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New Life for Old Homes design guide for the low-cost rehab of vacant & abandoned hoUSING





For vacant and abandoned houses


To evaluate existing conditions and determine a scope of work



> walls and floors > outdoor living > curb appeal





+ ENERGY EFFICIENCY 40-43 > save on utility bills > enhance lighting



From Kent State University’s design/REbuild project



> kitchen > bathroom > additions > storage

> bring in light and air > open up interior spaces


For more information about home rehabilitation



Thousands of houses are demolished in Ohio’s cities each year, in part due to declining populations and the ongoing effects of the mortgage foreclosure crisis. Vacant and abandoned buildings are often seen as a public nuisance and a threat to health and safety. In response, cities in Ohio (and elsewhere) have been stepping up the speed and scale of their demolition efforts. According to the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, approximately 18 houses in the Northeast Ohio will be abandoned every day from now until 2040 due to population loss, weak market demand, and sprawling regional land use patterns. These houses form the basis of traditional city neighborhoods and, while they may not have dramatic architecture or major historic significance, they contribute to the familiar scale and character of Ohio’s cities. If housing abandonment and demolition continue at current rates, vernacular architecture and traditional neighborhoods will gradually disappear. This guide describes creative, low-cost ways to fix up traditional houses and make them appealing to prospective buyers and tenants. The goal is to repair, rather than demolish, and to rediscover the unique appeal that older houses have to offer. Examples throughout the guide are from Cleveland neighborhoods, but the ideas and recommendations translate to other cities as well—any place where historic housing is threatened by a lack of investment and market demand. This guide does not take a traditional approach to historic preservation. When thousands of houses are being demolished in urban neighborhoods, a more rough-and-ready approach is needed to save at least some of these properties from the wrecking ball. The goal of this guide is to preserve the rhythm and details of city neighborhoods and to help rescue sturdy old houses that are too good to throw away.



ABOUT THIS BOOK New Life for Old Homes offers advice and design ideas for adding value to vacant and abandoned housing. This book is not a “How-To” manual that explains precisely how to renovate a home. Instead, it’s more of a “WhatTo” guide that offers simple design ideas with major impact. The guide also includes rough cost estimates for different kinds of improvements. Use this book as a resource for minor changes and more ambitious transformations. The guide begins with a discussion of Housing Preservation Principles to help protect the uniquely valuable character and details of older homes under challenging economic circumstances. Are you a rehab professional, or someone interested in refreshing your own home? The Project Assessment section will help you evaluate a building’s existing condition and make informed decisions about its rehab potential. Once you have a sense of the work that needs to be tackled, you can create a scope of work and move forward. This guide is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. It’s always a good idea to talk to an architect to get a sense of immediate priorities, structural issues, and a house’s design potential. It’s also useful to talk to a preservation professional in order to get a sense of a house’s architectural and historic significance. Perhaps most importantly, you can ask friends and neighbors for their recommendations regarding contractors who have experience in working with older buildings.

Design Idea Showcase invites you to take action. This section includes approximate costs for different rehab ideas, as well as any special considerations for each idea. These actions aren’t comprehensive, but are only a starting place; use them to get creative about the possibilities for your own rehab project. Design Action $: low-, moderate- or high-cost ?: special considerations


Look for “value-added” boxes like this one for additional tips and smallscale ideas to inspire you.

The renovations discussed in the book range from small-scale improvements to large-scale transformations. The Design Inspiration section offers a look at Kent State University’s design/REbuild program, in which architecture, interior design, and construction management students tackled the design and rehabilitation of a vacant and abandoned house. The Additional Resources section lists other books and websites to inspire your project. 2

+ HOUSING PRESERVATION PRINCIPLES MAKE-DO REHAB In the world of antiques, there is a nontraditional category of collecting referred to as “make-dos.” Make-dos are broken domestic objects made whole again through resourcefulness and ingenuity. These broken pieces were not disposed of or recycled, but rather mended over the years with whatever materials were at hand. They show evidence of having been broken and repaired in improvised and often artful ways. Through this process of repair, an object gains new value, because someone cared enough to repair it rather than throw it away. MAKE-DO 1930s-era French lead dog with a broken leg that was replaced by a nail held in place with wire.

