Perched 30 miles off Cape Cod, Nantucket is famed for its historic New England charm, idyllic landscape, and jaw-dropping sandy beaches. But the pristine island is more than sun and surf. Nantucket has since become the go-to place for people looking for a vacation home at sea, thanks to its soaring real estate market.

You can tap into this island’s vibrant real estate market by buying a house for keeps as your second home or rent it out to Nantucket vacationers. Buying a house instead of building one gives you the convenience of location but denies you the freedom to customize it to suit your taste.

But you have the option to renovate your new house and transform it into your dream home. Home renovations can be fulfilling, rewarding, and transformational. However, renovating a property in Nantucket is challenging, especially if you are new to the island. But it’s guaranteed to go more seamlessly if you know a few insider tricks.

Here are the eight essential renovation tips for homes in Nantucket.

Obtain Approval from the Nantucket Historic District Commission

The Historic District Commission (HDC) preserves the island’s historical, architectural, and cultural charm. Thus, they have stringent regulations governing redesigning houses on the island.

It helps if your contractor understands the HDC’s regulations before approving a design plan. So it’s best to work with inland contractors because they know the nuances of construction and renovation on the island.

Depending on the location of your home and the changes you want to make, there are uncompromising rules. You need approval for everything from the exterior paint color to the style of doors and windows, the house’s height, and the roof’s shape.

Stick to Nantucket’s Approved Paint Colors

There’s a popular notion in Nantucket that the Historic District Commission approves only 12 exterior paint colors – Nantucket Red, Main Street Yellow, Essex Green, Hamilton Blue, and Quaker Gray, to name a few. However, the HDC can approve any exterior color if it reflects Nantucket’s historic charm.

The paint color guidelines provide shade and hue intensity recommendations for specific architectural features. Also, keep in mind your color choices should complement those of adjacent buildings and overall setting.

Adhere to the Regulations of the Health Department

One crucial consideration when remodeling your home is to comply with the health department’s requirements. It is essential significantly when reworking the water and sewer lines.

Some laws govern installing a septic system or drilling a water well in certain areas like the Watershed Protection Districts. The requirements vary with location, so it’s essential to consult a professional conversant with the laws and regulations.

Engage an Architect or Contractor

Enlisting professional help when starting on renovation will help you stick to your budget and save you money in the long run. Engaging a professional architect or contractor who has experience working on the island will ensure you have a smooth renovation experience.

Considering Nantucket is 30 miles out at sea, there are several restrictions that off-island contractors and architects must be informed about. Ensure the contractor is registered with a professional body, is up to speed with local regulations, and has the right qualifications to do the job.

The island’s extreme weather conditions affect the final outlook. An architect or contractor who can remodel your home to withstand high humidity, high winds, and salty air will help ensure it lasts for decades.

“Building with Nantucket in Mind”

If you plan to build in Nantucket, it’s advisable to get Building With Nantucket in Mind, authored by J. Christopher Lang and Kate Stout.

The book is an exhaustive set of guidelines on Nantucket’s history and defining principles on the island’s landscape and architecture. It is a must-read if you want to learn more about construction and design details while adhering to the regulations.

Draft a Budget for the Renovations

You must get your finances right when planning a house renovation on this island. Careful budgeting is required to complete the project as cost-effectively as possible.

You’ll need to consider the cost of materials, hiring consultants, and labor. Factors affecting pricing are anything from the type and quality of finishes to the material choices and the complexity of AV and mechanical systems.

Considering the island’s distance from the mainland, the price for renovation materials is higher than anywhere in the US. Do as much window shopping to compare the costs of the materials you need.

Furthermore, choose labor within the island because if you outsource, you may have to cater for transport costs to the mainland and housing costs for the employees, which is an extra expense. Additionally, they may need to become familiar with construction and design in Nantucket, especially the regulations.

Also, consider setting up a contingency surplus so you won’t have to panic when things don’t go as planned.

Retain the Historic Fabric and Features

Renovations should cause minor interference with the original fabric to maintain the island’s integrity. Defining elements with historic features must be preserved to protect the island’s historical identity. The Nantucket Preservation Trust is dedicated to preserving the island’s architecture and maintaining its historic integrity.

Consider Permits, Restrictions, and Regulations

Construction and renovation regulations on the island are stringent. Failure to comply with these rules may attract severe penalties.

You do not want to renovate your house only to get into trouble with the regulatory authorities because it did not meet specific standards. To be safe, your architect or contractor can take you through the rules and regulations.

Another challenge to navigate is strict local zoning bylaws that require the original footprint to stay the same. Also, consider permits and restrictions before renovating your home, and remember that some upgrades require local licenses. Sensitive designs include a swimming pool and construction close to coastal banks and wetlands. There are also strict height restrictions.

Closing Remarks

Nantucket has since become a symbol of historic preservation, following its popularity as a leading vacation destination. This is why today, construction and renovation on the island are much more restricted and complicated than in other parts of the country.

Any building or renovation work will need to meet all the strict regulations while maintaining the integrity of Nantucket. All in all, while renovating a house can be time and financially consuming, it is worth it in the long run as you get to design a space you love.


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