Text by Blair Korchinski

Is it better to renovate and install modern materials and technologies, or to restore your home to its original condition?

Sometimes the choice is dictated by modern technology and building codes. All renovations must meet the building codes in your area. Wiring and plumbing upgrades must be made as required, and the spans of beams are dictated by the materials used, not the appearance of your building.

If you have a building that has been designated an historic or heritage building, you may face other challenges. Most jurisdictions require heritage buildings to remain true to the building techniques and materials used when they were originally built. While these restrictions do not usually pertain to mechanical systems such as plumbing and wiring, or the insulation inside the walls, they do pertain to all visible aspects of the building.

Most of us own older houses, not heritage properties, but we want modern convenience and comfort. This leaves us trying to decide when to keep things absolutely true to history, when to use substitutions that approximate the feel of the original building but are not necessarily historically accurate, and when to throw history out in favour of modern convenience and appearance.

Generally speaking, hidden systems such as heating, plumbing and wiring should be upgraded when you renovate a home. The newer systems are safer, more efficient, and will make your home more comfortable. Upgrading the hidden systems will also enhance the value of your home.

Windows and doors often present a conundrum for homeowners during renovations. An exterior door made from solid hardwood may enhance the appearance of a house, but it doesn’t offer much insulation value. Those beautiful old windows may operate like a charm and have been meticulously maintained, but they also have an R-value of one and you have to climb a ladder twice a year to install and remove storm windows.

How situations like this are dealt with may vary with where you live. If you are in the warmer parts of British Colombia or Southern Ontario, staying with original doors and windows is a reasonable choice. If you live and pay heating bills through Manitoba winters, you are generally better off replacing them with new, efficient options.

Fortunately, you can purchase modern windows and doors that approximate the style of the past. They will reduce your heating and cooling costs while enhancing your comfort and closely resembling the original design.

Trim and finishing products are another consideration when deciding whether to restore or modernize your home. Unlike with hidden systems or windows and doors, the main considerations with finish products are price and appearance. Modernizing finishing items, especially those that are highly visible, may not only detract from the appearance of your home, but also adversely affect its resale value. While it is not necessary to match the existing finishing exactly, attention should be paid to trim profiles and floor coverings.

Unless you own a heritage home, you are far better off upgrading bathrooms while maintaining an appearance appropriate to the age of your home. Bathroom fixtures such as sinks and bathtubs can be refinished or new fixtures that look like antiques can be installed. Faucets and shower heads should be replaced with new, reliable models.

Unless you are meticulously restoring your home to its original condition, kitchens are often best being fully modernized while picking up some styling cues from the rest of the house. A modern kitchen is much easier to work in than its older counterparts, and modern appliances tend to look like anachronisms if you maintain an antique feel in the rest of the kitchen. Modern cabinetry avoids problems like sticky drawers and modern work surfaces are easier to keep clean.
Since it is difficult to disguise a fridge or oven, you are generally better off fully modernizing your kitchen, then using cues such as wall colour, trim, and cabinet hardware to echo the rest of your house.

The first and last consideration when deciding to restore or renovate should be you and your family. While a restored house may be attractive and even enhance the resale value, few of us wish to live in a museum. Consider your lifestyle and ask yourself some questions. Do you work from home? Do you have small children? Do you have a home theatre system? Do you have pets? Do you garden?

Questions like this will help you to decide whether you should renovate or restore. In the end, the choice is yours.

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