Tips for Success when Remodeling an Older Home

Middleburg Eccentric

One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of our business, has been the opportunity to work on charming, older homes like those in Middleburg and the surrounding countryside. Because of the historical nature of the area, like minded individuals are purchasing estates, old barns and other unique structures and remodeling them to meet their modern needs.

If you’re considering a renovation on a historic property, keep the following tips in mind to help ensure a successful remodeling experience.

Hire a firm that is very comfortable and experienced in working with these types of properties. While no two projects are the same, structures from a similar period will likely have similar construction methodologies and details. A remodeler experienced in historic renovations should be able to anticipate many of the challenges associated with such a project.

Some structures and jurisdictions require the review of a historic or architectural review board before proceeding with a renovation. This process can be daunting and time consuming if you don’t have your “I’s” dotted and “Ts” crossed. Your remodeler should be able to help you navigate this process.

To minimize surprises, it’s best to do as much research as possible before undertaking a historic renovation. Often times this will include doing exploratory demolition to evaluate the condition of the structure behind the walls, below the floors and in other concealed areas. This may help to identify challenges and other issues that need to be addressed.

Be sure there is a clear, mutual understanding regarding the existing conditions and related scope of work. For example:

  • What is assumed regarding the viability of any structure?
  • What is assumed in terms of any existing plumbing or electrical lines?
  • Are there any critical assumptions with regard to the level of the floor or walls?
  • Is there any rot, termite damage, or other challenges that need to be mitigated?
  • Are there any special historical elements of the structure that require special handling, protection, or treatment?

Presumably, part of the attraction of an older structure is the charm and authenticity it affords. More often than not, we uncover unexpected details, often exemplifying the craftsmanship of the time. For example, we recently exposed hand–hewned beams behind a partition wall. Rather than eliminating them, the client chose to leave them exposed, antique nails and all, as a unique design element for their family room.

Many historically correct materials are now available, often reclaimed from structures that were demolished. From flooring and wall coverings to beams and lighting fixtures, these historically “correct” details can help create an extraordinary remodel.

Review and evaluate all the systems in the structure. Now’s the time to improve plumbing, heating, electrical, insulation, etc. For budgeting purposes, generally assume that most of these systems will require full replacement, particularly if they are original. Modern code will require the update, but your family will benefit in terms of safety and comfortability.

Even with the best planning and research, there are bound to be changes in the scope of work due to required fixes or opportunities that arise. Depending upon the complexity of the project and the condition of the structure, it is probably wise to budget a 20% overage as part of the expected cost of the project.

Have reasonable expectations. As is the case in any remodel, there are often decisions and even compromises to be made. Embrace them as part of the charm of working with the old structure you fell in love with.

Above all, find a remodeler that you trust and are comfortable working with so you can enjoy the process!

Tim Burch is a Vice President of BOWA, an award-winning design and construction firm specializing in renovations ranging from master suites and kitchens to whole-house remodels. A Northern Virginia native and third-generation builder, Tim enjoys calling on his 30 years of design build experience to solve clients’ home-related challenges. He is the Construction Advisor for The Mosby Heritage Area Association and sits on the Board of Building Appeals for Fauquier County. Prior to joining BOWA, Tim was the Lead Project Manager of Construction for the Emmy Award winning construction reality television show, Extreme Makeover Home Edition on ABC Television. For more information on Tim and the BOWA team, visit or call 540-687-6771.