Many people love vintage houses. Maybe they grew up in one or are simply enamoured by the charm exuded by the architecture and detailed woodwork that typify these homes. Well-maintained old homes are premium real estate, real eye pleasers. With the exception of these well-preserved heritage homes though, most old houses are fixer-uppers hiding problems. Likely, you will need a thorough property inspection to determine the safety, soundness and, accordingly, the liveability of your historic real estate. If you are about to or just purchased a bygone-looking house, you need to know what the hidden hazards are.
Radon is a colourless and odourless radioactive gas that occurs naturally with the decay of uranium, which is naturally found in rocks. While levels vary from house to house, radon exposure has been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. Expectedly, you would want to keep the radon levels in your home low. Radon can enter homes through cracks in the foundation or through windows, doors and other openings.
While old homes may have accumulated radon for quite a while, newer ones are not immune to the gas, either. Radon testing will be the first step needed to determine the presence and levels of the gas in your home. You can usually get the testing done along with a property inspection. After which, radon proofing can be done, such as sealing the basement floor, installing ventilation or even replacing floors and pipes with radon-resistant ones.
Another widespread toxic contaminant found in many historic homes is lead, which property inspections can test for. Lead was the main component of pipes used for plumbing in the old days. The steel pipes that eventually replaced lead pipes were nevertheless coated with lead until people finally switched to zinc. Other houses of the era that used copper pipes would not be spared since the solder used to copper pipes still contained lead. Today, the most practical solution to keeping out the lead in old pipes is to use a filtration system. However, if money is not an issue, get your builder to pull out the old pipes and replace them with modern ones.
The colourful paints in days of yore were also laced with lead, which means they are likely coating your new old home. They may not be harmful while they are on your walls. Once the paint starts flaking off though, particles can become airborne or float onto soil or food and be ingested. Likely though, your vintage home may have accumulated layers of paint over the years, the more recent of which will probably be latex-based. If you are still concerned, you can have your sidings and wall panels replaced.
You may be among the many who have heard about the noxious effects of asbestos on health. Everybody knows about it, but not everybody is aware whether it is in their home or not. Unfortunately, your turn of the century manor may be contaminated with it. Asbestos was used generously in those days, as insulator for furnaces and pipes, in vinyl floor coverings, sidings and ceilings. If you hire for a property inspection you will know whether you have it in your home, but only licensed professionals are legally sanctioned to take care of the white stuff. Don’t let anyone or yourself touch objects you suspect have asbestos as you might stir a puff of the toxic dust. On the other hand, asbestos found on the home exterior can be left as is, unless it becomes crumbly, which must prompt an urgent remodelling for your safety.
In the time of your grandparents or great-grandparents, most of a home’s electrical load came from the radio and maybe a few lamps. That was how much consumption the electrical system of that time allowed for. If you combine that outdated circuitry with today’s electrical usage from computers, TVs, other appliances and a dozen or so lights, don’t be surprised if you blew out the power on your grand old house. The electrical box of old was 60 or 100 amps, but today’s standard is 200 amps. Property inspections can tell you this and other electrical information. To maintain your modern life in your classic home, you will need to have rewiring done. At least one ground fault interrupter circuit or outlet is also now standard in modern homes. The GFI outlet cuts off the power immediately should an appliance come in contact with water.
Since most of it is behind walls, you will not know the insulation situation in your old-fashioned home if you don’t arrange for a property inspection to look into it. However, your soaring utility bills and constantly freezing toes might be telltale clues. Most dated houses have awful insulation, if and when they do. If you have an attic, you should check there as well, since the room is a priority for insulation. Repairing insulation is no doubt a chore and cuts a hole in your pocket, since the drywall will need to come off and go up again. While fibreglass insulation panels are definitely worth the investment, having a pro undertake blow-in insulation (pumping insulation material into wall cavities) makes for a sound second choice.
Fancy spindlework definitely brings out the charm in vintage houses, but one of the worst enemies of intricately carved or most old homes is water. Broken roof shingles, rotted trim boards and plugged up gutters are one of the signs of water damage. Natural settling of property grounds can cause earth to slope towards the house and direct water into the foundation. Modern homes employ waterproofing that delays the action of water on a home, but homes of bygone eras don’t. Property inspections can check for grading around the house, especially the dreaded sloping near the foundations.
Speaking of which, the foundation of your vintage home should receive a thorough check. Certainly, your house may have endured lifetimes, but you will need to ensure that it will last in your lifetime, too. Cinder blocks and cement, the foundation materials used then, crack and become porous over time to soak up the radon and water if left untreated. A property inspection will tell you the extent of the damage, but most likely, you will need to have a sealant applied to the foundation, or at most, have a drainage system installed to pump water out. In addition, downspouts that drain away from the foundation, raising the house off the ground and extended runoffs can help keep your home’s foundation intact.
Other problems of period houses include poorly insulated cathedral ceilings, drafty windows, flammable framing and unlined chimneys. To ensure that you can safely live in the house you love, get a top-calibre property inspection firm to do the checks for you.