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Buying An Old Home? 4 Common Problems You Must Be Aware Of


Buying An Old Home

There’s no feeling quite as invigorating as buying one’s own home. Did you know that as many as five million home purchase transactions were made in the US in 2022? However, hundreds of these purchases were unlikely to be brand-new properties.

This is because the US is a land full of old homes. Statista found that there were an estimated 10.5 million houses in October 2021 aged between 20 and 31 years. A whopping 3000 properties dated as far as 251 to 320 years. That’s 75 years older than the US itself!

Most of the older homes are located across the Midwest and Northeastern parts of the country. When we say an old or vintage home, we’re essentially referring to its –

  • Construction quality and style, which are far more robust and durable in the case of Colonial and Tudor homes
  • Extremes of temperatures accelerating the aging process
  • Not many renovations made since the original construction

While an old home offers benefits like lower costs, there are also problems involved. In this article, we will discuss four common issues that are prevalent even in well-maintained older homes. 

Lead And Asbestos

Lead is a neurotoxic metal that adversely affects health. As per the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), repeated exposure can lead to epigastric pain, convulsions, vomiting, irritability, and constipation.

Extreme cases of lead poisoning may advance to comatose or death. This metal was earlier used in home paints, but the US government banned it in 1978. However, homes built in the previous years were painted with lead-based paints. The metal may also be found in the plumbing systems installed during the mid-1980s.

Similarly, asbestos is a naturally occurring material that can cause respiratory issues and lung cancer. It was used in fireproofing and insulation until the 1980s. Though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned asbestos by the late 1980s, homeowners were not required to remove existing products.

This insulation may still be found in older homes’ pipes and walls. If the home you’re investing in dates back to the early 1970s, understand that it may consist of lead and asbestos. In case the idea of these substances disturbs you, opt for professional lead removal services. This may involve changing the entire plumbing system.

As for asbestos, its insulation in inaccessible walls should not pose a problem. Otherwise, professional remediation is needed. Costs in each case will vary based on the project size and location.

Radon Gas

Radon is a highly radioactive gas with no distinct color or odor. It is emitted from all kinds of soils and rocks through the natural decay of uranium. The gas gradually escapes from the ground into the air, where further radioactive particles are produced.

The EPA has published a radon zone map that shows red zones belonging to the Mid-South, North-East, and Midwest parts of the country. Wondering how this gas may enter into homes? Primarily through cracks found in the property’s basement walls and perimeter. 

Once inside the home, it circulates throughout the space if ventilation is poor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that radon particles may get trapped in the lungs. Prolonged exposure increases the risk of lung cancer, which may take years to manifest. There are an estimated 20,000+ deaths each year due to radon-induced lung cancer.

In case you’re concerned about radon toxicity in the property, go for professional radon mitigation services. The professionals will capture the gas present in the rock or soil and seal cracks that may cause further leakage. This process may also involve installing depressurizing vents that blow the gas back into the soil from the lower levels.

According to Affordable Environmental Services, any property, regardless of its location or construction style, may have high radon levels. If you can procure a radon testing kit, get the home tested before buying. If not, the professionals will provide end-to-end services, right from the testing to the mitigation.

The cost of such services will depend on the problem’s severity, property size, and the type of foundation.

Termite Damage

Another fairly common issue, particularly in older homes, is termite infestation. Termites love to feast on wood, including structures like drywall, fixtures, furniture, and floors. This problem is vastly prevalent in the southern parts of the country, with active termites all year round.

Older homes often have compromised walls and floors that make them easy targets for these bugs. Some telltale signs of termite damage include –

  • Buckling or sagging floors
  • Little holes in the drywall
  • Peeling paint
  • Wooden structures that sound hollow on tapping

It is best not to invest in a heavily termite-infested property. As per the National Pest Management Association, over $5 billion in property damage is incurred every year due to termites. If the damage is mild, then it could become a bargaining chip for that real estate.

Even so, you will need to call for professional remediation to tackle the damage. The most affordable and least invasive solution is prevention. The measures would include preventing water stagnation around the property, removing dead root systems and stumps, and sealing visible cracks.

Mold And Mildew  

It is not uncommon to discover cracked pipes and foundations in older properties. Over time, any property that’s been exposed to excessive moisture tends to develop mold and mildew problems. These issues are most prevalent in bathrooms and basements belonging to homes in humid locations.

Sometimes, the infestation may be present within the structure’s walls. This is what makes it so risky; you may purchase a mold and mildew-infested home without even realizing it. Small amounts of mold and mildew are expected, but uncontrolled growth may lead to health problems.

These include allergies and respiratory issues like asthma, even in healthy adults and children. Health problems may be worse among those with compromised immune systems. Besides this, mold also eats into host surfaces, including drywall and wood. If the mold infestation is unchecked, structural problems may arise, rendering the property permanently inhabitable.

Before purchasing an old property, check for mold and mildew infestation. If there isn’t any, use preventive measures through a dehumidifier. In case of minor infestation, a store-bought mold spray should work. However, major infestations require more than the spray-and-scrub approach. Opt for mold and mildew remediation services to get rid of the nasties from hard-to-reach areas.

Final Thoughts

Older homes certainly have their fair share of benefits. Nevertheless, even those located in quaint, tight-knit neighborhoods can have major drawbacks (in terms of the above-mentioned problems). If you find more than two of these issues, you’re likely looking at thousands of dollars in remediation.

Alternatively, choosing to ignore even minor issues can aggravate them in the future and bring down property value significantly. If you reconsider your decision and buy a newer home, still check for these issues, as they also depend on the climate, upkeep, etc.

What’s most important is to invest in a property that fits right into your requirements for budget, aesthetics, and location, among others. 


Jacob Lindsey

Jacob is a home remodeling guru having worked over 15 years in construction in Reno, NV, mainly focused on home renovations. He likes taking ideas from his clients and making them a reality.

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