Old homes offer the kind of charm and architectural detail you just can’t find in many newly constructed subdivisions. Built-in bookcases, ornate trim and large, decorative windows are among the qualities that attract buyers to old homes, but along with those amenities, buyers may be taking on some maintenance problems.
If you’re thinking about buying a home built before the 1950s, understand the types of repairs you may be dealing with, as aging structures and systems deteriorate. Following are three of the most common pitfalls of owning an older home.
Even in newly constructed homes, moisture is a threat to foundations and other key structural supports, so if a home was built 100 years ago, it’s important to look for signs of previous moisture damage.
When shopping for older homes, look for signs of moisture infiltration, such as warped floorboards, bubbling or peeling plaster or discolored areas on the ceilings. If any of these signs are present, the next step is to determine what caused the moisture. Old structures — particularly those with ornate roofs or attic windows — may separate in places, allowing moisture to seep in from above. But often, excess moisture is a result of improper grading around the home.
Early 20th century builders often made a working area called a “builder’s trench” around a home’s foundation, which was filled with dirt once construction was complete. But if the soil used in the trench was of a different composition, less compacted or included construction debris, it may allow for the accumulation of excess moisture in the soil. Adding topsoil around the exterior of the home could correct problems with exterior grading and drainage, but if you’re considering buying a home that shows signs of moisture damage, make sure your inspector carefully evaluates the cost of repairing any existing damage.
Homes built in the early 1900s used radiators connected to a central boiler for heating. And even though those systems may be outdated compared to modern forced-air furnaces, they don’t necessarily need to be replaced. But they may need to be upgraded or repaired to effectively heat your home.
Radiators have either one pipe at the bottom, which supplies the device with a fixed amount of steam, or two pipes — one of which can be manually adjusted to control the amount of steam supplied to the radiator. The two-pipe setup is much more efficient, and it can be converted to run on hot-water circulation, rather than steam, allowing for less lag time between when you turn on the heat and feel it warm a room.
A professional contractor can retrofit radiators to provide different levels of heating, with separate thermostats controlling separate zones of the home. Get an estimate for this type of work before deciding whether to purchase an older home equipped with radiators.
If you’re looking at a home that was built before the television was manufactured, odds are, it isn’t wired to accommodate your needs. Appliances in modern-day homes require about 200 amps of power, whereas an old home may be able to offer only 60 amps and have an insufficient number of outlets.
Upgrading aging wiring systems is a must, as overloading old wiring can damage appliances or cause a fire. Be prepared to pay between $3,000 and $5,000 for this upgrade, which could take several weeks to complete.
As long as you’re aware of the types of problems you may encounter in an older home and get estimates for the work that needs to be done, you can avoid buying a “money pit.”