Q: What are the potential issues to be aware of when buying – and maintaining – an older home?
A: Although older homes are very desirable and charming, they also come with potential issues. This article describes some of the common risks associated with older – what many refer to as character – homes.
Outdated or unsafe electrical systems: Many older homes do not have a properly grounded system, which is important to keep the home safe. A two wire system; known as Knob & Tube, is especially dangerous as the sheathing can deteriorate over time, possibly leading to fires. In addition, older homes have usually been renovated at some point. Often these homes contain mixed wiring (old and new) and or hidden junction boxes, again increasing the potential of electrical fires. Other electrical issues include limited circuits and aluminum branch wiring.
Environmental concerns: Many older homes contain asbestos, which has been proven to cause cancer when disturbed and inhaled. Lead paint was frequently used as well, which can be toxic. Buried oil tanks pose a serious environmental concern, especially when they leak. Removing one can be an expensive ($40,000 or much more) proposition, so it is best to have the property scanned for one before you buy. All interior environmental issues should be dealt with by a Hazmat (hazardous materials) contractor before renovations take place.
Outdated, damaged or missing drain tile: Antiquated drain tile (usually made from clay or concrete) tends to break down over time. This condition can allow run off to erode the below ground foundation wall, causing a whole host of other problems such as structural issues, moisture ingress, musty basements and mold. This existing drain tile should be scoped out by a drainage contractor to determine its condition. Updating the system is both necessary and potentially expensive.
Inadequate/poor ventilation: Ventilation issues can lead to excess indoor humidity, poor indoor air quality and mold problems. This can have a negative impact of the residents of the home. Attics, bathrooms, dryers and kitchens should all have proper venting.
Structural issues: Settlement, older building materials, past renovations and weak foundation walls contribute structural concerns in older homes. If your home inspector points out any red flags, be sure to consult a structural engineer.
Incorrect, unsafe renovations: To save time and money, people often upgraded their homes without pulling the proper permits and or having post inspections completed. This can lead to future safety hazards. The problems arise when you remove walls, only to discover structural flaws, dangerous wiring, and environmental concerns that must be corrected.
Outdated plumbing materials: Cast iron, lead pipes and galvanized steel were common plumbing materials in older homes. Over the years, the pipes crack, leak at the threaded joints and rust out in the middle. All outdated plumbing materials should be upgraded to modern standards.
Higher energy costs: Loosely built older homes are expensive to heat and can be uncomfortable, especially during the winter. Inadequate or missing insulation is common. It is wise to have an energy audit performed so you can determine the necessary changes needed for modern living.