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Old home renovation: Sequencing work

karlb_zone6a | Posted in General Questions on

Background: my wife and I are buying a ~1700 square foot raised Cape [1.5 stories], originally built ~1810, and in generally good condition.  The house looks to be a simple timberframe on a fieldstone foundation, with lath-and-plaster walls throughout, and a gable roof.  It will need a fair bit of work over the next couple years, which we will triage according to urgency, cost, and difficulty.  Much as we appreciate the historic nature of the building (and have no intention to malign it!), this house is first-and-foremost our home, and needs to function accordingly.

So – at the risk of asking an overly broad question, what do you recommend our order of operations should be?

(I’ve been an irregular reader of GBA and the GBA Q&A here for several years. My initial thoughts are in the next post.)

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  1. karlb_zone6a | | #1

    Original poster again, with initial thoughts*:

    Priority #1
    - Inspections (general, as well as for hazards)
    - Essential Repairs (any leaks)
    - Mitigate Fire Hazards (e.g., upgrade electrical service)

    Priority #2
    - Evaluate/Re-Think Layout (spaces + services [electrical, plumbing, ventilation])
    - Proactive Maintenance (e.g., improve site grading / drainage)
    - Deferred Maintenance (e.g., repoint foundation, paint exposed/peeling trim)
    - Minor Interior Improvements (e.g., remove wallpaper, paint interior, add exhaust fans)
    - Replace Unvented Heating System (existing system: 2 unvented gas heaters, in living space)

    Priority #3
    - Re-Roof (take opportunity to air-seal and insulate)
    - Re-Side (take opportunity to air-seal and insulate, and inspect/repair sill)
    - Encapsulate Basement (air-seal and insulate)
    - Install HRV/ERV
    - Install air-source heat pumps

    Priority #4
    - Major Interior Improvements (e.g., relocate kitchen, add 2nd bathroom, relocate interior partitions)

    The items that fall into "Priority #3" are obviously GBA's focus. Given that it's almost July, I'm afraid that those improvements will have to wait until next year to be implemented. Unfortunately, that means that we go a Vermont winter without added insulation (*cringe*). But any help/advice you can share now, to help us get our ducks in a row, is much appreciated! :)
    *For posterity's sake, I may try to link spin-off threads from this post, as they arise.

  2. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #3

    Remember to upgrade your grounding when upgrading the rest of the electrical system. Usually you need at least two 8 foot ground rods now (only used copper clad, never galvanized). Bring all you services (telephone, cable TV, satellite, anything with a wire) in at the same spot as your electrical service comes in and ground them all together (which is also current code). This will drastically improve your protection against lightening and other electrical problems. Make sure your cold water pipe, if conductive, is also connected to your electrical ground. This goes for well systems too and is to allow GFCIs to operate properly in case of an electrical path to the water — which might go through you!

    Based on past Experience, be thorough checking for any signs of water intrusion into the structure. Fix any issues you find while you have things open. These leaks can be around the roof line, rim joist, and any plumbing. I’ve even found cracked solder on copper 90s that has an occasional slow leak. Look for discoloration around the areas where things like this would drip if they’re leaking.


  3. karlb_zone6a | | #4

    Good suggestions, Bill and Wooba-- thank you both!

  4. gorlopeperezal | | #5

    First and foremost, ensure that any structural issues or major repairs are addressed. This includes the foundation, roof, and any significant water damage. These are critical for the long-term stability of your home.Next, consider the energy efficiency of the house. Updating insulation, windows, and HVAC systems can significantly improve comfort and reduce utility costs.
    As for the historical aspects, it's great that you appreciate them. You can plan these renovations based on your preferences and budget. Perhaps start with cosmetic updates like painting and restoring original features.
    For specific guidance, professional companies like Stark Builders ( can assess your home and provide a detailed plan.

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