Everything You Need to Know About Remodeling a Vintage Home

Guide to remodeling your vintage home

Whether you’ve been inspired by your favorite HGTV show or you have discovered the mere cost savings, remodeling a vintage home is a wonderful way to create a timeless home filled with historical charm while being able to customize every detail to align with your tastes. Taking on a remodel, particularly a full “gut job” is certainly intimidating, but you can be sure the end result will absolutely be worth the initial discomfort – so long as you enter your remodel project prepared. If you think a remodel is filled with uncertainly and an endless list of tasks, you’re right. Just because a remodel is a lot to take on does not mean you can’t enjoy the experience, and that joy stems from proactive preparation. If you have found your way here, you are already well on your way to proactively equipping yourself with the knowledge you need for a smooth remodel. Let’s start by identifying what makes a particular home a “vintage” home, charm and all.

What Makes a Home “Vintage?”

As is true with vintage clothing, furniture, or appliances, vintage homes come with history. An easy differentiator of a vintage home from the rest on the market is the age. If the home was built more than 80 years ago, it can be classified as a vintage home, but that is a bit of a moving scale, and could be dependent on where you live. The best way to tell if a home is “vintage” is whether the home was essentially copy and pasted over and over in its time, or if the home has unique features. Think about the typically residential neighborhoods we see today. Every couple of homes are practically identical, with a handful of floorplans and styles that make up the entire neighborhood. In contrast, if you were to stroll through a historical (or vintage) neighborhood in your area, no two homes look the same, and many even have different styles within the neighborhood – something a homeowners’ association (HOA) would never allow today.

As mentioned, there isn’t necessarily a particular style of home that is considered vintage, which is actually part of the excitement. Vintage homes are extremely unique, especially when compared to the booming new construction we see all around us these days. Yes, booming new construction is a sign of a strong economy, but it’s also a reminder of just how special vintage homes are. The old saying rings true: “they don’t make them how they used to.” The construction of vintage homes was far different than what we see today, which is a huge contributor to their charm. Without the massive populations we see today, homes could take longer to be built “back in the day.” With time came exceptional detail. Not only were vintage homes built different, and perhaps more sound structurally, but vintage homes included gorgeous woodwork inside the home, stunning built-ins, grand staircases in some cases, use of varying materials, and so much more. Every home was entirely different, but no less stunning than the last. That is one component of the beauty that comes with renovating a vintage home – you are able to highlight the unmatched charm vintage homes have, but you also get to incorporate modern details and amenities cherished today. The blend of timelessness and gorgeous modern features make your home unique, classy, and overall, jaw-dropping for anyone that walks through the door.

Finding a Perfectly Imperfect Vintage Home

When you are looking for the right vintage home for you, it’s best to start by thinking about the level of renovations you feel comfortable with. If you are inspired to go all out and take on a project where you will demo the home practically to the studs, that is telling of the types of homes you will tour. Conversely, if the idea of a full gut-job sounds terrifying to you, perhaps you only look at homes that need some cosmetic help. Regardless of where your comfort level lies, the first step to finding the perfect home is to make note of your own personal boundaries. That boundary will be used as a filter for your home search, which is especially helpful as our emotions start to get the best of us during our search.

Having a specific set of filters will keep you aligned with your goals when the excitement of a really cool house has you seeing through shiplap-colored goggles, and it also helps you when your patience starts to get the best of you in your search. You don’t want to stray too far away from your initial boundaries to help avoid future stressors. Have you ever thought to yourself “wow, I was feeling really optimistic the other day?” We all have, and that’s not a feeling you want to experience when you are talking home purchases and remodels.

Beyond establishing your comfort level with the amount of remodeling you want to take on, you should also make note of your all-in budget (including room for unexpected surprises that will undoubtedly make an appearance), any location preferences, vintage qualities you may be hoping for, and the size of the home you would like. Some of your filters will impact each other, which should also be taken into consideration. As an example, you may want to find a 5-bedroom home, but if you are comfortable with a larger remodel, and find a spacious home, you may be able to create the 5th bedroom yourself in a 4-bedroom home. As another example, your home budget is dramatically impacted by how much you are willing to take on in renovations, while location preferences can drastically impact the price of a home. Everything is quite connected, so the more intentional you can be at the forefront, the better your experience will be. Take the time to be thoughtful about your potential home purchase and remodel before you even start your search. Future you will be glad you did, and your search will be made much easier thanks to your proactive planning.

