How to Prioritize Repairs in 100 Year Old Building

Tools for home repair

I’ve just moved into a new apartment, in a building that’s around a hundred years old. I’ll be asking a lot of questions in the future, but my first question regards choosing a priority area of focus.  There are 3 areas of concern:

#1 Water Damaged Walls and Chipping Paint

There is water damage to the walls with chipping paint that looks very old and there is accompanying yellow orange bubbling (almost like old sun worn spray foam/great stuff).

#2 Worn & Damaged Hardwood Floor

Then there is the beautiful hard wood floor. It has various areas of water damage, decades of foot traffic wear, possibly some burns from smokers many years old, and some cracking here and there. I would not want to replace anything, but rather restore it all and fill in cracks with a metallic copper epoxy.

#3 Worn Bathroom Fixtures

The next area of focus would be the bathroom sink, toilet, tub, and various wood work around the house. I have no idea how to get the decades of grime out of the tub, or taking the rust out of the sink (CLR is not working).

I have experience with the first two options, but not the third.  If you can help me prioritize these projects, and provide tips on how to go about getting the projects done, I would love to hear your suggestions. Thank you for your time!

The Money Pit Answer

Your questions are understandable as many in your situation have the same question which is not what needs to be repaired, but what needs to be repaired first!

Generally speaking, repair priority should be based on first doing repairs that are needed to preserve a building for further damage.  So, for example, you'd fix a leaking roof before you remodels a worn out bath.  In your case, none of these repairs seems to negatively impact the structure or mechanical systems, so the good news is that you can proceed as budget and timing allow.  That said, I do have some suggestions that may help you decide.

Water Damaged Walls and Chipping Paint: I assume that the cause of the water damage has been addressed.  If not, that should be your first priority.  As for the paint and other substances, given that the building is 100-years old, there is a significant risk that this paint contains lead, which can be dangerous, especially to children.  You'll need to have the paint tested and if it is lead, find a trained, certified and experienced lead paint remediation company.

Worn & Damaged Hardwood Floor: This is a pretty easy fix.  Given the condition the floors need to be sanded, a job I'd hire a floor contractor to do.  These reason this may not be a DIY project as it requires an experienced using a large, heavy floor belt sander -- which is a machine that can easily damage your floor if not used by an experienced pro.  The only thing really odd about your proposed repair is that you talk about "fill in cracks with a metallic copper epoxy", which is a material I'm unfamiliar with and seems unusual.  If after sanding you have cracks to fill, that would be done with a floor filler material.

As for any gaps you may have between the boards, those can be filed with jute rope, pressed down in place and then covered with the floor finish (oil-based polyurethane is best).  While there are other techniques we'd recommend if the damage was minimal, deep stains or gouges require the floor to be sanded.

Worn Bathroom Fixtures: Remodeling a bathroom is always a smart home improvement project as updated bathrooms, as well as kitchens, generally provide a good return on investment.  The condition of the finish you describe sounds to me like its simply worn and all the "cleaning" in the world is not going to make it any better.

There's no emergent reason you need to do the floor or bathroom projects.  However, my advice would be to first determine if the paint is lead based, and then take it from there.  If lead paint removal is needed, it's a project that would interrupt either of the other two projects.

Good luck and let us know if you have further questions!