Character or Heritage Homes – Things to Know Before You Buy

Character or Heritage Homes – Things to Know Before You Buy

Heritage or Character homes have always been sought after because of their unique charm. When I speak about heritage homes, I am referring to houses that are over fifty years of age. They can also be great investment properties if they are well maintained and in good shape. Usually built with extra large halls and stairways not seen in most modern homes today. Combine that with the stained glass windows and stunning hardwood floors, there is little wonder why older character homes are so appealing.  People fall in love when they go back in time after viewing one of these masterful beauties.

Yet, under the cherry wood floors or hiding in the attics can be hidden safety issues that might make you think twice before jumping in with both feet. Listed below are some considerations to think about before making a commitment to one of these historical homes…

Electrical Issues – If the home has been renovated, they most likely had knob and tube wiring at one point. Knob and tube wiring was very common several years ago, but is now considered unsafe by modern standards.  Abandoned Knob and Tube wiring is typically found in attics, above suspended tile ceilings, crawl spaces and basements.

You need find out if all renovations were done with permits and inspected properly by the various trades involved. At times, there are still hidden junction boxes and possibly live wires that may have been left there, which could be potential fire hazards.  Home inspectors locate all accessible outlets to test the wires to see if they are safe and grounded or not. We inspect the service panels to see if they are powered with fuses or breakers, check for aluminum wires and main shut off locations. In short, older homes may have antiquated electrical systems that need to be updated for safety to obtain home insurance and provide adequate service for our modern needs.

Health & Environmental Issues – Homes of this time period had asbestos in several different areas of the home. They used it as it was durable, inexpensive and versatile in a number of building materials. Areas include plaster walls and ceilings, floors, insulation around pipes, duct-work, attic/wall insulation (in the form of Vermiculite) and exterior siding materials, just to name a few.  If the home has not been renovated, and you plan to do so, expect to call in an environmental company at some point to test these materials.  Exposure to disturbed asbestos has proven to cause cancer in some people. If left undisturbed, it is much less of an issue. Be sure to do some research on what has and has not been done to the home. Be prepared to invest in making the home safe from hazardous materials. Many of the older homes were heated by oil as the fuel source. Some of these homes have tanks buried in the yard, or in some cases below the home for several years. If not removed in time, they will eventually leak, causing environmental problems. Removing these oil tanks can be expensive, so you need to find out about this. Ask the current homeowners about this. See if you can get them to produce a report stating that it has been removed… or that the property was tested and cleared. Failing this, you can go to the city and ask about this property to see if they have details.

Energy Loss/ Heating Costs – Character homes had several small openings, which allowed more air movement throughout the home, resulting in higher heating costs today. The upside however, is that the wood in the structure was better able to dry after it became wet. You can have this checked out by getting an energy audit. Follow their recommendations for improvements, which will help you save on energy costs. See if the owners have added insulation in areas like exterior walls, and the attic.

Drainage & Waterproofing Problems – Many older homes do not have effective drain tile systems for our modern living requirements. Older pipes eventually corrode from the inside (Galvanized Steel), tree roots can damage or block the pipes and the clay tiles often come apart..

Older basement floors were designed to slope to one corner because they expected seepage. This is why many of the basement floor are not level. Without question, you absolutely must have a functional drain tile. For your peace of mind, I would call in a drainage company to conduct a proper scope check. You will also want to ensure that a waterproof membrane is in place. Perimeter drainage and waterproofing upgrades can be expensive, but these systems are critical, especially if you live in areas like Vancouver where we get a lot of rain. You want avoid crumbling foundations caused by water erosion and leaking basements resulting from lack of waterproofing. On a side note, check all foundation walls for vertical cracks. When left unchecked, they can allow water to seep into the basement. You’ll want have them repaired or check by a structural engineer, especially if they are wider than 1/2 an inch.

Exterior Maintenance/Upgrades – Character homes, especially the ones with wood siding will require regular maintenance to keep them in good shape. Expect to have the siding maintained, possibly every year with water proof, mildew resistant paint. Keep all vegetation at least one foot away from the home to reduce moisture from accumulating against the exterior. Have all areas around doors and windows upgraded with flashings. (Flashing is a weatherproofing protective material designed to redirect water away for the interior structure)

Unsafe Chimneys – Many older homes do not have safe chimneys. Over the years, neglected chimneys may develop cracks in the mortar between the bricks. When this happens, the chimney becomes a safety hazard. So take a look at the chimneys from every angle, looking for cracks or broken bricks. Check the areas where the chimney is attached to the side of the home. You’ll be looking for large gaps, which will need to be examined for moisture seepage and repaired. Also, take a look at the base to the top to see if it is leaning away from the home. A leaning chimneys is a clue to possible structural issues.

Listed above are some of the more important details to be concerned with when buying a character home. For questions on this topic or other home related issues, feel free to contact me at 604-729-4261.