Ira Lippke, The New York Times

Perhaps the make-do mindset applies to housing preservation as well, especially in cities where damaged and unmarketable houses are being demolished in large numbers. By retaining intact features and improvising where necessary, some abandoned houses can be mended and reinvented, rather than thrown away. There are many excellent books, magazines, and websites that describe best practices in historic rehabilitation (please see the Additional Resources section on page 40 for some suggestions). This guide focuses instead on houses in difficult circumstances, where a traditional rehab approach is not feasible. Under these circumstances, sometimes we simply have to make-do. A make-do rehab does not mean anything goes. It’s important to establish rehab priorities using a preservation-first approach. Wherever possible, retain and repair existing details, materials, and finishes—especially original windows, which are a defining feature on most houses. Keeping some sense of a house’s original layout is also important.



STANDARDS FOR REHABILITATION The US Secretary of the Interior provides Standards for Rehabilitation that apply to projects supported by the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program. These Standards also provide a useful frame of reference for rehabbing vacant and abandoned houses. 1. A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change to the defining characteristics of the building and its site and environment. 2. The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided. 3. Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings, shall not be undertaken. 4. Most properties change over time; those changes that have acquired historic significance in their own right shall be retained and preserved. 5. Distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a property shall be preserved. 6. Deteriorated historic features shall be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature shall match the old in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features shall be substantiated by documentary, physical, or pictorial evidence. 7. Chemical or physical treatments, such as sandblasting, that cause damage to historic materials shall not be used. The surface cleaning of structures, if appropriate, shall be undertaken using the gentlest means possible. 8. Significant archaeological resources affected by a project shall be protected and preserved. If such resources must be disturbed, mitigation measures shall be undertaken.


9. New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment. 10. New additions and adjacent or related new construction shall be undertaken in such a manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired. So how do you decide when to adhere to these standards, and when it’s okay to deviate from them? As a general principle, you should preserve first. Since cost is a major factor, and cost is closely tied to condition, the least costly approach will often be to keep and repair the historic fabric. But this depends on the condition of the house, so you’ll need to pick your battles. If a house is slated for demolition, carefully considered compromises may be needed to make rehab a viable alternative. Lead paint can be an issue in older houses. Deteriorated exterior siding, interior walls and trim, and windows may pose lead hazards, especially for households with young children. You can easily test painted surfaces for lead and make your decision to restore existing siding and windows or to replace these elements based safety, cost, and architectural significance. Think about your personal preferences if you’re rehabbing a house for yourself. A rehab project takes a lot of time and effort. A labor of love only works if you’re genuinely excited about how your house will look and function when the rehab is complete. Some people love authentic historic character, while others are charmed by a make-do mash-up of styles and elements. Try to preserve the architectural features of a house’s exterior, but perhaps leave room for a little fun on the interior. If you’re rehabbing a house to sell or rent, you’ll need to think about market potential. In neighborhoods where there are many vacant houses and limited market interest, you may need to transform a house in ways that appeal to more adventurous households. Again, be respectful of the exterior and views from the street, but consider ways to re-invent the interior, perhaps with updated kitchens and baths, a more open floor plan, expanded storage, and investments that improve energy-efficiency. Make sure to keep and highlight special elements like fireplaces, unique fixtures and hardware, historic woodwork, and other features that contribute to a house’s appeal.





Adopt a fix-it first attitude. Restoring wood siding and windows, preserving architectural details, refinishing floors and re-pointing brickwork gives an old house its texture, which you won’t often find in new construction.

