These People Unearthed Secrets in Home Renovation Projects

Lindsey - November 6, 2023

When you start a home renovation, you never really know what to expect. Homeowners occasionally find themselves face-to-face with unsettling phenomena, like hidden rooms or concealed compartments that hint at past secrets. Moreover, the costs associated with unforeseen surprises can send a shiver down the spine (and through your bank account).

Careful planning, thorough inspections, and working with experienced professionals can help mitigate unexpected structural challenges, but what happens when the findings are spookier than electrical damage? Let’s take a look at some secrets uncovered in home renovation projects to stoke your curiosity and perhaps help you prepare for the unexpected.

Photo: Christie’s Real Estate

Hidden Rooms

Occasionally, home renovations can lead homeowners to concealed rooms or compartments unmarked on floor plans. Whether these rooms were used for clandestine or unsavory purposes or simply sealed off due to lack of use, finding one can create a fresh air of mystery for an otherwise inconspicuous home.

For example, a couple in Brighton, England, purchased a Victorian-era property in 2022. Unbeknownst to the couple, they would find a creepy room located behind a bathroom wall in their basement. A cast iron bed frame filled the room and nothing more. While they later learned the room was originally used for coal storage, the discovery of remains was chilling.

Photo: Newsweek

Old Letters

Unearthed letters or diaries from past residents can offer a glimpse into the lives of those who once called your home their own. These forgotten relics, often tucked away behind walls, beneath floors, or inside hidden nooks, capture moments in time. While some surprises might be spooky, letters and the like can add historical context and perhaps even value to your home.

However, not all letters offer historical value – some are just funny. Newsweek shared the story of a man who found a letter in a drawer during a renovation. The 1980s artifact was addressed to someone named Christy, and it captured a spectacularly blunt falling out between former friends. What do you think Christy did to cause such anger?

Photo: In the Know Parenting

Old Photographs

Similar to letters and diaries, home renovators may very well discover old photographs during their demolition. Snapshots may be captured in black and white or sepia tones, frozen in candid moments or formal poses. However they appear, the photographs can tell stories of celebrations, family gatherings, and everyday life, creating a bridge between a home’s past and present occupants.

Sometimes, though, photographs can shine a light on old practices that would be considered taboo or creepy today. A couple renovating a home built in 1914 found a box of Victorian-era treasures: old photos dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. When they looked more closely at the photos, most in formal portrait-style, they began to suspect some were “mourning tableaux.” This was a practice common in the Victorian era in which photographs were taken of loved ones after death in commemoration of their lives. In many ways, this discovery has allowed those pictured to live on much longer in death than they did in life.

Photo: artnet

Cash and Treasure

Home owners completing costly renovations might dream of discovering treasure during the process to offset their costs. Some lucky folks find the dream a reality. While the occurrence may be rare, it’s well-documented when it does happen.

In 2016, a Cleveland, Ohio, couple found a suitcase hidden in the ceiling of their basement. It contained $23,000 in cash hidden in 1951. One of the world’s larger finds, though, are the gold coins found by a U.K. couple. The rare pieces date from 1610 to 1727. Originally expected to bring in $288,000 at auction, the final tally was just over $800,000! However, not every find is straightforward, as this $182,000 discovery led to conflict and litigation between contractor and homeowner.

Photo: KTVZ

Antique Objects

People have found antique objects or forgotten trinkets tucked away in walls, floors, or ceilings during renovations. While these items could be valuable (see the gold coins example above) and lead you to dreams of becoming a star on Antiques Roadshow, they’re often just unique items that may have meant a lot to the former residents of your home.

A heartwarming example of this is the 1,600 baseball cards a woman found while renovating a home in Boise, Idaho. The cards from the 1970s and 80s were glued to the walls of a bedroom – revealed when stripping back the top covering. She ended up getting in touch with a gentleman who grew up in the house. He remembered completing the project with his parents when he was a kid – a happy memory he was glad to relive.

Photo: The Guardian

Human Remains

While rare, some homeowners have the unpleasant experience of uncovering human remains during renovations. If this happens, it’s important to pause renovation, preserve the site, and contact authorities to investigate and handle the situation as appropriate. Such occurrences aren’t always related to crimes, as true crime programming would have us believe. This grim discovery typically involves old burial grounds or forgotten graves.

