How to Spot Signs of Wear and Decay in Older Homes

Some people like to say “Out with the old, in with the new,” but when it comes to buying or owning and older home, that saying goes right out the window. 

Older homes represent the era they were built in, and in some cases, that means beautiful architecture, quality materials and attention to detail. Though they’re sometimes a little smaller than more recently built ones and lack some modern amenities, their charm makes up for it all.

That said, older homes do come with their own age-related problems. Depending on exactly how old the home is, there could be lead paint on the wall, electrical wiring that’s no longer up to code and wear and tear from previous homeowners who did not take good care of the home while they lived in it. All of these are problems that can be fixed, but if you’re thinking of buying an older home, it’s worth considering all the problems an older home might come with. They can be very costly if you’re unprepared for them.

But if you’re handy and have a good team of professionals to call when needed, an older home may be just what you’re looking for. As you’re touring older homes, keep a lookout for these signs of wear and decay — they may be harbingers of bigger problems if you decide to buy — and see how soft washing can help you keep your older home looking like new.

Lead and asbestos

Today we know that lead and asbestos can be poisonous and extremely dangerous, but even a few decades ago, these were common materials used in homes. A neurotoxin, lead was commonly used in paints, both interior and exterior, and some plumbing systems installed before the 1940s used lead as well. 

Children can be drastically affected by lead poisoning, so when you’re touring an older home, make sure you ask about the painting jobs and pipes. If the home has been repainted and the pipes replaced, then you should be in good condition. You can also hire an inspector to check for lead paint if you want peace of mind.

Asbestos can cause respiratory problems, and in severe cases, some people have even developed lung cancer. It’s a fibrous material that was usually used in insulation, and it was also used in fireproofing. The use of the material in homes was banned in the 1970s thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency, but there was no law requiring it to be removed from homes where it was already in place. Some older homes still have asbestos in the insulation of their crawlspaces, so make sure you check.

Both lead and asbestos can — and should — be removed before you move into an older home, though it may be expensive. If you have lead pipes, it can cost several thousand dollars to replace everything and ensure you never have lead in your water. You can, however, buy water filtration systems which may cost a little less. 

Asbestos in the walls probably won’t affect you right away, but if you’re going to knock down walls, then you need to have it removed. Call in a team of experts for this. 

Mold

You’ve probably seen photos online or on HGTV about what a full mold infestation looks like, and it’s not pretty. In damp conditions, mold can take over a basement, crawlspace, bathroom or anywhere else that moisture has been allowed to collect. In addition to being toxic overtime, mold can eat away at porous materials such as woods, grout and drywall. Now in older homes especially, mold is to be expected and can be spot treated. However, massive mold infestations can eat away at the foundation of the home, rendering them completely uninhabitable.

The good thing about mold — if there is such a thing — is that it’s somewhat easy to spot, or at least it leaves good indicators of where to look. Black mold is, well, black, so you can easily see it when it’s creeping up drywall, spreading under the kitchen sink or covering insulation. 

That being said, mold can grow inside the walls, and unless you want to rip out all your walls to check for mold, you could end up buying a home with mold growing in the walls and never know it.

As with any home, preventing mold growth comes down to taking care of your property. You can pick up a dehumidifier at a hardware store to prevent moisture from lingering and fix leaky pipes in a timely manner. Make sure all fans work properly and rooms have good ventilation, especially in the bathroom. If you do have an infestation, get it treated right away.

Telltale signs of termites

Nearly everyone in Houston has a scary story to tell about termites. They’re very common in the city, and the damage they can cause is astronomical. With newer homes, you still have to worry about termites when you buy, but there may be better records kept of infestations and treatment. Older homes don’t always come with that luxury. After so many homeowners over the years, it can be tough to tell when an infestation took hold and how long it’s been there. Even if an infestation is long gone, the damage done to the foundation may still be there.

Luckily for homebuyers, it can be pretty easy to spot signs of a termite infestation. As you tour, you might notice the paint peeling or bubbling on the walls or certain parts of the wooden floors sag or buckle. If you tap on the floors or wooden supports, it may sound hollow. If you notice any of these signs as you tour, make sure your home inspector checks it out for termite damage.

