By Bernadette Janson, The School of Renovating

Renovating a heritage home can be hugely satisfying but also has massive potential to turn into a money pit. You can get caught up with the romance of the property and spend huge sums of money on restoring the minute details that define its era.

It is a privilege to own a heritage property, being the custodians of a small part or our history but it can also be a balancing act between preserving the heritage and taking on a costly exercise in restoration.

Of course, if your property is covered by a heritage overlay and/ or is listed in the State Heritage Register you have a legal obligation to abide by the rules; you take on that responsibility when you buy the property.

It is said that renovating a heritage home shouldn’t cost more than any other home but you do need to apply a little commonsense and resourcefulness.

Here are my best tips to help you with the task.

Do your homework:

The first place to start is to visit your local council to investigate whether a heritage overlay and what that involves cover your property.  Councils are well equipped to help you sort out what you can and cant do. You should also check the State Heritage register to see if your property is listed.

Then identify the age and era of your home and familiarize yourself with the original characteristics of the time.

Fortunately Victoria is well covered with resources for information on heritage properties. And I have included some of the most useful here: theschoolofrenovating.com

Preserve original features and the story

It is the characteristic detail of the era that gives the property its charm and also its value. There was a time when fireplaces and windows were ripped out of beautiful old homes at an alarming rate, fortunately that has slowed but it hasn’t stopped.

If you do buy a property that has had its fire surrounds removed, consider replacing them as it will add value in preference to leaving an awkward blank in the room where the fireplace obviously once stood.

Stories sell houses and preserving features such as the original calling system or the wood fired stove will enhance the narrative.

Avoid custom-made

When restoring features such as windows, doors and fire surrounds, try to avoid having them custom made.  Instead shop in the salvage yards, demolition sales, eBay; gum tree and anywhere else you might source salvage material. Once you have done the research and know what you are looking for, you will be surprised how much you can find and the result will be much more cost effective and sympathetic.


Be faithful to the era:

If you are going to restore a feature, make sure you have followed your research and been true to the period of the home. Adding Victorian features such as cornice and ceiling roses to a post war home will not only look ridiculous but it will also affect the value.
Features such as plasterwork can’t be sourced second hand and so you have no option but to replace with new if they are beyond repair.  Reproduction products available include cornices, ceiling roses, arches, pressed metal, timber products, door furniture, tap ware, sanitary ware and the list goes on.

Spend some of your budget on energy efficiency

Old houses can be cold and draughty and a little money spent on energy efficiency will make them much more comfortable to live in and cheaper to run.  They generally have good thermal mass , stemming the leaks of hot or cold air (depending on the season), will usually have an enormous impact on the comfort and energy efficiency. Simple ways to achieve this are to

  • Insulate the ceilings.
  • Hang heavy curtains (a cheaper option than double glazing)
  • Draught proof by sealing the gaps between the floorboards, walls and floors, under doors, around windows, the chimney etc.

Embrace the contemporary with your addition

The truth is that heritage homes were tailored to the lives of the people of the day and when building additions it is perfectly acceptable to build to accommodate our modern lives. By maintaining the character of the original home but adding a contemporary addition you have the best of both worlds and more importantly you property continues to tell a story that is authentic.

To read more of Bernadette’s tips, visit her website; theschoolofrenovating.com

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About the author

Bernadette Janson is the Founder and Director of The School Of Renovating.

Bernadette teaches women to harness their natural creativity and resources to become highly paid professional renovators, to make the time, money and freedom for the things that really matter to them and to live a life they love.