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To renovate an old house is an exciting journey that blends the charm of the past with the comforts of modern living. Whether you’re restoring original features or updating the layout to suit contemporary needs, the process can transform a worn-out space into a beautiful, functional home.

So you want to renovate an old house? I get it! I am currently renovating our old house and it feels like breathing new life into a piece of history. Embracing the unique character of an old house while making it your own is a rewarding project.

A beautiful white 120 year old house that has trees in front of it.

Finding The Potential

The first step when you want to renovate an old house is to see the potential. Sure, there might be peeling paint, creaky floors, and outdated fixtures, but look beyond that. Picture how a fresh coat of paint, new flooring, and updated fixtures can bring out the house’s character. Keep an eye out for unique architectural details that can be preserved. Look for crown moldings, original hardwood floors, or vintage hardware.

We bought this beautiful 1903 Victorian house in a small town in central Alberta back in 2012. When we first walked into the space, it was AWFUL. The walls were yellow from years of cigarette smoke, the floors were covered with battle ship linoleum and the bathrooms were falling apart. I had the vision to look past all of that and see the potential of this house. Over the years, it has been a labor of love, and there have been many ups and downs.

Initially, we started with a few smaller updates to make the home livable. We painted it a natural color palette, brought back the original floors, and painted some of the floors, too. We went over the kitchen countertops with a DIY epoxy kit. Then, we spruced up the cabinets with new hardware and even added a stair runner to the main staircase.

In time, we even took on some major renovations. We renovated the bathrooms, converted our beautiful attic space into a family room, and added shiplap throughout.

Beautiful attic space that is used as a familyroom with white shiplap walls, a  chandelier, a fireplace, and a sectional.

We also finished the backyard with a brick patio, pergola, and patio area and even added a beautiful outdoor kitchen space.

Here we are, 12 years later, finally doing some of the renovations we have been talking about for years! I want to use this post to share updates as the renovation process goes on. Let’s dive in!

Renovate An Old House

Hire The Professionals

When renovating an old house, hire a professional if you’re dealing with structural issues, major electrical or plumbing work, or anything involving permits and codes. It’s also smart to get expert help for restoring historical features to ensure they’re preserved correctly. Sometimes, bringing in the pros saves you time, money, and a lot of headaches!

For most of our past renovations, we have always done a lot of the work ourselves, but this time, we have hired things out at lot more largely because of the scope of this project. I would strongly recommend seeking the advice of a structural engineer, even if your contractor or carpenter is confident with these kinds of renovations.

Removing a load-bearing wall to open up a space in an old house renovation.

We wanted to remove three separate walls on the house’s main floor, and two turned out to be load-bearing. Having the calculations from the engineer not only gave us peace of mind on taking these walls down in a three-story house but also gave my contractor a guide on exactly what he needed to install to support the structure properly.

Taking down a load-bearing wall in a house and adding temporary support walls.

Demolition Is No Joke

Being prepared for demolition when renovating an old house is crucial because you never know what surprises are lurking behind those walls. A solid plan can save you from unexpected headaches, keep your project on track and save you time and money down the road.

Let me start off by saying Demo Day is no joke! If you have never experienced the removal of lath and plaster walls before, you truly can’t understand the mess until you have been through it. The dust… the smell… it is something!

So, with that being said, it is very important to prep your work area properly prior to beginning. Cover the floors with cardboard, and if you can, section off the area with thick plastic taped to the walls and stapled to the ceiling. This worked SO well for us, for the most part. We did have to go back and reattach plastic throughout the week, but it seemed to keep the dust to a minimum.

Exposed lath and plaster walls during a renovation.

Our family is also living in the house during the renovation, so it helped keep the dust out of other areas. A big tip is to close as many doors as possible to help stop the transfer of dust.

The demolition began by removing all the panelboard walls. We then tore out the cabinets and took down the lath and plaster. At this time, the carpenters also removed any non-load-bearing walls.

Taking down lath and plaster walls in an old house.

Leveling An Old House

Leveling an old house is crucial to prevent further structural damage and ensure safety. It also makes everything from flooring to doors work properly, so your home feels solid and secure.