+ property CONSIDERATIONS GENERAL GUIDELINES This section can be used to determine if a vacant house you’re considering matches the time and money you’re willing to devote to it. Use the checklist on pages 8-9 to recognize features of a property that may be important, taking into account your budget, time-frame, construction skills, and ambition. When assessing a property for rehabilitation, consider the market conditions in the neighborhood. In a strong real estate market, you can invest more time and money in a house and be confident of getting a return on your investment. In a weak market, you should start with a house that needs less work, in order to make the project financially feasible. There’s no secret formula for determining whether a house is worth it when it comes to rehabilitation. It all depends on how much time, effort, and money you’re willing to put into the project; on the surrounding neighborhood; on the existing condition of the house; and on how much of the work you can do yourself versus having to hire professionals. You can often salvage a house if it has: • intact windows; • a solid roof; and • mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems in good working order. If the house has two out of these three things and everything else is mostly cosmetic in nature, it’s probably a good candidate for rehabilitation. But if the house has none of those three, the rehabilitation effort is likely to be timeconsuming and expensive. Unfortunately, vacant houses often fall prey to illegal scrapping activities. If plumbing and/or electrical wiring have been pulled out of a house, a full gut rehab may be necessary to replace these systems. This is a major undertaking, but it might be worth the effort if the house has architectural character and a good location. Go through the considerations on the next two pages to see what you have to work with. Not every vacant house is a good candidate for rehab, especially in neighborhoods where there are many vacant and abandoned houses. Hold out for the ones most worth saving.




Does the property have a... basement? garage? back house? Are there architectural features that make the house desirable? i.e. hardwood floors and intact trim, large windows providing cross ventilation, overhangs and porches How big is the lot? What is the house’s square footage? Is the property secured (solid doors, functioning locks, etc)? Are the heating, plumbing, and electrical systems functional? If plumbing and wiring have been stripped from a house, the time and cost to restore these systems is likely to be substantial.


Are there other vacant homes on the street? What are comparable houses selling for in this neighborhood? Is there a strong block club or crime watch on your block?

ROOF • • • • •

Are there any obvious leaks or signs of water damage? (check upper story ceilings and attic) What is the condition of roof shingles? Are fascia, soffits, and trim at the roof edges in good condition? Are the gutters and downspouts in place and intact? Does the house have a chimney? Is the masonry in good condition?


Is the house clad in brick or stone? What percentage needs repointing? Are there large cracks and uneven settling? Does the house have wood siding or wood shingles? Is the siding in good condition? Are there signs of deterioration or rot? Has the house been re-sided in vinyl or aluminum?

PORCH • • •

If you have a porch, is it structurally sound or leaning/sagging? Is the deck in good repair, or rotting? Are the steps solid, or rotting/cracked?


Can you reuse kitchen and bath fixtures, or do they need to be replaced? Do interior walls and trim have lead paint? Lead paint is common in older houses and can usually be mitigated through basic repairs and repainting. But it’s a good idea to do a lead test to see the extent of what you’re dealing with.


How old are the kitchen appliances? How old is the air handling unit / furnace / water heater? Can you tell whether or not the house is insulated? Is the house shaded on the south side with trees, awnings, or a porch? Are the windows relatively new and/or does the property have intact storm windows?


Is the foundation intact and dry? Any standing water or moisture in the basement? Are the beams/columns straight and stable? Any sign of termite or carpenter ant infestation or damage? Are roof rafters straight and not cracked or sagging?


Does the house have extensive or deteriorated asbestos in pipe insulation, ceiling tile, furnace, etc.? Asbestos abatement and disposal can be costly Are there signs of mold, particularly in the basement?




NEIGHBORHOOD Is the average sales price for a home in the neighborhood high enough to cover the anticipated costs of improvements?


It’s hard to predict what the final sales price of a rehabbed home might be, but if the cost of improvements is likely to be significantly higher than what similar houses in the neighborhood sell for, the project may not be financially feasible.



Is there is a community development corporation or other partner that could provide support for the project?


Without a strong neighborhood organization to provide advice, technical support, and an assessment of local market conditions, the project will be more difficult.


PROPERTY Is the house located close to transit, bike facilities, or strong commercial/retail areas?



Are there many other vacant houses or parcels in the neighborhood?



Is the property in the City or County Land Bank?


OR Is the property in foreclosure or tax delinquency?


N Lack of these may affect the eventual resale of the property.

If there are lots of other vacancies, this one project might not have as much of an overall impact.

A privately-held property with an tax-paying owner will be harder (or more expensive) to acquire



FLOWCHART, continued...


Is the house structurally sound? (Foundation intact, horizontal beams not sagging, roof rafters in place, no sign of carpenter ants or termites)



Does the house have asbestos (siding, ceiling tile, pipe insulation) that will need professional removal?


