Reviving Bricks — You just inherited a dilapidated, crumbling-down grand mansion in the countryside. Assuming money is no issue, what do you do with it?
Author’s Note: It’s obvious to me that most of the responders to this prompt have never tried to renovate and/or restore an old house in the real world. I have. And I would never, ever, under any circumstances want to do it again. No matter how much money I have, I’d rather build something brand new. Old houses are seductive and hide their lethal intent. An old house can kill you. I know.
It helps to start off independently wealthy because odds are you will be poor when you are done.
Start by hiring a dependable contractor. Since the term “dependable contractor” is an oxymoron, you should also get a copy of the movie “The Money Pit.” It may help you survive the days ahead.
Make sure the electrical system and plumbing are completely replaced. Old houses always need infrastructure upgrades — plumbing and wiring are always bad. Also, install new heating and cooling systems. Put in central air while the place is under construction.
You’ll need a new roof, gutters, leaders. Don’t forget to have the chimneys repointed. Make sure the dampers work, too. Some, if not all, of the windows will need to be replaced. Since money is no object, replace them all with double-hung thermals.
Restore interior moldings and woodwork. Many old homes have beautifully carved woodwork that’s been painted. When restored, it’s magnificent and often made of rare wood such as elm and chestnut. Rip out linoleum to discover the oak floors beneath. Refinish the hardwood.
Replace falling down porches and porticoes. Install new doors and lintels. Get an engineer to check the drainage. Do what you need to do to prevent flooding, especially if you live on a downhill slope. Your insurance won’t cover water damage from rising waters unless you live in a designated flood plain. I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s the law, so put in a sump, a pump, drains. Whatever you need to keep your feet dry.
Pave the driveway and walks. Widen them if you live in an area where snowfall is heavy. Make sure your garage is big enough for the cars you own and will own in the future. And while you are at it, buy a garden tractor. You will need it.
If you have a well, replace the pump. Get a full inspection to make sure your water system is healthy. Ditto if you have a septic system. Water and septic are non-negotiable issues. And expensive.
Make sure you obtain all licences and inspections required by local law. You want to live in your house after spending all this time and money, right?
As for the exterior, it depends on the house. Some houses need siding, others paint, masonry repair … and many need a combination of all of these. If you bought an old Victorian — and you are not yet bankrupt — there are specialists who can restore the gingerbread moldings to their original glory.
Gardens will no doubt need to be replanted and cleared out, patios rebuilt, gazebos restored. I would also want ramps and chair lifts installed. Make your bathrooms senior-friendly. Everyone gets old, even you.
Finally, the kitchen. Have some fun. Get a restaurant-quality range and double oven, a full upright freezer, refrigerator, dishwasher. Install as much cabinetry as a clever kitchen designer can arrange. Remember: No matter how much counter space you include, you will have no more than 14 inches of unoccupied space when you are done adding all the stuff that lives in the kitchen.
Make storage a priority everywhere. Build bookcases, closets and other storage areas everywhere. You cannot have too many closets. Nature abhors a vacuum, so they will all be full immediately.
Ah the splendors of an old house. It will eat you alive, leave you a gibbering wreck on the floor … but you will love that house. With a bit of luck, it will have some friendly ghosts who will love you in return.