3 Projects to Modernize Your Historical Home

Historical homes are a whole different animal when it comes to home maintenance. On one hand, if your older home has been properly cared for, many antique materials and fixtures may last much longer than those in modern homes. On the other hand, they may be in desperate need of repair, replacement or updating in order to meet modern standards of living. Here are three areas that will bring your older home up-to-date fast.

Attic Insulation and Air Sealing

Older homes are definitely prone to phantom drafts. Whereas many homes today contain tight seals, many historical homes do not. In some cases, this was purposeful: the gaps allowed for better ventilation. But as often as not, it was because building and insulation technology just wasn’t as advanced then as it is today.

One of the best things you can do to improve the energy efficiency of your older home is to inspect the insulation and floor sealing of your attic. Attics should ideally have blown-in fiberglass insulation or cut batts between the floor joists. The boards below should be sealed to keep heating and cooling from leaking into unconditioned attics.

Some aging homes may even have older insulation materials, like slag mineral wools or cellulose—as known as newspaper. Or they may contain harmful insulation materials, such as asbestos and urea-formaldehyde. Of particular concern are homes with Zonolite vermiculite insulation [LINK TO: https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-identify-dangerous-asbestos-insulation-4119906] installed in attic floors. This brand of vermiculite insulation was sometimes contaminated with asbestos, making it a health hazard. Zonolite can often be identified by the naked eye—it lies flat, unlike mineral, cellulose or fiberglass loose fill insulation. It also has a distinct color—gray-brown or silver-gold—which makes it easy to identify.

If you’re not certain, you can purchase a DIY asbestos testing kit or have a professional tester out to visit. Professionals can also give you advice on asbestos removal, which is helpful, since asbestos in the wall cavities may be difficult or impossible to remove.

If your attic has no insulation at all, there’s no time like the present! Installation typically costs around $1,500 for a standard attic space, but it’s well worth it. In fact, it’s one of the most effective ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency—it may save you as much as $600 a year on your energy bills. Not bad for a little insulation!

old stone house

Chimney Updates

An antique fireplace and chimney is a thing of beauty. These splendid masonry works exemplify everything you want in a historical home: quality craftsmanship, unique decorative elements and coziness galore! But for all that atmosphere, they often lack some of the construction that makes modern fireplaces safer and more energy efficient.

At the most basic level, it may have been a while since your chimney was swept and the structure inspected. Gaps and cracks in the masonry and flashing can contribute to drafts, making it pretty darn uncomfortable in your home. A professional chimney sweeping and inspection can address these kinds of potential issues, and create a plan for repairing and restoring your chimney.

Frequently, historical chimneys lack liners and dampers. They may also smoke when you use them. The mortar around the chimney may be cracked or the flashing rusted. In worst case scenarios, this can make the fireplace quite dangerous to use—cracks in the mortar can leak deadly carbon monoxide into the living room.

Luckily, many of these repairs can be made without a total chimney replacement—allowing you to keep the feel and ambiance of the original chimney. For particularly damaged chimneys, restoration professionals are often able to make them usable again with a technique called a “cast in place liner.” This involves pouring and setting a cement chimney flue without disturbing the original brick. Then your expert can make external repairs to the masonry and flashing without too much fuss at all. Pretty soon, you’ll be gathered round a crackling fire, reading the paper and warming your toes—just like in the golden days!

old log cabin

Restore Your Windows

Most windows in older homes are made from wood frames, which can warp over time if not treated. That, in turn, creates gaps and cracks that contribute to air infiltration and heat loss—and a high heating bill to go along with it!

Meanwhile, the glass in your windows may not be all that insulating, as well. Older windows were often single-pane affairs. Modern dual pane windows are typically insulated with gas that protects your interiors and keeps out drafts and moisture.

But windows contribute vastly to the original character of your home, so you don’t necessarily want to go pulling them out willy nilly. Instead, consult with a restoration professional who can replace warped or rotting frames and improve the glass performance. That may mean installing new insulated panes in the frames. Or it may mean you install storm windows with Low-E glass over the existing windows—ones that complement your home’s historical flair, naturally!

