Renovating a home at any time can be a daunting task, but perhaps even more so when you are planning renovations to an older home. The older the home (like my 1920’s semi-detached), the more complexities there are likely to be when it comes time to renovate. In addition to planning the design and paint colours, you may be dealing with dated electrical and plumbing systems, bringing things up to new building codes, permits, and preparing for surprises – because there are always surprises in any renovation. There is a lot to think about, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
Renovations are necessary to keep your home safe and running efficiently. With a vision and budget in mind, it is important to prioritize your projects to make sure you are properly maintaining your home. Luckily I was able to speak to Frank Crudo from Colfan Restoration Systems Inc. to ask him a few questions about renovating an older home.
Can you tell us the top five renovations you should consider for an older home to ensure it remains safe?
- The first consideration in an older home is that they are usually lacking in most of the local building code upgrades in regards to safety. One of the first and most simple solutions would be to have proper smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed. There are battery operated units that will do the job until you can have some professionally wired into the home’s electrical system and interconnected to each other. Professionally wired systems are preferred so that all alarms sound at the same time when a problem occurs, warning occupants on all floors of the home to evacuate the premises.
- Upgrading the electrical fuse panel and wiring in an older home is an important investment of time and money. These upgrades are critical to prevent electrical fires, given today’s power demands with more electronic devices and components than days past. Larger services are required with more electrical panel breakers and controlled distribution of power throughout the home putting less strain on wires with no overheating or buzzing. Electrical upgrades will give you more peace of mind in the prevention of electrical shocks in bathrooms with proper GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) receptacles, as well as properly grounded devices throughout the home.
- Replacing an old furnace is another important upgrade to your home, not only to provide more efficient heating and cooling but newer systems have more internal safety controls to better safeguard against carbon monoxide poisoning caused by older type venting systems. Older furnaces do not run as efficiently as the newer models, so you will also see a cost savings in your fuels costs if you upgrade.
- Check your basement for early signs of mold that could be hiding in your closets or storage areas, usually found around the perimeter of your basement at the foundation walls. This could be difficult to see if your basement is finished, but there are usually visible signs that would lead you to believe that there is water infiltrating your old block foundations. Depending on the age of your home, there may have only been cement parging with an added damp-proofing layer that now is worn or cracked, allowing water to slowly migrate into your home. This is a costly repair that, in most cases, affects your landscaping, walkways, and driveways during the digging process but it prevents the problems of an on-going seepage issue that ultimately introduces mold to your home.
- Attic insulation is also another area of concern in older homes where there is a good chance you may find asbestos, sometimes hidden below new insulation batts that may have been placed over the old insulation. The new insulation may have been put in to increase the attic’s R-value over the years by previous owners. Asbestos is not harmful if left alone, but it is a health concern if you’re planning any renovations that require access to your attic space.
How important is it to hire a contractor with a specialty in older homes?
FC: Hiring a contractor with experience in older homes is important in keeping with the homes character and original architectural design to the period that is was originally built.
Do you need special permits for older home?
FC: If you’re looking to renovate and make structural changes to your home, adding an addition, or anything that needs to be inspected, then a building permit would be required. If the home is deemed historical, then you may need to get the local heritage society involved. This would depend on the extent of your renovation.
What else should someone consider when starting renovations in an older home?
FC: Special considerations should be made for materials used when older homes were originally built. Older homes may have materials that contain asbestos and/or lead. Lead was commonly used in paint and asbestos can be found in older insulation, plaster, floor tiles, or areas where fire protection or fire resistance was required. It’s always best to have a qualified professional determine the extent of these materials by having them properly tested before you undertake any renovations or restoration projects to older homes.
Are you considering a home renovation? Hopefully this information helps guide you on where your money is best spent to help keep your home a safe and healthy place for you and your family.