Our Old House
May 6, 2013 7:10 AM   Subscribe

What are your recommendations for resources (online or in print) that specialize in repair and maintenance of older homes?

Our home is about a hundred years old and is mostly original as far as I can tell. Previous owners redid the kitchen, but all of the non-plumbed rooms have original wood flooring, horsehair plaster walls, solid wood doors, and original hardware. We love the aesthetic and want to keep it this way as much as possible, but we do need to do some minor repair work here and there - typical old home stuff like doors not quite closing, plaster needing touching up, and layers and layers of paint that need to be removed from wood surfaces.

What are some good resources that address common repair and maintenance issues that are particular to older homes? I want to know how to repair the doors without replacing them with cheap new ones, how to take care of the floors, how to repair old plaster, stuff like that. I don't really need to know how to replace old plumbing and wiring (thankfully that's all modern and up to code as far as we can tell). Books are fine, websites are fine. If there are resources on modernizing vintage homes, I'd be interested in that, too (I'm thinking specifically about, say, adding power outlets to walls with plaster and lath instead of drywall).

posted by backseatpilot to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is the magazine my in-laws subscribe to. I can't vouch for it, but they have an old Victorian in Dorchester that they've had a lot of work done on over the years.
posted by bondcliff at 7:14 AM on May 6, 2013

This has been my go-to book (I have the whole set--you can get it on Amazon, but get the newer edition with the spiral binding so it opens flat---but the rest of the set is really more for newer houses) for our 140-year old house. It does everything you need---doors, plaster, glummy paint removal, etc. Once you're familiar with it, you can branch out and get the specific books for doors and windows, flooring, etc., if you want to tackle a really big job.
posted by resurrexit at 7:29 AM on May 6, 2013

If you go to a used bookstore you can still find plenty of those old Time Life home repair books like these. I have an older house and these are perfect.

Many of the details and fixtures and piping, wiring, and exterior things are identical to my older house. It makes understanding and repairing things much simpler. Most of the modern books start from a place where the item you need to repair or replace is made of modern materials, so it doesn't translate immediately unless you already know a bit about things.
posted by sanka at 7:47 AM on May 6, 2013

I have the second edition so I can't speak to the 4th, but this book is excellent for general older house knowledge, even if you don't plan large renovation projects.
posted by true at 7:51 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding bondcliff on Old House Journal. Don't be put off by their not very good website--the magazine is great. There's also This Old House.
posted by scratch at 8:06 AM on May 6, 2013

This previous AskMe has some suggestions for forums/communities if you ever find yourself with specific-to-you questions you want input on.
posted by drlith at 8:23 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sanka--I used to work in that series, and gee, just don't take my advice on installing a tin roof! This Old House, Bungelow magazine (even if you don't have an actual Bungelow) are both useful.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:56 AM on May 6, 2013

I really like This Old House, and I'm not even a homeowner, much less the owner of an old house. The TV shows (TOH and Ask This Old House) are both aimed at demonstrating both newly available materials and technologies for updating a house as well as the repair of older home technologies.

Here's how to fix lath-and-plaster walls. They have loads of videos about floors: repairing broken boards, reducing squeaks.

I didn't see a video from TOH specific to doing electrical outlets in l&p walls, but youtube has this video which appears to do the job. Great reason to buy a reciprocating saw.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:59 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sanka, that's the set---though I'd get the spiral-bound ones if you're going to invest in the complete set. Also, I know where Ideefixe is coming from on using the books in the set for some jobs (like added a shed dormer to your house's roof--uh, you're probably going to need more than a few pages to know how to do that if you're reading how-to books), but if you're living in an old house, the single volume called The Old House is really worth the five bucks you can get one for online. It's exactly what the OP is asking for---it covers fixing up old doors, windows, hardware, wood floors, appliances, paint removal, repairing hand-crafted details, etc.
posted by resurrexit at 12:47 PM on May 6, 2013

The NPS preservation briefs are great.
posted by sepviva at 6:13 PM on May 6, 2013

Is there a local hardware store in your neighborhood?

When we owned our little 1920's bungalow, we spent a lot of time with the guys at our neighborhood hardware store. That place had tons of knowledge of the specific types of construction in our neighborhood and they stocked a treasure trove of vintage parts. When something vintage wasn't available they knew how to retrofit a modern part. And when I asked them for advice on jobs that were too big for me to do on my own, they told me so.

If you can find a neighborhood hardware store, then go there. Absolutely worth having those people on your side. A big box hardware store cannot compete with local knowledge.
posted by 26.2 at 9:50 PM on May 6, 2013

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