Four Common Remodeling Projects That Add Value to Your Old Home

Roger Diez

Owning an old home can be very satisfying, but it can also be a lot of work. Old materials and systems need attention and tender loving care. And many of the construction practices of years ago leave much to be desired. If you want to maintain your old home with relative ease, you may want to consider renovations. Here are the four best remodeling projects that may contribute to preserving your old home while also increasing the home's value.

1. Fixing Old Home Heating Systems

Many old homes have outdated, inefficient furnaces or boilers. Some old homes even have coal-fired furnaces that have been converted to oil burners. The efficiency of these units may be less than 50 percent, resulting in high heating bills. Replacing an old furnace or boiler with a new, Energy Star rated unit can heat your old home with up to 90 percent efficiency, saving enough on heating costs to pay for the new furnace in a few years. Do your homework when selecting a new heating unit. Consider the annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating when selecting a furnace or boiler. Also consider alternatives such as heat pumps or radiant heating using solar panels. If you have cast iron radiators and want to keep the historic look, you can update the system with a modern boiler, circulating pumps, and an outdoor-air reset control, which sets the boiler water temperature to produce the amount of heat needed.

2. Renovating Old Home Plumbing

One problem area in old homes can be the plumbing system. Lead pipes were used in home plumbing prior to World War II, and many homes built since have galvanized steel piping. In addition to these trouble-prone materials, pipes in old homes may be undersized. Over time, corrosion can build up in these pipes, further restricting water flow and causing leaks. Consider replacing all the plumbing pipes in an old home with:

  • copper
  • PVC plastic, or
  • flexible cross-linked polyethylene (PEX)

This can be an expensive and disruptive task, but one which may prevent serious water damage. An added benefit is that new, larger diameter pipes improve water pressure to fixtures. And the addition of newer, low-flow toilets, shower heads, and other fixtures can reduce water bills. When renovating old home plumbing systems, pay particular attention to providing shutoff valves at sinks, toilets, and other fixtures, and ensure that the new system is properly vented.

3. Updating Electrical Wiring

Of all the systems in an old home that can cause catastrophic problems, the electrical system is perhaps the most dangerous. It can cause fires, severe electrical shock, even electrocution. Old house electrical systems are typically ungrounded, and the wires may have experienced severe deterioration over the years. Cloth covered wire in particular is subject to deterioration, while knob and tube wiring is considered so dangerous that many insurance companies will not write a policy for homes that have it. More recently built older houses may have aluminum wiring, which has its own set of problems caused by expansion and contraction loosening connections. Most experts recommend that when renovating an old home, the electrical wiring should be replaced with a modern, grounded electrical system. This includes replacing the old fuse box with a modern breaker panel, and adding ground fault interrupter (GFI) outlets in kitchens, bathrooms, and outdoors.

4. Preserving Old Home Windows

Windows are one of the distinctive features of an old home. If you want to retain the historic character of your old home, keeping the original windows is preferable to replacing them with modern windows. If the wood on your original windows has deteriorated, there are companies specializing in matching old-style windows, either with windows salvaged from demolished homes or windows built new using older methods. Depending on the age of your house, you may have special needs such as leaded glass windows, round or arched windows, or other unusual designs. It can be helpful to consult a specialist in restoring historic windows in these cases.

These four best remodeling projects for preserving your old home may be beyond the skill of the average home owner. When selecting a contractor for each of these projects, make sure you choose one with experience in old home renovation and remodeling projects. Get referrals from other owners of old homes or from a historical society if appropriate. Check with your local contractor's board and the Better Business Bureau before signing any contracts.

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