Historic Home Remodeling in Atlanta: What You Need to Know

Historic Home Remodeling in Atlanta: What You Need to Know

Historic homes hold unparalleled charm and potential. If you’ve never remodeled one before, however, you may feel uncertain about where to begin: What should you preserve and what should you replace? Which quirks might compromise the integrity of your structure and which are okay to keep?

Because remodeling a historic home is a bit different than other remodeling projects, you'll want to take a few extra steps ahead of time—to protect both yourself and your special home. Let's highlight some of the things you'll want to know and do.

When you approach remodeling your historic home, it’s tempting to want to fine-tune flourishes first. For instance, you might come in with a plan for the gorgeous new shaker kitchen cabinets you’ll purchase or the original mantelpiece millwork you want to replicate in other areas of your home. While these details are important and can be fun, they shouldn’t be the first thing you address.

Read: Features to Preserve in Your Historic Atlanta Home

Instead, prioritize the structure. Check to ensure that your roofing, windows, floors, and masonry are all structurally sound, and be sure to immediately address any compromised areas. Also, consider testing for radon, asbestos, and lead paint before tackling the more cosmetic items.


What To Know Before Renovating an Old House?

Before you renovate an old home, here are some things to know:

  • You can't cut corners on historic home renovations. Hiring the wrong contractor could have disastrous results. Don’t base your decision on cost alone, rather, it’s important to find a quality contractor with experience in renovating older homes.

  • Know what makes your home "historic." Knowing what are the most important details in your home can help you decide what to leave in place and what needs to be replaced. Doing your homework upfront will help guide your historic home interior design plan and will also help ensure that your home's value will be preserved.

  • Historic renovation can be more complicated than modern renovations. Historic materials are sometimes more expensive and challenging to obtain. For example, slate is a common roofing material found on historic homes. Slate is more expensive, but installing slate on your historic home may help preserve the value of your property. When possible, it's usually better to make the investment in time and budget to source historically-appropriate materials in order to maintain the character of your house.

Is It Worth Remodeling an Old Home?

Older homes definitely need to be remodeled from time to time! Flooring, walls, and fixtures all have a way of wearing out after a while, so remodeling your old home can help you keep up with your home's maintenance. In fact, your home could be devalued if you don't update it from time to time. Remodeling old homes can improve their value.

How Do You Update a Historic Home?

When you're updating Atlanta historic buildings, or going through historic home renovation, start by finding the right contractor.

  • Experience. Not every contractor can successfully update a historic home. Look for a contractor with experience updating historic residential properties. When you're vetting the contractor, question them about the challenges they experience updating historic properties. Hire a contractor that can easily discuss their experiences with historic homes.

  • Portfolio. Look at pictures of the contractor's historic home renovations before and after the project. This will show you how well the contractor preserves the historic character of the house and what they do to update modern historic homes.

  • References. Check the contractor's references to ensure that their previous clients have also had good experiences working with them, and would recommend them again.

Watch for Water Damage

It’s always exciting to consider the design elements—from refinishing trim to rebuilding a mantelpiece for the fireplace, resealing exposed brick finishes, etc. When remodeling a historic home, however, it’s essential to address potential structural issues that may have built up over time, such as water damage to the sill plate, leaking roofs, decaying floorboards, crumbling masonry, and so on.

One major maintenance issue we often see when remodeling historic homes is water damage. Water damage can be spotted in obvious places, like in cabinets under sinks, but you’ll also want to examine your ceiling, your basement, and your sill plate. (Your sill plate is the horizontal structure to which all your walls are attached; if it’s exposed, you can see it running around the base of your home outside. Before you do anything else, check to make sure your sill isn’t rotted!)

Remember, too, that elements such as wiring and plumbing, which may have been built to standard building specifications when the home was first constructed, are likely no longer to code. To remodel your home, you’ll need to first update these according to best building practices. (In older homes, it’s especially important to check for radon poisoning, remove asbestos, and address issues related to lead paint poisoning.)

Can You Remodel a National Historic Home?

The National Register of Historic Places is the national registry of homes and places that are historically significant. Most homes and other places on the historic register are at least 50 years old or older. In areas with historic homes, many of them may appear on the national register.

Yes, you can remodel a National Historic Home. The only time there are restrictions placed on whether and how a home on this list can be remodeled is if the home has received federal funds in the past. However, even if your house has never received federal funds for a previous project, work that can be done on the house may still be restricted. See below.

Check with Your City’s Planning Department before You Make a Change

Historic homes are often located in historic districts, which means that your city planning department may have set restrictions on the types of remodeling projects you can undertake. Before you get too far along with your renovation plans, check to see whether your home is in a historic district. If it is, be sure to research which renovation guidelines govern this area, since many historic homes are guarded by law.

Before you paint your home’s exterior, add an addition, or make any other significant and visible changes, be sure to submit them for approval to your city’s planning department.

Choose the Remodeling Plans That Make Sense for a Historic Home

It’s important to keep in mind that the cherished older house you’re planning to remodel is much more than just a shell—or a collection of rooms. There’s a specific architectural style—and physical structure—to the home. There may be some changes you have in mind that are not physically or structurally possible.

When it comes to style and look, it's important to respect the integrity of the existing design. You don't want to take on a project that will negate or disrupt the inherent design of your home. Don't be concerned! That doesn't mean you can't create a fresh new look (or even a more modern style) within a historic home. 

Respecting your home’s existing structure and design also doesn’t mean you can’t make additions. You can still add features that reflect your lifestyle and meet your needs. For instance, you may be able to easily add a wine cellar to your historic home. Or, you may want to make better use of your home’s basement (click here for four fantastic finished basement designs).

Finally, as you plan upgrades to your historic home, be sure to consider how your new designs work with your home’s original intent. It’s certainly fine to modernize function and introduce contemporary aesthetics, but you’ll be happier with your end result when these upgrades complement rather than clash with your home’s original aesthetic intent.

Of course, when you live in a historic home, you won’t be the first or even second owner of the home. Because of this, you’ll need to figure out how to enter the “conversation” your home’s previous custodians have held. Can you develop an enhancement they introduced? Can you correct a style statement they imposed? Identify each era of ownership and think carefully about how you will contribute to the conversation, and as you do so, consult with your historic home remodeling company design team for guidance.

Know What to Keep and What to Let Go

A big part of a successful remodel of a historic house is knowing which existing elements of the home add character and charm to the house, and which things are not as important to preserve. What's tricky about this is that some of these features and elements may not be obvious on the surface. They may have been covered up by previous owners who didn't know (or appreciate) what they had. Here's a post that takes a look at 9 older features to preserve in a historic home.

Choose the Right Contractor

Finally and most importantly, choose an Atlanta contractor who loves your historic home as much as you do and has a wealth of experience renovating older homes.

Unfortunately, some contractors assume that the best way to make an old home functional is to gut it and begin fresh instead of carefully restoring and preserving its historic features while modernizing its function. You selected your historic home because it offers a charm no modern building could replicate, so select a contractor who can help you highlight those intrinsic qualities.

Why Copper Sky May Be the Right Remodeling Contractor for You

Not every remodeler in the Atlanta area is the same. Copper Sky is not the right fit for every remodeling job. We are committed to preserving the historic charm of each home we work on while seamlessly outfitting those homes with every modern amenity to provide comfort and convenience. Historic homes are unique—and we believe they deserve the attention, respect, and craftsmanship to preserve their special beauty and character. Call Copper Sky today to make an appointment to discuss your upcoming historic home renovation.


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