Outside of planning the type of vintage home you are looking for, finding that home can be accomplished a couple different ways. You can take the classic approach by partnering with a realtor, sharing your filters with them, then letting them do the home searching for you. As is true with anything, that approach has its pros and cons. As a benefit to you, working with a realtor saves a lot of time. Your realtor is doing the research for you, after all. You get to simply show up to house tours and share your opinion. A con working with a realtor is their own bias. They are incentivized to sell homes they will get the best commission on, so if another realtor is assigned to a home, that home may or may not be shared with you – even if it aligns well with your filters. Another option is to take advantage of apps we have at our fingertips, imputing your filters into the app filters to see homes you may potentially like. When you use multiple apps, you are able to see essentially every posted home that fits your criteria, which can’t always be accomplished with a realtor, but unfortunately, you have to take the time to sift through all of the homes, reading every description, to find the ones that really pique your interest. Regardless of the route you take, you’re one step closer to purchasing the gorgeous vintage home you will soon remodel.

Getting Started on Your Remodel Project

man remodeling house in chicago

Once you’ve found the perfect vintage home for you, or perhaps you already have that home, you can get started on your remodel project! The first step in getting started is assessing everything that needs to be accomplished. Take a step back to list out every room in your vintage home and all of the tasks that you want to tackle within those rooms. In that list, you should break down not only the tasks that need to be accomplished, but estimated costs associated with them, as well. Breaking down your budget, line by line, will help you stay on budget through your project. It’s far easier than anyone realizes to stray away from your ideal budget, so the more detailed you can be, the more confident you will feel making in-the-moment decisions. Within your budget, allow room for unexpected surprises that will absolutely occur when you remodel your vintage home. Having surprises already budgeted will keep you from feeling overwhelmed when a new expense pops up. Additionally, if a surprise beyond that you have budgeted for presents itself, you will also clearly be able to see where you can make adjustments within the rest of your remodel project to absorb that cost.

Outside of making a budget, your next step is identifying what you want to attempt to tackle yourself versus what you know you will need to hire help for. Some of that might be decided by your budget, but even then, certain projects should not be tackled without professional experience. Painting the interior of your home is a project you may be able to take on yourself, while taking down walls is not. Anything that is a matter of safety or structural integrity should not be done independently. Additionally, many home projects, some unexpectedly, require permits before they are tackled (see “Safety & Permit Precautions”).

Once you have taken the time to write a detailed budget, and you have assessed what you intend to handle yourself versus what you will need professional help with, it’s time to get started! Our recommendation is that you start with your contract hires to gain an accurate understanding of estimated costs before you start spending money on anything else. Beyond that, a contractor can help you better understand how to tackle certain projects (or if you might need to alter your plan). Let’s say, as an example, you want to take down a particular wall, but you learn from your contractor that the wall is load bearing, so if it is taken down, a beam would need to be installed. The cost of that beam may not be worth it to you, so by working with a contractor before starting projects, you have the ability to adjust your plans while your home is still a blank slate. Contractors are experts in their field, so lean on their expertise early in your project to ensure your remodel is a smooth experience, without any safety or permitting issues.

Safety & Permit Precautions

illinois construction permit

The best way to stay aligned with safety and permit requirements is by hiring a reputable contractor as your trusted remodel partner. A trusted contractor like NewConcept180 will be abreast of local requirements for permits and will be aware of all safety requirements for the job site. Some safety and permitting requirements can be surprising, so it’s always best to have expert help. Though permit requirements are county specific, below are the various aspects of a vintage home remodel that would likely require a permit before getting started:

Wall Demo

As mentioned previously, removing a load bearing wall dramatically impacts the integrity of your home, so a permit is typically required to ensure the project is handled safely.

Roof

Any changes to your home’s roof, whether that be altering the roofline or changing the roof in some way. Similarly, adjustments to your roof can have structural impacts that need to be assessed.

Layout

Any layout adjustments, such as a house addition or the addition of a bedroom, require a permit. Permits ensure your home is structurally sound and safe to live in for years to come. It’s better to get a permit than to have a roof cave into your add-on years from now (even though permits can slow your timeline down).

Electrical

Electrical projects also require permits, as a safety precaution. Electrical work leaves no room for guessing due to the high fire risk if not done properly.

Fence

Surprisingly, the installation of a fence beyond the standard 6-foot height may require a permit. Though an extra tall fence may not seem like a safety or structural risk, your county may still have permitting or even add-on requirements (like shrubbery to also be included).

Dumpster

Another surprising permit requirement relates to a need you’ll have in your demo work – a dumpster. Having a spot to place your roll-off dumpster on the street requires a permit, even though your personal property isn’t necessarily involved.

Deck

Though you might think all decks would require a permit, most municipalities only require a permit for decks being built over a certain height. It’s best to check local requirements to ensure you don’t unnecessarily go through the process of getting a deck permit.

Sewer

Any project that has to do with a sewer line usually requires permitting. It’s not only a matter of your own health, but the health of other individuals serviced by the same sewer line.

