Inspecting an Older Home: 10 Things to Watch Out For
Last modified: 2019/12/03 | Approximate reading time 7 mins
For many aspiring homeowners, buying a home doesn’t necessarily mean opting for something new. In fact, some may have their eye on a home that was built several, even many years ago.
Buying an older home is synonymous with future complications and thus, comes with necessary precautions regarding your ability to make the right decision. But what elements should you really pay attention to before making the leap?
Pre-purchase inspection of an old home
If you’re looking for an issue with the foundation of a home, there are a few telltale signs. These include first the presence of an uneven floor, which can be easily uncovered by walking through the house. Another sign is any difficulty opening doors and windows, as well as the presence of cracks. However, when it comes to cracks around the home, it’ll take the expertise of a structural engineer to really understand their severity. To this point, do consider cracks around the home carefully. They can appear anywhere in the home, including on the walls, on the ceiling, and in the corner of doors and windows.
Minor cracks may only point towards minor repairs, but you’ll need a structural engineer to evaluate this. The opinion of an expert can be particularly useful when buying an older home, especially when it comes to detecting possible subsidence. This is because it’s not an easy thing to detect without the proper tools.
Finally, a careful inspection of the basement should be part of the tour. Take a close look at the walls, as this will allow you to identify the presence of mould, moisture or crumbling walls. If you notice mortar crumbling, this is a bad sign.
The french drain: missing or defective?
Although currently unthinkable, the absence of a drain in a home built before 1955 is fairly common. Some signs can easily show its absence, including traces of efflorescence at the base of the walls of the foundation (traces of whitish crystalline deposits), the presence of high humidity in the subsoil and water infiltration.
These signs can point to additional problems including plumbing failure or a lack of waterproof foundations, the absence of a drain and the issues that come alongside that cannot be ruled out.
Since installing a french drain costs between $5000 and $10,000, this could be an excellent time to renegotiate the selling price or re-evaluate your decision. As an indication, if there’s a drain and its not working properly due to clogging or debris, to have it replaced can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000.
What is the state of the roof?
When inside the home, do you notice dark circles on the ceiling or paint that’s peeling and curling? If this is the case, the house has certainly undergone water infiltration. This unfortunate situation will lead you toward the conclusion that it’s likely necessary that you’ll need to renovate your roof. This project will cost several thousand dollars. Also, note that a large number of missing shingles on the roof, as well as its advanced age, are other indications that don’t lie about the need to renovate your roof in the near future.
Additionally, be aware that other fees will apply for the attic inspection, as well as for repairs to mask the damage caused by water infiltration.
It’s well known that attic ventilation is essential to avoid the presence of high humidity that could damage materials. An inspection in which mould or dark circles are identified points to a problem, as well as possible water infiltration. In another regard, you should be aware that during the winter, the temperature should not approach that of the outdoors. If you find this is the case, it’s concrete proof that your attic lacks ventilation.
Taking a look at the insulation should be one of your top priorities. Indeed, if you find insulation less than 10 inches it's clearly insufficient. As for the presence of vermiculite, this issue shouldn't make you want to curl up into a ball! In the past, insulation was sometimes made from sawdust. Thus, to meet current insulation requirements, the presence of this insulation must be changed to fibreglass.
If your house is particularly old and its construction occurred before 1920, the foundation may be built out of the rubble (medium-sized natural stones) that have been joined with a mixture of cement and lime. Over time, it’s possible that the cement has crumbled. This crumbling is likely to have let water in through the interstices of the stones. To remedy the situation, it will be necessary to build another foundation parallel to the existing one.
Plumbing: compliant or not?
Was your home built before 1960? If this is the case, the pipes in the home are likely galvanized steel or cast iron. Their lifespan is about 40 to 50 years, and after this time, the pipes will rust from the inside out. The effect of this will reduce the water pressure and flow.
