What to Expect When Buying An Older Home

Older homes and vintage dwellings fascinate many first-time homebuyers. Classic crown moldings, trim, and high-quality woodwork and craftsmanship are hard to find in newer construction. Older homes tend to offer residents a sturdier construction and aesthetically-pleasing facades that you’d be hard-pressed to find in a McMansion. But behind the charming exterior of an older home can hide a range of issues that can quickly have many homebuyers staring wistfully at the local rental listings. So, what issues can you expect when buying an older home?

1. NO INSULATION

Before the 1970s, energy was cheap. Most homes constructed before this era weren’t made with any insulation. Any insulating materials you do find behind the walls are typically balled up newspaper, or strips of cloth that won’t do much to keep your heat or cold air from escaping. When buying an older home, be prepared for higher energy bills, or set aside some room in the budget to have insulation installed.

2. OUTDATED WIRING AND ELECTRICAL ISSUES

Mid-century homes required very basic electrical systems. If you go back even further, many homes were not even constructed initially with any electrical wiring or outlets. In a lot of older homes, the wiring is a patchwork of outdated systems and materials. You may find old knob and tube wiring, ungrounded outlets, or wires insulated with cloth. AT the time, these materials were considered durable and long-lasting. But homes age like anything else, and what was once state-of-the-art electrical work fifty years ago is now a fire hazard. Buyers may need to consider having extensive electrical work completed so their older home can service modern-day appliances without catching fire.

3. OLD PIPES

Many older homes were constructed with cast iron drains and pipes. At the time of construction, these materials were considered indestructible. But again, things age and decay. And if your pipes or drains were not appropriately sloped, rust and other damage may be extensive. Buying an older home? Have a licensed plumber video-scope the lines to check for damage.

4. ASBESTOS IN OLDER HOMES

Asbestos was used as a fire retardant in the early and middle part of the last century. Unfortunately, asbestos is “friable” material. When the material breaks down, the microscopic asbestos fibers can become inhaled and lodged in the lungs and eventually cause cancer. When older homes were constructed, asbestos materials were used in a wide range of things, including ceiling and floor tiles, and pipe and wiring insulation.

Asbestos is not used in modern-day home construction because of its cancerous properties. It’s impossible to know by looking at a home if it was made with asbestos. Homeowners would be wise to have the materials tested by a lab. When asbestos is intact, it is not harmful. Asbestos siding, ceiling materials, or tiles that are in good condition can be left alone. But when homeowners want to tear out suspected asbestos materials for a remodeling job, this is risky.

5. LEAD PAINT

The older your home, the more likely it has lead-based paint. The federal government didn’t ban lead-based paint from housing until 1978, so if your home was built before then there’s a good chance it contains lead based paint. Peeling, or chipping lead-based paint is a hazard and needs immediate attention. If you think your home might contain lead paint, or just want peace of mind that it doesn’t, consider having a lead paint inspection.

Before buying any home, regardless of its age, it’s important to have a licensed and experienced home inspector go through the property and create a detailed inspection report. This gives potential homeowners a heads up on what types of issues an older home may have before they purchase the property.

 

Guest blog by Grant Waller of PacWest Home Inspections in Beaverton, Oregon

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