What You Should Know Before Updating a Historic Home

Wheeling House, a two-story, brick historic home in West Virginia.
Living in a historic home has its benefits — and restrictions.

Owning a historic home can be a great experience. After all, you have a unique home with architectural elements not found on new homes. But it 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.

These tips can help you keep your historic home modern while maintaining its character.

Updated kitchen with a Broan range hood
Most historic home regulations focus on exterior features. So it’s probably safe to update kitchen fixtures like the range hood.

1. Know Your Restrictions

Homes designated as historic often have restrictions placed on what can be done 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 encouraged to make repairs and exact replacements. So, go ahead and buy that range hood and smart refrigerator — these are interior features and what you do inside the home is generally okay. The outside’s the part you need to be concerned about.

Regulations vary widely by location so check with local agencies to determine what can and cannot be done on the property.

Finger pressing a key on a wireless home security system's keypad
Install a wireless security system and you won’t have to worry about violating historic home regulations. (DepositPhotos)

2. Keep It Safe

Historic homes need to be upgraded with safety in mind. For example, your best bet is to purchase a wireless alarm system with window and door sensors that are installed with adhesive; that way, you won’t have to disrupt the home with new wiring.

Another concern is asbestos — it was a popular building material before 1980, with construction uses stemming back to 1900, and there’s a good chance your historic home has some in it. If asbestos is exposed, contact an asbestos remediation expert right away.   

Then there’s lead paint, another product once used in home building before it was discovered to be toxic. Get a lead paint test kit to make sure there are no issues in any room.

Those are just a few common problems to consider without even mentioning major structural issues that need addressing. Your home needs a thorough inspection from a home inspector who specializes in historic homes.


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