Staring at the cracked plaster walls, uneven floors, and outdated fixtures of your century home, you might be thinking, “It’s time for a renovation.” However, major renovations in an older home are far from simple projects. These undertakings are complex, multi-month logistical challenges that involve detailed planning, numerous decisions, and a considerable investment of time and money.

This blog aims to help you navigate the intricate process of renovating an older home, guiding you through the essential factors you need to consider from the initial planning stages to the final inspection.

Advantages of Older Homes

Older homes in Toronto often boast robust structural integrity, with double-layered brick walls, sturdy foundations, and thicker lumber framing than what’s typically available today. These features contribute to the home’s longevity, helping it withstand the test of time. Furthermore, double-brick walls keep homes cool in summer and warm in winter, leading to potential energy savings.

With thoughtful planning, these historic homes can accommodate modern upgrades, blending classic aesthetics with contemporary building practices for increased efficiency and comfort. This harmonious integration can provide homeowners with the best of both.

Managing Your Older Home

While older homes offer numerous benefits, they also present unique challenges during renovations—challenges not typically found in newer constructions. Let’s explore some of the specific issues you might encounter during your century home renovation.

Outdated Wiring and Limited Insurance

Older homes may still have knob and tube wiring, a potential fire hazard that could require a complete overhaul. This type of wiring was common in homes built between the 1880s and 1940s, but it may not meet modern electrical demands and could pose difficulties in securing home insurance. An electrician should assess your home’s wiring to determine if a full replacement is necessary.

Asbestos and Other Hazards

Asbestos, a toxic mineral, was commonly used in household materials such as insulation, paint, and plaster. Exposure to asbestos can lead to severe health issues. Certified abatement professionals can assess and remove asbestos or other hazardous materials from your older home. Depending on the situation, you may need to remove hazardous materials entirely or seal them with specialized encapsulants for safety.

Uneven Foundations and Structural Issues

Over time, older homes may develop structural issues such as settling foundations and water damage. These problems can lead to structural weaknesses and further complications during renovations. Consulting with a structural engineer to assess your home’s foundation integrity is essential for prioritizing repairs and reinforcements during the renovation process.

Weakened Floors and Walls

Older homes may feature compromised floors and walls due to previous alterations or damage from pests. Wooden framing techniques such as “balloon framing” may impact structural options and require careful planning during renovations. Reinforcing joists through “sistering” can help strengthen ceilings and level out sagging floors.

Old Plumbing and Potential Leaks

Older homes often have galvanized steel or lead pipes, which can corrode over time, leading to leaks and water pressure issues. Modern water usage may strain these systems further. Outdated plumbing can affect your quality of life and disrupt your renovation plans. A licensed plumber should conduct an evaluation to determine whether partial or full replacement is needed.

Outdated HVAC Systems

An outdated HVAC system in an older home can be complex to manage, with potential issues like old oil drums, asbestos-laden materials, and furnaces in unconventional locations. These issues require specialized handling, and updating the HVAC system can improve your home’s efficiency and comfort.

Drafty Building Envelopes

Older homes often lack adequate insulation in exterior walls and feature single-pane windows. These conditions result in poor energy efficiency, leading to cold drafts in winter and heat loss through the attic or flat roof. Upgrading to energy-efficient windows and insulating walls and ceilings can make your older home more comfortable and energy-efficient.

Navigating Past Renovations

One significant challenge with older homes is dealing with remnants of past renovations that may have been poorly executed or not up to current codes. These can include outdated plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems. Consulting specialized professionals to assess these systems is essential to ensure that your renovation proceeds smoothly and safely.

Preserving Charm or Modernizing the Look?

Renovating older homes provides a unique opportunity to revisit your design aesthetic. Whether you prefer an ultra-modern, minimalist approach with clean lines, or want to maintain as much of the historic feel as possible, the renovation process can be both exciting and rewarding. Modernizing your home doesn’t have to mean completely abandoning its traditional character. By salvaging and reusing existing elements of your older home, such as antique stained-glass windows or original fireplace mantles, you can marry traditional century-style finishes with more modern design elements.

Working with a professional designer can help you identify your unique style and uncover ways to blend traditional character with new, modern style, giving you the best of both worlds.

Adding Tangible Value to Your Home

When planning your investment in a home renovation, consider projects that add tangible value to your home and enhance your enjoyment of living there. Energy efficiency upgrades can offer long-term cost savings, while removing partition walls can allow more natural light and provide flexible layout options.

If you’re seeking innovative ways to maximize space, consider utilizing underused areas. Toronto’s older homes often have basements with low ceilings that can be transformed into functional spaces by underpinning or reimagining the area. Additionally, the potential of the third floor or attic addition should not be overlooked, as it could become a new primary suite, additional bedrooms for children, or a home office or theatre with the right adjustments.

Furthermore, with the recently passed laneway and garden suite bylaws in Toronto, you can add extra space with a well-designed secondary unit, creating additional living space or rental income opportunities.


Renovating a century home is a complex and often demanding process, but with proper planning and professional guidance, it can be a highly rewarding endeavor. Understanding the unique challenges of older homes can help you navigate your renovation journey with greater confidence.

At David Reno, we understand the intricacies of renovating older homes and have the expertise to handle the unique challenges you may encounter. Contact us today to discuss your renovation plans and learn how we can help you preserve the character and charm of your century home while bringing it up to modern standards. Let us partner with you to create a home that blends classic elegance with contemporary convenience.