Uncover the hidden problems in old houses.
Old homes have a wonderful character. The architecture and heritage of a home that has stood for half a century or longer is appealing to some homebuyers.
But the fascination of wooden floors that have been trod on for generations and the charm of interesting details, like gingerbread trim can mask a wealth of not-so-charming problems.
And by “wealth”, I mean common problems that are costly to repair.
Before you decide that a lovely, old house will truly be your dream, take the time to uncover the hidden problems that lurk in there.
- Rotting doors and windows. Years of weathering and water can add up to rotting and possibly mold. Putting new windows into a very old structure can be a challenge, requiring reframing and mold mitigation.
- Foundation flaws. The quality of the initial construction will show in the foundation—and it worsens with age. Look for cracks, chips, and flakes in the foundation. Check to see if the doors and windows are level. If they don’t close properly, the fault could be rising up from the foundation.
- Leaky roof. The cost to replace the roof is a five-figure expense, so make sure you know how stable the roof is on the old house. Look for cracked or missing roof tiles and unsecured flashing. Inside the attic, inspect the insulation to see if you find signs of moisture or cracks of daylight sneaking in through gaps in the roof. Water stains on inside ceilings might indicate a leaky roof, but could also result from leaky windows or plumbing, which leads me to the next point.
- Faulty plumbing. An old house can be plumbed like a patchwork quilt. Over the decades, various homeowners have attempted to fix and patch problems. Maybe they did a good job, but do you want to gamble? Old homes that were plumbed with pipes made of galvanized steel, lead, or polybutylene for water supply—which are no longer used—will need an overhaul. Some insurance companies will not give a policy for these homes. Other piping, such as brass, copper, cast iron, and PVC, has a lifespan, so be clear on what the home has, and when it was installed.
- Wiring is haywire. Just like the plumbing, an old home’s electrical wiring is a hidden problem, but one that should be explored before buying the house. Old wiring—like knot and tube wiring—can become brittle, which is a fire hazard. Depending on the age of the home, the electrical system might be wired with an outdated fuse box that can’t handle modern needs. Tripped circuits and popped fuses are a clear sign you need to rewire. Flickering lights, switches that hum or buzz, and discolored outlets or light switches also indicate an electrical issue.
Before you commit to an old house’s charm and character, make sure you understand the structural issues that aren’t as easy to see as the nice woodwork and inlays. Know the cost of bringing the old house up to modern standards so you can live safely and comfortably.