Maintaining a historical home may take a little bit more effort—but you’re more than up to the challenge. After all, you’re basically preserving history here!

Spot the Fraud: Signs You Need to Fire Your Contractor ASAP

Contractors don’t exactly have the best reputation. Search “contractor scams” and you’ll turn up loads of articles enumerating the latest contractor ploys. Nightmare contractor stories are about as numerous as the stars. For a business that deals with something so important—your home—home repairs sure do attract some shady characters.

There are plenty of reasons why a relationship with a contractor goes south. Some of it you can probably chalk up to unrealistic expectations—some homeowners want their builder to bring them the world on a platter. And sometimes it’s just a matter of juggling too much. Very few contractors are able to hire administrative employees, and so they end up doing most of the scheduling and paperwork themselves while trying to get your kitchen remodel done.

And then there are the people who see a trusting and vulnerable homeowner with little-to-no knowledge about their home’s inner workings, and think, cha-ching! It’s this last category we’re here to discuss today, specifically how to sniff one out and boot them from your life before they turn your dream home into a nightmare. Here are six surefire signs that you need to cut ties with your contractor—and cut your losses while you still can.

lit lighter

They Can’t Show You Any Credentials

Here’s where it pays to do a little detective work right off the bat. In many states, skilled work, like the jobs performed by electricians and plumbers, must be completed by a licensed contractor. So don’t be afraid to ask to see a copy of your contractor’s license—a pro won’t be offended. Also ask to review their proof of insurance and a list of references, too. If your contractor gets cagey or can’t produce credentials like these, set them loose. They may not be as much of a “pro” as they say they are.

They Want You to Pay for the Whole Project Up Front

If your contractor hands you a bill before they get started, don’t panic! It’s customary for pros to ask for a portion of their initial quote up front—but typically, it’s no more than 30 to 50% of the quote. However, what they should not do is ask you to fork up the entire estimate right on the spot. It makes it way too easy for crooked contractors to cut and run, and anyone worth their salt knows better than to ask for 100%. That’s a definite red flag right there.

You Can Never Get Them on the Phone

Having trouble reaching your contractor to get a project started? It may be time to say sayonara. No one can answer the phone every time it rings, of course, but your contractor should make an effort to get back to you promptly. If you feel like your contractor is ghosting you, it’s time to start looking for new candidates. After all, there are plenty of workers who will make you a top priority—or at least call you back!

They Break Your Contract

This one is tricky, since you don’t want to go around accusing contractors willy nilly. A breached contract is a serious offense that often gets settled in court, so you’ll want to have your facts straight before you approach your contractor. You’ll want to have documented proof—photos, receipts and other records—showing that your contractor has broken your agreement. And first, you should have an open—but firm—conversation with your builder and air your issues. If your contractor makes no effort to remedy the problem, you may just need to get a lawyer involved.

Their Quote Comes In Way Below Other Bidders

A deal is a deal, except when it comes at the cost of quality, materials, or skill. You should always collect at least three separate bids for a home remodeling project. For one thing, it’s a great way to get a feel for the average price of this kind of work. But it will also give you a sense of your contractors’ trustworthiness, as well. If one of those bids seems way too low, it’s not necessarily a reason to bite. You get what you pay for, and with contractors, as often as not, a low bid is a sign that something is wrong. Maybe the contractor is using recalled materials, hiring less-than-skilled subcontractors or maybe they’re planning to do the work as quickly—and shoddily!—as possible, and then cut and run. Whatever the reason, you’ll probably wind up paying for it later, so it’s best to avoid these kinds of cutthroat quotes.

They Can’t Stick to a Schedule

Delays happen in the construction business. Estimates are off, materials need to be reordered, unpredictable weather pops up—it’s not uncommon for a job to take longer than expected. However, a contractor who keeps missing their deadlines—or doesn’t show up to work some days—is no one you want working on your home. Do yourself a favor and give them the boot. In the long run, your wallet will thank you!