Chris Depolo of Virginia works as a licensed home inspector. In the following article, Chris Depolo discusses the challenges of inspecting older homes, and the unique considerations and challenges that inspectors, buyers, and homeowners may face.
Loaded with charm and distinctiveness, older homes are often just as in-demand as newly built homes in a red-hot housing market.
According to an Old House Web survey, older homes are still seen as comparatively affordable historic gems. Over half of American homeowners own a house that was built before 1945. On top of that, nearly 36% owned homes between 1900 and 1945, and over 33% live in a home built in the 19th century.
However, the low cost and uniqueness that usually comes with older homes have a potential downside. As with the case in buying any home, a thorough home inspection is required for older homes — and many come with a different set of issues buyers may have to contend with before moving in.
Chris DePolo Explains Home Inspection Basics
An older home is usually inspected in the same way as a newer home. The goal is the same — a complete and comprehensive look at the overall condition of the space inside and out.
Chris Depolo of Virginia notes that ceilings, floors, windows, doors, and walls are assessed. Potential electrical and plumbing issues are pinpointed. It’s essential that home inspections are performed before putting a home up for sale and when a buyer makes an offer.
Chris Depolo of Virginia says that the average home inspection lasts around two hours. But inspections of older homes frequently take longer.
And they should. Even older homes that look pristine on the outside may be hiding a slew of internal issues influenced by wear and tear over time. Inspection issues in old homes often relate to outdated systems and materials, many of which are unknown to new homebuyers.
Chris Depolo of Virginia reports that extra inspection time is key to uncovering potential structural issues, code violations, and systems that are now obsolete.
Home building standards are constantly in flux. What was groundbreaking and affordable generations ago are neither in today’s homes.
Environmental issues are key. Older homes may have lead-based paint outside and inside. Lead is highly toxic and can lead to numerous health issues, particularly in children. It can lead to everything from dizziness and fatigue to motor skills issues.
Chris Depolo of Virginia explains that inspectors may locate asbestos, another carcinogenic material, in heating ducts and very old insulation. Exposure to asbestos is linked to several respiratory issues and lung cancer, and it can be found in insulation, paint, floor tiles, and even shingles on roofs.
While many states do not require inspectors to check for asbestos, it should be a priority to find one who does when purchasing an old or historic home.
Not every old home is a disaster waiting to happen. Many are still extremely structurally sound even if the building techniques, such as stick framing or beam framing, are unfamiliar and outdated.
Chris Depolo of Virginia says that inspections may suggest replacing entire structural components or parts of them to ensure longevity or address an issue that may appear not too far down the line. Homeowners who change the layout of old homes, such as removing walls or beams to create more open floor plans, may end up with a structure that is slowly sagging and leading to potential roof or ceiling collapses.
Mortar joints are a problem in older homes just as they can be in new homes. Compromised mortar may cause water damage both outside and inside a home.
Foundations of older homes may need to be inspected even more thoroughly. Old homes may have foundations of wood mudsill, brick, or materials no longer used to support homes. Inspectors should look for evidence of sloping floors related to crumbling or unsupportive foundations.
Age also has an impact on crawlspaces, attics, and features such as root cellars. Old homes that have been neglected for as little as a few years may find some unwelcome animal inhabitants (or their carcasses) in these spaces.
Chris DePolo notes that making sure an old home is up to code, uses efficient systems, and has proper plumbing is all key, but perhaps most essential is a safe electrical system. Old homes may have serious electrical issues tied to faulty wiring.
Outdated and inefficient wiring, such as knob-and-tube wiring, is often present. This type of wiring can impact insulation which has the potential to start a fire.
Chris DePolo also explains that old homes may also have aluminum wiring or ungrounded fixtures or receptacles. Inspectors should perform several electrical tests throughout older homes, even those dating from the 1950s.
The importance of home inspections in older homes lies in their ability to uncover potential safety hazards, structural deficiencies, and hidden problems that may be more apparent to the untrained eye down the line. From outdated electrical systems and plumbing issues to foundation weaknesses and environmental concerns, a thorough inspection protects buyers from unexpected and costly surprises down the road.
It’s important that buyers are provided with all relevant information so they can make a purchasing decision based on facts. Chris DePolo notes that every real estate consumer should prioritize gathering as much relevant information as possible before making a purchasing decision.