Homeowner Helps

Old House RESTORATION (How to do it and not go broke!)

Hire Professionals, Not Dumpsters!

The home was purchased because of its historic character. True professionals will preserve and enhance that character–not demolish your property.

Preliminary Inspection.

A professional can give an accurate idea of the house conditions and potential trouble spots.


Demand a thorough inspection and firm real estimates in order to accurately calculate the cost.


Learn as much as you can through historic documentation about your home.

Program and Architectural Design

How do you and your family live your lives? How does the house need to work for you? How does modern living integrate into an old house and still increase the value of your house.

Construction and Restoration Drawings

Accurate, detailed drawings are essential for success.

Building Permits

There are numerous allowances or exceptions in permitting rules if you have an old house, and it’s essential to have a good working relationship with your local building inspector to know where the rules can be modified. Everyone needs to agree on what can be done before you proceed. (See Massachusetts State Building Code 1 and 2 family, CMR-93.00 Existing Homes, 9309 Historic homes).

Historic Homeowner’s Resources

Selecting a Contractor   
While the contractor’s level of experience is important, the number of years’ experience is less important than a thorough understanding of the preservation process and a willingness to participate in it. Consider the scope of the project. Do you need a general contractor, a subcontractor, or a small versatile company? What trades will be involved? Is there masonry, carpentry, painting and roofing? Do you need electrical, plumbing, or heat and air work? Ask your contractor who his sub-contractors are. A company who did a good job last year may have an entirely different crew this year. Any company is only as good and reliable as its workmen. Make sure your workmen are covered by workers compensation insurance. The homeowner can be held responsible for injuries on your property if the workmen are not covered. Small contractors or subs are not required by law to carry “comp” insurance, however that doesn’t remove the liability. You may want to inquire about the contractor’s credit. The ability of a contractor to finance his operation, and your project, is key to the construction business. If a contractor is less than financially stable, you could end up paying him for materials delivered to your site and then paying for them again if he doesn’t pay his supplier.
No matter how small the project, you should have an agreement in writing. This can be on a preprinted proposal form, as long as it is legally binding.
It never hurts to check references. No one is going to submit the name of an unsatisfied customer; still, you need to know that a contractor you are considering has made someone happy.
The old adage that “there is more than one way to skin a cat” can certainly be applied to endeavors of preservation and restoration. Any good contractor will have preferred methods of work, yet there is no one right solution for the preservation or repair of building components. Many factors come into play, but a few basic principles can be used for a course of action.
Review these issues with your contractor before you begin:

• Is the level of intervention at the lowest possible level to successfully do the job? Is it necessary to replace a component or is a repair sufficient?
• Is it the gentlest treatment possible? Use a procedure that has the least impact to produce the desired results.
• Is the treatment reversible? Irreversible repairs constitute undue encroachment on historic building fabrics and thereby inappropriate intervention. Are replacement materials “in-kind”?  Efforts should be made to match existing materials and more importantly, their dimensions and profiles. It is reasonable to replace, for example, old wood with new wood rather than a substitute material, while maintaining the dimensions and profile of the old wooden component. It is usually acceptable to make replacement repairs by repeating the original technology. Be careful, however, not to repeat a previous unacceptable repair just because it was what was in place.
Are repairs identifiable? Clearly identifying new or replaced material is a responsible way of documenting replacement work so that it is not confused with original building fabric. Read up on Historic Preservation Skills: Historic Preservation Books at the Library (Courtesy of the Newburyport Preservation Trust) “The American Builders Companion,” 3rd and 6th editions by Asher Benjamin
“The Architect, or Practical House Carpenter” (1830) by Asher Benjamin
“Architectural Heritage of the Merrimack” by John Mead Howells
“A Brief History of Old Newbury” by Bethany Groff
“A Building History of Northern New England” by James Garvin
“Building the Timber Frame House” by Tedd Benson
“The Country Builder’s Assistant 1797” by Asher Benjamin
“Documents, Legends and Archaeology: Unravelling the Mysteries of Newburyport’s Past” by Elizabeth Harris
“Domestic Architecture of the American Colonies” by Fiske Kimball
“The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, 1625-1725” by Abott Lowell Cummings
“Get Your House Right, Architectural Elements to Use and Avoid” by Marianne Cusato and Ben Pentreath
“Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Home, 1760-1860” by Jane Nylander
“The Salem Handbook, a Renovation Guide for Homeowners” by Historic Salem
“Traditional Construction Patterns” by Stephen A. Mouzon
“Windows on the Past, Four Centuries of New England Homes” by Jane Nylander Consult with the Experts at the National Trust for Historic Places and the Newburyport Preservation Trust and checkout these Preservation Briefs which are designed to guide contractors and homeowners on how to rehabilitate an antique house: Also, know the guidelines and standards for historic preservation as established by the Secretaery of the Interior and followed uniformly across the nation. Also, learn techniques for applying these standards through practical advice via Preservation Briefs. Watch and Learn from the Professionals: A series of lectures on the Internet on how to preserve your home from architectural styles, preservation techniques, dealing with masonry, windows and any other challenge your home may find for you!   Anatomy of a Restoration   Masonry: Of Hearth and Home   How to Preserve the Historic Character of Your House   Preserving Your Historic Windows   Architectural Styles of Newburyport   Additional Homeowner Resources
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