Does the house have lead paint that will need abatement or encapsulation?




Are the following components in good repair? • Windows • Siding • Roof • Mechanicals • Electrical systems • Plumbing


If the foundation, roof supports or major structural components are failing, the house may be too expensive to rehab.


Lead and asbestos abatement or encapsulation can be costly if they require professional handling and disposal.

If all or most of these elements are in poor condition, the cost of rehab may not be financially feasible.



Are the proportions and overall style of the house interesting and worthy of preserving?

Y Is the house configuration (single-family, multi-family) the best use of the building?

AND/OR Are there unique architectural details that make this home “special”?

N Fireplaces, intricate woodwork, large porches, stained glass– as well as architectural style–can make an argument for saving one particular house above others in the area.





OR Could the house be easily reconfigured to accommodate more units or transform it back into one unit, depending on market and personal preference?


The house could be a good candidate for rehab.

N Many homes get heavily modified over time. If the house can’t easily be reconfigured for contemporary lifestyles and market demands, it may be harder to sell.

The house isn’t perfect, but the imperfections may be surmountable.




…walls and floors

…outdoor living

…curb appeal

+ OPENNESS …bring in light and air …open up interior space


Helen Liggett





…build addition(s)

…add storage space

+ ENERGY EFFICIENCY …save on utility bills …improve lighting



+ UPDATES An easy and inexpensive way to reinvent a room is to give it a new coat of paint. But why stop there? Consider replacing old carpet, refinishing wood floors, and installing new cabinet doors. Small improvements can help reinvigorate a tired home. Updates to porches and outside spaces enhance curb appeal in ways that enhance market appeal.

walls + floors WALL FINISHES New paint $: Low cost ?: Low skill level

Drywall $: Moderate to highcost, depending on extent of work ?: Moderate to high skill level

Plaster $: Low cost ?: High skill level



Peel back old carpet to see what’s underneath. Sometimes you get lucky and find hardwood floors that can be refinished.

Sanded floor $: Moderate cost, factoring in cost to rent a drum sander ?: Moderate skill level VCT tile $: Low cost ?: Low skill level

Cork tiles $: Moderate cost ?: Cork must be sealed to reduce fading 18


Many paint stores can scan and match any color you bring in! So don’t feel limited by their swatches.

Be bold:


If you have extra floorboards, 2x4s, or lath from your renovation, you can reuse them as an accent wall covering.

Jason Rohal


Don’t be afraid to mix and match, or to make obvious patches—they can take on a quilt-like patchwork quality that tells the unique story of a home’s history.





Historically, most houses in Cleveland had front porches, whether one-story or two. Unfortunately weather and time can damage unprotected wood. Restore a front porch to enhance a house’s historic character and improve curb appeal. Refer to historic photos, if you can find them, or porches of nearby houses, to get an idea of what the original porch looked like.

Repaint porch $: Low cost ?: Choose low-slip, high traffic porch paint for porch flooring

Replace deck boards $: Low cost ?: Much easier to replace a few damaged boards than to replace an entire deck.

+ 20

Some houses (like this one) had a porch that was removed. Restoring a porch can a house more livable and more historically accurate.

Restore entire porch $: High cost ?: Hire an architect for best results


Pressure-treated wood decking $: Low cost ?: Wait to paint at least one year Composite decking (TrexTM, etc.) $: Moderate cost ?: Low maintenance


There might be space for a small deck off first floor living areas. Integrating different levels, stairs, and planters can make a deck more useful and interesting.



A fire pit can make an outside space more usable year-round.





A fresh coat of paint, including accent colors for trimwork and doors, makes a huge difference. Explore paint companies’ historic color schemes for ideas.

