Renovation Challenges When Working With Old Homes

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Germantown has graced Tennessee’s maps since 1820, and because of that, it is home to a plethora of houses from a variety of eras. These houses are full of character and charm, but they are also often full of pitfalls that might trip up the modern home renovator. Fortunately, we can learn how to face the renovation challenges when working with old homes from the homeowners who have gone before us.

Outdated Layouts

Back in the old days, every room served a specific function—entertaining happened in the parlor, work in the kitchen, and eating in the dining room—and those functions never mixed. Because of this, open floor plans are a foreign concept to many old homes that favor labyrinthine layouts and small, closed-off rooms.

Your first step when deciding how to remodel may be to hire an architect or structural engineer for a consultation on a space. They may be able to advise you on the best and most cost-effective ways to change up your floor plan while protecting the integrity of the house itself.

Unsafe Building Materials

Throughout history, we have used a plethora of building materials that weren’t always safe, from lead-based paint to formaldehyde foam insulation. Often, we don’t recognize these hazards until we start renovation projects. As such, it’s best to examine the space before you begin stripping paint or taking down walls. Testing kits are available for both paint and insulation at local hardware stores. If the house you’re working on contains hazardous materials, hire a professional for the job.

Popcorn Ceilings

Along the lines of potentially hazardous building materials, we have that legacy of the 1930s: the popcorn ceiling. Many homeowners who want to update their interior are just itching to remove their popcorn ceilings. It’s a relatively easy task for the DIYer, requiring only a garden sprayer and a putty knife—or you can skip the removal process altogether and update the room by painting over a popcorn ceiling instead.

However, ceilings that predate 1977 often contain asbestos or lead. If your home is older than this, you must test the ceiling before you try to remove or paint it.


One of the biggest renovation challenges when working with old homes from before the era of electricity is trying to bring electricity up to code. Even homes from the early days of electric lighting may be prone to outages if you plug in anything more powerful than a hairdryer. Even if you have experience working with wiring, you will want to work with a professional to be sure that you’re meeting modern standards and that your old house can support your modern life.

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