Q: My wife and I plan to restore our 1850s post-and-beam farmhouse to its former (humble) glory. The exterior siding is wood clapboard, covered with asbestos-cement shingles, and the interior walls are plaster covered with layers of 1970s-era paneling and wallpaper. We don't know quite where to start — inside or out?

— David, Frankfort, N.Y.

A: Norm Abram replies: A project of this size needs a master plan, and that calls for a comprehensive survey of the house to determine what problems you're facing, particularly anything related to structure, wiring, heating and cooling, and plumbing. You might want to get a contractor to help you with this, even if you plan to do the actual remodeling yourself. Once you know exactly what has to be done, tackle the structural and mechanical problems first, and the cosmetic stuff second. For example, you ought to address a settled foundation before trying to fix stuck windows. A good rule of thumb is to start on the outside, at the top, and make sure the roof is tight to the weather. Then move down, buttoning up windows and outside walls before heading inside. Too many homeowners tackle the fun interior stuff first, then discover too late the leak that caused their newly plastered ceilings to crash onto the recently refinished floors. With a sound, weatherproof exterior, interior work won't go to waste.
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