Antonia Marinucci


Repaint exterior siding $: Moderate cost ?: Test for lead paint before scraping

Shrubs/perennials $: Moderate cost ?: Plant in fall when landscape supplies are discounted; look for neighbors dividing perennials they’re willing to share

Front fencing $: Moderate cost ?: Check city fence ordinance for height/ setback requirements



Historic photographs may show what a house originally looked like and what changes have been made. This owner used a historic image as a guide to restore their original facade. (Antonia Marinucci)

Restore facade $: High cost ?: Labor intensive

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+ OPENNESS Opening up interior spaces can give a house a whole new feeling, while preserving the traditional character of the exterior. Open spaces and interconnected rooms appeal to many contemporary households. But first you need to consider the existing condition of interior walls and ceilings. If a house is largely intact, you may want to preserve and repair the original interior configuration. If repairs are not feasible, then an open floor plan becomes more appropriate, although you may consider leaving some physical remnants of the original layout in place. For example, if you open up an arch to join two rooms together, you can leave a small wall or ceiling return in place to show that an archway once existed there. Or if you open up a ceiling, you could retain an indication of the ceiling height around the perimeter of the space. Be creative but respectful and don’t remove so much historic fabric that any sense of the original house is erased.



light & air ADD SKYLIGHTS

Install Solotubes $ : Moderate cost ? : High skill level to install–beware of roof leakage if done improperly

Install skylights $ : High cost ? : High skill level to install - beware of roof leakage if done improperly


Solotubes are small skylights that allow daylight into a house without a major impact on exterior appearance. Skylights can be unobtrusively added to some houses.

ADD/MOVE DOORS Patio doors $ : Moderate cost ? : Best used off side/ back rooms


WINDOWS Add storm windows $ : Moderate cost ? : Will save on energy costs and save existing windows Repair existing windows $ : Low-moderate cost ? : Labor intensive but can save money if you DIY; good way to preserve original glass or mullions Replacement windows $ : Moderate-high cost ? : Vinyl or wood options; high skill level to install


Window repair should be the first consideration as older windows typically utilize better quality wood and, if wellrepaired and maintained, will last longer than modern replacements. Replacement windows may be required if existing windows are in poor condition. If replacing, match the dimensions and features of the originals as closely as possible.


Window into a bathroom? Rather than closing it in, try applying an inexpensive glass-frosting film for light and privacy.

Helen Antonia Liggett Marinucci

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OPENING UP WALLS Opening up to the kitchen Pass-through window ? : Provides opening without giving up cabinet space

Peninsula counter on half-wall ? : Opportunity for some bar-height seating


Many older homes have separate kitchens and dining rooms, but making an opening between appeals to modern lifestyles and makes the home feel bigger.

OPEN THE STAIRCASE Metal guardrail $ : Cost depends on complexity of design and choice of metal ? : High skill level required

Cable handrail $ : Moderate cost ? : Be sure to comply with building codes

+ 28

If you have an intact, original balustrade, you can save money by keeping it. If your staircase is enclosed, consider removing the wall (with guidance from an architect) and installing a light railing, which can become a design feature.



Many older houses have multiple small rooms. Modern families often desire larger spaces. Removing a common wall between two small bedrooms ia a relatively easily way to make one larger one. Be careful not to demolish a bearing wall unless you add reinforcements.



A lofted interior can transform a vacant house and increase its market appeal. This technique is best confined to upper floors where the modification will not be visible from the street. Some interior walls bear weight from above, so you can’t simply remove them without adding beams and columns and bracing the exterior walls. Consult an architect or a structural engineer for guidance.

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+ UPGRADES Small, thoughtful investments can transform a vacant and abandoned house to one that has market appeal. Focusing on kitchens and bathrooms may help get the best return on your investment, because buyers and renters tend to notice these areas first.



kitchen BACKSPLASH Salvaged tin $ : Low $3-5cost / sq.? :

Chalkboard paint $ : Low cost ?:

Subway tile $ : Low cost ?:


Fresh paint $ : Low cost ? : Quick and easy Replace cabinet doors and hardware $ : Moderate cost ? : Reface with new wood or laminate veneers, or replace doors and hardware entirely



Pre-owned cabinets are commonly (and inexpensively) available at salvage centers like the Habitat REstore. These cabinets were salvaged from a school’s physics lab.


Intact older cabinets can be an attractive feature for some buyers and can be inexpensively updated with fresh paint and new handles.