We had custom steel supports built by a local welding shop. This was so that we could reinforce the load-bearing areas of the house in the foundation. My carpenters knew where to add the foundation supports and what areas of the home needed to be jacked and leveled before continuing with the project.

A large door opening that has been cut into a wall.

Adding Support Beams

When taking out a load-bearing wall in an old house renovation, adding support beams is crucial to prevent the house from sagging or collapsing. It’s like giving your home a new backbone to ensure everything stays sturdy and safe.

We removed three walls on the main floor. Our contractors first installed temporary support walls on either side of the load-bearing wall to hold the weight during construction. Then, they installed three 12″ by 3″ beams that were secured together for each wall. Once the new support beam was in position, they used a hydraulic jack to lift the beam into place if it didn’t fit just right.

Two large beams connecting together after removing two walls in a renovation.

Now that the wall was level, they used the appropriate brackets and fasteners to secure the beam. Then, they could remove the temporary walls.

The change in the appearance of our main level is amazing! It already feel so open and airy in here and I can’t wait for the renovation to continue.

The new layout of an old house that has had walls removed to make it more open.

Cut In New Windows And Doors

New windows can dramatically increase the amount of natural light, making the space feel brighter and more welcoming. Adding doors can create better access to outdoor spaces, improve the flow between rooms, and update the home’s overall look, making it feel more open and inviting.

One of the main reason’s we are taking on this renovation in our old house is because the kitchen did not get natural sunlight throughout the day! I have six sets of bay windows in the house but my kitchen was always dark. So, we added a new window on the east side of our kitchen. It has added so much beautiful light to the space already!

A new window that has been added to a house during a renovation beside a staircase.

Renovating An Old House Video

Week one of our renovation has been no joke! This is a bit of the footage I took throughout the week. I hope you enjoy it! Looking forward to what week two will bring!

Plumbing And Electrical Upgrades

Upgrading electrical and plumbing during a remodel ensures your old house meets current safety standards and can handle modern appliances and fixtures. It also helps prevent future issues like leaks or electrical failures, saving you time and money in the long run. Plus, it boosts the overall value and efficiency of your home.

This week of the renovation was not as full of big structural changes but the work that was done is projects that I have been waiting for years to see complete! 

New Plumbing

When this house was built in 1903, there was no plumbing in the home at all. In fact, the grandson of the man who built the house lived next door to us and told a story about how his grandmother was so disgusted by the addition of an indoor toilet to the house. It is truly hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Well, that same original plumbing was still in our home 120 years later. Over that time, the steel pipes slowly corroded and began to close off from the inside. In time, the pipes would eventually have completely closed off! Our water pressure has been terrible for years. It’s so bad that if you flush a toilet when a tap is running, the water will come to a complete stop!  

New and old plumbing in an old home.

We also didn’t have any plumbing in the front half of the home, and it was impossible to add it to the second story without removing sections of walls and ceilings. 

This renovation was the time to change all of this! We decided to take the plunge and upgrade all the plumbing in our home. It was a big project but the outcome is already amazing! Our water pressure is SO much better! 

Upgraded Electrical

Some of the electrical in the house has been upgraded over the years, but we did have some of that yucky knob and tube still throughout the house! In fact, during this renovation, we found live knob and tube wires hanging in the ceiling above our main floor bathroom. Such a scary feeling! 

Upgrading the electrical in an old house remodel.

We decided it was now or never to remove it, and although it is going to be very tricky to do so in a few places on the second story, we are moving forward with it.

Modernize The Layout

Modernizing the layout of an old home can improve the flow and accessibility of the space, making it more comfortable and enjoyable for daily living.

This week, we also began moving the laundry room on the second level into one of the bedrooms we have converted into a laundry room. It will be so nice to finally have a dedicated space to do our laundry and to be able to enter the attic without hip-checking the dryer every single time. 

Laundry room space in an old house.

Having this designated laundry space will not only make laundry chores more efficient but will also keep the laundry clutter contained, maintaining the overall organization in our home.

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