While every home has its own quirks, many of which may only be visible to a professional home inspector, below are a few issues to watch for that are common to historic homes:
Old homes can have galvanized steel pipes, which inevitably flake and rust from the inside out. Don’t assume steel pipes are in good condition just because they look that way at a glance.
Knob and tube wiring
This wiring system was common in the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. You’ll know the home has it because the wires are affixed to the joists of the house by ceramic insulating knobs. This type of exposed wiring system can be a safety hazard due to hot wires and lack of grounding.
Historic homes can pre-date many building regulations and rest on substandard foundations. Obvious signs can be a tilted appearance to the home, sloping floors, and humps in doorways. Walk around the home and head down into the basement to look for cracks.
You should always find out when the last time a roof was repaired or replaced. If you don’t know, look for nails and metal flashings that are worn out. A sagging roof is a larger concern. Also, an historic home may have a roofing material like slate, which often has life left in it.
Most homes built before the mid-1970s have paint with varying levels of lead. When lead paint peels and flakes, the dust created is highly toxic and poses a serious health risk. If your paint is peeling, you should opt for complete abatement. If your windows frames are also painted with the same paint, you should replace your windows. This is because a small amount of toxic dust is created from the window sliding open and closed in the frame. If your paint doesn't show signs of damage, encapsulation with special paint products is an option. Remember to never scrape or sand lead paint without health precautions.
These silicate minerals were present in numerous construction materials from the early 1900s to the 1970s. They are dangerous when they become airborne, so if you plan on renovating or remodeling your historic home, you’ll need to have it tested.
Mold is something to look out for in any home. If you don’t smell mold, look for visible signs. If mold spots aren’t obvious, look for surface discolorations, bubbling paint, bowed walls or doorways, and other signs that moisture has infiltrated the structure of the home.
Check to see if any blueprints or other existing info on the house is available. This will help you learn more about the home's history. Plus, it can help you find out what the home previously looked like before any modifications may have been made if you plan to restore the home to its original glory.
Historical landmark status
Find out if the home currently has or may qualify for historical landmark status This may help establish tax breaks or even grant money and other funding for rehabilitation projects. However, the downside is this designation will restrict what you can and cannot do when remodeling the home.
This checklist is certainly no substitute for hiring a professional home inspector, and there are more issues beyond those listed that may arise. However, it can help you get a head start on evaluating a home and determining if it’s right for you and your family. For more information or to get in touch with one of the experienced Maryland realtors at the Creig Northrop Team of Long & Foster, contact one of our area offices.