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Renovating an Older Home? Don't Forget Small Details

I'm a home handyman and have renovated several older homes over the past twenty years.

Dated door knobs can age a home. You can easily replace them with more modern hardware.

Dated door knobs can age a home. You can easily replace them with more modern hardware.

When Renovating an Older Home, Small Details Count

Unless you're restoring a historical property, the goal of most home renovations is to give an older, dated home a fresh modern look.

While the larger home renovation projects, such as painting walls, replacing flooring and updating kitchen cabinets and countertops may have the biggest "wow factor", smaller details—such as changing hardware and updating electrical outlets—can truly put the icing on the cake.

How to Spot The Small Things That Date a Home

One of the best ways to get a good idea of what modern-looking features you should include in your renovation is to visit a new model home in an up-and-coming development. High-end features to look for are modern-looking light switches and outlet covers, new knobs and cabinet pulls, and even small items such as door stoppers and vent covers.

You might want to take some photos of the items builders are using in newer, high-end showcase homes, and try to replicate some of those details when doing your renovation.

We replaced the tired looking hinges on the right with new brushed nickel ones.

We replaced the tired looking hinges on the right with new brushed nickel ones.

Replacing Door Knobs and Hinges

Door knobs are one of the small things that can really date a home. Gold hardware may be seeing something of a renaissance, yet old, tarnished gold knobs are one of the quickest ways to notice the age of a home, as they were quite popular in the 80's and 90s.

In the photo above, we've replaced our old door knobs with Kwikset Lisbon style handles, which have a much more modern look than the older round knobs. Door knobs are easy to replace, and you can find many helpful YouTube videos on how to change a door knob out. It typically takes about 15 minutes to remove and replace an old door knob and the only tool you may need is a Phillips screwdriver.

Replacing Old Hinges

Old door hinges, which have often been over-painted in "well lived in" homes, can give away the age an older home. For a fresh new look, consider switching old door hinges out for newer style brushed nickel, stainless steel or black metal ones. We replaced all of our old gold door hinges with new brushed nickel hinges, as seen in the photo above, for a, cleaner, fresher look.

Replacing door hinges can be an easy task, especially if you take off and replace one hinge at a time while the door is still standing. Having a helper hold the door upright can make this task much easier, especially for doors with only two hinges. The only tool that you'll need is a Phillips screwdriver, or a drill/driver with a Phillips head bit.

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Update Older Homes With New Outlets

New outlets and switch covers can add the final touch that your home renovation needs to bring an old house into the twenty-first century. Newer outlet and switch styles, such as Decora style, are easier to clean and have a much more contemporary look. In our home renovation we chose to use Decora electrical outlets which included tamper resistant plug features. Tamper-resistant outlets can help protect children from electrical shocks. This type of outlet (seen in the second half of the photo above) are also easier much easier to clean.

Should You Change Outlets or Switches Yourself?

Swapping out an old outlet or wall switch is a job that can be done safely and easily, if you follow all recommended procedures along with local electrical regulations. There are YouTube tutorials on how to change outlets and switches, as well as handy guides such as Black and Decker's The Complete Guide to Home Wiring, which we consult ourselves, for more complicated wiring situations such as three-way switches.

If you are in doubt of your ability to perform home electrical work it's best to call a local electrician. The cost for changing out an electrical outlet varies greatly. According to, it can range from $110–134 per outlet, which is why you may want to learn how to do this simple task yourself by using books such as the aforementioned Black and Decker guide.

Old vent cover after painting.

Old vent cover after painting.

Replace or Paint Old AC Vent Covers

In homes with forced-air heating and cooling, old vent covers that are dirty and faded can make a home look very dated. New AC vent covers, such as the ones in the photo above, can cost between $20–40 each.

For this reason, you may want to try painting your old vent covers instead of replacing them with new ones. We cleaned our old vent covers with soap and water, let them dry, and used Krylon glossy white spray paint, applied in two separate coats, to renew them. Our cost to repaint our old AC vent covers came out to around $2 each, which was much cheaper than buying new ones.


Final Touches for Your Home Renovation

Little details such as those mentioned above can really make any renovation of an older home "pop". Often missed however, are the very small hardware items, such as door stoppers. We replaced our old spring-type door stoppers with more modern looking brushed nickel ones. (You'll want to do this after you've repainted baseboard moulding, so you don't have to remove the new ones as we had to.)

You'll love the look of your home if you make some of these small changes. Small home renovation details like the ones we've mentioned can easily take twenty or more years off the appearance of your home, and vastly increase its resale value.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Nolen Hart

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