the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Farmhouse Renovation – Part II

I bet you can't guess that this is a modern addition to this house? It's all in the details

I bet you can’t guess that this is a modern addition to this house? It’s all in the details

So you’ve decided to preserve a bit of rural history and renovate your brick farmhouse. Here are a few items that you should know.

Yes, generally renovations cost more (approximately 5%). But the results are often more appreciated than building new and many of the large expenses are already taken care of such as exterior walls which can be up to 35% of construction costs. Always allow for a 5-10% construction contingency for unforeseen expenses, especially in a renovation. This will reduce stress about cost overruns as it will already be accounted for in your budgeting.

Modern Addition to Old Farmhouse, PLANT architect

Modern Addition to Old Farmhouse, PLANT architect

Modern interventions allowed! This is where a designer comes in really handy. They can give insight and design a modern addition that fits in with the character of the house without being too literal and nostalgic. Proportion and colour plays a big role in intervening in your traditional farmhouse. Check out the above example.  The architect used colour to tie in to the old house. And the proportion of the addition is just right, not to overpower, and to balance with the existing house.

subtle intervention to open the house to the outdoors

subtle intervention to open the house to the outdoors and let more light in

Farmhouses have certain typical characteristics that are not as desirable to modern farm families. These include dark interiors, small bedrooms, cold floors, no garages, one bathroom, etc. I’m sure you can add to this list. All these complaints can be solved in a renovation, such as opening up a wall on the south side to get some extra light deeper into the house and making sure that additions do not block more light from entering the house. Renovations can even fix those cold floors, with radiant in-floor heating.

very modern addition, but scaled and detailed to suit, using traditional materials (corten/rusted steel)

very modern addition, but scaled and detailed to suit, using traditional materials (corten/rusted steel)

You probably don’t like getting your energy bill if this is the first renovation to your farmhouse.   There are a few things you can do about that bill. First replace the windows, with new double pane, low e coated, thermally broken frames (ask me about this one!) and my personal preference wood frame windows. Wood frame windows will cost you a bit more, but they will suit the traditional farmhouse look better than vinyl windows. Next you can insulate your house. Insulation can be done either from the inside or the outside and it depends on the wall construction of your farmhouse. Some farmhouses have two layers of brick with a plaster finish on the interior. This is the most difficult to insulate, but I recommend it be done from the inside, however you will lose 4-6” of room area. If you have a wood stud wall you are in luck, it’s easy to insulate from the interior.  In both these situations you are only going to get 4-6” of insulation which is not much, so if your brick veneer is needing to be replaced you can insulate from the exterior out and reinstall the brick.

Interesting, creative, and appropriate renovation

Interesting, creative, and appropriate renovation

You need A LOT of PATIENCE. Your house has settled for 100 years so there are bound to be quirks, but the ‘bones’ of the house as I like to call them are solid. That’s why it’s worth renovating. Renovating always requires changes on the go with your contractor and your architect. Having an architect on board for renovations is a great asset for pre-planning and solving the flow and organization of your house within an existing footprint. The architect is also invaluable with assisting with unforeseen conditions in your house and resolving the details in clean efficient solutions during construction. Renovation is a juggling act, between budget, existing conditions, and other restraints.

reclaimed wood used in kitchen cabinets

reclaimed wood used in kitchen cabinets

There is lots of opportunity in an old farmhouse renovation to join traditional and contemporary details. I think the kids are calling this “shabby chic” these days! Bringing the history of the house into the renovation in meaningful ways is important to creating a cohesive renovation. Such as reusing the slate from the roof for furniture or flooring. Preservation is important but if the preservation doesn’t make sense with the new design you need to be willing to part ways with details that don’t make sense anymore.

As per the earlier post, the general design principles of farmhouses still apply. When preparing your design see how they fit in and can enhance your design. Views, flow and organization, authenticity, sustainability, and daylighting.

I’m glad you accepted the challenge of renovating your farmhouse. It’s important to keep a bit of history around and adapting it for new uses and modern living.

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