Posted by: jeb1 | January 11, 2012

Update Your Older Home

By: Jeb Breithaupt 

If you’re tired of your older home’s outdated floor plan and avocado-green or harvest-gold appliances, but you don’t want to move away from a neighborhood you love, there’s a lot you can do to update so you don’t have to uproot.

A lot of the homes in Ark-La-Tex were built in the late 1930s and ’40s, right after World War II during a building boom created by returning soldiers eager to start families and to take advantage of the new 30-year mortgages available from lenders.

Most of those homes were built to last, back when lumber was cheap, and they have held up pretty well, so their owners haven’t had to make a lot of changes over the years. Lately, though, we’ve had a surge of requests for renovations among owners of those post-war relics, and that’s a good thing—because they need a lot of work.

It’s tempting to start by overhauling the kitchen and bathrooms to immediately make your home look more modern, add much-needed storage space and impress your houseguests. But here’s a caution: Before you do the “pretty” part, make sure the “bones” of the house are sound.

Here are eight updates to consider if your home was built in the 1940s, 50s or even 60s:

1. Add insulation to the walls and attic. Because electricity back then was so cheap, it’s likely that your builder added very little—if any—insulation in the walls and attic. Even if he did, that insulation probably has outlived its usefulness by now, and it’s time to replace it or add to it. Properly installed insulation can slash your air conditioning bills.

2. Replace the clay pipes that lead from the house to the sewer with plastic. Clay pipes are sturdy and can last for 100 years. But they’re porous, breakable and have multiple joints, so tree roots gravitate toward them. If they wrap around the pipe, they can crush it, and if they get inside, they can block it. Once the problem starts, replacing the pipe is more effective than trying to constantly clear it.

3. Prop up your sagging roof. The typical postwar roof has a fairly low pitch, and some are even flat. Flat roofs require regular maintenance, and even then can collect ponds of water when it rains—and that can lead to leaks. Choose a new roof with a good “pitch”—or slope—so water can easily drain off of it. If your roof already is pitched and covered with long-lasting shingles, you’ve probably had to replace at least some of them over the years. But if the roofer laid new shingles right over the old ones, the multiple layers can weigh more than the roof was designed to support. Remove all layers of shingles before adding new ones.

4. Swap your leaky, single-pane metal windows with double-pane, low-e glass. The new windows will cut down on drafts, keep the hot air outside and even make your house quieter.

5. Update your electricity. Back in the ’40s and ’50s, we didn’t build homes with grounded outlets, so if your home has its original wiring, you don’t have them. Call an electrician to update your outlets and also to inspect and possibly upgrade your circuits. Older homes aren’t equipped to deal with the demands of today’s energy-intensive equipment, from digital coffee pots to treadmills to home theater components.

6.  Inspect your ductwork. Old air ducts leak—and that can force your central air conditioning system to work harder and less efficiently. It might be time to replace the ducts. And consider having an “energy audit” at your home. It’s amazing what modern energy-efficiency tests can discover.

7.  Fix your plumbing fixtures. I’ve seen a lot of 50-year-old toilets in older houses. And while it’s amazing that they have lasted for so long, it’s time to replace them. A toilet that’s more than 17 years old is a water hog. New models use as little as 1.1 gallons of water per flush, and the standard is just 1.6 gallons. Your old one probably uses five gallons per flush. That is especially relevant now, when our area is experiencing drought conditions and our water supplies are maxed out.

8. Check for termites. Don’t wait until your favorite remodeler is poking into the walls of your older home to find out that they’re riddled with termites. Find and treat any problem now so the bugs won’t delay your renovations—or cause further damage. I well remember one remodeling job where we found termites after tearing into a wall, and they had already spread to  three of the home’s rooms.

Once you’ve made your home safer, sounder and more energy-efficient, you can get started on the “pretty” renovations. New, stainless steel appliances, solid-surface or stone countertops, and beautiful tile floors will seem even more special if you install them in a home that operates as nicely as it looks.

Jeb Breithaupt has been president of Jeb Design/Build in Shreveport since 1983. You can contact him at 318-865-4914 or by visiting

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