Don’t let your dream home become a nightmare. Always complete a professional home inspection when buying a home — especially an older home. A thorough home inspection will help you identify potential issues before you buy.
Older homes can be a great option for buyers on a budget since houses from certain eras often sell for less than modern homes. However, this does come with trade-offs like less square footage and a healthy dose of upgrades to meet current building standards.
This is why it's so important to have a professional inspect a home before you buy. Standard home buying contracts include a contingency clause that lets buyers cancel the contract, renegotiate the purchase price or request repairs if problems are found during a home inspection.
Homes by Decade
If you are in the market for an older home, here are some of the common household repair problems to watch out for in houses from the past century:
When considering a turn-of-the-century abode, have your home inspector look at the parts of the house you can't see — like the wiring, plumbing, insulation and foundation. For example, in 100-year-old homes, it's common for floors to settle and tilt. This could be a simple cosmetic issue or it be a sign of serious — and expensive — foundation damage.
Many older homes fail to meet modern safety standards. For example, builders in the Roaring Twenties used inexpensive construction techniques like balloon framing that still exist in some homes from this era. The house frame itself is sturdy, but wide, unfilled gaps between wooden beams are a fire hazard. Fire-blocking material can be added as insulation to prevent a fire from spreading.
Outdated plumbing and sewer systems can cause major problems if left unchecked. Homes built in the ‘30s may have sewer lines made with terra-cotta. This clay is soft and can break easily, leading to fluid leakage and soil contamination.
Also, many homes built before 1970 lack proper ventilation and can be prone to high levels of Radon, a naturally occurring gas that can be harmful when allowed to accumulate in enclosed space. Testing for Radon is easy and inexpensive, and levels can be reduced by sealing cracks in the foundation and improving household air flow with energy-efficient windows and roofs.
Homes built during this decade often have their water main and sewer lines placed too close together. You can buy a home with non-regulation plumbing without replacing it. But should a line break, you may be required to pay not just for a replacement but also the costs of upgrading the system to meet current standards.
Also prior to the 1950s, masonry fireplaces were built unlined. This allows chimney bricks to be directly exposed to the smoke from a fire which is unsafe and can become a fire hazard. Unfilled cracks between bricks also allow carbon monoxide gas to enter the home. Avoid lighting a fire in your classic fireplace until you can have a licensed chimney sweep line your unit.
Plumbing and electrical problems are not uncommon in homes from this period. Cast-iron sewer lines, which were a popular building material until the 1980s, corrode easily and can be costly to replace.
And since less electricity was used to power a home when these houses were built, ungrounded outlets and outdated wiring are also common issues with post-war houses. These can be a fire hazard and should be replaced as soon as possible.
Mid-century homes were built during a time when energy efficiency was less of a concern. Many of the dwellings lack proper insulation. This can be easily fixed with an insulation blower and a few hours of DIY.
Asbestos is also a concern in homes built prior to 1970s as the material was a popular filler for insulation, roofing, gas fireplaces and wall patching compounds. This toxic compound is extremely hazardous and must be removed carefully by an abatement professional.
Homes built before 1978 may contain lead paint, which is toxic if consumed. When you buy or rent an older home, you may be asked to sign a statement informing you of lead paint contained in your dwelling. Lead paint can be removed by a trained professional.
Many homes built before 1980 also have plumbing systems that use lead pipes or other lead-containing materials. This can contaminate your water supply. Only upgrading your entire plumbing system will ensure your water is lead-free.
Most homes built from the 1980s onward meet modern standards for comfort and safety. However, some homes built during this decade may still contain piping made of Polybutylene (PB). This material was discontinued in 1996 due to pipes bursting and homes flooding.
PB plumbing has been aggressively replaced in many American homes, but may still exist in houses built between 1978 and 1995. The damage caused by PB pipes was so severe that many insurance companies will refuse to insure homes that have it installed. PB pipes can be replaced by a professional plumber.
Home improvement loans from BECU
With classic architecture and old-world charm, historic homes offer residents a lifestyle like none other. The downside to this is the potential for repairs, which can add to a lot of time if you prefer to DIY, or a lot of funds if you bring in a contractor. But with a home improvement loan from BECU, you can enjoy the comforts of modern living in an older home with the peace of mind to tackle the unexpected.