A Homeowner’s Guide to Restoration

Article by Greg Geilman, Realtor

The grace and beauty of a bygone era can be appreciated anew when a homeowner looks to faithfully restore a historic home. The Nevada State Governor’s Mansion, the Piper-Beebe House, The Dake House and the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park are only a few examples of Nevada homes that have withstood the ravages of time and stand as testaments to a former age. There is support for homeowners considering how to restore their home to its original splendor and elegance, such as resources and guidance provided by Nevada Preservation Foundation. However, there are a handful of considerations to keep in mind prior to and during a well-planned restoration.

For those who are planning to rehabilitate a historic home, get 4 initial insights on how to begin your historic home restoration.

Make a Plan

It is important to consider the current and future plans for a home prior to starting contracted work. The need for new wiring, addressing foundation damage or remedying a termite infestation are serious concerns for an owner. However, these issues should not preclude the need to carefully plan out how spaces will be used. A contractor can use these plans to understand how to work to make repairs and ensure that rooms can be used as desired when completed. Without such plans, tradespeople may not be aware of how a repair or improvement may end up conflicting with the desired, but unwritten, scope of a project. A homeowner’s plan provides the details necessary for contractors and anyone who may come in and work on making repairs or renovations on one’s historic home.

If you plan to do some of these repairs yourself, it helps to assess your skills and know your strengths and limitations before jumping in. As a general rule of thumb, electrical issues should be handled by someone with professional experience. When you know what you can and can’t do, you’ll be able to better visualize how much things will cost and how long things will take before getting into the thick of it.

Make a Realistic Budget

In order to create a budget aligned with the needs and potential vagaries of an older home, it is important to get insights on any areas that may be currently overlooked. This means enlisting the expertise of other project managers, and builders and partners on the project. It never hurts to have others who are experienced with working on older homes or performing restoration projects on historic homes review a proposed budget and offer their thoughts. This can help an owner get a better estimate of the overall costs and understand if there are any details that they have missed when drawing up the budget.

Matching nonstock materials and dealing with potential environmental hazards can increase the costs of a project and it is best to know of such associated costs up front and before the selection of a contractor. Working on older homes is generally going to cost more than working on a contemporary home. An experienced builder’s quote may appear high but is often more realistic when it comes to the actual cost of a proposed project on an older home. If seeking professional services, make sure to ask whether or not the professional has worked on an older home before. It’s important to hire people with similar experience to the project you are hiring for.

A major benefit to DIY restoration projects is that you can put all or some of your savings on labor toward materials. However, while your monetary budget will likely look better, it’s good to stay realistic when budgeting your time. It’s tough to replicate the speed at which a team can work, even if you are a DIY pro. Again, determine realistic expectations for yourself and use your budget where it will help you the most.

Coordinate the Team

When trades are segregated, one trade may not know what the other trade will be doing and make for issues down the line. Typically, a general contractor or architect will coordinate the team. Opening up walls and other penetrations, such as cutting into plaster for new plumbing or electrical work, can be streamlined when you plan accordingly. Collaboration between trades is also needed for the installation of an HVAC systems, where oversized equipment may be installed, making installation and operation more expensive for the owner. Those looking to restore an older home would do well to integrate the efforts of the trades and let them know of all planned projects performed by one trade that may impact another trade’s work. Owners and partners unfamiliar with such aspects may want to hire an experienced professional familiar with restorations to handle such planning and communications.

There are plenty of owners who can coordinate their project on their own as well. For the more construction-savvy or DIY home buyers, creating a timeline/gantt chart can help one visualize how to schedule tradespeople and time their rehab efforts if hiring an architect or contractor isn’t in the budget. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of the work that needs to be performed to better understand an appropriate timeline for the work.

Address Signs of Water Damage

Water damage can be hard to detect and may cause serious structural issues. Look around windows, floors and ceilings for water damage signs, and examine the roof thoroughly to determine if it is in need of repair. Current and former water damage can result in dry rot, mold and bug infestations. This can impact the health of people residing in a home and the structural integrity of the home itself. In an older home, look at the sill plate for any signs of significant damage. Steven Gambrel, interior designer and architect experienced in restoring and renovating 18th and 19th century homes, said:

“The sill plate often gets the most abuse, water-wise, because it sits closely to the wet ground. If the sill plate is rotten, then that’s a lot of the reason why the floors are crooked, because that’s the whole structure that the house sits on.”

Addressing minor water damage can be tricky to DIY, but it is possible. Make sure to stay safe with all the right gear such as masks and gloves. It may be a simple task like removing some drywall, but you should do your best to avoid contact with mold. If a project seems out of reach or dangerous, it may be a better move to contact a local professional for a quote.

Preserve Historic Homes for the Next Generation

Homeowners should look to revitalize historic homes in Nevada in keeping with the home’s original appearance, architectural features and layout. Historic homes are a physical reminder of the rich cultural heritage of Nevada. Homeowners seeking guidance may turn to Nevada Preservation Foundation for help. Some homes may qualify for historic designation or grant funding as well. Such collaborative efforts can help revitalize the architectural beauty of a home, contribute to the collective beauty of a historic district, and preserve the home’s rich history for generations to come.

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