Older homes are charming, but some nasty problems can be lurking behind that beautiful crown molding and those coffered ceilings. While it’s true that some older homes are more structurally sound than modern builds and can feature higher quality materials, there are some negatives you might not be aware of.
The federal government didn’t ban lead paint until 1978, and asbestos was allowed to be used in homes until the ’70s as well. Radon studies from that same decade showed the need for improved ventilation in many homes at the time.
All of this means that if you’re considering buying a home built before 1978—or if you’re already living in one—there are some key things you need to check to verify the health of your family’s environment.
It’s possible that homes built between 1900 and 1990 will have plumbing issues that aren’t revealed in a general inspection. Antiquated plumbing can be expensive to fix, but time does a real number on pipes. Corrosion, rust, and decay are all possible issues. To avoid water damage, they need to be replaced.
There are also possible safety issues at play. If an older home has lead pipes, they must be replaced immediately. It’s best to have a plumber take a look at your system so he can alert you to any changes or upgrades that need to be made.
Speaking of lead pipes, as we all know, the subject of lead is a major issue in older homes because of the lead-based paint used back in the day. Even the dust and paint chips can be extremely harmful to your health when the paint starts to crack and peel.
Sources of this toxic paint can include everything from your doors and windows to the cabinets and floors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 million American homes have lead-based paint hazards—and young children live in nearly 10% of those homes.
If you’re concerned about lead in your home, we recommend reaching out to a certified lead professional.
The mineral fibers known as asbestos are “perfectly safe” to be around in their normal state. Asbestos only becomes a hazard when broken and friable, meaning easily crumbled. Those broken fibers can stay in the air for days—and inhaling them can cause serious health issues.
Asbestos will likely be found in several places in homes built before 1975. If you’re planning on any kind of demolition, you should first consult a professional to identify asbestos.
4. Electrical Equipment
Just like with plumbing, an electrical inspection is another good idea for a home that’s more than 45 years old. Electrical systems and their standards have changed tremendously in the last four decades. Old electrical systems often aren’t up to code, and improper wiring can be a potential fire hazard.
There’s also the issue of insufficient electrical capacity for modern appliances and tech, as well as a lack of outlets. If you’re thinking about buying an older home, consult with an electrician and have them take a look to make sure it can handle your 21st-century needs.
Radon—a naturally-occurring radioactive gas—is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It accounts for 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year, including 2,900 among people who’ve never smoked.
If the gas can dissipate, there’s no cause for concern. The real threat is when radon becomes trapped within a building. Homes built prior to the ’70s weren’t built with the need for air movement in mind, but they can be retrofitted. A simple test is available, and some states offer it for free.
6. Foundation Cracks
Not every old home has foundation issues, but it’s something to be aware of. If you have your eye on an older home, it’s imperative to have it evaluated by an inspector to look for signs of “differential settlement.” This can cause your doors and windows to be impossible to close. The inspector will also look for cracked chimneys and wet basements for signs of damage.
7. Pests And Insects
Homes wear down over time due to weather and natural degradation. Moisture damage, leaky basements, and wet crawl spaces can attract insects and pests, so you want to make sure water is being directed away from your home’s foundation. There are many options to fix moisture problems, so you should consult with a professional who can evaluate your specific issue.
Because building envelopes weren’t as well-sealed in older-style construction as they are today, mold can be a bigger issue in older homes. Signs that you have mold include condensation on walls and windows, bubbling or peeling paint, leaks and stains, and musty smells.
Get a professional to test for mold to avoid health problems like stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing, wheezing, and burning eyes. Mold can also cause more serious health problems like lung infections, so don’t let the issue go unaddressed.