Restrictions for Historic Home Renovations

Learn more about home remodeling for historic homes

Homes in historic districts offer character, charm and the sense that you are a part of something bigger than yourself. However, as the goal of these districts is to preserve that character and history for future generations, historic home renovations can be a tricky and expensive process. If you're living in a historic home and considering repairs or additions, you'll need to look into building code restrictions for historic homes in your area.

What makes a historic home, and how do I know if I live in one?

Historic homes can be designated on the local, state and federal level, with various restrictions from each level. To be classified as a historic home, the property must be a least 50 years old and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A home may be added to this register if members of the community or state deem it to be of historical significance. (Significance can be based on culture, the importance of previous owners, events which may have occurred in or near the home, and unique architecture, engineering or design traits.) Take this opportunity to connect with the past and do some research on your home. You never know what you might uncover!

What restrictions could I face when remodeling a historic home?

State and local regulations are often stricter than federal guidelines, which are only imposed when you are using a federal grant for the renovation. As you plan your remodel, check with your local municipality for building code and zoning restrictions on historic homes. You will likely need to obtain building permits before starting any historic home renovations. Here are some of the areas you are likely to encounter difficulty or greater expenses when renovating:

  • Additions: Building an addition on a historical home is next to impossible, as it's a significant change to the integrity of the home. Depending on where you are, if you get approval you may need to match your addition to the style of the home or differentiate it enough so that it does not affect the historical value.
  • Windows: You probably won't be able to upgrade to energy-efficient windows, and will need to have specially crafted replicas when replacements are needed. This can put a significant dent in your energy bill if you don't take proper precautions to improve insulation.
  • Roofing and siding materials: Often, the historical roofing materials required are environmentally friendly (slate, metal and wood), but they can be very expensive. Be prepared for higher costs when you have to replace roofing. A necessary siding repair could be restricted to the area of the home that is damaged, preventing you from updating the entire exterior. Plus, you probably won't be able to use a different material like vinyl or cement fiber. Depending on code requirements in your historic district you may or may not be able to choose the color scheme for your home's exterior.

Designing and planning your historic home renovations

Once you know what historic home renovations you can make, work with a contractor who understands the building code restrictions and the aesthetics of the historical period. They'll know how to blend historical requirements with your modern amenities to ensure your upgrade has contemporary conveniences while retaining authenticity. Take a look at pictures of the home throughout the years to get ideas for color and style, and consider matching your interior design to the exterior with some vintage home renovations. You can even work with the contractor to find appliances and accents that reflect the correct period.

Paying for a home remodel with a home equity line of credit from Citizens Bank

If you are making updates that maintain the historical significance of the property, you may be able to apply for tax breaks and federal grants to pay for the home remodel. However, this may not cover all costs and you should consider paying for your home remodel with a home equity loan or line of credit. A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is a great financing option when remodeling your home as it is a revolving credit line that borrows only what you need based on your home's value. This provides a greater return on investment when used for historic home renovations that improve the appraisal value of your home. For more information on using a home equity loan or line of credit to pay for your home remodeling expenses, speak to a home loan advisor at Citizens Bank.


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