COUNTERTOP Concrete $ : Low cost if DIY Moderate to high cost if professionally installed ? : Takes skill to get a good finished look High-pressure laminate $ : Moderate cost ? : Mimics granite; low-cost but not heat-resistant Butcher block $ : Moderate to high cost ? : Needs to be sealed to keep sanitary & reduce staining


Try a main countertop of one material (perhaps a high-pressure laminate) with a secondary countertop on an island or peninsula out of a special material like reclaimed hardwood, concrete, or even a slab of salvaged stone.

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bathroom WALL High-humidity paint $ : Low cost ? : Not suitable for shower surrounds Tile $ : Low cost ? : More labor intensive but inexpensive. Play with accent grouts. Wainscoting $ : Moderate cost ? : Also known as “beadboard.” Often in 4’ high panels.



Where and how you tile makes a big visual impact in a bathroom. Wrapping small floor tiles up walls to a chair rail, with dark paint above, makes a room feel cozy; affordable subway tiles on all the walls, even the shower stall, makes a room feel modern and clean.

Penny tile $ : Low cost ? : Easy to install Linoleum $ : Low cost ? : Tile is easier to install than sheet linoleum VCT Tile $ : Low cost ? : Comes in many colors 34


Bringing old water fixtures to new standards (like WaterSense) can save you money on your annual water bills. Plus it’s good for the environment.

Low-flow faucet $ : Low cost

New shower head $ : Moderate cost ? : Shower heads are the fixtures where Americans waste the most water.

Low-flow toilet $ : Moderate cost

+ +

Old enamel bathtubs can often be re-glazed– look into it before replacing a tub.

You don’t need to buy a traditional vanity cabinet. Try cutting a sink opening in a salvaged table.


Custom-cutting a large mirror rather than buying a medicine cabinet makes the bathroom feel modern and spacious.

35 35


Building an addition $ : High cost ? : Foundation, roof, framing work; check ordinances in your city


If you have space in the back or side yard of your lot, you could add on an additional room or double-height space. You’ll have to add a foundation, plus you’ll need approvals and permits from the local building department.

BUILDING UP Adding a dormer $ : High cost ? : Hire a roofer; check ordinances in your area

+ 36

Making attic space more usable by adding a dormer or other pop-up element means you can suddenly use existing space that’s been above you the whole time.



You never know what’s behind the walls until you peel back wallpaper, paneling or other surface treatments. Unique details (brick, hardware, fireplaces, builtin cabinets, etc.) make older homes special. Look for ways to highlight these discoveries in your rehab project.

37 37



Small-scale, traditional homes typically don’t have enough storage space for contemporary households. Look for creative ways to incorporate shelving and other storage into corners, under stairways, and in other under-used areas of a home. Built-in coat closets, hooks, and shelves are all easy to install and make use of empty wall space.




If you don’t have stairs to the basement below, consider using the space below your stairs for built-in bookcases or deep long-term storage. Or, convert that space into a desk area for an office.




Rather than looking at underutilized rooms as unneeded extra space, imagine how you could convert them into rooms that better suit your lifestyle. An extra bedroom could become an office space or a craft room. An eat-in kitchen can replace a formal dining room, freeing up space for work, music practice, or even a first-floor bedroom for an aging family member. Basements and garages can be converted into fabrication space with no fear of getting things dirty. Some of these conversions only require a little furniture rearranging, while others may need walls moved or plumbing changes—costs vary accordingly.


A formal dining room with adjacent bath and closet (above) could be converted into a firstfloor bedroom suite to allow for aging in place. Adding a shower and reframing walls might get expensive but could be a good investment, depending on the needs of your household.


+ ENERGY EFFICIENCY Making a house brighter, warmer, and more energy-efficient is an investment in the future. Cost-effective modern fixtures and appliances make retrofitting an older home easier than ever before. Attic and window insulation (via storm windows, weather stripping and exterior caulk) should be your highest priority. Insulating the attic and windows is usually the most cost effective approach and limits the need to replace existing wall surfaces. If a house needs to be completely rewired or have its plumbing replaced (as in the case of the house pictured here, which was extensively damaged through illegal scrapping activity) sidewall insulation can be added to improve thermal efficiency.

