Many people do not care to build a new house, frequently possessing an old house that has been in the family for many years, and which can be made quite comfortable by modernizing. Others prefer to buy an old house in some good location than to build new; they determine to reconstruct the old building to meet their requirements.
Remodeling may be a success financially and artistically, or it may not, depending upon various phases of the problem. Many old houses are not capable of successful remodeling at any price.
Constructed along peculiar lines in the first place, the attempt to remodel can only end in failure — or else the building must be entirely wrecked and a new one built all over again. Then, too, some old houses are in such wretched repair that it will not pay to reconstruct them. Money spent modernizing a house is not sensibly spent when the old framework is badly decayed and repairing necessitates such extensive tearing out of walls and partitions that the entire building is practically rebuilt.
On the other hand, many old houses built along simple lines in the first place, and kept in good condition by careful maintenance, are excellent for remodeling. Hardly a city, town, or suburban community exists in which there are not many such fine old places waiting for the hand of some one with taste to make them into modern, well-arranged, attractive houses.
Fortunate is the owner who recognizes the right kind of old house before he buys it for remodeling purposes, and doubly fortunate is the owner who knows what to do with the old place after it has come into his possession, for there are two great factors in remodeling: first, to secure a house with possibilities; second, to arrange interior and exterior with accompanying plumbing, heating, and lighting, in an effective way without excessive cost or unnecessary tearing down or destroying. These results are all easy to accomplish after a little study, and every owner who contemplates remodeling should give consideration to the problem before he buys a place, in order to begin right by having the right kind of house to start with.
In remodeling, every step should be well planned in advance in order to prevent false steps and save the money lost in experimental building and tearing down again.
Frequently the mere elimination of false ornamental trimmings on an old house will accomplish results quite surprising. Some of the old-time builders who nourished at a later period than the really good designers of Colonial times, wanted to nail ornamental boards and fancy shingles on the gable ends of their houses, producing a result not popular to-day.
What does it cost to remodel? This is usually the first question asked by the average owner, and a very live question it is, — and one very difficult to answer. What does it cost to run an automobile? How much coal will a furnace burn? How many miles from Boston to New York ? These are questions to which a like answer may be given, — it depends — depends upon conditions. If you go to Boston from New York by way of the sea, it is one • distance, and another if you go by rail. A furnace will burn as much coal as you are willing to shovel into it, — sometimes more, — though scientific stoking greatly cuts down the amount needed to warm a house comfortably. Some men run an automobile on $100 a month, and others hardly squeeze along on $400, depending upon the size and make of car, amount of service, and ability of the man who runs it.
When it comes to remodeling an old house, no two owners have quite the same experience. One man modernizes in a simple way at a cost of $10,000, while another spends $50,000, and wishes he had more in order to get what he thinks he wants. But some idea of cost can be obtained of course, and no owner should embark in a remodeling project until he knows somewhere near what the price will be. It is difficult to make a definite estimate on alterations, certainly, but some idea can be gathered by consulting with an expert, one who is familiar with building costs in your neighborhood and therefore qualified to give good advice. But you should remember that the expert can give no information until he knows how extensive the work is to be; so here is where you, Mr. Owner, must give study to the problem, yourself.
In a remodeling project the first thing to do is to examine the old building and determine just what repairs are needed to put the house in good condition, for it is never wise to spend money on remodeling unless the entire building is to be put in good repair at the same time. Rearranged rooms, installation of plumbing, heating, and lighting, and repainting or decorating are thrown away if the balance of the house is not put in just as good condition as the new part. Otherwise, you would be repairing, every year, spots in the house which should have been put in good condition in the first place.
Next, you should draw on a sheet of paper the two floor plans showing the arrangement of rooms as they exist. Make something more than a rough sketch, if possible, for this diagram is to be the groundwork which you or your architect will study for a solution of your problem. On this account the best way is to measure up each room and locate it, carefully drawn to scale (one quarter of an inch to the foot is the most used scale), on your diagram, showing every window, door, and closet. If you have choice pieces of furniture and wish to use them in the remodeled house, show them on your sketch plan so that you may provide space for them in the new scheme.
No matter how familiar with the old house you may be, it is difficult to grasp an arrangement of rooms. Walk from room to room as much as you will, trying to determine how to modernize the house, and you will have but a confused idea about the arrangement. But if you make an accurate sketch plan, a plan which can be afterwards examined and studied at leisure, you will have taken the wisest step possible, and your sketch plan will likely lead to a correct solution of the problem. Take this plan, study it, and determine what is necessary to be done to get the arrangement of rooms desired, bearing in mind, however, that when you remove one partition between two rooms on the first floor for a larger living room, the second-story partition overhead Two old rooms made into one cannot be depended upon to hold itself in place. Beams or some such structural members must be built in to support the second story.
Take care that the new arrangement will not wreck the old building. Modify your desires to suit the character of the old building, instead of arbitrarily demanding that rooms shall be precisely this way or that. The style of the new structure should be determined largely by the style of the old. Plain, old houses are usually more easily remodeled along Colonial lines than any other style.