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REAL ESTATE

Jeff Devlin's Tips on Renovating a Historic Home

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jeff devlin (© 2011, DIY Network/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

Owning a home steeped in history is a dreamy scenario for many -- until they realize there's zero closet space and only one power outlet in their kitchen. What to do?

Enter Jeff Devlin, a contractor who gained fame on TV shows ranging from DIY Network's " I Hate My Bath" to HGTV's " Spice Up My Kitchen." His new series, " Stone House Revival" (premiering on Wednesday at 10 p.m. on the DIY Network), will follow Devlin and his team through Bucks County, PA, as they save and transform dilapidated homes dating as far back as 1775.

"There's such beauty in the imperfection of an old house," Devlin says. True, but does he have any advice for those "imperfect" parts that need fixing? While he admits it's no easy task to renovate an old home, with the right guidance and these trade secrets, anyone can create their own history. He explains how:

Question: How did you get started in home restoration and renovating?

Jeff Devlin: I started building birdhouses for my church at a young age, and that ability to create overtook me -- to start with a slab of wood and turn it into something new. So years later as a carpenter, I was almost cocky and thought I could handle any task. I showed up to a job restoring an old home, and I was told to take boards from the attic and use hand tools to create plane marks. I had never done that. I had to learn on the job, how to sharpen my chisel, how to care for every element. I developed an appreciation for how long it took to build a house back then, and I never lost it.

Q: What are the challenges of buying an old home?

JD: I hate to scare people, but old homes are very difficult because they do cost more in the end than a new home. It takes a lot of experience to restore these homes properly, so the craftsmen who work on your home, like masons, are a higher-paying trade. If you want to gut the whole place, an old house isn't for you. There are plenty of great reproduction homes on the market.

Q: What are the upsides of an old home, besides its obvious charm?

JD: Houses 200 to 300 years ago were well thought out, well cared for, and the craftsmanship is incomparable. Old homes were built incredibly well and are extremely energy-efficient with just a fireplace. Three-foot stone walls coupled with 2-foot-by-6-foot walls and windows that allow for a little breathability really heat up a home.

Q: How do you know an old home you're eyeing isn't the dreaded "money pit"?

JD: All old homes are money pits to a point, but a regular house can be, too. My top concern is the foundation. Look at the outside of an old house carefully for damage. One groundhog causing havoc in the corner of a house can cost $100,000 worth of damage in masonry. Everything is fixable; you just have to know what you're willing to deal with.

Q: What are some classic mistakes people make when renovating an old home?

JD: They try to modernize it too much, and the house won't be receptive to it. People think they can move a toilet without issue, but these houses were very purposeful in where the plumbing ran. Or, you want to put in air conditioning, rightfully so, but you need to look at the right system for your space, like a high-velocity system.

Q: Any renovation shopping secrets?

JD: Seek a community of local artisans -- the lumber yard, the mom and pop stores. I guarantee you there's someone within 10 miles of your house right now. These craftsmen will give you free advice because that's what they love to do. So get in your car and go talk to them in person. It might be $50 cheaper to order it online, but you run the risk of it not being right.

Q: What's the biggest mistake a homeowner can make during a renovation of any home, old or new?

JD: It's easy to rush, take shortcuts, and start to justify your mistakes instead of fixing them. If you take a little bit more time, you would have a better result.

Q: What's your favorite project you've worked on?

JD: My crme de la crme is the floor I made in Lancaster. When I bought the house, it had a vinyl floor with radiant heat underneath. The radiant heat had leaks, so I had to replace it all. I used reclaimed weatherboard flooring and hand-nailed every piece myself for three days. Everyone thought I was crazy. I just remember being done, standing up, and thinking, that's the base for everything. That's the tone I set for the whole house. It put the heart back in the home.

Q: Is there any certain type who is drawn to old homes?

JD: You're the type of person that names the mice running across the floor! But seriously, you recognize that you're living in a unique home and you want to preserve the character. You become a part of the past.