Congratulations! You’ve found your historic home and have an accepted offer! You know that older homes have different problems than newer ones, but what are they? Here are a few things that your inspector should look out for.
1. Outdated Wiring
Many older homes still use their original electrical wiring, which may not be up to current safety standards. One of the earliest is “knob-and-tube”, named for the ceramic knobs and tubes used to support and protect the actual copper wiring. The rubber insulation in older wiring can break down over time and may need to be replaced to prevent overheating or short circuits.
Older wiring is also often missing a ground wire, which is an important safety component of modern electric systems. A tell tale sign that the house is missing a ground is two prong outlets. In some cases the original wiring can be updated to include a ground, but you’ll have to speak with an electrician to know for sure.
Some lenders will require an electrical inspection before they approve your loan. And some insurance companies won’t insure a house with knob-and-tube, regardless of its condition.
2. Fuse Boxes
Many older homes still have fuse boxes instead of newer circuit breaker panels. Because fuses are usually impractical and insufficient for today’s houses, many insurance companies will charge a premium for houses with fuse boxes, or simply refuse to insure the house at all. The best solution is to upgrade the fuse box to a circuit breaker panel.
If you’re doing the upgrade from fuse panel to breaker panel, consider upgrading the electrical system from 100 amps to 200 amps at the same time. This will allow you to meet all the electrical needs in today’s home without overloading your system.
3. Lead Paint
Before it was banned in 1978, lead was commonly used in building paint. We now know that this is extremely dangerous – especially for young children – although this isn’t necessarily a problem if the paint is in good condition or has been painted over. But if the paint is peeling, or if you’re going to be scraping or sanding it off, you should get it tested first. If the paint does contain lead, consult a professional trained in lead paint remediation.
From the 1940s to the 1970s, asbestos was used as a thermal insulation – especially on basement boilers, tiles and pipes. Now we know that exposure to asbestos is extremely dangerous; it can cause lung damage and cancer. If you suspect that a home has asbestos, contact a trained professional to assess it. You should avoid disturbing it, and you should never attempt to remove it yourself.
5. Galvanized Pipes
Homes built before about 1960 often have “galvanized” water pipes – pipes dipped in zinc to prevent corrosion and rust. However, galvanized pipes don’t age well – they rust and corrode on the inside, which can result in low water pressure and potential water quality issues. If the home has galvanized pipe you should consider getting it replaced. Talk to a plumber about pricing and options.
6. Old Furnaces
Make note of the age and condition of the furnace, especially if it’s getting to the end of its life span. Furnaces can be expensive to replace, but older inefficient furnaces can be expensive and dangerous to run.
7. Old Water Heaters
As with the furnace, make note of the age and condition of the hot water heater, especially if it’s more than 8-12 years old. Water heaters are relatively inexpensive to replace, preventing potentially expensive water damage, emergency plumber costs or inconvenience.
8. Old Roof
You definitely want to do a thorough roof inspection prior to closing. Roofs can be very expensive to repair or replace, and insurance doesn’t necessarily cover roof issues related to age.
Even if the house you’re considering has all these issues, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be made safe or that you shouldn’t buy it. It will just take money, or work, or both. It depends on what kind of deal you can get from the seller and/or contractors, and if it’s worth it to you.