Older homes are quite literally like owning a piece of history. But can these historical artifacts truly meet your modern needs?
In Dallas and Atlanta, most of our architecture is relatively new. When you find homes built in the 1920s like in M Streets, North Oak Cliff or Grant Park, you’ve really found a gem. Yet, there are some key watch-outs for buying an older home, whether it was built in the 1920s or 1970s.
Knowing these functional watch-outs can help you decide if these older homes can truly fit your modern day needs.
Watch-Out For Outdated Electrical:
Updating your electrical may be one of the first things you need to do if the home was built prior to the 1980s. Have a licensed electrician provide a consultation to tell you exactly what you need, but here are some things you may encounter:
- Knob and Tube Wiring: Knob-and-tube wiring was the standard form of wiring from the 1880s-1940s. It can be considered a fire hazard and very dangerous. You may need a complete rewire, or you may just need to update the electrical panel. Have an electrician take a look and give you their expert opinion.
- Aluminum Wiring: Homes from the mid 1960s to mind 1970s were wired with aluminum wiring. If you have aluminum wiring, you will likely want to replace it with modern day copper wiring. Again, have an expert take a look.
- Ungrounded Outlets: If your home was built before 1972 and there have not been any updates, you may have ungrounded outlets. It’s easy to notice ungrounded outlets if there are two-pronged outlets instead of three. However, there could be a three prong outlet with ungrounded wires. Ungrounded wires are a fire hazard. You can read more about the dangers of ungrounded outlets here. You can either replace any ungrounded outlets with GFCIs (used in bathrooms or kitchens) or have the problem remedied at the breaker panel. Again, have an expert test your outlets if your home was built before 1972 to make sure your outlets pose no potential dangers.
Watch-Out for Outdated Plumbing:
Plumbing is another major, big ticket item that may be in need of replacement or repair. There are four types of plumbing that typically make up all of the different plumbing materials. Some are more outdated than others.
- Cast Iron Pipes: cast iron pipes are highly durable and were used prior to 1980. Some cast iron pipes are nearing the end of their usable life and may be rusting or have cracks. Other cast iron pipes are still holding up and working perfectly well. It’s important to have a plumber do a scope of the pipes to advise on whether there are leaks or rust visible. He may even need to do a hydrostatic test to dig further.
- Copper Pipes: copper pipes were used around the 1970s and 1980s. Copper piping is very durable and is considered the gold standard in plumbing. Many of today’s homes use PVC and even PEX piping – both commonly used for their flexibility and affordability. If you have copper, PVC or PEX piping, you have modern day plumbing, and the materials themselves should not be a cause for concern. Still, do a self-check by running all the water in the shower, tub and sinks to spot check any noticeable issues with the water flow or drainage. Also, have an inspector or plumber take a look to get an expert opinion.
Watch-Out for Foundation Issues:
Foundation issues or concerns may also come up when taking a look at your potential home. Take a look at these 10 warning signs of foundation problems. Older homes are especially more susceptible to foundation issues.
- Pier and Beam foundation is a common foundation structure found in older homes. This foundation structure is different than a slab foundation (which is common in most newer homes) in that the house is slightly raised above the ground on concrete beams. Pier and Beam foundations have a crawl space with easy access to plumbing. There are many pros and cons to pier and beam foundations, but one thing about pier and beam structures is that foundation and plumbing repair is generally less costly and less intrusive than with a slab foundation. Pier and beam homes also are constantly shifting and moving. Changes in weather and the moisture content alone can cause some small shifting in pier and beam homes. This shifting may happen even on a home that’s generally level. If you’ve noticed warning signs of foundation problems and suspect that your potential home has some foundation issues, contact a foundation repair specialist. However, be aware that older homes may not ever be completely level. A foundation specialist can determine if any movement is within acceptable guidelines.
Watch-Out for Environmental Hazards:
There are some environmental concerns to take into account when buying an older home to make sure you and your family are completely safe.
- Asbestos: Asbestos is a material that was commonly used in houses and buildings between the 1930s and 1950s. If your home was built during this time, have a licensed asbestos specialist run a test. Asbestos is harmful if it will be manipulated and disturbed. If you plan on renovating the home and it has asbestos, you may need to go through abatement/removal. Keep in mind, asbestos is only hazardous if disturbed. Abatement can be costly, so if you know you have no plans to disturb the asbestos, encapsulation may be more affordable. Read what the Consumer Product Safety Commission says about asbestos in the home.
- Mold and Lead-Based paint: lead based paint was commonly used in houses prior to 1978. Have a professional conduct an inspection before moving in, as lead based paint can cause severe health issues. If you notice signs of mold, also call in a mold specialist.
Be Aware of City Codes:
If you are considering renovating your older home, make sure you’re familiar with the city codes of your area. Many cities have select neighborhoods that they’ve deemed worthy of historical preservation. That means, they may have strict rules and guidelines for what you can and cannot do to your home. This could directly impact your ability to make the home as dreamy as you would like it. Know this before you buy. This will help plan around any potential restrictions or decide against the home, given any restrictions to your vision.
Ultimately, when buying an older home, a lot of due diligence must be done to make sure you know exactly what you’re signing up for. It’s important to make sure you have an expert who can help you through each phase of this process, starting with your realtor. After that, you need an expert in each trade give you their opinion and necessary quotes. This will give you an idea of exactly how much it would cost to get your home functioning appropriately. Once you have this information, you can consider your budget, along with any other design updates you may have planned to make this part of history your one-of-a-kind, modern day, dream home.
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