12 Genius Solutions for Retrofitting Old Homes—With or Without Renovation
Unlock the potential of your vintage home with these cutting-edge solutions designed to modernize and upgrade your quality of life.
The timeless charm of old houses holds special allure—every creaky floorboard and ornate detail tells a story of a bygone era. Yet, within the enchanting walls of old houses lie challenges like elusive drafts, antiquated wiring, and walls without insulation. Fear not, with today’s technology and some time-honored techniques, old house owners can update their vintage homes without extensive remodeling and exorbitant costs.
We consulted with seasoned contractors and visionary designers to get their top product recommendations and techniques for tackling these challenges. Chris Purvis, owner of CCA Concrete Contractor, Austin, told us, “When it comes to renovating old and historical homes, it’s crucial to prioritize preserving the original charm and character while incorporating modern solutions.” Purvis suggests working with “experts in historical preservation” to comply with “local regulations and maintain the integrity of the home.”
Below, are the best methods to upgrade and refresh old homes without changing their nostalgic appeal.
1. Vintage Wallpaper Designs
Historical wallpaper colors and designs can help update an older home with fresh appeal while harmonizing with its era of origin. Opting for wallpaper with timeless patterns and vintage designs, such as Erin & Ben CO. Vintage Wallpaper gives old homes a nostalgic appeal while revitalizing and refreshing the home’s décor. Many vintage designs are available to suit specific architectural eras.
2. Ductless Mini-Split HVAC Systems
Ductless mini-split HVAC systems offer a breath of fresh air for older homes, providing state-of-the-art climate control without needing to remodel the entire house. Most of today’s models, such as the AUX Single Zone Mini-Split, come with remote controls for easy operation. Many can be pre-programmed or feature sleep modes for energy efficiency. With a mini-split, you can enjoy temperature control without compromising the historical charm of your home.
3. Self-Leveling Cement or Underlayment
Self-leveling cement or underlayment, such as MAPEI Self-Leveler, can be a blessing for older homes. Simon Dauphinee, former renovation contractor and author of Home in Good Hands, told us, “Self-leveling cement is essential.” The ability to create a smooth and level surface ensures the longevity of new flooring and simplifies the installation. “This is especially true when used under tile or floating floors, like vinyl or laminate,” Dauphinee said, adding that it will “make your crooked old floors level and flat.”
4. Tankless Water Heaters
Tankless water heaters are an energy-efficient solution for older homes, particularly those with inadequate water supply lines. Since they heat water on demand without the need for a bulky tank, these water heaters, such as the Rinnai High-Efficiency 7.5-GPM model, are easier to install. They’re about the size of a small suitcase and some can be installed outdoors—a boon for old homes without much indoor utility space. They provide a constant supply of hot water, making them a great upgrade for vintage properties where traditional water heaters might be impractical.
5. Reclaimed Materials
Incorporating reclaimed materials like barnwood into your interior decor is a sustainable and historically rich choice that harmonizes beautifully with older homes. Chris Purvis suggests checking out “salvaged architectural elements, such as doors, moldings, and windows. He adds that they “can be sourced from architectural salvage yards to match the historic style of the home.” With the trending interest in using salvaged materials, several types are also available online, such as reclaimed shiplap wall planks (available at Lowes).
6. Smart Plugs
Smart plugs, like Kasa Smart Plugs are a modern-day marvel for retrofitting older homes, since they transform regular outlets into intelligent, remotely controllable power sources. Smart plugs—which plug in between a corded appliance and a standard outlet—add convenience, energy-efficiency, and safety without the need for extensive electrical rewiring. Plus, many sync with smart home systems like Alexa and Google Home.
7. Staircase Retreads and Risers
Pre-cut staircase retreads and risers such as these unfinished oak options from Alexandria Moulding, help breathe new life into old, worn-out staircases. Since they install directly over the old treads and risers, they’re also relatively DIY-friendly. Old-house owners wanting to restore the original attractiveness of their staircase without turning it into a major project may want to consider pre-cut retreads and risers.
8. Radiant Flooring
Radiant flooring provides cozy warmth in old homes at ground level where drafts are often a concern and can eliminate the necessity of remodeling to install forced-air heating. Jimmy Evans of San Diego Concrete Construction suggests using them under the original flooring. “Radiant heating systems installed under antique flooring have been a game-changer in maintaining both comfort and authenticity,” Evans said. Some radiant heat products are DIY-friendly, such as the Schulter Ditra Floor Heating Kit.
9. Sound-dampening Acoustic Solutions
Sound-dampening materials, such as Art Acoustic Panels, offer a dual advantage in vintage homes without interior wall insulation. Beyond their ability to significantly diminish noise transfer between rooms, they come in various designs, patterns, and colors reminiscent of different architectural eras. Reduce room-to-room sound transfer while enhancing the historical integrity of your home by installing sound-dampening panels.
10. Storm Windows
Storm windows are a wise investment for older homes with drafty, single-glazed, energy-inefficient windows or in places where heavy rainfall occurs. They offer a measure of insulation and comfort while preserving the timeless charm of the original windows. Look for ones with included weatherstripping, such as these two-track windows from Affordable Storm Windows. For even better draft-free results, consider adding insulating curtains to the insides of the windows.
11. Decorative Ceiling Tiles
Antique-style ceiling tiles, like those made by American Tin Ceiling Tiles evoke the historic charm of yesteryear and serve as a clever solution to mask the ceiling irregularities frequently found in older homes. Their intricate designs and timeless allure transform ceilings into stunning focal points while concealing imperfections, adding an elegant touch to your vintage space.
12. Antique-look Radiator Space Heater
Oil-filled radiator space heaters, such as Comfort Zone’s 1,500-watt Oil-filled Radiator mimic the charming aesthetics of old-time radiators, seamlessly blending with the vintage appeal of older homes. But, beyond their nostalgic appearance, these heaters provide cozy, radiant warmth, making them a practical choice for retrofitting while preserving the historical charm of the space. They’re energy-efficient, won’t dry out the air, and typically come with castor wheels for easy moving.