If you bought a new house, it might be full of hidden problems that the contractor overlooked. They’re not trying to cheat you; they don’t know any better. Often these problems aren’t apparent until years later when the house is seasoned and has settled into itself (or into its foundation).
There are many benefits to buying an old home ⏤ if you know what you’re doing. You might be able to fix the problems that new homes have because often, these problems aren’t hidden but rather blatantly obvious. With older houses, these problems can be considered part of the house’s history, and they can even add character.
You’ve bought an old home, and you’re going to have a lot of work ahead of you. Luckily, most of the problems have been overcome by somebody else who has already lived in your house. Here’s a quick look at some common problems that come up when houses age.
Cracks in Walls, Doors, and Windows
This is good ⏤ that you can use these gaps to your advantage in warming your house in the winter with heat from your furnace. Some original cracks are too big for this purpose, though, so use some caulk.
Look at old houses over time, and you’ll see that they never seal perfectly against air leaks when they are built. The trick is to make them draft-proof without spending any money on new windows. Put sheets of plastic over the window panes to get an idea of where drafts come into your home. Then stuff insulation into these spots and caulk them shut.
Mice love to make nests in the insulation. Poke holes through your wall, ceiling, floorboards, or sub floor so you can spot where the mice are living before they have a chance to do any damage. Then seal these off with steel wool stuffed into small openings you’ve poked through the walls. The steel wool will allow the mice to leave but won’t let them get back in.
Atmospheric Dirt and Grime
New homes don’t have this kind of grime that comes from the atmosphere, which coats wood and metal with a layer that looks similar to mold or mildew. But it’s not, and it can be removed by cleaning with a water and bleach mixture.
If you’ve bought an old home, you can expect some flooding to have happened at least once. Check the basement (or crawl space if there is one) for any signs that this might be a problem: rocks or pieces of mortar on the floor, water stains, the smell of mold. If there’s a mold problem, you should fix it as soon as possible before your walls and floorboards start to rot away.
Also, look for water stains near electrical sockets ⏤ it could mean that you have short wiring. Moisture and electricity: not a good combination. There are always emergency electricians one calls away to fix any electrical issues like new outlets and switches in case it gets flooded.
You can fix water damage by scraping away any paint to check the wood underneath. If it’s rotting, replace it with new wood. Then make sure that your house is sealed off from future flooding or water problems.
Old homes often have problems with doors that are not hung right. You can find out why your door is warped by removing the molding and seeing if the jamb is not straight or uneven. It might be possible to tap it back into place, but this might make it worse. The best solution is to get a new door and learn how to trim it yourself, so you know what you’re getting next time around.
Fill a bucket with water and go around your house listening for leaks until you find them (it’ll probably be where your bathroom fixtures join the plumbing pipes). It could be loose supply lines, joint connections made of lead that need replacing, or even the downspout connection, usually made of corroded cast iron.
You’ll see the most problems with this when you have a fireplace in an older home. The chimney needs to be swept and inspected yearly, but if it’s older than 40-50 years old, you might want to get a new one since they tend to fall or become blocked up over time.
Peeling Paint and Wallpaper
This is usually pretty easy to fix by sanding off the problem area and repainting with an oil-based paint (you need something that will stick). If there’s mold under the wallpaper, use a stiff brush and some bleach water until it’s all gone. As for peeling paint on woodwork, you can touch it up or paint over it and hope that the moisture doesn’t come back.
If your house is 90 years old or older, you’re bound to have problems like these sooner or later. But take heart — they do not mean you’ve bought a bad house, just one that’s about as good as it can be considering its age. You’ll slowly learn to repair all these hidden problems yourself, so they don’t bother you anymore.