These circumstances are highly damaging, as they greatly increase the risk of leaks or breaks in the pipes. In addition, your insurance company may refuse to insure you in the absence of a complete change in plumbing, which would put you in a more undesirable situation.
Wondering how much it cost to work with a plumber? For more information, check out this article on the subject!
Electricity? In need of an update for an older home.
For those who have no knowledge on this subject, it can be difficult to get an idea of the state of electricity. Some things to note are the outlets and their numbers. If outlets only have two strands, they’ll need to be changed. Then, take a look at the connectors. If they are made of porcelain, this is also a bad sign.
Now, let’s talk about the electrical panel. If you have a fuse box, it will need to be updated. Most insurance companies may grumble at the thought of having to update your panel. Some may apply a fee or penalty in order to do so, so it’s crucial to be aware of this.
Fuse boxes pose a fire hazard, and this is why you won’t find them in newer homes. To learn more about signs which point to you needing to change your electrical panel, check out our article: changing your electrical panel.
While we’re on the topic of electricity, note that knob and tube wiring is not recommended. If the house you’re looking to buy was built before the 1950s, it may have this type of wiring, which consisted of neutral cables and charged cables, separated by ceramic knobs and tubes.
The danger behind this system relates to the fact that it doesn’t have grounding. Therefore, the wires are more likely to spoil and over time, lose their protective sheath. As a result, both types of wires can come into contact which can result in a fire.
In a second step, attention should be paid to the presence of aluminum cabling, the latter being commonly installed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But why can’t this type of system be maintained? The main problem is that aluminum is softer than copper, which makes it more likely to spoil over time. As a result, your home is exposed to the same fire hazard as the system mentioned above.
Another very important point to pay attention to is electrical wiring. As it’s an old house, it’s not impossible that the wiring will be defective. If this is the case, the lamps may emit a buzzing sound, your lights may flicker or there may be dark markings around the sockets. In one case as in the other, the state of the wiring should be questioned.
For those who wish for an overview of the costs of electrical work to be done, we’d suggest checking our article on the subject. In this way, you’ll be able to determine if the work represents a cost that you’re not inclined to assume.
Anyone who’s had their windows changed knows how expensive it is. Windows that have exceeded their lifespan (25 to 30 years) may allow air or water to enter, and more often than not both. Thus, it’s impossible to ignore this part of a renovation project. If this is the case for you, water ingress could damage the structure of your home and the intake of cold air could result in excessive heating costs. Be aware that soundproof windows are more than a worthwhile option for those who need to completely replace their fenestration and want to protect themselves from intrusive outside sound.
If the investment related to changing your windows doesn't scare you, we’d recommend checking out our article “how to know when to change your windows” as this will help you learn more about the options available.
Paint: is it lead-based?
Although lead paint is not necessarily a problem if it hasn't peeled (sealing is sufficient to counter the long-term dangers it may pose) the removal of lead paint may pose some risk if it has deteriorated over the years.
If you’re planning renovations inside the house, care should be taken not to neglect the security measures that apply to your situation.
An infestation in the house
If you walk in the house, and some noises coming from the walls make you wonder what's happening back there, you’re likely right to be worried. Whether it’s an infestation of termites, mice or insects, this undesirable presence can have serious consequences for the preservation of surfaces, insulation, and furniture inside the home.
Moreover, the small sharp teeth of rodents and their penchant for electric wires can lead to far more serious consequences such as the outbreak of a fire. Without demonizing these tiny animals that may be adorable to some, their presence still tends to release unpleasant odours.
Other aspects to consider when inspecting an old home
Among the items that haven’t been mentioned, there is the strength of railings, ramps, and balconies. Another very important point worth mentioning: the width of banister bars. Previously, bars were not subject to the same regulations regarding their width. The spacing between the bars could allow for the head of a child to escape, and this represents a great danger. If your staircase is not up to standard, you’ll have to pay for the change to keep toddlers safe.
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