Expert Interview with Scott Sidler on Restoring Old Homes

Restoring old homesScott Sidler loves old houses – so much so in fact that he’s built an entire business around restoring them.

Each time he starts working on an old house, Scott says he gets excited about the discovery that happens during a renovation.

“I feel like a time traveller seeing things that have been covered up for decades or centuries,” he says. “They are built so well and so beautifully that I can’t help but be in awe of them.

The president of Austin Home Restorations and founder of The Craftsman Blog recently checked in with us to share the insight he’s gleaned from working on historic homes over the years. Here’s what he had to say:

Can you tell us the story behind The Craftsman Blog?

I started the blog in 2011 as a way to answer common questions my restoration clients had. Instead of writing detailed email explanations, I thought it would be helpful to have them posted online so the clients could read them if and when they wanted. Soon, I was blogging every week and had a growing following of folks from all over the world who would never be a client of mine but who loved their old houses and wanted to save them.

You mention that when you first started doing DIY projects on your bungalow in Orlando, there were some projects you weren’t as proud of. What were the biggest DIY lessons you learned early on? What would you do differently now?

It’s funny – I don’t know that I would do anything differently because I learned so much from every mistake. I definitely struggle to slow down and not rush things like drying times of paint or wood fillers, but that’s just my personality. One big lesson I learned is to use the right tool for the right job. It’s always faster and better that way rather than trying to mess with something for hours using the wrong tools. It never turns out well in the end that way.

What type of work is your favorite when it comes to home restoration? What do you dread?

I love carpentry – rebuilding pieces to match what the original craftsman made. I feel like I’m learning from their designs as I try to match the woodwork or window profiles.

I can’t stand paint removal even though we do that A LOT. I have my crew handle that, because at this point I have scraped enough paint to choke a horse. And that’s the advantage of being the boss: I get to choose the projects I work on.

In your experience, what are the most common trouble spots in older homes? Where do they tend to need the most work?

Electrical is usually a mess of things after 100 years; that can make things a little scary. Another big issue is wood rot and termites, especially down here in Florida. You have to think like water – where will it go and how can you make sure it doesn’t get trapped somewhere to cause damage.

On the flip side, what qualities of old homes make them a worthier investment than newer construction homes?

The greenest house is the one that is already built! People tend to think of old houses as inefficient, but restoring an old house is much kinder on the environment then building a whole new house. Even if that new house is LEED certified, the old house still wins because of its embodied energy and materials.

Secondly, the old growth lumber these houses were built with is way better than anything we could find today. It’s stronger, more rot resistant, more stable and overall more beautiful than the tree farm wood we have available today. Why replace superior products with inferior ones just because they are new?

For those of us new to home improvement, what sorts of projects do you recommend for getting our feet wet?

Painting is always a good place to start. It’s not too intimidating, and if you mess up you can sand it down and start again. Learning to be a good painter will make you a better carpenter or DIYer in general because of the disciplines like patience and detail that it requires.

We imagine that as a professional DIYer, you’ve amassed quiet a collection of tools. What are your stranded-on-a-desert-island essentials?

Gotta have my favorite old hammer, and then probably nail nippers (I use them for so many other things than pulling nails), and a trim pry bar. Give me those three tools and I could almost build a house. Almost.

When someone is renovating or restoring an older or historic home, what recommendations do you have for picking materials for new roofs and gutters? What should they use to maintain both the structural and aesthetic integrity of the house?

The roof is the first place I tell clients to start. You have to keep water out; that’s the biggest target for storms. After your roof is watertight, gutters provide the perfect protection for windows and siding to keep them from damaging splash-back during every storm. Gutters can do a lot to extend the life of a paint job; too; and most people don’t think about how effective they are at protecting your home.

What is the most important preventative maintenance owners of old houses should make sure to stay on top of?

Keep it painted! Keep the paint in decent shape with little touch ups every six months to a year, and you’ll eliminate 90 percent of the work I get called out to fix. If everyone did this, I would be out of business. But we all get busy and forget. If you can dedicate one weekend a year to this, it will pay for itself immediately!

Connect with Scott on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

Photo courtesy of Pat York/Flickr

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