While not during a home renovation, one of the most famous examples has to be the discovery of King Richard III’s remains in a car park in Leicester, England. Buried at Greyfriars Church in the 1400s, that location has morphed over the centuries. Now, the car park where he was found is considered a national monument and his remains have been relocated to Leicester Cathedral in March 2015.

Photo: iHeart

Unexpected Messages

Finding an unexpected message during a home renovation can take various forms, from handwritten notes tucked inside walls to graffiti or inscriptions etched onto beams. Finding words from yesteryear could be creepy, but it could also just be a bit of a look into the past – a piece of encouragement or well-wishes.

In perhaps a best case scenario, a message you find during a renovation might even be funny! This was the case for a couple renovating a bathroom. Their contractor found a note from former owners that introduced themselves and said, “We remodeled this bathroom summer 1995. If you’re reading this, that means you’re remodeling the bathroom again. What’s wrong with the way we did it?!?!?” This obviously playful message was a fun surprise, unlike some remodeling discoveries.

Photo: House Beautiful

Animals – Dead or Alive

Sharing the world with animals and other creatures means they may also be seeking shelter and warmth in the same places people do! Finding animals or remains as part of a home renovation is pretty common, but largely unwelcome. Renovations may expose animal nests, bones, or even the remains of deceased pets or wildlife.

For example, a Pennsylvania family found a cache of dead animal bodies used as insulation. Wrapped in old newspapers from the 1930s and 40s, they must have done a good job of keeping the former residents warm. In a happier instance of an animal interfering in a home renovation, a dog literally inserted itself into a woman’s bathroom renovation – poking its head through the floor! This dog, named Lulu, had a much happier ending and was reunited with its owner.


Cockroaches Found During Bathroom Renovation

“I had my bathroom remodeled, retiling everything & replacing the tub with just a shower. During the remodel, all the walls were opened up & the shower floor was rebuilt. Before the remodel there were never any roaches. Now, every other night or so when I go in the bathroom there are a couple of baby roaches crawling around on the floor. I’m pretty sure they’re coming from the shower drain, although it’s possible they could be coming from the space around the pipe before the stop valve (to the toilet). Why are these little buggers showing up now?”

Cockroaches can be unexpectedly encountered during a bathroom renovation for several reasons. Bathrooms are typically warm and humid environments, making them conducive for cockroaches, which thrive in such conditions. Additionally, hidden spaces, such as behind wall tiles, inside plumbing fixtures, or within floor gaps, can provide ideal shelter for these resilient pests. During renovations, disturbances to these concealed areas may displace or reveal cockroach populations that have remained hidden for some time. Moreover, cockroaches are attracted to moisture and organic matter, which can accumulate in bathrooms over the years.

Photo: HGTV

Mold and Mildew

Sometimes, surprises during home renovation can pose significant health risks. The discovery of mold is a prime example, as it can have far-reaching consequences on the well-being of both residents and construction workers. When mold is uncovered, it should immediately raise questions about the extent of the infestation, the type of mold involved, and potential health hazards. Prompt action, including the containment and removal of the mold, as well as addressing the source of moisture that enabled its growth, becomes essential to ensure a safe and healthy living environment.

First, identify the type of mold to gauge its potential health risks and decide whether professional inspection is necessary. Determine the scope of the infestation; understanding whether it’s localized or widespread is pivotal for planning the remediation process. Investigate the root cause of the mold issue, typically involving leaks, water damage, or poor ventilation, and address it to prevent future growth. Check your homeowner’s insurance policy for potential coverage. Always follow safety precautions, wear protective gear, and maintain proper ventilation during removal. Often, professionals should be called for this process, as improper treatment can cause mold spores to spread.

Photo: This Old House


Homes built before the 1980s may contain asbestos in insulation, flooring, or ceilings. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral once used in various construction materials, can become airborne in the form of tiny, inhalable fibers when disturbed. Undisturbed it’s not so dangerous, but during renovation fibers can get stirred up. Breathing in these fibers can lead to serious health problems, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Demolishing walls, ceilings, or flooring can release asbestos fibers into the air, putting anyone in the home at risk.

