never really finished, in fact. But we're looking forward to moving forward and seeing our visions become a reality, and a whole new home.

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