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Old 02-02-2012, 02:57 PM
 
Location: Boston Suburb
2,288 posts, read 6,413,802 times
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I've heard almost everyone says old houses were built better and new houses may look good but go downhill real quick.

Can you guys provide real examples of what you've seen that's better in old houses and what deteriorates quickly in newer constructions?

For this purpose, let's say "old" means pre-1955 and "new" means 1990 or more recent.

_________________________________________
To start, I'll give an easy one:

For new constructions, the builder grade accessories (faucets, lights, roofs, etc.) are always the cheapest you can find so one would need to plan replacing these before their typical life expectancy.
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Old 02-02-2012, 03:22 PM
 
4,043 posts, read 3,370,901 times
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I bought a house built in the forties. Oh, the moldings, the craftsmanship on the wood in the livingroom. (the livingroom looked more like a snow ski lodge, and was told by a contractor that it was German in style)

However, generalizing, I will never buy another old house. No inspector can get to or see everything. We ripped up old carpet and the beautiful, original hardwood floor had this thick, waxy stuff on it that nothing could remove but a product I found called SW1000. Our cat could track it, lightly making footprints of it elsewhere and it was a nightmare to remove. Now, we know why they carpeted!

We found some hidden termite damage. Yeah, the house is otherwise solid, and has old-world craftsmanship but with old houses no one can know what others have done to it, or let-go when repairs or alterations would have been wise.
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Old 02-02-2012, 03:40 PM
 
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The proble with these generalizations is there is no mention of the HUGE factor that comes along with PRICE POINT and CUSTOM VS STOCK builders.

If I find an original "mass built" home from the WWII GI era odds are it has windows that basically do little more than keep the wildlife out, insulation that barely looks like a hamster nest, plumbing that is only a touch more modern than what the Romans used, and appliances / heating systems that might be fueled by pure US Dollars... NOW if you are looking at CUSTOM home from a similar era then you will likely get some nicely detailed wood work, plaster walls, artistic looking doors / windows and other features that were a whole lot more widely available than nowadays...

Now a "mass built" home built in the past decade or two in MOST areas will have at least good if not excellent insulation, windows, plumbing, heating and other such "infrastructure" but probably not a whole lot of style / charm.

A CUSTOM BUILT home from as far back as the late 1960s will have A WHOLE LOT of the good stuff that over the years has become standard for energy / durability, and IF YOU'RE LUCKY not too much of the funky "Partridge Family" era decorating style...

These days there are more ways to get some "charm" incorporated into a home and some of them are accessible at lower price points -- poly trim goes up much faster than wood, doesn't have the maintenance demands either.

I am going to disagree with the OP about EVERY new home having low end exterior components. Even the cheapest major tract home builder is not so stupid as to use roofing that won't last. It is not worth the harm to their reputation to have places less than 20 years old with visible worn out roof. Even if the interior faucets and lights are junk there is no real harm to the overall structure, but leaky roofs are something even a really dumb builder knows will turn the whole developer into a MAJOR liability...

Everything has pros & cons. You can spend a lifetime get educated on what sorts of "modern enhancements" reallly are better than the good ol' ways. There are an hordes of lies out there too. Some of the stuff that you get in a old house is junk, every bit as trouble prone as stuff today. If homes never had to endure a storm or have people use indoor plumbing they'd still be pristine as those Stone Age caves in France...

Last edited by chet everett; 02-02-2012 at 03:48 PM..
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Old 02-02-2012, 03:42 PM
 
Location: Sinking in the Great Salt Lake
13,144 posts, read 21,619,767 times
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I've owned 2 houses, one built in 2001 and my current house, built in 1916.

The 1916 bungalow:

It's built on a concrete foundation that is literally 2 feet thick, with 18-20" masonry exterior walls. The floor joists are 12"X 3" old growth lumber, the floors are 2 layers of solid wood; pine subfloor with fir and oak hardwood on top. The house is heated by the original hot water boiler and radiator system, converted to gas from coal. All the woodwork is original solid hardwood and/or painted old growth pine, the hardware is solid brass. The original kitchen cabinets are solid pine, and the solid casement windows work perfectly, despite being almost a 100 years old. The walls are 2" thick lathe and plaster. When it storms outside you hardly know from the inside.

The house is a real style; "Prairie School" and is very pleasant to look at/be in. Here's a picture from when it was new:



today it looks pretty much the same but is now surrounded by large hardwood trees and lush landscaping.


