​Your complete beginner's guide to renovating a house

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
Thermal Insulation - B RenoBuild Algarve Mediterranean style houses
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Isn’t it great that you don’t have to buy heaps and heaps of building materials to build a house from scratch? You can simply take an old existing one, splash a new coat of paint on it, replace the ‘welcome’ mat, and move in!

Actually renovating a house involves a bit (okay, a lot) more work, yet for those who love a challenge it is the best way to either find their dream home, or complete a successful house renovation so that others might find their dream home. 

Let’s take a rough look at what goes into renovating an old house, should this be something you’ve always dreamed of doing. 

1. Find and assess your project

Almost every property has some potential for renovation – the secret is to assess its design- and financial potential before committing to a full-on home renovation. 

Chat with agents, drive around yourself to scope out potential projects, and attend auctions.  Once you’ve found a project, an assessment of the structural condition of the house is important, and that is where a professional surveyor steps in. Be sure to arm yourself with a checklist of the most common problems found in old properties (such as rewiring, cracks, no heating, etc.).

2. Completing the deal

There are several options available here for renovators. If the property you wish to renovate is habitable, then you can go straight to one of the usual high street lenders. If you do not have the funds available to pay for the building work required on the house, you might consider a loan, which will hopefully be repaid by remortgaging the completed property.

However, if the property is non-habitable or even non-residential (i.e. you’re intending to convert its usage), then you will need to approach a specialist lender. 

Apart from the renovation work, there are some additional costs which you should consider, which include reconnection fees, valuation fees, council tax, etc.

3. The design process

Addison Grove Hamilton King Classic style houses
Hamilton King

Addison Grove

Hamilton King

So, once that house is yours, where do you start your renovation project? First of all, distinguish between the house’s best assets (perhaps its large garden, the view, an original fireplace) and the worst (like a leaking roof). However, bear in mind that certain hidden problems might only present themselves once you begin work on the property – prepare yourself for this. 

The scale of your project may be such that the services of a designer (whether it’s an architect or an interior designer) are just not needed, but if you are extending or carrying out major remodelling work, you should not underestimate what a designer could bring to the table. After all, designers have the talent, experience and expertise to get the very most from your space and your budget and could well offer ideas and solutions beyond what you had considered possible.

homify hint: Check out your neighbours for an idea of the projects that people are carrying out on your type of house to see what works and what doesn’t.

4. Repairing and restoring existing features

When it comes to renovating properties, one of the main attractions is to keep the style and charm of the structure’s original features. But what do you do when they are in poor condition or missing altogether? In some extreme cases the cost of repair work does not practically make sense and you may need to consider sympathetic, matching replacements. However, avoid replacing period windows with plastic versions—they will never look truly authentic in a period context. 

Timber floors are much sought after and if the house you are renovating has the original floor in place, then you should consider restoring it. Other types of original flooring found in older properties include quarry tiles, flagstones and even brick—all can be restored.

5. Structural changes

Wimbledon Loft Conversion A1 Lofts and Extensions Mediterranean style balcony, veranda & terrace
A1 Lofts and Extensions

Wimbledon Loft Conversion

A1 Lofts and Extensions

Of course you have the utmost right to add space or even change the use of the house’s spaces with a basement- or loft conversion, for example. Keep in mind that any basement conversion is a job for the professionals. 

One of the most popular, least disruptive and cost-effective ways of adding another room to a house is to convert the existing loft. Much of the mess and disruption associated with other extensions can be contained with a loft conversion, with rubbish often going straight out through a waste shoot. The only form of major disruption comes with the fitting of the new staircase on the floor below. As a rule of thumb, if you can measure 2.3m from the floor to the roof in your loft, at the highest part, you have sufficient head height for a conversion

6. External changes

Treating the house’s exterior façade to a new look will transform its look and the way you feel about it. And fortunately there are ways of accomplishing this to suit all budgets.

But before you consider the larger-scale improvements, bear in mind that it is often the smaller, seemingly insignificant details that can make all the difference to the overall external appearance of a house, such as timberwork, a porch railing, or the garden fence.  

Styling up the roof is also an option. And the covering you choose will very much depend on the style of the house you are renovating. But even if your roof already has its original covering in place, it will be worthwhile attempting to repair any damage as opposed to replacing it—both from an aesthetic point of view and cost wise, as a complete change of roof covering can easily  cost from £60—180/m².

