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What to look for in older houses

Article by Jackie Andress

What should you look for in a home older than the 1950s? Of course, an older home will most likely be completely out of current building code, but most of those code violations have been persisting on the other 50 surrounding homes and have caused no problems. So, what is really important to look for? Probably the most important compoments of a house(and expensive to redo) are the foundation, plumbing, electrical systems, and roof.
When looking at a foundation, you should look for signs indicating that it is not level. Sometimes you can simply walk it and feel slopes. With pier & beam, the floors tend to slope towards the perimeter since rain and weather over 50 years has gotten to those outside piers and sunken them. With slab foundations, check for any cracks that may extend upwards across brick. With both, check for cracked tile inside the house or tears in sheetrock. The tears cutting across a tile or a sheetrock panel usually indicate some sort of foundation movement because basically the structure has moved enough to force a tear across a material rather than normal movement that just may crack or tear along seams or grout. Now, of course, if you have cracks or tears across seams or grout that are many millimeters wide, you may still have a problem. In the end, if you see any indication that there may need to be some leveling or foundation work, have a professional come out to do the measurements to be sure.

The plumbing system is another thing to check out. If the home is pier & beam, make sure your inspector runs water while crawling under there. It will be pretty obvious if you have leaks. Galvanized steel at about this time has run the course of its life, so if your home has steel, I would start shopping around for some bids to replace the system. Many older homes also have the iron drain lines, which again, at this age tend to break down. Check for especially green places in the grass where the drain line goes to the street, and you can guess that it is probably leaking. And again, the inspector should see the drainlines when under the home. If you have slab, you can perform a static test, where they fill your drain lines up with water while stopping it up at some clean-out point outside, and then watch to see if the water level drops. If it drops, then water is leaking out somewhere. The static test for slabs is especially important if the foundation has moved; otherwise, it is not typically done.

The electrical systems can get real pricey, if you do a rewire. Look for grounded outlets and have your inspector test all the outlets even if they look like 3-prong grounded outlets because many times the 3-prong is deceiving and there is no ground. You can also look at the panel box outside and it will be somewhat obvious if the box is all rusty & old, or if it looks recent. Your inspector should be able to let you know if the box has enough amps to power your household. Remember that these homes in the 40s had no central ac, computers, microwaves, etc., so they did not need as many breakers as a modern day house.

The roof is important obviously because it keeps the rain and water damage out of your home. You want something with a pitch, preferably, to get that water rolling down your roof and off the house. Flat roofs tend to leak more and you should be careful and tend to them, to prevent water penetration into your home. If there are leaks, check out the decking underneath to see how much damage and possible rotting is going on by looking in the attic at the roof's underside. Gutters are always a plus to divert water away from rolling direcly off the roof and near your foundation. Also, if you are putting in central Ac/ heat, make sure the roof pitch is high enough to allow for a unit & ductwork.

Those are the main systems to check out and some things to look for yourself. Of course, always have an inspector go over the entirety of the structure before buying a home. He will give you the expertise to evaluate the home professionally..

Article Keywords: foundation, pier & beam, cracks, foundation movement.


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