6 Biggest Challenges of Owning an Old Home
Many of Seattle’s older homes are charming, beautiful, and full of history. They are the backbone of many of our neighborhoods and carry with them the story of Seattle’s past. There’s no wonder why neighborhood preservationists are fighting so hard to keep them around a bit longer.
With that said, owning an old home also comes with its own set of challenges that almost never present themselves in new construction homes. With everything from a lack of insulation to outdated electrical wiring, old homes aren’t able to keep up with all the modern demands we place on the places in which we live.
1. Lack of Insulation
We’ve all been there: the heat is blasting, the electric bill is rising, and there are blankets piled everywhere. Yet, no matter how much heat comes out of the vent, you just can’t get warm. Why is that? Many old houses just simply don’t have proper insulation.
Proper insulation is good for lowering electric bills in the summer, making the house more comfortable year-round, and may even make it quieter inside. Without it, it doesn’t matter how many heaters you buy; it’s just going to drain electricity and fail at keeping your home sustainably warm.
If you’re not sure whether your house is properly insulated, there are a few things you can do to find out:
- Figure out how old your house is and compare against the time when insulation codes were put into place. If it was built in the 1960s or before, there’s a good chance it may not have insulation.
- Check for yourself by feeling the walls when it’s cold outside – are your walls just as cold or are they lukewarm? You can also unscrew a socket and try to look into the wall using a flashlight (be careful!). If worst comes to worst, drilling a hole into a wall where it’s easy to hide or patch (i.e. a closet) will let you see inside for yourself.
- Get an energy audit of your home. A professional will come by with an infrared camera to test our insulation.
If you don’t have insulation, it might be time to look into adding it before the next winter arrives. There are multiple ways to do so by yourself. However, a contractor will make sure you only insulate the areas that matter most (i.e. the attic) and ensure the process goes smoothly.
2. Old Plumbing
Do you have to flush the toilet three times before anything will go down? Is your water pressure not like it used to be? Is your faucet all stopped up? These are all signs that you have old plumbing that may be on its last legs.
Plumbing is a difficult challenge to notice right away because it’s not always immediately clear. Folks buying an older existing home may love it because of its style and character but may miss the outdated plumbing because it’s hard to see with the naked eye.
The challenge with older plumbing is that most of the pipes in old homes were made out of galvanized piping. These pipes were made with a layer of zinc to protect it. Over time, this zinc erodes and begins to cause all sorts of problems as we mentioned above. If you’ve noticed discolored water and the constant need to repair toilets and faucets, it may be time to examine your pipes.
At this point, bring in a plumber to take a look at your plumbing. They will determine the best course of action and help you understand exactly what your home needs to become repaired. Unfortunately, replacing your plumbing is not a quick job and may cost lots of time and money to complete. The best thing to do is examine all your options before choosing a course of action that could leave you with a hole in your wallet.
3. Sloping Floors
Place a marble on your floor and watch what happens. Does it simply wiggle a bit before finding a place to rest or does it start rolling to one side of the house? If it’s rolling, that’s your key indicator that your floor isn’t level.
At first sign of uneven floors, you may feel cause for concern: is your foundation off? Does your home need to be rebuilt? How expensive will this get to correct?
Before you make any assumptions, take a moment to breathe and examine the situation. In many cases, an uneven floor isn’t necessarily a sign of any major problems. It’s simply a sign that your house is, well, old. Sloping in floors is most often caused by the normal bend in wood joists over time. These joists have been carrying a lot of weight over the years and, as an organic material, they change their shape after some time. The same can be true for the main bearing beam, which can also be another reason for the uneven floors.
With that said, check your floors for pronounced floor slopes and review your walls for any cracks that may accompany the sloping. These are signs of a more serious problem at hand. If you’ve identified these concerns, the best thing to do is get a contractor out on your property to look it over. They will have a better idea of the main cause and provide you with suggestions for actions.
4. Outdated Electrical Wiring
Old houses were built during a time when microwaves, computers, and USB outlets didn’t exist. Those were simpler days when a home didn’t require nearly as many modern amenities to sell as they do today. However, that old wiring doesn’t necessarily translate to today’s modern necessities, and outdated faulty wiring can result in serious consequences.
The oldest type of wiring found in these houses is known as knob-and-tube wiring. It’s a wiring system using two wires – a hot and a neutral wire – that are run throughout the entire home. Most of these wiring systems date back before the 1940s back before splices were made in junction boxes like they are today. One particular challenge with knob-and-tube wiring is that it’s not grounded, making appliances and sensitive electronics prone to power surges.
In most cases, according to the National Electrical Code (NEC), this type of wiring can remain in a house. Plus, under certain circumstances, some work may be done on these types of wiring systems to add extensions or splice the old wiring with new cables in junction boxes. However, it can become dangerous once the insulation around the wire has worn away. If you notice any problems in the insulation of the wiring, it’s time to replace it with newer cables.
Asbestos; what is now a health risk was once considered a highly effective and inexpensive material for fire retardation and insulation. Because of this, it was often used in home construction between the 1940s and the 1970s. Today, we know of it as a toxic material with a tendency to cause lung cancer. When asbestos fibers are disturbed, they are easily inhaled into the lungs. There, they can cause extensive damage.
Because of its late popularity, asbestos can, unfortunately, be found in a myriad of household materials throughout an older home. On the bright side, it’s not harmful unless it has been disturbed. In most cases, asbestos does not need to be removed, and can sometimes cause more damage than good. It’s only crucial if it’s easily airborne.
If your ceilings are in poor condition, it might be worth looking into ways to professionally remove the asbestos. Do not try to do so yourself. In some cases, even turning on a ceiling fan can spread the dust if the ceiling is not in great shape.
Western Washington is known to be a wet place. With more than 2/3 of the year being damp, grey, and rainy, it’s the prime location for mold growth.
Although mold is great in the outdoors, where it speeds decomposition and rids the planet of dead plant matter, it’s not so great for the indoors – or our health. Walking into a room full of mold, it’s easy to feel its effects immediately. It takes over your sinuses and prokes allergic reactions and even worsened asthma.
If you have mold in your walls, it’s not always a cause for complete demolition. With that said, mold within your walls can be very difficult to get rid of, and it may be a deciding factor between selling your home to an investor or tearing it down yourself and starting over.
If there’s just a small amount of mold, you may be able to nip it in the bud before it grows much bigger. Remember that this stuff relies on moisture and water and will grow almost anywhere. However, if you are able to keep these surfaces dry, it will more than likely prevent the growth from spreading.
If these challenges sound familiar to you, you might be getting tired of dealing with them and looking for a quick fix. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to any of these issues, and your choices may be to a) Cough up the money to get them properly repaired or b) Sell your home to a real estate investor who will take care of them for you so you can move on to something a little easier to deal with.
If option b sounds like a good solution to you, all you need to do is reach out to us with information on your home and we’ll send you an estimated offer based on how much we think it’s worth. It’s time to get out and move on.