Helen Liggett 40




One of the simplest things you can do to increase air ventilation is unstick any windows that have been painted shut. Many old homes were designed with natural cross-ventilation when windows are open. Houses with higher ceilings increase the cross ventilation effect. Š todayshomeowner.com




Consider awnings for south facing windows to reduce solar heat gain in summer months.

Plant trees on the south and west sides of a house for shade in the summer months.

+ Helen Liggett

Dry cellulose insulation is used in retrofitting old homes by blowing the cellulose into holes drilled into the tops of the walls. This form of insulation does settle as much as 20% but the stated R-value of the cellulose is accurate after settling occurs. In addition, a dense-pack option can be used to reduce settling and further minimize air gaps. Dense-pack places pressure on the cavity, and should be done by an experienced installer. Š homeenergyrescue.com


Install ceiling fans in second floor spaces and converted attics.



Choose light fixtures appropriate to the time period of a house. Or choose simple, contemporary fixtures for interior lighting. Given the large number of houses being demolished in some Ohio cities, you may be able to salvage beautiful and unique fixtures from other properties and from specialty architectural salvage stores. If there’s already an electrical box in place, rewiring a vintage light into place is a relatively easy and inexpensive DIY project.


Before adding new lighting fixtures to an old house, investigate the existing electrical system. Many old houses weren’t wired for the type of electrical loads most contemporary households need. If you’re adding a significant number of fixtures, it’s a good idea to hire a licensed electrician to inspect your wiring and point out any potential problem-spots.

Helen Liggett 43 43

+ DESIGN INSPIRATION Many of the design ideas featured in this guide emerged from of an architecture studio at Kent State University’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED) and the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC). The design/REbuild studio is part of an on-going effort to re-imagine Cleveland’s vacant houses as assets, instead of eyesores. The renovations made in the studio demonstrate how innovative design ideas can increase the value of overlooked and endangered housing. Through 2014 and 2015, Kent State students in architecture, construction management, and interior design were guided by CAED faculty and CUDC staff through a process of developing innovative, low-cost design ideas for vacant houses. The first house selected is in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side. Though the house was a full-gut rehab, the budget was limited to $30,000. The small budget required that every design idea had to enhance the house without adding unnecessary costs. The students converted a two-family brick house into a single-family loft house with a modern aesthetic and plenty of special detailing. Revenues from the sale of the house will fund the rehab of another house in the same neighborhood. We hope that the houses transformed through the design/REbuild program and the design ideas captured in the process will inspire you to rediscover the value of vacant housing in your city.



Derek Chang

Helen Liggett




Helen Liggett


Clockwise from top: (1) Student design for a lofted interior space, made by cutting an opening in the first-floor ceiling. (2) A fresh coat of paint changes a space from drab to cheerful. (3) Volunteers work on the design RE/build house. (4) New windows and a side deck create a welcoming appearance. (5) Open shelving and wood counter-tops make a kitchen feel warm and bright.

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+ ADDITIONAL RESOURCES MATERIALS + Habitat for Humanity REstore 2110 W 110th St, Cleveland 216-429-1299 Good source for inexpensive used building materials like doors, cabinets, sinks, windows, and appliances. Also some tools for construction. + Old School Architectural Salvage 2401 Center Street, Cleveland By appointment: 216-509-5303 Hardwood flooring, lab tables, large doors, lockers, and other items salvaged from schools deconstructed in the Cleveland area. + LORAIN AVENUE ANTIQUES DISTRICT Lorain Avenue, W 41st to W 81st Streets Some stores sell antique hardware, doorknobs, lighting fixtures, fireplace mantles, and other period-appropriate items. You can also find pre-owned appliances like refrigerators and stoves for reasonable prices. + The Stock Pile, CANTON 1387 Clarendon Avenue SW, Canton 330-455-4585. Nonprofit building material reuse warehouse with free memberships and a 20% discount for elderly, disabled, and low-to-moderate income customers. Paint, flooring, appliances, doors, windows, plumbing, etc. + FREECYCLE www.freecycle.org A free online network organized into listservs by geography (i.e. “Cleveland East�). Sign up and get access to offers for free items, or post with your specific construction needs. + McMaster-Carr www.mcmaster.com | 200 Aurora Industrial Parkway, Aurora 330-995-5500 Aurora, OH headquarters for any industrial hardware and fasteners. Good resource for industrial and stainless-steel items and workbenches/butcher block. Have shipped, or pick up from will-call at their Aurora headquarters. + METRO HARDWOODS 5801 Train Avenue, Cleveland 216-651-2345 An urban sawmill specializing in rough-sawn hardwood slabs harvested from street trees in the City of Cleveland. + CLEVELAND LUMBER 9410 Madison Avenue, Cleveland 216-961-5550 West side independent lumber yard, also carrying decking, molding, paneling, hardware, and specialty items like columns.


