It’s going to get messy, and walls hide a lot of secrets.” That’s the note of caution Erin Shipps, creator, executive producer and host of Kansas City-based web series “ShowMe Renovation”, gives to investors looking to rehab old homes. “Any renovation project has the potential to make a mess, but old homes especially can be filled with lead paint, asbestos tiles, mold, and sometimes a century of dust and grime,” she said.

ShowMe Renovation, owned by Think Realty’s founder and CEO of its parent company, Affinity Worldwide, Mike Wrenn, specializes in houses from 40 to more than 100 years old.

Truly Nitty-Gritty

When Shipps dives into a new project, she makes it her policy to expect the unexpected. “We do intense stuff,” she explained, citing “trenching walls to replace old knob-and-tube (K&T) wiring, hazardous material abatement, and tearing out old brick chimney vents.” She added, “As an investor, it can be tempting to cut corners in old houses, but we always encourage best safety practices, no matter how much money and time they take. You’ll likely need to address ungrounded outlets, old plumbing pipes, lath and plaster walls, layers of shingles, old siding, rotting wood floors, overgrown yards, and cracked foundations, to name just a few. It’s certainly more fun to put money into granite countertops and cool light fixtures, but old homes soak up a lot of money in things unseen.”

It might sound like Shipps is speaking a different language than most rehabbers, but if you’re going to renovate older homes you need to know what she is talking about, or work with a contractor who does. For example, K&T wiring was commonly used to wire homes for electricity through about 1950. It generally has more wires than modern options and may provide poor connections. Many insurance companies will not cover homes with K&T wiring and local building codes may require you to upgrade the wiring. “We use a lot more power in our homes today than they did 50 years ago,” Shipps said. “In addition to removing dangerous knob-and-tube, you’ll also want to look at upgrading your electrical panel to 200A.”

Hazardous material abatement involves the removal and disposal of hazardous materials such as asbestos or lead, as well as remediation of mold and other environmental issues, which Shipps recommends leaving to specialists. “It’s not something to mess around with,” she warned. 

Finally, Shipps sometimes finds herself dealing with brick chimneys that were part of the original venting systems, and typically built around during modern renovations. “We find vents in all kinds of places, including one we removed from a corner of a kitchen that also ran up through a bedroom closet. It wasn’t necessary as a vent anymore and by taking it out, we gained much needed kitchen and closet space,” she said.

Getting to the “Good Stuff”

ShowMe Renovation uses a team of interior designers that really make the show’s rehabs stand out. “Color choices can be a little bolder in older homes. All of my designers are painting ceilings now, either in the same color as the walls or in shades around the wall color,” she said. “I also always think about functionality and flow. Old homes can suffer from decades of dysfunctional upgrades. Really spend some time in your spaces and figure out the best function and flow for a modern family. It’s often a balance of preservation and renovation.”

Shipps’ best advice for renovating old homes? “Be prepared, but have fun!” she said. “It’s messy, tedious, and sometimes very costly, but it’s always, always worth the adventure.”

You can learn more about old-home renovation and watch ShowMe Renovation at

  • Carole VanSickle Ellis

    Carole VanSickle Ellis serves as the news editor and COO of Self-Directed Investor (SDI) Society, a membership organization dedicated to the needs of self-directed investors interested in alternative investment vehicles, including real estate. Learn more at or reach Carole directly by emailing

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