Purchasing and refurbishing an old house is a labor of love. There’s a fine balance between modernizing outdated decor and systems and maintaining the original charm.
As the owner of an old house, prioritizing upgrades and considering long-term value is a must. Here are eight high-value upgrades to enhance the value of your old home without sacrificing the old house feel.
Updating the Plumbing System
One of the most important upgrades will be your home’s plumbing system. The use of lead pipes in home construction was banned in 1986. Homes built before this period likely still have lead pipes, which could lead to long-term health concerns.
Updating the water heater is another top priority. Most water heaters have a lifespan of 10-15 years with proactive water heater repair services.
However, the water heaters of yesteryear aren’t as efficient or eco-friendly as today. Upgrading to an Energy Star tank heater or an on-demand (tankless) heater will add value to your old house and offer more consistent water temperatures.
Replacing old faucets and toilets with low-flow alternatives is also a cost-savvy upgrade that will quickly pay for itself.
Upgrading the Electrical Panel
Another essential upgrade when updating an older home is the electrical panel. Electrical panels are built to last anywhere from 20-50 years, depending on the environment— i.e., panels stored in a damp basement are less likely to last.
Even if your panel is functional, you should still upgrade from a fuse box to a circuit breaker. Fuse boxes are notoriously unpredictable as they age and not as safe as breakers.
Upgrading the panel is also wise if you’ll be adding new outlets or appliances. Older homes tend to have fewer electrical outlets and smaller appliances than their modern counterparts. As people from decades prior didn’t have the same electronic product offerings as today, outlets were placed primarily for lighting purposes.
Upgrading your panel may necessitate upgrading your wiring as well. This is a must for preventing electrical fires and ensuring everything is up to code.
Encapsulating Lead Paint
Lead paint was banned in households in 1978. If your home predates this year and hasn’t been updated, your paint may be releasing harmful vapors. If the paint is chipped, the risk is higher. The first step in encapsulation is confirming that lead paint is present via a certified contractor or inspector.
Fortunately, you can minimize the effects of lead paint through a process called encapsulation. While this process is complex, it’s considered safer than lead paint removal. The key is to avoid chipping or flaking the paint while using a lead encapsulating sealant as a primer. These primers contain polymers or epoxy to safely contain the lead.
Unfortunately, high-traffic areas like floors and door edges can’t be encapsulated, and professional removal will be necessary. Always use proper safety gear and follow the steps outlined on the encapsulant. When in doubt, hire a professional.
Refresh the Kitchen Layout
The kitchen is the heart and soul of the home. Unfortunately, many older homes were built with small kitchens or poor layouts that aren’t conducive to modern appliances.
Cabinets, while made out of high-quality wood, may seem outdated and need a refresh. If the original cabinets are solid wood and of great quality, consider swapping out the doors or fixtures rather than a full replacement.
Modernize the kitchen by adding space and flow. Consider working with a skilled designer to reorganize a dysfunctional kitchen using the triangle design theory or work zones.
The triangle theory states that the three main areas of a kitchen— the sink, fridge, and stove— should form a triangle. With the work zones design theory, there should be designated areas for food preparation, cooking, serving, eating, and clean-up.
Replacing the Windows
Another top priority in older homes is replacing outdated windows with modern alternatives.
Fortunately, many window designers offer classic designs reminiscent of Tudor, Colonial, and Victorian-style homes. You can also choose a color that’s aligned with your home’s age and style. For example, deep browns with faux wood grain or a rich, forest green.
Upgrading the windows has an 85% ROI in a resale situation. However, windows are a significant source of heat loss. The heating and cooling cost savings are well worth the remaining 15% out-of-pocket expenditure.
If you live in a historic home, maintaining the original windows and investing in insulation could be a wiser investment. Dealing with drafts and using thermal window film could help retain the home’s historical aesthetic while minimizing heat loss and gain.
Updating HVAC Components
Updating the HVAC system in an older home can be challenging, depending on the house’s age. Historic homes aren’t designed for ductwork, limiting the options for upgraded heating and cooling systems. Adding ductwork can be costly and difficult to execute. Fortunately, ductless mini-splits are a viable option for older homes.
If your home is more modern— i.e., built in the 1960s onward— and has a furnace or air conditioner, upgrading should be straightforward. Well-maintained furnaces and air conditioners last upward of 20 years. While your existing system may not offer the best energy efficiency, it could be deprioritized while other upgrades are handled.
Finally, have an HVAC specialist evaluate the vents and install or reroute exhaust fans if they vent into the attic— a common practice in older homes that leads to mold growth.
Investing in an energy audit to pinpoint drafts and poorly insulated areas is well worth the time and effort in an older home.
Adding insulation to exterior walls, window and door frames, electrical outlets, and the attic are musts. Not only will these efforts assist with heating and cooling costs, but extra insulation will also support the HVAC system in humidity control.
When you purchase an older home, investing in significant upgrades should be expected. Core systems like plumbing, HVAC, and electrical are top priorities, while cosmetic upgrades can be made over time.
Keep these high-value upgrades in mind when determining the best course of action for updating your old home.