What to Fix First in an Old House?

What to fix first in an old house? A good question. Short answer is its roof, gutters and attic ventilation (its roof system). This is to primarily eliminate any water from entering the home, and any water damage being caused to any of the home’s vital systems (electrical, plumbing, framing, foundation and HVAC) and home’s interior.

If left alone, a simple roof leak could damage any renovations the homeowners have chosen to do to the home’s interior; as are the risks of not replacing an old roof. Which is more likely to happen with an old roof due to its;

  • limited insulation and protection constantly allowing water/air in (even with frequent repairs it will still leak at the end of the day), 
  • gutters aren’t efficiently moving water away from the home’s foundation anymore,
  • attic ventilation doesn’t have enough airflow to keep the roof cool and dry, and 
  • attic insulation is causing extreme temperatures (hot/cold) within the home.   

When each part is working as it should in the anatomy of a roof, this ensures the longevity of your roof and home, while saving the homeowner from many rising utility and repair bills to come; As explained in how to extend the life of your roof shingles; As a roof does protect all of the home’s vital systems at the end of the day; electrical, plumbing, framing, foundation and HVAC system.

As a general rule of thumb, renovate/repair the home’s exterior first to provide yourself with a controlled environment, free of surprises. Followed by the home’s interior, otherwise you’re risking damage to new renovations inside of the home.

At roofing mission (a.k.a “BulletpRoof”), a homeowner can choose to make frequent repairs and maintenance on their old roof or replace their roof and reduce this altogether. From experience, forgoing a roof replacement will only mean more leaks and water damage is allowed to happen, which will make replacing the roof more expensive in the long-run. Further detailed in risks of putting off repairs on a leaky roof.

Here’s our recommended order of fixes to an old home:

Fixes to a Home’s Exterior

These fixes to a home’s exterior are meant to ensure a home’s protection from the outside elements, more importantly water damage is eliminated. Ensuring the longevity of the home while creating a controlled environment to safely renovate the home’s interior.

  1. Roof – A one layer roof to allow water to run-off to the gutter easily, offering the most protection, insulation and longevity of the roof. There are many reasons to not put shingles on top of shingles, highlighting that it will reduce insurance premiums, add manufacturer’s warranty and increase resale value.   
  2. Gutters – Functional gutters will catch water run-off and carry it at least 10 feet away from the home/home’s foundation. Preventing flooded basements, damaged landscaping, home’s siding, water going through the fascia into the home and damaging/sinking the foundation.    
  3. Attic Ventilation –  Proper airflow in and out of the attic will help moisture and excess heat/cold to escape, instead of getting trapped to cause water damage to the home’s interior. Saving homes in colder climates where improper ventilation will cause ice dams that will create holes under the shingles for water to enter, and extreme heat being trapped in the attic which will deteriorate the shingles quickly. Most importantly, prevent mold growth from causing toxic spores from spreading across the home and causing respiratory issues, among the other risks of poor attic ventilation.
  4. Attic Insulation – Insulation helps moderate the attic and roof’s temperature while saving the homeowner on rising utility bills, asbestos poisoning and repairs/replacing their HVAC systems sooner. Moderating the attic’s temperature will prevent excessive condensation and frost in the winter, and it will help keep the attic cool in the summer (moisture and heat shorten the lifespan of a roof). Installing insulation will easily outlast the roof, lasting up to 40 years or more, and make up for the investment over a few years of utility bill savings.     
  5. Flashing – Includes the roof (and any air vents, chimney, etc.), windows, doors and porch. Flashing is a metal strip that protects sensitive joints where a roof plane meets a wall or another roof plane, window/door meets a wall, etc. which are the most likely areas to leak directly into the home’s interior. Depending on the area, an ice and water barrier can be installed behind flashing to provide double protection against a leak.
  6. Foundation – Seismic activity or constant water draining into the foundation will cause it to crack and fall out of alignment; Causing floors to sag or become unleveled, doors and windows will not close and/or seal fully, etc. Filling the cracks and re-leveling the foundation will ensure the home’s longevity. If this is an issue for the windows and doors, address this before replacing the windows and doors to avoid having to do it twice.    
  7. Replace Windows and Doors – Windows and doors should be replaced to prevent water/air leaks, increase energy efficiency of the home and cold winters ahead; New windows will provide additional UV protection, preventing the home’s interior (furniture, decor, flooring, etc.) from fading, and rot behind the window compromising the home’s framing; New doors will provide additional security, prevent water/air leaks from rotting the home’s framing and more durable against thermal expansion (hot/cold warping, cracking and peeling the door).    
  8. Replace Any Damaged Siding and Fascia – Prevents wind-driven rain and debris from forcing its way into the home’s interior. Water damage to the fascia behind the gutters will misalign the gutters and allow water to enter directly into the home, under the drip edge which is a serious issue. Upon replacement, ice and water barriers can be installed behind the siding to ensure water doesn’t enter the next time around, like a leak where the porch meets the roof.     

Fixes to a Home’s Interior

Fixes to a home’s interior should start after the exterior is taken care of for a homeowner’s peace of mind. These fixes are to ensure the homeowner’s safety from older materials and prevent water/mold damage from making an older home uncomfortable to live in. Once completed, rooms can be renovated as the homeowner pleases because it will be free from unexpected damage due to an old home’s hidden problems. 

  1. Replacing Home’s Insulation – Older homes (40 years plus) come installed with asbestos insulation which is a health risk, will cause utility bills to rise, and make the home generally uncomfortable to live in; Being at the end of its lifespan. New insulation is an inexpensive renovation that increases energy efficiency, and will prevent moisture buildup that leads to mold growth.
  2. HVAC (Heating and AC) Ventilation System – Upgrading to a propane, natural gas or electrical ventilation system will allow it to efficiently heat/cool every room in the home; Improving air filtration from harmful spores in the air, while improving airflow to remove excess moisture/heat from the air more efficiently than opening a window; Most importantly this will prevent mold, rot and organic growth from occurring inside the home, resulting in respiratory issues for all occupants.   
  3. Electrical System – An old home will most likely have losses of power to the home, malfunctioning appliances, rising utility bill savings and not be as safe; A relatively inexpensive investment any homeowner should do is to replace the electrical panel, allowing consistent energy flow to prevent losses of power and appliances from malfunctioning, while increasing a home’s electrical safety and resale value.
  4. Plumbing System – An older home with copper or metal piping will be at risk of thermal expansion causing cracks and leaks in the system, and be able to provide limited water pressure to the home resulting in clogged pipes more often. Investing in re-piping a home with PVC pipes will help to improve water quality by preventing smells, rust and other unhealthy materials from traveling through the pipes; Increase water pressure so hot water reaches all of the taps; Prevent insurance claims on leaks due reduced future plumbing issues.
  5. Restructure (Framing) Walls – When repurposing a home, its load bearing walls can be moved at the cost of rerouting electrical, plumbing and air ducts, except it is more efficient to do after the previous fixes have been completed. Additionally, drains from upper levels and air ducts need to be re-routed. An engineer and framer can assess this to ensure the home’s structural integrity is not compromised.  
  6. Room Renovations – Design and renovate rooms in your home as you please from this point forward, as it will give contractors less trouble and less unexpected costs to the homeowner; Kitchen, living room, master bedroom, bathrooms and suites, etc. are all fair game for decorating and designing as the homeowner chooses.


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