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Restoring a Heritage Home

Restoring a heritage home – old, yes, but not forgotten

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Restoring a heritage home – old, yes, but not forgotten

Transforming a heritage home into a real estate jewel through a renovation or restoration is a labour of love – it requires a commitment to architectural character and a willingness to meet the challenge of unexpected surprises along the way. If your client has hired you to preserve the look, but update certain areas, the following are five broad categories that you’ll want to investigate.

HISTORY

Age, general architectural style and condition

Learn as much as you can about the history of the building. The historical society can be a good resource. Also, check archives for any old permits, drawings, photos, or newspaper articles about former owners. Learning about the lives of the people who built and lived in the house can help with restoration decisions. Many styles of architecture have played a role in our history, from Queen Anne, Victorian to Colonial Revival. Occasionally, you might also find a true Arts and Crafts style home too. It’s worth documenting the details of the home and checking books at your local library (or on the Internet) to determine its exact style. By learning the age of the home, who its former occupants were and its architectural style, you’ll be able to more easily piece together the “historic” puzzle for your client.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Structure, electrical, plumbing, heating-cooling and drainage

As far as condition goes, it’s worth investing in the services of a home inspector who is knowledgeable about historic architecture. He or she will be able to create a report that identifies potential problem areas and suggest viable, cost-effective solutions.

Problems with infrastructure can range from knob and tube wiring to clay pipes in plumbing. Foundations can be problematic as well, as old concrete can settle and crack, causing the building to shift; a pencil or a marble placed on the floor may well provide you with a heads-up. Any horizontal cracks in the concrete indicate severe settling and could mean costly repairs. If you suspect any underlying issues with the structure, it’s best to have it inspected by a structural engineer.

Envelope, roof, insulation, walls, windows and doors

Before changing any of the elements that make up the envelope of the building, ensure that replacements or repairs will maintain the architectural character.

Windows and doors on old homes can be problematic due to rotten wood and energy inefficiency. Luckily, most historical boards recognize this and let owners replace them with more modern choices as long as the general character is the same. However, if you are fortunate enough to have windows with stained or art glass, consider hiring an expert to restore them.

Many older homes were originally insulated with horsehair or newspaper. Newer homes, but older than 1990 may also have vermiculite insulation which likely contains asbestos. In most cases, an investment is needed to remove the old insulation and properly insulate the walls, the attic and the roof. Energy rebates may be available for this.

Interior furniture, fixtures, materials and decorative trim

The interior design of a heritage property can be very detailed, and it’s important to decide which characteristics contribute to the value of the home. Ceiling details and interior trim — such as door stiles and rails, wainscoting and any decorative motifs — can be extremely valuable and worth preserving or restoring to its original state. Wallpaper patterns can be replicated and heritage paint colours are available.

Door and window hardware is often bronze, copper or crystal. Sometimes missing fixtures or ornate lighting can be found in architectural salvage stores.

The fireplace was the focus of many older homes. Oftentimes, mantel and hearth details were spectacular and included carved wood or marble. Make sure the home inspector is a bit of a detective as well and removes bits of paint in inconspicuous areas to see if you own a hidden treasure.

Landscaping, hardscape, plantings and style

The landscaping of a historic property can’t be overlooked. Many of our forebears brought their gardening skills with them from England, Italy and France, where gardens were outdoor living spaces. While it may be difficult to determine from an initial observation of what a garden may have once looked like, old photos can provide valuable clues.

Scent gardens, formal seating areas tucked into the shrubbery, and decorative ironwork gateways that framed views of other landscape elements. Gardens can give a heritage property context and take a historic home from stunning to truly spectacular.

SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes.

She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for several HOMES Publishing Group publications.


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Video: Introducing SOPRA-CELLULOSE Insulation

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Video: Introducing SOPRA-CELLULOSE Insulation

SOPRA-CELLULOSE is a thermal and acoustic insulation used in interior and exterior walls, attics, floors and ceilings.

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Soprema: A View on Thermal and Acoustic Insulation with Recycled Paper

Soprema: A View on Thermal and Acoustic Insulation with Recycled Paper

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Soprema: A View on Thermal and Acoustic Insulation with Recycled Paper

Driven primarily by compliance with the LEED rating system, the development of sustainable construction in Canada goes along with an ever-increasing interest in the added value of residual materials. The introduction of materials from selective collection in the production and consumption cycle is in line with this trend.

This is especially true when it comes to insulation materials like cellulose wadding. Made with 85% recycled paper, cellulose fibre not only helps the preservation of natural resources by giving a second life to residual materials from selective collection, but it also contributes to the energy and acoustic efficiency of the building. Furthermore, its high-energy efficiency translates into potential annual savings on heating and cooling costs.

The manufacture of cellulose wadding is carried out in five steps: material shredding, magnetic separation (to remove any staples, for example), defibering, dust extraction, and addition of minerals such as borate. This last step makes the cellulose flame resistant and prevents corrosion and proliferation of mould and insect pests as prescribed in the CAN/ULC-S703 standard for cellulose fibre insulation.

“Cellulose fibre insulation is not used much yet in large buildings, mainly because small and large contractors are sourcing from different distribution networks. Ultimately, it’s a matter of habit,” says André Bourassa, founder of the Bourassa Maillé architectural firm.

In the eyes of Bourassa, a supporter of eco-materials, this insulation product would be very effective in the condominium building sector, not only for insulation but also for soundproofing between floors.

He also highlights that this insulating material is easy to use in existing buildings because it can be installed without tearing down every structure in place. “Not to mention that at the end of the service life of a building, the insulation is easily reusable simply by sucking it out from the old structure. Furthermore, as it is non-toxic and does not adhere to other components, it facilitates dismantling and allows the reuse of construction waste for other purposes,” concluded André Bourassa, stressing that cellulose wadding is widely used in France and Japan.

Various Benefits

  • Reduction of the use of natural resources
  • Hygrothermal regulation
  • Thermal phase shift
  • Soundproofing
  • Non-toxicity
  • Elimination of thermal bridges
  • Airtightness
  • Resistance to fire, corrosion, and mould
  • Re-usability
  • High thermal resistance (R-value of 3.7 per inch)

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