Identifying asbestos-containing materials and taking appropriate precautions, such as professional asbestos removal or encapsulation, is essential to ensure the safety and well-being of all individuals involved in the renovation process. If you’re moving into an older home, consider putting away some money to budget for this potential reality.

Photo: Kind Home Solutions

Lead Paint

Similarly, homes constructed before 1978 may have lead-based paint. The dangers of lead-based paint are a matter of serious concern. When this paint deteriorates, peels, chips, or is sanded during renovations, it can release lead dust and lead-containing paint chips, posing significant health risks. Lead exposure, especially to young children and pregnant women, can result in a range of severe health problems, including developmental issues, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and even irreversible neurological damage.

Even minimal levels of lead in the body can have detrimental effects. As a result, it’s crucial to identify and safely address lead-based paint in older homes. Lead-based paint test kits can help with this, but be sure to call professionals if you have any questions. HGTV shares several tips to remove lead paint safely, including use of respirators and removing furniture and rugs from clean-up spaces until it’s over to avoid cross-contamination.

Photo: Guaranty Pest Control

Termite Infestations

Discovering pest infestations during a home renovation can be a disconcerting twist in an otherwise exciting project. Whether it’s rodents, insects, or termites, these unwanted intruders can pose serious issues for the structural integrity and safety of the home. Infestations may become evident when walls are opened, insulation is removed, or hidden spaces are exposed. Addressing the problem is vital, not only to protect the integrity of the renovation work but also to prevent health hazards and structural damage. Professionals may need to be brought in to assess and eradicate the infestation, followed by any necessary repairs or remediation.

A termite inspection is common and a great idea before purchasing a home. Inspectors call this a Wood Destroying Organisms inspection, as termites aren’t the only ones that may cause damage in this way. A qualified inspector will look for the small details the untrained eye might miss. They’ll also look at your property for conditions that might lead to future infestations, including firewood and debris, wood siding touching soil, mulching materials, landscape timbers and deteriorated wood nearby. According to Turner Pest, “Termites cause more than $5 billion in property damage each year, and are known as ‘silent destroyers’ because of their ability to chew through wood, flooring and even wallpaper undetected.”

Photo: Reddit

Hidden Safes or Caches

Homeowners have occasionally stumbled upon concealed safes or hidden caches within walls or floorboards. The contents of these discoveries can range from valuable items to mysterious keepsakes. That is, if the homeowners can crack their codes (or find a way inside without)!

In yet another captivating tale of hidden treasures within the confines of one’s home, a couple stumbled upon a safe concealed within their kitchen while dismantling an antiquated kitchen island. The safe’s contents, which included a bingo card, a mysterious blue book, an apparently aged bottle of liquor, and, most astonishingly, a substantial sum of cash totaling just over $51,000, added an element of enchantment to their renovation project. However, the safe’s enigmatic contents also left them with lingering questions and a sense of intrigue, as they embarked on the task of unraveling the mysteries that lay within its secure confines.

Photo: Our Vintage Bungalow

Vintage Wallpaper or Wall Murals

Peeling away layers of old wallpaper during renovations can reveal vintage wall coverings, showcasing the design preferences of a bygone era. Homeowners may question whether to preserve these charming remnants of the past as part of the home’s history or to update the space with a fresh, modern look more suited to their tastes. And while old wallpaper may need to be replaced, playing with modern statement-making designs is always a good idea.

Plus, should you encounter wallpaper during a renovation project, you can document the layers as part of the history of your home. Tammy of Our Vintage Bungalow shared her family’s wallpaper documentation as they worked through 120 years of design choices. Even if you make changes, inspiration from the past could be the key to your beautiful home.

Photo: ARTnews

400 Year Old Artwork

A kitchen renovation can make a huge difference within a home – both for the current residents and potential future buyers. Aside from improved functionality, it can add an aesthetic appeal. But what happens when hidden art is found during a kitchen renovation? Well, homeowners then face a choice: whether to preserve these found masterpieces as part of the home’s history or to incorporate them into the updated decor, celebrating the fusion of past and present.

Such was the case for an apartment dweller in the English city of York. His contractors discovered a biblically-themed fresco behind a kitchen wall! He was disappointed when said contractors continued installing cabinets, but he later found more of the 400-year-old world extended in another space of his home. Now, the owner can enjoy the fresco and is working to have it properly assessed and preserved.

