House renovations 101

I start getting PTSD symptoms when I think about the issues we found during our last house renovation. After doing a number of houses we realized at one point that gutting down to the studs and floor joists while a hassle, is really the only way to find and correct issues and get the functionality we really want.

I like to measure renovations by the number of dumpsters it’s going to take.

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I’m on my second house. The issues with this one are largely similar to the previous one. Wiring especially. Despite stringent legislation being in place, DIYers seem to think that it’s OK to design and install electrical systems with little or no understanding of electrical safety. It’s also clear that some “professionals” pay little more than a cursory nod to the regulations. I may not be a qualified electrical engineer, but none of my work infringes the wiring regulations and my test results are generously within spec.

When it comes to building work/carpentry, plumbing and drainage, the list of issues is endless. I find it staggering that people carry out work without even so much as a Google search to guide them in the correct way to do things…

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Most DIYers have no idea what a plumbing vent system is and why it’s needed. And then there are trusses, cathedral ceilings and roofs. Hey but what do the professionals know anyway?

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My wife did all the interior design. I was chatting with the wife of someone I know (not exactly a friend) at a wedding a few weeks ago and she told me their house (mansion, more like) renovation was on hold because her interior designer had a nervous breakdown. First world problems.

My wife is a technophobe, but uses Roon all the time. She likes it a lot, which is lucky given we have it in 9 zones in the house and her garden clinic.

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One of the advantages of Eastern European builders is that over there weightlifting is very popular sport. Four of them managed to install a 400kg steel in a ceiling without lifting equipment. No one died in the process. I was well impressed.

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I come from a world of 900 psi/790 degree boilers (62 bar/420°C) where pressure relief valves are essential to life preservation/system safety.

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Now you’re speaking my language. :grin:

I worked for well over 30 years as a plumbing and fire protection engineer, designing all kinds of buildings, from single family homes to 800+ unit multiple dwellings to high rise office buildings to hospitals to, well you get the idea.

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On the very rare occasion that the safety valves lifted, we would have police/fire /ambulances turn up at the gate. Usually because a member of the public had called in to report an explosion. To be fair, 2 tonnes a minute of steam venting through a safety valve does sound rather like an explosion! :grin:

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As I was project managing, I had to deal with Building Control inspections and they are very strict on compliance, which is a good thing.

It is true that there are a lot of electricians that cut corners and sign off bad work. My guys were brilliant. Romanian. Knew every rule and sub clause. Replaced every wire inside the house and out. They have an annual inspection by the NICEIC and asked if the inspector could look at the work done. He was here half a day and said I was lucky to have such great guys. I have two concerns with building work. Will it fall down? Will it burn down?

We also replaced every pipe and the whole heating system, including building new drainage and manhole to the street. Reluctantly a heat exchange system was not economic so we are still on gas. Some countries are more forward thinking than others on energy efficiency, which is a shame. I hate to think what the bills are going to be this winter, even with zonal heating and dramatically improved insulation.

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The single last thing we had to do before we got our building certificate was provide the product certification of our fire and smoke detectors. They have to be wirelessly connected, so if one is activated, all of them go off. They also have to be on mains power. Years ago they were all battery powered and never connected. We had some large internal glass doors made and they had to be fire rated, the glass cost a fortune.

We’ve done major restorations of 5 places in last 35 years. Three 100+ year old houses, one 80 year old house, and one 90 year old co-op apartment. In every case, the current contractor/electrician/plumber/carpenter would note that they couldn’t believe how badly or out of spec some prior work was done. But I’m 100% convinced that if we redid any of these places (only own two of them now, main home and weekend home), the newest folks would say the same thing about the last work.

The only work I’ve ever had done that was praised later was by an old “hippy”, old house plumber. He lived on communes in the 1960s, a “Hog Farm” type guy. And he followed his own muse, could take months to get over to your house to work, etc. But the work he did was meticulous and beautiful. Sadly he died a few years ago. We had a big memorial for him, and 99% of the people there were his former customers.

