Restoring Toronto’s Older Homes

Unique Challenges to Upgrading Toronto Century Homes

Toronto has a large inventory of heritage and century homes. Whether you’re attracted to Victorian Architecture or you love the idea of having a tangible connection to the past, the allure of a century home can be hard to resist.

Living in these old homes can be a joy, they will also be a “labour of love” -  you must prepare for the potential challenges.

Related Article: The bigger the task, the more trust you need to put into the hands of seasoned professionals. Read “How to Avoid a Home Renovation Nightmare”.

Hidden Challenges, Costs, and Considerations When Renovating Older Toronto Homes

We are about to list a number of problems that older homes present. If your house has seen its share of wear and tear, 50 plus years of misguided DIY projects, or issues that have been left untouched for decades, a professional contractor will help you prioritize the tasks and keep you focused on the goal of maintaining the character of your home.


1. Plumbing, Waterproofing & Drainage Issues

Building science is an ever-expanding field and improvements are being made every year.  So, naturally any system for underfloor drainage or perimeter drainage built before 1975 would be inadequate to current building code standards.  Some of the tell-tale signs of water or moisture damage are: musty smells in the basement, water spots on the ceiling, or mould forming - anywhere.

Issues with Galvanized Pipes

Homes built before the 1960s often used galvanized pipes for plumbing. Galvanized piping is susceptible to corrosion and rust resulting in uneven and/or low water flow.  We recommend replacing all the pipes in your older home with either PEX (crosslinked polyethylene) or copper, so you won’t have to contend with corrosion, rust or leaks; you’ll sleep well at night knowing it was money well spent. 

Connection to the Sewer

You are also responsible for the sewer line from your house to the city line.  Older homes may have sewer lines made from clay, cast iron, or Orangeburg.  Cast iron pipes are susceptible to corrosion; clay pipes are an open invitation to root intrusion and can get crushed very easily.

Have your pipes inspected by a reputable plumber using a specialized camera that can assess the full length of the line.  If the pipes are compromised they should be replaced with ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) piping. The City of Toronto is offering rebates to homeowners who update their sewage systems and install backflow valves.  It will significantly reduce the probability of basement flooding from the sewage system.


2. Foundation & Structural Issues

If the floor is uneven, to an extent you can easily see it and feel it while walking around the home, then a thorough home inspection is required to understand the severity of the problem.  Uneven floors could be a foundational or structural problem. If it’s foundational – it means the foundation may have lost its integrity and is no longer properly supporting the house. If it’s structural – it could be a problem with the support beams that are holding up the house.  Either way – it’s a serious situation that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

We recommend having a certified structural engineer assess the soundness of your foundation. Typically, hairline cracks in concrete are not a major structural problem but may be contribute to a moisture problem – which is another serious problem – mould can cause health problems for your family. Costs to repair a foundation are often costly.  Once the foundation has been repaired and brought up to Ontario Building Code standards – your foundation should be worry-free for generations to come. Any good contractor will make sure the foundation restoration includes adequate waterproofing and drainage.

Related Article: Building a new foundation for an addition? See some of our previous projects here.

3. Electrical Upgrades

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Over the past 60 years, we have really changed how we use our homes, we have refrigerators of course but, we’ve added Hi-Def big screen TV’s, clothes dryers, air conditioners and home offices.  These modern conveniences and changes in work style have made an impact on how much electricity is required in our homes. Most renovators will give homeowners an upgraded electrical panel and increase the amperage to 150 – 200 Amps, that’s what’s required to handle demand.  Some appliances for example, dryers and refrigerators require a dedicated circuit breaker.

Century houses will usually have minimal electrical outlets.  Renovators are more attuned to clients’ needs when installing outlets – with the focus on convenient locations.  Speak with your electrician about installing outlets that include USB ports, for ease of charging electronic devices. A certified electrician will ensure the Ontario Electrical Code requirements are fulfilled for all outlets, including AFCI (arc-fault circuit interrupter) and GFI (ground-fault interrupter) – which lessens the likelihood of an electrical shock or fire.


4. Roofing Issues

Water intrusion is the death of a house over time, so the soundness of a roof is critical to the health of old and new structures.

From the interior of the home, water spots on the ceiling are an obvious sign of water intrusion, but this is not always indicative of roof problems. Plumbing leaks and window leaks can also cause these stains.

Water spots on exterior walls can be a sign of flashing issues on the roof, and a quick inspection of the roof shingles or tiles can reveal common problems, such as unsecured flashing, cracked shingles, cupping and missing tiles. A quick inspection of the attic insulation for signs of moisture and a search for daylight under the roof boards are also worthwhile. 


5. Infestations

Insects – such as termites, bees, wasps, ants, or mammals – such as mice, squirrels, raccoons love living in warm sheltered locations.  Older homes can be an easy target - especially if the home requires repair or has some areas of neglect.

When left unattended, these critters can cause serious damage to the structural integrity of a home, as well as to the mechanical systems. It’s best to search for any signs of infestation and deal with it immediately.

6. Heat Loss

Old windows and doors can be a major location point for heat loss.  Poorly installed or badly maintained windows and doors can cause excessive heat loss. It may just be a case of proper caulking, otherwise it may require replacement of all windows and doors.   

You may also have to check for water damage - if poorly flashed or failing windows have been leaking for some time you may also have to contend with rot, mold and mildew.  Make sure you replace your windows with the double or triple paned glass with Argon Gas insulation – it’s possible that the damage will require you to replace work on the exterior facade of the home, reframing some wall and underfloor sections, and interior work, not to mention possible mold mitigation.

Related Article: There are many things you can do to your old home to save on energy and utility costs. Read more here.

Get the Most out of Your Century Home

If after reading this list – you feel invigorated and not defeated, by all means dive in and purchase that century home.  As with any venture – hard work often makes the rewards that much sweeter. You could have your very own piece of the history – a real tangible link to the past.  When renovating your older Toronto home ensure your renovator will keep the character of your home while giving you many 21st century amenities.

Putting your home project in the hands of the Toronto design + build experts at Bryant Renovations with over 40 years of experience will make sure your old home gets the love and support it needs to last for many more years.

Contact us today to see how we can help bring life into the oldest Toronto homes.