Photo: Today

Decades Old McDonalds Wrappers

The article goes on to discuss findings including a donkey grave, historical maps, prohibition-era bottles, and more. Renovation work can reveal historical artifacts, certainly, but sometimes those remnants are especially strange. Today tells the story of Grace and Rob Jones, who began renovations on their 69-year-old home in 2022. When Rob removed a built-in toilet paper holder, he found decades-old McDonald’s wrappers and “neatly preserved french fries.” It was a kind of time capsule, though perhaps not the one they’d have chosen.

Renovations can truly be a journey through time, where the walls and hidden corners of an old home or building hold secrets waiting to be unveiled. These unexpected relics of the past not only add a touch of mystery to the renovation process but also remind us of the layers of history that are often concealed within the structures we inhabit. The Jones’ unusual find of fast-food remnants serves as a testament to the serendipity of such endeavors, offering a glimpse into the culinary preferences and lifestyle of a bygone era, and perhaps prompting homeowners to embrace the unpredictability that comes with the preservation and transformation of their living spaces.


Unusual or Historical Artifacts

Occasionally, important historical documents, such as newspapers, letters, or legal papers, have been found hidden within the structure of a home, providing insights into the past. Sometimes renovators will find more valuable historic items – like pottery or tell-tale remnants from the past.

According to This Old House, “Ideally, if you live in an old house you should call the state historic-preservation office before you begin work on an addition. But if the backhoe crashes into pottery fragments while breaking ground, it’s not too late. In most states, unless you come across human remains, you’re not obligated to call in the experts. However, proper identification of artifacts—even a dig of the site—could reveal a lot about the earlier occupants.”

Photo: Arch20

Unique Building Materials

Sometimes new homeowners will find unconventional building materials used in their renovation projects. You might think vintage bricks, reclaimed timber, or even repurposed industrial elements are odd in today’s modern era. However, there are even odder materials that have been used in construction over the years. These aren’t necessarily in homes, but can you imagine coming across them during a renovation project?

Homes have been created out of recycled bottles, corncobs, legos, cork, aluminum cans, and glass. Have you seen trending shipping container homes? Shipping container homes are actually a sustainable and cost-effective housing solution, repurposing discarded shipping containers into functional living spaces. These innovative dwellings offer versatility, with their modular design allowing for customization and easy transport, making them an increasingly popular choice for eco-conscious homeowners seeking efficient and unique housing options. What materials would you be surprised by and love to see in your future home?


Walled-Up Windows

It may sound counterintuitive, but there are a number of reasons why homeowners might choose to wall over windows. If a window provides a direct view into a neighbor’s house (and vice versa, someone might close up a window for more privacy or for more security on a ground-level window. They could also want better furniture placement or to create functional built-ins. Older windows may not be energy-efficient, leading to heat loss or drafts. Walling over the window can improve the insulation of the room, potentially reducing heating and cooling costs. Perhaps one of the most common reasons are structural concerns and compliance – changes in local building codes.

In some cases, homeowners may need to obtain the necessary permits and follow building codes to carry out this modification legally – especially in a historic home. An interior designer shared her journey of unwalling a window in an upstairs space in their home. After seeing windows on the outside that didn’t exist on the instead, she decided this must be what happened: the prior owners didn’t want to bother with permits and just made the interior changes they wanted. It’ll be hard to understand why they did it originally after seeing the beautifully restored version!

Photo: Wikipedia

Bizarre or Secret Passages

Discovering a secret passage during a home renovation is like stepping into the pages of a mystery or adventure novel. The possibilities are endless: from clandestine escapes to hidden chambers. The decision to preserve and incorporate a secret passage leads to interesting decision-making for homeowners, but with care they can make it their own.

A woman who purchased a 148-year-old home recently shared her secret passage find. In the video she posted, she shows a narrow door that looks like it should lead into an upstairs bathroom. However, there’s no door into the bathroom from that side. When she opens the door, viewers can see it houses a staircase that’s been blocked off. This is made less creepy by the stickers with 1970s icons adorning the back of the door. Commenters speculate it leads to former servants’ quarters turned into a teen bedroom, but time and further exploration will tell!