Century Home Inspections

Over the last ten years I have inspected a lot of Century Homes and it still amazes me how little a buyer will know about the construction and costs of repairs when it comes to fixing up some of these Victorian Homes.  Not every older home is a “Money Pit” and many are well maintained and very comfortable to live in.  Today we are going to address some of the common issues I have encountered while inspecting these unique properties.

The exterior of most century homes is typically brick.  As can be expected there will be some deterioration of the brick surface and many older brick homes have been sandblasted to restore some of the visual beauty to the brick surface.  The main focus on the exterior is looking for large cracks which will indicate structural movement or failure.  A visual check of the exterior will often give me a clue to some issues that need to be addressed inside.  There were no requirements for soffit venting when these home were built and unless someone has added some, there is usually no soffit venting present.  Exterior mounted plumbing vents are also another sign of poor workmanship and again is a clue what to look for on the inside.  Many older homes also have visible roof lines where part of a structure was removed and attention has to be given to ensure any openings were properly sealed.  Masonry chimneys are the last area we inspect on the exterior, many older homes had more than one and many times they are removed at the attic level.

Porches are another desirable feature of Century Homes and can be a great feature of the home.  The structural supports of porches are very important due to size of porches and the overhanging roof.  Many homes may have multiple porches attached to home and have to all individually inspected.  Some porches have been built over cisterns which were a common feature in Century Homes.

The basement is the heart and soul of your new home.  This small area will usually be the deciding factor in purchasing your Century Home.  The foundation walls are the first item on the agenda and we carefully look for signs of water penetration and failing walls.  It is not unusual to find small trenches formed around the exterior walls to drain back into a sump pit.  Century homes do not have weeping tile for drainage so improper landscaping or downspout maintenance is very important.

The supporting structure of the basement is the next item up for inspection.  I visually look at every beam and probe any suspect beams looking for dry rot etc.   In a poorly renovated home you can expect to find beams that have been compromised by installation of plumbing, heating or electrical equipment.  Many times temporary screw jacks are being used as permanent structural supports or wood posts have been added while not being secured.

The electrical system in most Century Homes has usually been updated once if not twice.  Most insurance companies will not insure a property unless it has a minimum 100 amp service.  The first wiring in older homes is Knob and Tube, which is easily identified by the use of porcelain knobs and wiring looks similar to a railroad track.  Most insurance companies will not insure a home with knob and tube wiring.  Part of the electrical inspection includes ensuring there is a proper ground, identify any aluminum wiring and also note any older two wire circuits, which has no ground wire attached.

The heating system in a Century Home depends on service available and personal preference of who ever installed the system.  After ensuring proper operation of installed system I also perform a detailed inspection of the duct work looking for signs of asbestos.   Usually on older homes the asbestos has been removed on all the accessible ducts but I often find asbestos insulation left in place on the vertical ducts between floors.  Asbestos is a Class Two Hazard and can be very expensive to remove.

Galvanized plumbing was also very prevalent in older homes.  Many insurance companies will not insure a home with galvanized plumbing installed as it has already exceeded its life expectancy.  Galvanized iron pipes are actually steel pipes that are covered with a protective layer of zinc. Galvanized pipes were installed in many homes that were built before the 1960s.  During my inspections I find many times all the easily accessible pipes have been replaced except for the pipes which vertically extend to the upper floors.

Moving through the house I typically carry a level in my back pocket when inspecting Century Homes, to identify floors that are not level due to movement and / or renovations.  I check all the outlets to identify any issues with polarity or lack of grounds.  Plaster or drywall is carefully looked at for cracks or water stains.  Lack of heat source is noted if none is present.  Many older homes used a heat transfer grille to allow warm air to rise naturally to upper rooms.

Plumbing fixtures are all operated and again checked for presence of galvanized pipe.  Traps are inspected and S traps are noted if not converted to P traps.  Some bathrooms may use an air admittance valve if installing typical plumbing vents is not practical.

The rest of the inspection is pretty typical of any home inspection until we reach the attic.  The items that can be problems are:  plumbing vents not penetrating roof allowing sewer gas to enter attic; vermiculite insulation (know n to potentially contain asbestos); added insulation but no soffit venting installed, bat or rodent excrement in attic (can be expensive to remove due to health hazard) and last but not least is the presence of knob and tube wiring.  This is a fairly common problem in a Century Home where either due to laziness or simple cost cutting, knob and tube wiring maybe still be present.

As a potential purchaser of a Century Home you need to educate yourself and hopefully engage the services of an experienced Realtor who will put your interests ahead of the expected commission fee.  There is nothing more frustrating to a Professional Home Inspector than listening to a Realtor trying to make light of a potentially expensive repair such as Asbestos Abatement.  Even if you are willing to gamble on your own health the affect on your resale value will be enormous.  An educated consumer is an smart consumer and with purchasing it is Caveat Emptor –  Buyer Beware.

Common Problems Found During Home Inspections
Century Home Inspections
Oil Tanks and Your Home Inspection
Electrical Panels in Bathrooms