Six Tips For Upgrading a Historic Charleston Home

We all love the character and stories a historic home exudes: there’s a rich heritage and a kind of nobility that any time-tested structure embodies. A big part of owning an older home is keeping its story going, and making sure it remains a vital structure, a nourishing—and safe—household environment. As Charleston’s top historic home renovation company, we have seen first hands the demands placed on an older home and can offer reliable guidance on the update process.

some of the safety upgrades you need

Renovation and remodeling work on a historic property is generally about modernizing some of its elements with an eye toward comfort, convenience, and safety while preserving as many as possible of those throwback structural and stylistic elements that define its appeal. That’s certainly much of what we do here at Renew Urban: it’s our pleasure and our honor to work on so many amazing, vintage structures in the Charleston area. We aim for subtle revitalization that answers to the needs of homeowners and celebrates what’s so special about older homes.

In this blog post, we’re going to run through some of the safety upgrades that frequently should be part of any renovation or remodel—specifically, six steps many folks will want to take…ideally with the help of professional home-renovation specialists such as those at Renew Urban!

get your panels, wiring, and outlets up to code

(1) Update Electrical System

Few elements are so important to upgrade in a historic building than the wiring. Vintage electrical systems can up the chances for a house fire because of simple wear and tear over the decades, and because they’re just not capable of handling the intensified loads of modern appliances and gadgetry. A modern household generally requires at least 100 amps.

Restoration professionals can help get your panels, wiring, and outlets up to code—and more broadly equipped to safely and reliably deliver what you need—while maintaining (wherever possible) your home’s historic character and minimizing holes and cut-outs.

As we’ve seen in many of our projects here at Renew Urban, it’s not always necessary to completely overhaul an old electrical system: you’d be surprised what can be preserved when qualified electricians make thorough assessments and identify those specific components that need modernizing.

water damage or contamination needs to be addressed as well

(2) Update Plumbing

Older homes may still have lead pipes, which can result in hazardous leaching. Naturally, those aren’t the only plumbing elements that may need replacing in a renovation or remodel: any corroded or otherwise compromised pipes or fixtures that could result in water damage or contamination need to be addressed as well.

Many historic homes still harbor plenty of asbestos

(3) Address Asbestos

Homes built before the 1980’s commonly contain asbestos, a natural mineral widely used back in the day for a variety of applications, including insulation, fireproofing, and structural reinforcement. In the late 1970’s, research revealed it could be a significant health hazard: asbestos fibers that become airborne and are then inhaled can cause a type of cancer called mesothelioma, which can afflict the lining of the lungs, the heart, and the abdominal cavity.

Many historic homes still harbor plenty of asbestos integrated, for example, in insulation of pipes, ductwork, walls, and attics; certain vinyl floor and ceiling tiles; popcorn ceilings; window caulking; and textured paint. If the asbestos-bearing material isn’t damaged or degrading, it’s generally not a concern, and homeowners are typically advised to leave it alone. Obviously, however, renovation work on an older house poses major potential to let loose that “toxic dust” of asbestos fibers: stripping tiles, replacing insulation, even simply drilling into drywall.

Whether renovating involves replacing a specific asbestos-containing fixture or whole-scale asbestos removal, this kind of project is generally best left to the experts given the risks involved. It’s also important to remember that if asbestos installed for fireproofing is removed, it should be replaced with some similarly fire-resistant material or application.

Replacing lead-based paint in a historic house is an important safety measure

(4) Replace Lead Paint

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, roughly 75 percent of homes constructed prior to 1978 contain lead-based paint to some degree—with greater amounts, generally speaking, the older the house. Lead poisoning can cause a raft of health problems, from kidney damage to high blood pressure, and it’s particularly dangerous and impactful to children, in which it can cause developmental impairments.

Replacing lead-based paint in a historic house is an important safety measure to take in a renovation. It can be delicate work; indeed, sometimes it’s all-around easier to simply replace an entire fixture than strip it and repaint. Peeling or chipping lead-based paint can contaminate everything from carpets to soil, which can complicate renovation and cleanup.

(5) Embrace Home Automation and Security Systems

Boosting the safety of your historic home isn’t just about replacing outdated or unsafe materials or systems; it’s also about tapping into the possibilities of modern internet and smart technology to improve security and deliver around-the-clock, real-time monitoring. Home automation is the name of the game these days, and with smart appliances and integrated household systems you’re not only honing efficiency and ensuring hassle-free comfort, you’re also enhancing your ability to stay on top of your home’s moment-by-moment operations, heading off problems at the pass. Installing high-speed internet and Wi-Fi is part of this—and also part of safeguarding your property and belongings with a robust, modern security system.

Perhaps the two most important upgrades as it pertains to a historic home and a modern family would be the network and security cameras. Both wired and wireless security cameras have come a long way and can not only add piece of mind but deter many folks who may want to harm or steal. When designing a new home network, it’s always good to work with a local home automation company who has experience working with a historic home.

protecting your home from natural disasters

(6) Enhance Resilience Against Natural Disasters

We don’t have to tell you about the importance of protecting your home from natural disasters—not in one of the parts of the world most vulnerable to hurricanes. There’s a great deal you can do to bolster a historic home from storms, earthquakes, flooding, and other destructive acts of Mother Nature. The trick—as with any thoughtful remodel—is balancing structural enhancements and additions with an eye toward the preservation of the house’s distinctive, vintage aesthetic and design features.

These kinds of improvements can include installing impact-resistant walls and windows, wind-resistant roofing, seismic retrofitting, strengthened connections between porches and main structures and between roofs, walls, and foundations, and re-siting fixtures, appliances, and other elements to prevent flooding damage.

Turn to Renew Urban for Historic Home Renovations

Honoring the aesthetic and style of a historic home while rehabilitating it for modern living on all counts is part and parcel of what we do here at Renew Urban. That very much includes implementing upgrades that make a home safer—which, after all, is the most important goal of all!