Home Inspection Issues by the Decade

Apr 14, 2021 | Home Buying Tips

No home is perfect. In fact, flaws can be found in newly constructed homes just about as easily as homes that were built 50 years ago. For each problem with your new home, you have but a few options: fix it, hide it or live with it.

That’s why you should have a keen eye toward identifying common flaws and the amount of money and time it will take to fix them. But as you may already know, this isn’t easy.

Common Home Building Issues by Decade

To help you identify common issues when buying your next home, we have created a breakdown of the ones we see for homes built in each of the last several decades. If you know what to expect, you can better prepare your budget and cut down on costly “surprises”.

Early 1900’s: Settling and Foundation

Settling and foundation issues are the theme for early 1900’s era housing. If you see cracks above door jambs and entry ways that run at about a 45-degree angle, there is a good chance you have settling or foundation issues. Slanted floors and uneven joists are also indicative of these problems.

Many times, these issues occur due to the initial footings settling. This is often caused by poor drainage around the perimeter of the home. It can also be the effect of a negative slope or settling of the soils.

Mother Nature and more specifically, water, can be a home’s worst enemy. Some water issues can be as easy to fix as cleaning the gutters and extending the downspouts away from the foundation, providing a path for the water to clear. In other more severe cases it can be much more invasive and costly, like having to install jacks under new footings.

1920’s Balloon Framing

This style of wood house building was common in the 1920s and an alternative to “timber frame” or “braced frame” construction. This method used long 2×4’s extending from the basement or crawlspace all the way up to the attic. The name “Balloon Framing” derived, as you would guess, from its lightweight structure and the low material cost to build.

Positives to Balloon Framing

Balloon framed homes are very beneficial to homes in the south and those in warmer climate areas due to their built-in ventilation systems. As hot air escapes through the attic, it pulls cool air from the basement or crawlspace through the walls, acting as a natural cooling system for the home.

Downside of Balloon Framing

On the other hand, most of these homes aren’t insulated so conversely in the winter this can work against the home, with heat escaping and making the home hard to keep warm. I actually own a balloon framed home in Georgia where it is unbearably hot 9 months out of the year so it’s not a huge issue if the home is built for the right climate.

Another concern with these style homes is if you have a fire in the basement or in the house, they will go up in flames quickly due to the air circulation. The same condition of the warm air pulling the cool air upward also allows the flames to travel very fast. Given the issues with many of these homes not having proper insulation or firestops in the framing you should really consider inspecting these issues further when looking into purchasing this era model house.

1930’s: Clay Sewer Pipes

The 30’s brought in an era of construction that has caused headaches for homeowners since, clay sewer pipes. It was common then for homes to be built with clay sewer pipes (the pipe underground leading from the house to the sewer). When looking into a home this ranks at the top of my list as things to look for, ALWAYS do a sewer scope to make sure there aren’t any issues with the sewer line and to make sure it is not clay.

The problems clay sewer pipes present are susceptible to leaks and root intrusion and clay has the tendency to snap under extreme pressure. In that case more times than not the homeowner / buyer is stuck with digging up the yard and having to install a new sewer line. And if your connection to the city sewer is in the middle of the street, it is considered your responsibility and you are responsible for the bill to dig up the street. This is a disaster no one wants to deal with and can set you back tens of thousands of dollars.

1940’s: Lathe and Plaster

Plaster walls on lathe backing were a common theme through this decade. Drywall didn’t start making its way on the scene until the 1950’s. A major problem with plaster is how tedious it is to repair and once you have to fix it, repairing it properly where it isn’t a noticeable eyesore. Rarely have I seen one of these homes without noticeable patchwork. Also, if you’re thinking about installing crown molding, good luck and be prepared for a huge pain in the butt!

1950’s: Ungrounded Outlets

The 1950’s brought in drywall and homes with ungrounded outlets. It is still common to find ungrounded outlets in 50’s model homes, especially if the home has not been renovated since its construction.

Using two-wire copper wiring was popular during this time. This doesn’t necessarily mean your house is unsafe, but it does leave out some modern safety features and creates a vulnerability to your appliances and electronics against power surges. In other words, if your copper has made it all these years, without getting stolen, you may want to check into the cost of having it grounded or installing GFCI breakers.

1960’s: Insulation

With low energy prices in the 1960’s, not much forward thought was given whereas insulation was concerned. So, it seemed the builders of this era weren’t really interested with the heating and cooling aspects of the home. Fortunately, this can be a relatively inexpensive and easy fix. In fact most homeowners can do this as a simple Do-It-Yourself, by renting an insulation blower and insulation material from Home Depot or Lowes.

1970’s: Outlets and Wiring

If you have turned on TNT during the Christmas season you have inevitably seen the movie a Christmas Story. Now think back to the scene where the dad plugs in the Christmas Tree into what seems like an outlet holding 50 plugs. That was an accurate portrayal of the issues facing homes built in the 70’s. Expect to find fewer outlets per room and electrical systems that can’t handle modern day electronics or house load.

This can be a serious issue with houses of this era and something you may want to have an electrician check out before making a purchase. Electrical work and rewiring can get costly quick and can range between $1500 and $10,000 to completely rewire a house.

1980’s Polybutylene (PB) piping

In the 1980’s the Grateful Dead brough a Touch of Gray and so did the piping industry. In the late 1970’s thru the mid 1990’s a gray polybutylene pipe was used to run the water in your house, but was stopped due to reports of malfunctions. There have been cases of degradation of the piping, primarily in the connections between the pipes.

Class action lawsuits have been filed where the pipes leaked at the connection causing damaging to surround areas. However, like with anything there are reports of people never having an issue. Though these have been discontinued in the U.S. the product is still used in Canada. A cheaper fix if you have this piping is to just change out the connections and keep the rest of the piping. However, you still may consider getting it replaced because homeowners’ insurance does not like to see it.

1990’s Major Ticket Items

Floor plans of the 1990’s maybe a few years behind the newer trends but exteriors aren’t too far off from what you see being built today. This makes homes from this decade very attractive to buyers. The problems you could face when looking at this era home is that it might be time for some major upgrades. Asphalt shingle roofs can last 20 to 25 years, Air conditioners and heat pumps make it around 10 to 15 years and water heaters are around the same lifespan.

So, it would be a good question to ask or make sure you have inspected, have these big-ticket items already been improved or are they due to be upgraded. The last thing you want to do is purchase a home and immediately add a new roof.

2000’s House Building Bonanza

The early 2000’s saw a housing boom and with it brought high demand for builders to produce quickly. Unfortunately, that caused some builders to cut corners by using cheaper materials and doing the bare minimum to pass inspections. Therefore, houses from this decade can possibly have a lower quality wood, poor framework causing bowing in the walls and cracks in the foundation, less insulation leading to unsteady power bills.

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To reiterate, no home is perfect. However, if you know what to look for you can avoid major pitfalls and money traps when searching for your dream home.

We hope you’ve found this guide helpful for your new home search. And, as always, if you’re looking to buy, sell or learn about the Greater Denver Real Estate Market, reach out to us at Sophisticated Properties.

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