Some of his work in our Victorian was looked at many years later and the plumber working around it for a different purpose kept saying, “wow, that is gorgeous work.”. Sadly, such artisans are hard to find these days.

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My experience is that things usually look terrible until it’s 98% done and then it all comes together.

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our house is a 100 y/o arts and crafts bungalow. not huge, but lovely, and it’s the first time I’ve lived in a house in 45 years (apartments, previously). not being able to call the super when things go wrong was a major shock to my system.

sometime back in the 90s, a previous owner had done some work in the basement to accommodate a family of Central American refugees. poured cement for the floor, paneled one room, ran some electrical, and put in a (probably illegal) bathroom.

a few years ago, we redid the basement, including the full bath. our contractor commented that the plumbing was actually in pretty good shape, but whoever had done the electrical work should be drawn and quartered. everything was on one circuit, which included the living room upstairs, where my nice tube amp and other equipment lived.

we have amore extensive renovation coming this fall, full kitchen(assuming the cabinets ever arrive), plus some other work. terrified about what we may find.

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Yep, our home is a 104 year old arts and crafts bungalow. It’s a beautiful house, only 1200 sq ft. We’ve redone 3 houses within a block of each other over 35 years and it is my favorite of all of them. Getting smaller each time. Started with a large two story Victorian, then later a midsize 1920s stucco over terracotta block, one story “florida house”. Then our current bungalow.

The 2nd 1920s house had supposedly been 100% rewired in the 1980s. But when we started work the electrician showed me that almost all the overhead lights and quite a few outlets were still the early 1900s knob & tube wiring. Oh my.

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The very idea of renovations, or even just something simple like installing Ethernet cable, gives me palpitations when it comes to our house.

It is over 300 years old, and listed. So we use a WiFi mesh and undertake preventative maintenance… renovations, not so much!!

Fortunately the wiring in the house (from the 1980s) was replaced in the early 2000s so I dont worry about that too much. Although it mainly consists of bundles of very heavy duty cable running in the many hidden nooks and crannies of the old walls, so any future repairs are likely to be… disruptive, shall we say?!

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Our house was built in 1905 and originally had lots of mouldings, tiled floors etc. Not one bit of it is left. It looks like it could have been built yesterday, which is almost true. The only unplanned job was to remove 80 sq.m. of floor substructure down to the earth, and then rebuilt it to modern specification. Besides it being knackered, you can’t put large tiles on bendy suspended floors.

My audio dealer delivered a pair of Wilson speakers in January 2021 and came round in March 2022 to do the Wilson alignment thing. I hadn’t told him what we’d done. He didn’t recognise the house. He was also pleasantly gobsmacked. The speaker alignment was easy because I’d treated the music room (all hidden using various absorbent materials).

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This is a very interesting thread and has the distinct advantage of not being about audio :grin: However it would nice if, when posting, the poster would state in what country the house is located since building codes differ by country and locality. For example, here in the USA a three hundred year old house is very rare but in other countries it may be just a little more common.

Please keep in mind that building codes change and what was built to code even 50 years ago might not be in compliance with present day building codes. One or two electrical outlets per room might have been within code 50 years ago but out of code today. Also please keep in mind that code compliance and build quality are not the same thing.

Thanks in advance!

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good point. I’m in the US. And by the way, the bad prior work pointed out that I mentioned wasn’t up to code under any prior code (and all the work was done after codes were established at some point here in the early 20th century).

edit: but I should point out that the carpentry and finish of the structure of these houses have all been amazing. My current 104 year attic looks like new. And the carpentry in the unfinished attic is worthy of a public living room. Amazing craftsmanship (which is why we love old houses).

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Do you mean like lathe and plaster walls? Lead and oakum pipe fittings? Electrical wiring in conduit?

love the lathe and plaster walls for sure. but mostly love the trim work, heart pine floors and external heart pine siding (which is essentially termite proof, important down here in Florida). We replaced the floors in a 1940s weekend place with heart pine milled recently, but from logs recovered from the bottom of rivers around here, where they had been for over a 100 years. These were just leakage 100 years ago, but now worth recovering and milling.

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