7. Extending

Rural extension, Dorset, UK Southpoint Modern living room

Rural extension, Dorset, UK


Sometimes you just need to add more space to that renovation project to make it more comfy and practical – but what will this cost?

Ground conditions, site access, location and proximity of services, design and size all have a big impact on what the cost of your extension will be – that is why it is pretty hard to give an exact idea of costs. In general though, budgeting around £1,000 – £1,500/m² for a two-storey extension should give you a good idea of what it will cost. 

Single- storey extensions cost a bit more—around £1,000 – £2,000/m² (on account of the more expensive parts of the structure (such as foundations and roof) being a greater proportion of the cost/m²). 

Design-wise, it often makes more sense to build a contrasting extension that flaunts its status as a new addition, yet complements and draws out the best elements of the existing building. If you go down the contrasting extension route, you have to go all the way – go either contemporary or not. Too many times this type of extension fails due to a seeming lack of commitment to the design, with owners, for example, adding some stunning cedar cladding, but then ruining the look with small plastic windows.

8. Updating heating and electrics

Old houses bring quirks—great for interiors, but not so good in the heating and electrical systems. And do not be surprised if that old house has no central heating at all. Budget at least £3,000 for a new central heating system and the same for a new whole-house rewiring job. However, a heating kit in particular can cost £10,000s (for renewables etc.)

Underfloor heating is always a great feature, but bear in mind that this does take a little more thought and planning than, say, installing a new fireplace. If you’re keen to test out your DIY skills, you can fit electric underfloor heating yourself, as long as you have it thoroughly tested by a NICEIC-qualified electrician.

9. Eco-vation

External Thermal Insulation (ETICS) RenoBuild Algarve Mediterranean style houses
RenoBuild Algarve

External Thermal Insulation (ETICS)

RenoBuild Algarve

Eco-vation or eco-renovation is the process of improving the energy efficiency of an old home to make it less draughty and more economical (and comfortable) to live in. In addition to being a ‘nice to have’, full draught-proofing can also save you lots – about £55 per year, according to the Energy Saving Trust. 

If your loft is un-insulated, then address this job as a priority, as it’s one of the best ways to keep your home warm. But when it comes to insulation, remember that internal wall insulation is the cheaper option – insulating cavity walls will cost around £500 and can save you around £115 a year on fuel bills. Insulating solid walls will save you around £400 annually.

10. Finishing off

Until now, it may have felt as though you’ve been making more mess than there was in the first place, as opposed to creating your dream home. But with the structural work behind you, it becomes time to put the finishing touches to your renovation – and this part is definitely more fun. 

It is more than likely that you will have some newly plastered walls to deal with; however, remember that newly plastered walls will need time to dry out before you can paint or wallpaper them. If only a skim coat has been plastered, then this should not take too long, but anything more will take a week or so (even as long as up to six weeks). 

When it comes to having old beams in your home (covered in many years’ worth of paint), it is worth contacting a specialist to strip them, using a gentle system.  

Flagstones and other original stone floors look stunning, but can often come loose or suffer from delamination or cracked mortar. There are specialist companies who can solve these problems, but it is also something that can be carried out on a DIY basis, although it is fairly labour-intensive. 

The advantages of renovating a house

The Christmas House Fraher and Findlay Classic style houses
Fraher and Findlay

The Christmas House

Fraher and Findlay

• When working on a property for renovation, you have the opportunity to transform that structure into your dream home via simple modifications.

• Renovating your house means you have the potential to create more space (i.e. building an extra bedroom, clearing out your yard to make it more spacious).

• Although it depends on location, choice of finishes etc, a home renovation project can work out cheaper than buying a new one – especially if you opt for DIY hacks. 

The disadvantages of renovating a house

Marlow House TLA Studio Modern rooms
TLA Studio

Marlow House

TLA Studio

• Very few properties require a full makeover, which can work out pretty costly. Thus, depending on circumstances, purchasing a new home can be a better option than renovating each and every corner of your property. 

• Your average house renovation job is a time-consuming task that can add more stress to your household (especially once your home becomes a construction site). 

Next up for your inspiration: How to build a house for under £50k (ideas and plans)

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