Home Additions

Though mentioned previously, it’s always worth highlighting again: all home additions require a permit, and that requirement is not county specific.

Working with your design-build contractor will help to determine the type of permit you need for your project.

Garage

Building a garage or a carport requires a permit to ensure the add-on is structurally sound. The term “add-on” was used intentionally, as garages and carports should be thought of similar to a home addition – a permit is always required for them.

Opening

If a new opening is required for an exterior window, door, or even a skylight, a permit is necessary. When you think about what must be done for the install, the structure of your home could very well be impacted – a hole is being cut into the frame of your home. That could certainly pose some safety or structural risks, hence, the need for a permit.

Fireplace

Fireplaces and chimneys, like electrical work, pose a fire hazard if not done to code, so a permit is required. That rings true for fireplaces, woodburning stoves, and inserts. The permit assures your safety.

Plumbing

Plumbing projects, such as the installation of new hose bibs, require a permit. If not done to code, plumbing projects leave room for potential water damage in the future that could lead to countless problems.

Pool

Installing a pool also requires a permit, but that’s not only true for an in-ground pool, above-ground pools also require permits, and potentially multiple of them.

Safety and permits tend to go hand-in-hand, so it’s best to lean on the experience of professionals to ensure your home remodel is handled up to code and with safety front of mind.

Common Homeowner Mistakes to Avoid

As exciting as it is to get started on your vintage home remodel, that same excitement can get homeowners into trouble. Most homeowners are not experts in home construction and remodels, and if they are, they understand the importance of patience and diligence through the process. Before you get started on your vintage home remodel, take a step back and learn from the mistakes other homeowners have made in the past. Though we don’t want anyone to learn the hard way, those that have provide other homeowners with valuable lessons. Avoid the following common mistakes homeowners make with remodels to increase the chances of your remodel going seamlessly.

  • Underestimating the cost

    Perhaps the most common, and most unfortunate, mistake homeowners commonly make with their home renovation is underestimating the cost of their remodel project. Particularly with vintage homes, there are going to be unexpected expenses that need to be accounted for within your remodel budget. It’s best to add 20 percent on top of what you think the cost of your home remodel will be, helping you stay aligned with your budget even with surprises. Best case scenario, you save money in the long run! Worst case scenario, you’re prepared.

  • Starting renovations before really understanding how you will live in your home

    For anyone familiar with home renovation or property search shows, you might have noticed how common it is for homeowners to fall out of love with their home after living in the space. When you spend time in a home, you gain a strong understanding of how the home does or does not fit the needs of you and your family. It’s tempting to jump into a renovation immediately, but give yourself time to really think through the best flow for your needs before you start taking walls down.

  • Trying to take on too much independently

    As tempting as it is when you think of potential cost savings, unless you are a home contractor, you should not take on all of your home’s remodeling projects yourself. You could be creating safety risks, the quality of the project will likely be subpar, and in the end, you won’t be as proud of the remodel as you would be with the help of an expert. Save yourself a future headache by consulting with a professional contractor before you start any of the remodel yourself.

Don’t learn the hard way like other homeowners have – avoid the above common mistakes to alleviate a future headache and a lot of hassle. Future you will be glad you did.

Bringing Your Home’s Vintage Charm to Life

Finally, the most exciting part of your vintage home remodel – getting the opportunity to bring the vintage charm and beauty of your home to life! By following many of the tips already shared, you are well on your way to creating that gorgeous vintage home you always dreamed of. Beyond what has been shared, like creating a detailed budget with room for surprises, working with a reputable expert, and avoiding common mistakes, the final requirement to turning your fixer-upper into a stunning vintage home is balancing current trends with timelessness. As much as possible, you want to preserve the gorgeous historical features and original architecture of your home. That said, you also want your home to support your life, which might mean straying away from the original, compartmentalized, floor plan by taking some walls down. It’s all about balance, making sure you don’t lean too far in either direction. Recall the two components that make renovating a vintage home so amazing: you are able to highlight beautiful vintage charm while incorporating stunning modern amenities. Balance is key, and working with a specialized vintage home remodeling company allows you to strike that perfect balance.

Conclusion

Now that you are equipped with the knowledge you need to approach your vintage home remodel confidently, the thrilling process can get started! You are close to making your vintage home dreams a reality, and with the proactive planning you are doing, you can enjoy the process – unexpected surprises and all.

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Remodeling Cost Guide
Budget

Your budget dictates the scope of your remodel and what it can be accomplished for your home. With that in mind, we have put together a Home Remodeling Cost Guide for you to download for free. This guide covers costs from midrange to upscale remodels. With this guide you are able to get a more accurate picture of what you might need to budget for your next project.