Restore an older house

If there is one property option that South Africa has, it's older homes, and not all are located in undesirable suburbs. In fact, some of SA's most upmarket suburbs are dominated by older homes.


Taking on the restoration of an older home is a challenge, but well worth the time and effort you put into it at the end of the day.

Some older homes are just begging for the right owners to come along and take on the project of renovating and restoring these properties to their original condition and in this feature we look at some of the challenges you face when you decide to restore an older property.

In most older homes the craftsmanship is better - with more attention to detail, the wood trim and floors have the rich patina of age, architectural details give the home character.

The kitchen

In an older home that hasn't been modernised you can expect to find steel cabinets, lino or vinyl on the floors, outdated plumbing and electrical supply, as well as other smaller projects that will need to be tackled as time and money allows.

Even in a kitchen that has been slightly modified, certain details might been to be attended to, as with this open geyser below, or you may wish to replace modern cabinets with original wood cabinets. But bear in mind that tackling an older home is more expensive if you want to restore the property to it's original condition.

Make the decision on what to keep and what to replace. If there is major damage, replace. If the damage is minimal, try to restore as much of the original condition of the house as possible. You can always be on the lookout for items with a vintage look when unable to find real vintage pieces.

The bathroom

While some older homes will have been restored to a degree, others will need drastic work, especially replacing tiles that have been added that are not specific to the period of the property. Builders Warehouse have a wide range of tile options to choose from, and a stunning selection of mosaic tiles that are ideal for tiling a bathroom in an older home.

Old plumbing may need to be replaced, as older properties may still have lead pipes, or copper pipes joined with lead solder, which will need to be removed and replaced. Again, Builders Warehouse stock copper and PVC pipe, as well as all the required accessories and materials you will need.

Architectural detailing

Unless ripped out along the way, these older homes still have the most amazing architectural detailing. Tin ceilings and ceiling medallions are a beautiful sight to behold, especially when well cared for or restored.

Check for cracks and missing chunks, as the ceilings might have to be restored and this can be expensive. Also check the ceiling for signs of rust (peeling paint and rust stains), as this is a sign that the roof is leaking.

For those who are planning to take on the challenge of restoring an old home, stay true to maintaining the historic integrity. Why throw out good craftsmanship when you can have the satisfaction of restoring a piece. Builders Warehouse stock a selection of pine mouldings and trim, as well as extruded polystyrene crown moulding and polystyrene cornice.

Oregon pine was used for doors, frames and windows in a lot of older homes, and many homes still have these original features. However, in an older home that has been renovated, the beautiful work in the trades of years gone by can become hidden under layers and layers of paint.

You can cut down drastically on expenses if you restore all that you can of the original woodwork, including any panelling, built-in fittings or other decorative treatments. These craftsmen pieces are worthy of restoration and impossible to source and replace. If you do need to replace elements such as window or door frames, try to replicate existing details by visiting your local Builders Warehouse to see what's in store.


Oregon pine floors are prevalent in older homes, but the sad fact is that many have been covered with underlay and carpet and not been kept in good condition. When looking at buying an older home it's a good idea to know what lies beneath the carpet or vinyl, because these floors can be restored and can add value to a home.

The downside to a hardwood floor in an older home is rot or infestation by wood borer, so be sure to have these checked before you buy. Examine the flooring. If it's hardwood flooring with the stain and varnish worn off, this can easily be restored with sanding, staining and varnishing.

Exterior finishes

If the room hasn't been replaced with clay or cement tile, this area may require attention. While the average lifespan of a tin roof is anywhere from 20 to 50 years, without care and maintenance you can expect rust and leaks. A tin roof, can be restored to like-original condition, since the tin is still available, or they can be replaced with the new, galvanized metal roofing that is similar to the old tin roof, but is much more durable.

The same can be said for steel window frames and balustrades. Inspect these when looking at properties to see if they need to be replaced or can be restored. If the home still has its original windows (steel or wood), the best approach is to conserve rather than replace them. With new sealer, weatherproofing strips and new putty around the panes you can affordably retain the original look.

Verandahs or large front porches that are in bad shape can be replaced with a design identical to the original design, or you can add or subtract from the design for a different look. Often times these old homes were rather small, but the huge front verandah gave the home a roomier look.

Most older properties were built in the days when buildings were made to last with solid foundations and thick walls and you only need to keep an eye out for structural cracks from the foundations up that will be a sign that something is wrong.

26 March 2013 11:49 AM

Hi Janice,

Am a huge fan of your work and website!

I had to drop a note regarding your latest home improvement note on your website regarding restoring an older home. I am currently restoring a +/- 50 year old double story in DBN. Just bought it from an elderly man who himself bought it 1976, from the original owner. The house looks as if it was never touched since then, which is fantastic. In any case, I am busy with a room by room project. Restoring an older home is a challenge, but extremely rewarding, even more so than having built my first house from scratch.