Whether you are buying or selling an older home, there are “old-house” problems you should familiarize yourself with. Get to know the signs and costs associated with the repair of some of the most common problems. There is no magic number signifying an older home. However, anything 30 years or older qualifies as an older home, in which some of the following problems may be an issue.
Poor drainage and waterproofing: You might see signs of mold on the walls of an old home, but more often you will smell the musty gasses released by mold hidden in walls, attics and underfloor framing. Drainage around and under most older homes is insufficient by today’s standards. If a house has a musty smell, consider an inspection by a professional environmental testing company.
Old windows and doors: Old windows and doors can be a major intrusion point for water, resulting in dry rot and the mold issue described above. Flashing around older windows and doors can be insufficient or even non-existent. The glass in these windows is often single pane offering very little insulating properties. Older doors may be very thin with single pane glass windows incorporated in them.
Leaking roofs: Water spots on exterior ceilings or walls can be a sign of shingle, tile or flashing issues on the roof. Inspecting the roof can reveal common problems such as unsecured flashing, cracked shingles, cupping and missing tiles. An inspection of the attic sheathing and insulation for signs of moisture, and a search for daylight under the roof boards can also reveal problems. The cost to repair or replace a roof varies greatly. If warranted, you should get an estimate from a local roofing professional.
Foundation issues: Sticking windows or doors that don’t latch properly can be caused by foundation issues. Drywall cracks, especially over doors and windows can also signal a foundation or footer problem. Your inspector should check for bulges in foundation walls or any section that does not appear plumb. If the floors are uneven to the extent that you can easily see and feel while walking the home, an inspection by a structural engineer should be considered.
Code changes: Narrow hallways and ladder-like stairways are examples of old-world charm. If you’re planning to update an old home’s design, be sure to seek the advice of both an architect and a builder regarding up to date building codes. Also, an architect can tell you what can be done, while a builder should be able to estimate what that conceptual plan might cost.
Environmental hazards: Asbestos, lead paint and lead pipes are often found in older homes. Buyers should be informed about the prevalence of lead in older houses and how to test for lead. That’s especially true if the buyers have young children, who are more susceptible to lead-related developmental issues. As with lead paint, asbestos is probably present in many parts of an older house. Asbestos might have been used for renovations over the years. For example, loose attic insulation in an old house could easily contain asbestos. Flooring that looks like linoleum might contain asbestos as well. Some builders also mixed asbestos into plaster for texture on walls and ceilings. In basements, you might find boiler pipes wrapped in asbestos insulation. As with mold issues, consider an inspection by a professional environmental testing company.
Repair limitations: Historic register committees may have a say in what’s allowable and what isn’t. Historic houses still have definite appeal to many home buyers. For buyers who have done their homework, structural oddities and renovations are an expected part of the process. For those buyers that have fallen in love with their first historic house, the issues and the level of authority held by historic registry’s might come as a surprise. Buyers should find out what is allowed and what is not.