Posted by: jeb1 | May 24, 2012

Tips for Updating Your Older Home

Jeb Breithaupt, owner/president of JEB Design/Build, now has a column in the Shreveport Times!  Get useful tips and ideas EVERY THURSDAY from the Living Column.  

Tips for Updating Your Older Home
Shreveport Times
May 10, 2012
 older home

  Are you tired of outdated floor plans and avocado-green or harvest gold colors but you don’t want to move away from a neighborhood you love?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.

Shreveport/Bossier City area experienced an “oil boom” growth in the 1900s-1940s, which means there are plenty of homes that were built in that era. Most of those homes are well built and have held up pretty well, so their owners haven’t had to make a lot of changes over the years. However, we have had a surge of requests for renovations among owners of those post-war relics, as families move in and out of the area.

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, and it’s time to replace it or add to it. Properly installed insulation can decrease your air conditioning bills.

2. Replace the clay pipes. These pipes generally 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 repair them.

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 which often lead to leaks. Choose a new roof with a good “pitch”-or slope-so water can easily drain off of it. If your roof is already 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. Update your windows. Swap your leaky, single pane metal windows with double pane, low-e glass. The new windows will cut down on drafts, keep the hot older home windowsair 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 to inspect 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. It is amazing what can be discovered with our modern energy efficiency tests.

7.  Fix your plumbing fixtures. I’ve seen a lot of 50-year-old toilets in older homes. While it is amazing that they have lasted for so long, it’s time to replace them. A 17 year old toilet is a water hog. Newer models use as little as 1.1 gallons of water per flush, and the standard are just 1.6 gallons. Your old one might use up to 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 remember one remodeling job where we found termites after tearing into a wall, and they had spread throughout 2- 3 rooms of the house.

Once you’ve made your home safer, sounder and more energy-efficient, you can start on the “pretty” renovations. New, stainless steel appliances, solid-surface or stone counter-tops, 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, B.Arch.,MBA- has been president of JEB Design/Build in Shreveport since 1983. You can contact him at 318-865-4914 or by visiting


  1. […] Jeb Design/ Build blog has a great article on this topic. For a home of this vintage, there can be many things that could be upgraded, if it has been put off. Jeb has some practical suggestions for where to start. […]

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