Restoring a historic house: 7 tips and tricks before getting started


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A historic house begets bittersweet baggage. Of heritage, narratives, nostalgia, rickety tiles and crumbling facades!

Faced with the task of restoring historic buildings, it is imperative to not just retain its architectural elements and built form but also add value to its existence. This entails attributing relevant function to the building so it stays relevant to the present, and not a mere structure frozen in time.

With the said assertions, following are seven tips and tricks before getting started:

1. Vision: Determine whether the project is a full restoration or rehabilitation and upgradation. Restoration implies reinstating the structure to its original form pertaining to the historic timeline. Rehabilitation and upgradation alters or revamps a historic building to meet its current functions but retains the historic character. For example, a baluster in an old English home is defunct. A restoration would duplicate the baluster in material, design and detail as close to the original. While a rehabilitation/upgradation would attempt ‘to restore’ it to the original but may replace it entirely.

2. Visual assessment: Inspect structural and architectural defects: water damage, seepage, efflorescence, biological growth, electricity, plumbing, water supply line, and HVAC systems (if any). The roof often calls for major overhauls. It is desirable to dismantle the roofing system for inspection. If unfeasible, a thorough inspection is undertaken preceded by strengthening. For example, wooden members in the roof may appear sound though termites might have damaged its core. Waterproofing is of utmost importance owing to climatic changes. The roof is exposed to adverse conditions than anticipated at the time of conception.

3. Semi-destructive and non-destructive tests: They analyse degradation in structural components: foundation, concrete, wood etc. This includes ultrasonic test, rebound hammer test, etc. It is undertaken with a certified agency and approval from a civil engineer. Licensed structural consultants specify the strengthening process, material and techniques.

4. Scope of work: This comprehends what parts require upgradation/restoration. The former tests determine scope of work. Understand the functional requirements which may call for re-planning and adaptive re-use.

5. Past and present photo documentation: Photograph and document the structure, and source old pictures or original drawings. This helps to identify the character and build on it. Evaluate the original materials, finishes, construction, architectural and interior design style.

6. Certification: Heritage structures call for additional paperwork. Approval from authorities is a long process owing to bureaucratic systems. Request and obtain necessary certificates from local municipal and government body beforehand.

7. Long term vision: Heritage structures continue to age with time. The restoration process needs to address concerns comprehensively. Otherwise, the next overhaul may not be restoration, but demolition!


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are solely of the author and may not represent's opinions on the subject. does not take responsibility for any actions taken based on the information shared by the author.

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