Old House Renovation: Making Those Hard Repair-or-Replace Decisions

repair or replace old home restoration

When you’re planning (or in the middle of) a whole house remodel there are always questions about what to keep and what to do away with. Sometimes those questions are about big things, such as hallways, bedrooms or walls. Other times they’re about more particular items, such as doorknobs, trimwork or old wooden windows.

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No matter what type of item, the question is usually a challenging one because there often is no “right answer.” If this sounds like a question you might have to tackle in your future, maybe I can help you be more prepared.

Always Lean Toward Restoration

The first step in making the decision of “restore vs. replace” is one of mindset. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a home with a contractor, tradesman or even homeowner who just thinks everything that’s not brand new needs to find its way to the dumpster! That’s the wrong mindset in my opinion. Replacing something just for the sake of replacing it is wasteful at best. In the case of something really special like the wavy glass in my kitchen windows it can be downright tragic.

So the first thing you want to do is to adopt a “restore over replace” attitude. Whenever an item is being considered, your first thought regarding restoration should be “how can we?” By looking at things with this mindset you’ll find yourself thinking creatively and seeing solutions that lead to restoration. In the long run, this kind of mindset is key to creating a beautiful project that has the unmatched depth of character that can only be achieved through restoration.

Pay Attention to Unique Details

In the restoration of an older home, there are those older elements that are unique and unlike brand new homes, and then there are those items that are essentially the same today as they were yesterday.

When it comes to decorative building elements, the saying, “They just don’t make them like they used to,” is often true.

Walls are a good example of something that isn’t “usually” that different in a brand new home as compared to a 300-year-old home. Sure, there are exceptions, but I’m talking about smooth interior painted walls. Restoration of an old plaster wall in a bedroom might cost five times as much as just replacing that same wall with drywall and the end result may look nearly identical.

A solid wood interior door, on the other hand, may be the opposite situation. The existing home might have solid doors made of a hardwood you just can’t buy anymore. If you look closely, those old doors might have a particular profile on the trim or the panels. Even if you can get a similarly designed door, the chances of replacing that detail are slim. When it comes to decorative building elements, the saying, “They just don’t make them like they used to,” is often true.

I Just Love It

I was talking with some fixer-upper owners one day in their home when the homeowners and I started talking about an archway between two rooms. I mentioned how unique and interesting that archway was and the wife said, “I just love that arch, but I know it has to come out.” When I inquired further, I found that two other contractors had told her the arch had to go to accomplish the other objectives of the project. I helped them find a solution that saved the arch.

Whenever there is any element of your home, no matter how tiny or how big, that inspires you to use the words “I just love that,” my advice is to work very hard toward restoring that item rather than replacing during your whole-house remodel. Even if it’s difficult or something else has to be sacrificed. Those “love it” items are what makes the house your home.

Cost is Always a Factor

The last factor, of course, is cost. Sometimes restoration of an item is less costly than replacement; other times it’s far less expensive to replace than to restore. When you’re attempting a major project like a whole-house remodel, sometimes it can just come down to money. What makes the most financial sense in the long run?

Options Are Good

The great thing about this question is that it reveals the fact that there are options. You’re not forced to go one way or another and you shouldn’t listen to people who try to take those options away.

Restore when you can, replace when you have to … and enjoy the process either way!