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How to Update Your Old Home While Preserving Its History

By Sophie Johnson


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To many homeowners, older properties are just more fun than new construction. While some buyers focus on the flaws of a 50-year-old home — the inefficient windows and doors, the outdated appliances and light fixtures, etc. — others revel in the property’s unique quirks, believing them to be beloved relics of the past. Older homes have history, and it is a homeowner’s duty to honor and preserve the history that first attracted them to a particular home.

However, that doesn’t mean that homeowners should be resigned to living in any outdated space they purchase. As long as a property isn’t protected as historic, homeowners are and should be allowed to make whatever changes they feel necessary to make their homes feel comfortable, functional and valuable. But — how can homeowners balance the drive to make their homes look and feel up-to-date with the charm and character that inherently comes from an older property?

Understand What Historic Features Have Value

Most old homes aren’t particularly historic. Few homes stand the test of time; most fall down or are demolished after about a century, at the point when they are no longer as functional or aesthetically pleasing as homebuyers expect. Even so, almost all older homes have features no longer built into new construction properties, and some of these features are inherently valuable due to the character they impart. In general, the older the home, the more of these features will be present.

For example, colonial and Victorian homes tend to be teeming with valuable elements, like wood flooring and wood molding, built-in shelving and cabinets, wood-burning fireplaces, plaster walls and the like. In contrast, old homes from the ‘50s and ‘60s might have mid-century modern architectural elements, like sunken rooms, large windows, atriums and asymmetrical floor plans.

It might be useful for homeowners to consult a home appraiser with experience in homes of a relevant era. Appraisers should be able to point to elements of a home that have inherent value, so homeowners can keep these elements intact while renovating other, less desirable aspects of their property.

List the Historic Elements You Love in Your Home

It is important to preserve the elements of a home that have value, but it is also important to protect the elements of a home that bring homeowners personal joy. Homeowners should take inventory of the aspects of their older home they most appreciate, which might not be features that homebuyers will be able to identify or care much about on the first pass. As long as these elements aren’t inherently unsafe or remarkably unappealing to other people, homeowners should strive to retain these features during their renovations. This will help homeowners maintain the character that first attracted them to the property, even if other elements change drastically.

Research What Updates Might Be Covered

Some homes, as they age, develop weaknesses that endanger those who live inside as well as their belongings. Usually, these weaknesses can be remedied with some remodeling — but before homeowners shell out for the full cost of the renovation, they should check with their insurance and warranty providers to see if they can help cover the costs.

Typically, homeowner’s insurance only covers damage that occurs in an unanticipated and unpreventable disaster, like a tornado, hailstorm or flood. Homeowners who recently suffered some catastrophe should consider filing a claim, especially if the event has led to increased safety concerns in their older home. Any insurance money gained can be put toward repair and renovations that add value to the property.

Many homeowners wonder: What does a home warranty cover? Warranties are a different type of coverage to insurance, which protect different systems around a home from lifetime wear and tear. Warranties are essential for homes older than 15 years because they help homeowners manage costs associated with repairing and replacing appliances, electrical and plumbing elements and more. Homeowners who have recently experienced issues with covered systems can seek quick, easy and inexpensive aid through their home warranties.

Remember to Match the Historic Style With Renovations

Finally, perhaps the most critical note for homeowners hoping to retain the charm and character of their older properties is the importance of matching renovations to the existing style of the home. Most everyone has seen additions or renovations that don’t exactly suit their surrounding structure; mismatching styles are jarring to the eye and the atmosphere of a home, making it feel like a patchwork of old and new as opposed to a charming historic space. Homeowners should do their best to identify the era and style of their home and make design choices that are appropriate for the property and their modern sensibilities.

Some properties are designated as historic homes and require special permits to change in any way — but most old homes don’t fall into this category. Still, homeowners should be careful to remodel and renovate with an eye to the existing charm and character of their homes, especially if they appreciate the quirkiness of aged spaces.


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About Sophie Johnson

As the senior editor for HomeDSGN, Sophie is the ultimate authority on all things home. With years of experience and a deep passion for home decor, she brings an unparalleled level of expertise to everything she does. From decorating and interior design or from cleaning to organization, her insights and guidance are invaluable to anyone looking to transform their living space. Learn more about HomeDSGN's Editorial Process.

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