HOME REHABILITATION + CLEVELAND RESTORATION SOCIETY www.clevelandrestoration.org | 216-426-1000 Non-profit preservation organization offering low-interest financing programs and technical advice via workshops and an online Preservation Toolbox Comprehensive links section for many how-to guides. + National Park Service Preservation Briefs series www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs + SHPO Building Doctor www.ohiohistory.org/buildingdoctor Includes links for old building property owners. + THIS OLD HOUSE magazine / website www.thisoldhouse.com Articles on small- and large-scale home improvement specific to old houses. + OLD HOUSE JOURNAL MAGAZINE/WEBSITE www.oldhousejournal.com Detailed articles on specific restoration and maintenance of old homes, including building science issues like weatherization. + FINE HOMEBUILDING magazine / website www.finehomebuilding.com Detailed and well-illustrated articles on construction and renovation. Some are free, or you can sign up for a 14-day trial and get unlimited access to their online archives. + Caring for Your Old House: Guide for Owners and Residents Judith Kitchen Part of the Respectful Rehabilitation Series, this well-illustrated handbook offers comprehensive advice on researching, repairing and maintaining an old home, including inspecting a house for possible purchase, what to expect when considering repairs to exterior and interior portions of the house, energy conservation methods, hiring architects and contractors, and ongoing maintenance. + RENOVATING OLD HOUSES: BRINGING NEW LIFE TO VINTAGE HOMES George Nash A comprehensive and detailed book covering all aspects of old-home renovation, from re-glazing a sash to restoring foundations.

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PRESERVATION RESOURCES + Heritage Ohio www.heritageohio.org • Preservation Ohio www.preserveohio.com • State Historic Preservation Office of the Ohio History Connection www.ohiohistory.org/shpo + CLEVELAND MEMORY PROJECT www.clevelandmemory.org Searchable online collection of photos, e-books, oral histories, videos, and other resources housed at Cleveland State University. Good source for images of historic houses in Cleveland, for reference or inspiration. + FIELD GUIDE TO AMERICAN HOUSES Virginia Savage McAlester Thorough and detailed book full of drawings and photographs of typical American housing styles. A great resource to determine the era of your home’s construction and restore historically-appropriate details.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS NEW LIFE FOR OLD HOMES was made possible in part by a grant from the Ohio History Connection’s History Fund. The History Fund is supported exclusively by voluntary donations of Ohio income tax refunds and designated gifts to the Ohio History Connection. www.ohiohistory.org/historyfund Support for the design/REbuild initiative came from the George Gund Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, the Sears-Swetland Foundation, the Helen Brown Fund, and Sandvick Architects. Special thanks to Antonia Marinucci, Jason Rohal, Matthew Koriath, Helen Liggett, and Kevin Gebura. Front cover images by Instagram user @urbanmutation - used with permission. Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative 1309 Euclid Ave, Suite 200 | Cleveland, OH 44115 www.cudc.kent.edu A companion publication to: design/REbuild College of Architecture and Environmental Design Kent State University www.design-REbuild.org August 2017

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New Life for Old Homes design guide for the low-cost rehab of vacant & abandoned hoUSING

Profile for Kent State CUDC

New Life for Old Homes  

A guidebook of low-cost, high impact ideas for the rehabilitation of vacant and abandoned houses that would otherwise be demolished.

New Life for Old Homes  

A guidebook of low-cost, high impact ideas for the rehabilitation of vacant and abandoned houses that would otherwise be demolished.

Profile for ksucudc