If you decide to put in an offer on a home with termite damage, just remember two things. First, you will need to termite-proof your house, which means making repairs, sealing up cracks or removing decaying trees and plants around the perimeter. Second, you may have to pay for serious repairs if there are problems with the foundation due to termite damage. And finally, the termites might not be gone, so you may need to work with a pest control company to get rid of them.

On the plus side, you might be able to negotiate with the seller and have him or her cover some of these costs. It might bring down the price of the home or at least get you some money back on your closing costs.

Water damage

When you tour a home, you tend to look at eye level, noticing things like nice cabinets, showers and closet space. But if you take the time to look up, you may be able to save yourself some serious money and heartache. 

One of the biggest problems that come with older homes is the risk of water damage. Old pipes leak and break, and when they do, they can cause flooding in ceiling, walls and basements. On top of that, mold might begin to grow in the moist ceiling or basement, which can exacerbate your problem. But at the very least, water damage can be easy to spot. You just have to look up.

Every home is different, but no matter what, water damage usually looks like a watercolor painting on your ceiling, wall or floor. It may be a light brown or yellow, and it resembles drips and swirls. 

As you consider putting in an offer, make sure you ask how old the plumbing system on the old house is and what materials are used in the pipes. Depending on the materials, pipes can last anywhere between 20 years (steel) and 50 years (brass and copper) with other options in between. If the home is surrounded by trees and lots of other plants, there’s always the possibility that roots may grow into your pipes, causing leaks and breaks. 

New plumbing systems can be expensive to replace throughout the whole house, and if you have roots growing into your pipes, that can jack up the price of removing and replacing everything. 

If for whatever reason you were thinking about forgoing a home inspection to save some cash, don’t even think about it.

Roof work

Maybe of the problems previously discussed can be attributed to a problem with the roof. When a roof rots, moisture can get into the home, causing water damage and mold growth. The holes in the roof can let in pests such as roof rats, termites and even possums and raccoons. If homeowners neglect the roofs of their old homes, then they’re inviting a whole host of problems.

Before you go in or even before you leave the older home after touring it, make sure you walk around the perimeter and look for signs that the roof may be in trouble. You might notice shingles missing or cracked gutters that are bowing. Any part of the roof that looks like it’s crumbling is definitely in trouble and should be looked at immediately.

A new roof can be expensive to do, but some homeowners insurance won’t cover the costs. Ask about the roof’s history during the tour, and ask your home inspector to take a good look at the roof before you close the deal.

Old windows

It doesn’t take much to spot a problem with windows in an older home. Not only do they look dated – sometimes with the pulleys fully visible — but you will feel a difference in temperature depending on the weather. If it’s wintertime, then you’re going to feel a draft. If it’s summer, then you could probably feel the cold air inside being sucked out. If there are holes in the screen or around the window perimeter, then pests can easily get in, but all in all, old windows will mostly just drive up your electricity bill.

In the long run, you’ll have to replace old windows with new efficient ones, but once you move in, you can do a few small repairs to minimize the damage. Repair any holes and hang blinds or curtains to keep the sun out during the day. In the winter, you can use plastic to cover the windows. It might not look pretty for a while, but your home will stay warm.

How soft washing helps older homes

As you can see, buying an older home can be a gamble, but it can also be rewarding. You’re preserving your own little slice of history, and the best way to keep your investment is to protect it with soft washing.

Like pressure washing services, soft washing in Houston uses water to clean the exterior surfaces of the home, but it differs from pressure washing services in that it mixes a blend of chemicals into the water to take care of mold, mildew and other debris without hurting the home.

Older homes are fragile, which means if you use too much pressure, you could damage the outside of your home. You could crack the siding or even put a hole in a window. With soft washing, the pressure is kept low, and the chemicals blended into the water do the toughest job. You won’t risk damaging your home and having to do an expensive repair.

Regular soft washings done once or twice a year will help protect your older home in the long run. You won’t run the risk of mold or mildew building up over time, and a soft wash can alert you to other problems around your home. Your soft wash professional will be able to point out potential problem areas. Overtime, regular soft washing will save you money because you’ll have to do fewer repairs to remove mold or repair cracked siding. Like any investment, the more you do to protect it, the more it will pay off for your in the long run.

So tell us: Why do you want to buy an older home? Is the crown molding or the antique light fixtures? Share with us in the comments and don’t forget to ask about how our soft washing can help you keep your new old home in great condition.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *