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Updating an Historic Home

March 31 2010

Updating an Historic Home

You’ve fallen in love with an old Victorian house and want to bring it back to its glory days. With dreams of starting the next row of “painted ladies,” you start doing some research – paint colors, furniture styles, and so on.

But before you make any changes to the structure itself, you should have the answers to a few questions:

1. Is your home designated as historic – part of a state or federal historical building registry? If so, you may have to adhere to a number of regulations and be subject to oversight to update the home.

2. How extensive do you want the updates to be? Do you plan to “take it back to the studs,” or simply do some cosmetic work?

3. How authentic do you want the renovations to be? The more accurate the details, the higher the cost in materials and labor.

Your home and its state of repair may dictate which course of action you choose. For example, if your home has serious structural damage or decay, then preservation may not be possible though, you’ll be able to reconstruct and renovate.

Here are a few definitions to go by: 

Preservation means restoring and using the building for its original purpose, with as much of the original features and décor saved as possible. 

Restoration means tearing out improvements made over time that don’t reflect the original age and style of the home, and then repairing those areas to closely match the original size, shape, color, etc.

Reconstruction means making major changes to the floor plan such as adding new rooms and dramatically altering and repurposing parts of the home. 

Renovation or remodeling freshens the look of the home using modern materials such as updating an older kitchen with custom cabinetry, farm sinks and granite countertops.

Before you begin, find out if there are any local or state subsidies for historic preservation for homes in your area, from tax breaks to special home improvement loans and other assistance.  Contact your local tax assessor-collector for more information, or your local housing authority.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has some excellent resources for homeowners of older or historic homes.


Other resources include: 

• HistoricProperties.com

• Architecture.About.com

• ThisOldHouse.com