The Hidden Problems in Old Houses
Homes age slowly, and most of the potential problems noted in this story gradually accrue. Continuous maintenance can greatly impact a home’s life, as can the original quality of construction, but the older a home is, the more likely you are to find issues impacting its livability and even safety.
Doors and windows that stick or do not latch properly can be caused by foundation issues, as can drywall cracks, especially over doors and windows. By executing a quick exterior inspection, you can check for bulges in foundation walls, or any section that does not appear plumb.
You can inspect the foundation for chipping and flaking, and if you see any, use a screwdriver to confirm the hardness of the concrete.
Hairline cracks in concrete are not usually indicative of a major problem, but an inspection by a certified structural engineer is the only way to know for sure whether something is an issue. Costs to repair a foundation can be as low as $1,000, but can also run substantially more, and in some cases foundations cannot be reasonably repaired.
See why concrete wants to crack
From the interior of the home, water spots on the ceiling are an obvious sign of water intrusion, but this is not always indicative of roof problems. Plumbing leaks and window leaks can also result in these stains.
Water spots on exterior walls can be a sign of flashing issues on the roof, and a quick inspection of the roof shingles or tiles can reveal common problems, such as unsecured flashing, cracked shingles, cupping and missing tiles. A quick inspection of the attic insulation for signs of moisture, and a search for daylight under the roof boards, is also worthwhile.
The cost to repair or replace a roof varies greatly, so if necessary you should get an estimate from a local roofer or contractor.
Antiquated features. The popcorn ceiling was once considered a modern touch. Today? Not so much.
Luckily popcorn ceilings can be removed. The downside is that this can cost $2,000 for a small job, and significantly more if the popcorn finish contains asbestos, which it might. A knowledgeable contractor will know if testing is required in your case.
Other issues, like out-of-style paint colors, fixture finishes, cabinets and countertops, all will result in costs to modernize. Painting is relatively easy, and even replacing fixtures can be a quick, rather painless update. But if there are significantly outdated cabinets, countertops and floor and shower tiles, you might have a $50,000 job on your hands.
Other common problems to consider include outdated plumbing and electrical systems, which can be difficult to determine without a thorough inspection by a professional.
Issues usually do not materialize in just a few years, but if your home is 50 or more years old, the perimeter and underfloor drainage is likely laughably insufficient by today’s standards, and unless it has been resolved and updated, is very likely to pose a problem at some point — if it hasn’t already. For many older homes, perimeter and underfloor drainage was not provided at all.
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. Much has been written about the dangers of mold to the health of a structure and, more important, its inhabitants.
If you smell the noxious, gassy byproduct of the mold anywhere, consider a thorough inspection by a professional. This can potentially be a major issue, as the cost to remove mold and properly install new drainage and waterproofing in a very old structure sometimes is not economically feasible.
Infestations. Don’t call the ghost hunters just yet. You may hear footsteps in the attic, but believe it or not, a spectral being may not be responsible. Termites are a possibility, for sure, but other lovely pests often harboring in nooks and crannies of old homes include bees, wasps, ants, birds and rodents of every kind. These critters can do serious damage to the structural integrity of a home, as well as to the mechanical systems. Signs of rodents should be investigated thoroughly underfloor and in the attic.
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Look carefully at old windows on old homes for signs of staining, mold or other damage.
The allure of a home with a past, and especially a historically relevant past, can be hard to resist. Just be sure you listen carefully to the messages the home is trying to tell you. That way, you and your home can enjoy a positive future.