14 Tips for Restoring Old Houses

restoring houses
Restoring old houses is an arduous but ultimately rewarding job. It’s difficult to make generalizations regarding how to go about your restoration but we’ve got 10 tips to help lead you down the right path.
1. Know your maintenance cycles. Most buildings need tuckpointing maintenance every 50 to 60 years.
2. Match the mortar. New mortar should match as closely as possible in color, consistency, and elevation. Using too much Portland cement in the mix creates hard mortars, which can damage old buildings.
3. Never grind out joints. Only deteriorated mortar should be removed. If someone tells you otherwise, run.
4. Never use sealers. Sealers trap moisture, compounding problems during freeze/thaw cycles.
5. Replace in kind. Damaged masonry units should be replaced whole or via Dutchmen of the same material. Voids filled with putty don’t last.

6. Get a great finish. Pros agree that sandblasting followed by powder coating gives the best, long-lasting, non-sticky finish–but don’t try this at home.
7. Don’t worry about fires. Even with steam heat, a radiator gets only about half as hot as the temperature needed to kindle paper, so you can rest easy.
8. Use heartwood. Heartwood is always the most disease-resistant. Sapwood of most species should never be used.
9. Rift or quarter-grain cuts are best. These cuts are the most stable. Flat grain often expands and contracts seasonally at twice the rate of quartered stock.
10. Install plain sawn lumber with the heart side up. Flat lumber will wear better with the heart facing up. If there’s cupping, the edges will stay flat, and only the center will hump slightly.
11. Learn to use hand tools. Most historic woodwork was produced by hand tools, and most machine-made millwork (late 19th century and after) was installed with them. Historic woodwork finishes produced with hand planes can’t be reproduced by modern machines like sanders.
12. Save your wood windows. Thirty percent of windows being replaced are less than 10 years old–plastic parts fail and can’t be repaired, seals fail on insulating glass units, or the glass fogs up. Your original wood windows have lasted a century or more; they can last another.
13. Each window is different. Consider individual window needs. You might carefully restore the house’s front windows and add interior air panels seasonally, add weatherstripping and exterior storms to side windows, and replace the rotting windows out back. And some windows may need nothing at all.
14. Old windows can be energy efficient. Adding weatherstripping and keeping up storms can make original windows as energy-efficient as replacements. Interior air panels and curtains or roller shades also add comfort and boost energy savings.