Owning a historic home can be a great experience. After all, you have a unique home with architectural elements not found in new homes. You own a piece of history, and there are tax incentives for maintenance and preservation. But a historic home is also a significant responsibility.

    It can be a challenge when homeowners want to update the home to bring it more in line with the modern world, as historic home alterations are usually subject to approval.

    The tips we’ll delve into below can help you modernize aspects of your historic home while maintaining its character and charm.

    Know Your Restrictions

    Homes designated as historic often have restrictions on what you can do to them. For example, you won’t be allowed to drastically change the look of exterior features such as the shutters, windows, or roof.

    However, you are allowed and even encouraged to make repairs and exact-copy replacements. So purchase that range hood and smart refrigerator — these are interior features, and what you do inside the home is generally fine. The outside is the part you need to focus on.

    Regulations vary widely by location, so check with local jurisdictions to determine what is permissible on the property.

    interior of a historic home

    Keep It Safe

    Historic homes often need upgrading with safety in mind.

    person performing a safety inspection

    For example, purchase a wireless alarm system with window and door sensors installed with adhesive. That way, you’ll avoid disrupting the home with new wiring.

    Another concern is asbestos — it was used in construction starting around 1900 and was a popular building material up to 1980. It may be present in your historic home, and if you’re exposed to it, contact an asbestos remediation expert immediately.

    Then there’s lead paint, which was widely used before its toxicity was discovered. Get a lead paint test kit to check for issues in every room.

    These are just a few common problems and don’t address major structural issues. Your home should have a thorough safety inspection from an inspector specializing in historic homes.

    Improve Energy Efficiency

    While you can’t alter some aspects of historic homes, upgrades like new windows, lighting, and insulation eventually become necessary.

    You can likely preserve the style while enhancing the energy efficiency of various structural elements, which helps the environment and reduces utility bills.

    Preserve Historic Elements

    When upgrading, remember which elements confer historic status on the home. Focus on preserving those. For example, it may be a room with special historic architecture or that a famous person stayed in. So retain corbels, cornices, and fluting that give the home its special character. You can even incorporate historic design features and details into new additions for an authentic look.

    So, Is It Wise to Update or Alter a Historic Home?

    Updating a historic home can be tricky, but the right approach allows modernizing certain elements while preserving unique historic character. Knowing regulations, focusing on interior and reversible upgrades, and addressing safety concerns let an owner enjoy modern amenities without sacrificing the property’s historic integrity. Thoughtful alterations that comply with regulations permit both preservation and comfortable living.

    FAQs About Historic Home Updates

    Can I update my historic home's kitchen and bathrooms?

    Kitchen and bathroom renovations are usually allowed if they don’t alter protected exterior structures. Interior spaces offer flexibility.

    Do I need approval to replace my historic home's roof?

    Possibly. If your roof contributes to historic status, you’ll likely need approval before replacing it. You can replace standard asphalt shingles without permission, depending on the jurisdiction. Consult local guidelines before starting any roof project.

    Can I add solar panels to my historic house?

    While often permitted, solar installations on historic homes may require special approval per local regulations. For minimal visibility, install panels sensitively on rear-facing roof planes. Ground arrays are another option.

    Editorial Contributors
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    Elise LaChapelle


    Elise LaChapelle is a copywriter with over a decade's experience in the digital space. She specializes in blogging, website content, social media, and e-mail marketing across a diverse array of clients, helping them to connect with their target audience through concise, compelling messaging. When she's not crafting copy, Elise enjoys working out, cooking, and spending time with her husband and two daughters.

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    Lee Ann Merrill

    Chicago-based Lee Ann Merrill has decades of experience writing and editing across a wide range of technical and scientific subjects. Her love of DIY, gardening, and making led her to the realm of creating and honing quality content for homeowners. When she's not working on her craft, you can find her exploring her city by bike and plotting international adventures.

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