The 2001 tract house:

2X4 walls with vinyl siding. The foundation cracked after the first year we lived there, the drywall nails popped out of the walls from all the flexing of the house during windstorms. The vinyl window springs broke in 2 windows after about 3 years. My kids hit the siding with a toy and cracked a section; it was impossible to find a matching color. Portions of the asphalt shingle roof blew off on several occasions, and the floors/main interior wall developed a pronounced bow. The floor joists were laminate and pressboard; they were spaced 16" under the front room and kitchen, but 20" under the bedrooms. The interior studs were placed every 24" under 1/2" drywall.

as far as style goes, we called that house "the milk carton". Here's a picture of it from Google Earth:



The tract house (not including land) appraised for more than the bungalow in 2006 when we moved, but there is no doubt in my mind which house was built better and will still be standing in a 100 years, even though the milk carton had a 100 year head start.
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Old 02-02-2012, 03:45 PM
 
Location: Houston, Texas
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The American Dream. The American Dream has become the American nightmare. Yes I witnessed a whole lot of corruption during that wonderful housing boom in the early 2000s. The Building Inspectors were so busy they could not possibly walk every new home. They did what we call drive by inspections. They would sit in their car in front of the house and write up a quick green sticker and run up to the door and stick it on there. Do you have any idea what poor workmanship is covered up by the drywall?

The Builders no longer put quality materials in the homes because the Home Buyers don't want it. The building industry has been flooded with cheap junk materials made in China in recent years. This adds greatly to the "junk" factor that the general public is getting a feel for. If a Builder put all quality materials into a home then that $200,000 home you just bought would cost $275,000. Which do you want? There is a goal to build, sell and buy at the lowest price.

There is good and bad with old and new homes. All outweigh eachother so I say there is no difference. It's just a matter of what you like. I been in brand new very very expensive homes where you can put a tennis ball on the floor and it won't stop rolling. I have been in very old homes that withstood time better then fine wine.

Also keep in mind when you feel like you are choosing your Builder, it makes no difference. They are all the same. They ALL use Joe Electrician, John Roofer, Mark Framers, Rob Plumbers. See where I'm going? All the tract Builders use the same large sub contracting companies. The main difference may be with the warranty and with that Pulte is number one. The Builders name that is on the company door DID NOT BUILD YOUR HOME. The sub contractors did. I don't believe in one Builder being better then another. The man or company who takes credit for building your home in reality never even left their desk and never been to your home.

Personally I don't have a preference for new or old. Location is more important. Just give me a lake front home and I'll be a happy camper forever more.
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Old 02-02-2012, 04:23 PM
 
Location: Columbia, California
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I work in the trade.
May old homes are built with hardwood framing, if not hardwood at least old growth wood. Most new homes are built with hem-fir, a hemlock fir hybrid wood designed to grow fast. Him-fir rots quicker as well. Old homes had creosote treated plates, now days creosote is illegal so the plates are pressure treated. In recent years homes built with Chinese drywall that has been found to be dangerous and recalled.

Most new homes are better engineered. Shear walls have evolved into a expensive but superior product. In the past it was a diagonal 1 x 6 in the framing. In the 20th century it evolved into a sheet of plywood. Now in the 21th century it is a massive amount of steel in the concrete with truss hold downs in a 2 x 6 wall with plywood.

Windows of the past were single pane. Some were single hung some were double hung. I have repaired hundreds of old wood case windows that still have a lot of life left.
There are many great windows made today in wood, vinyl and metal clad. These new windows seem to hold up and are built to be repaired quickly.
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Old 02-02-2012, 08:07 PM
 
2,401 posts, read 4,462,285 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chango View Post
I've owned 2 houses, one built in 2001 and my current house, built in 1916.

The 1916 bungalow:

It's built on a concrete foundation that is literally 2 feet thick, with 18-20" masonry exterior walls. The floor joists are 12"X 3" old growth lumber, the floors are 2 layers of solid wood; pine subfloor with fir and oak hardwood on top. The house is heated by the original hot water boiler and radiator system, converted to gas from coal. All the woodwork is original solid hardwood and/or painted old growth pine, the hardware is solid brass. The original kitchen cabinets are solid pine, and the solid casement windows work perfectly, despite being almost a 100 years old. The walls are 2" thick lathe and plaster. When it storms outside you hardly know from the inside.

The house is a real style; "Prairie School" and is very pleasant to look at/be in. Here's a picture from when it was new:



today it looks pretty much the same but is now surrounded by large hardwood trees and lush landscaping.


The 2001 tract house:

2X4 walls with vinyl siding. The foundation cracked after the first year we lived there, the drywall nails popped out of the walls from all the flexing of the house during windstorms. The vinyl window springs broke in 2 windows after about 3 years. My kids hit the siding with a toy and cracked a section; it was impossible to find a matching color. Portions of the asphalt shingle roof blew off on several occasions, and the floors/main interior wall developed a pronounced bow. The floor joists were laminate and pressboard; they were spaced 16" under the front room and kitchen, but 20" under the bedrooms. The interior studs were placed every 24" under 1/2" drywall.

as far as style goes, we called that house "the milk carton". Here's a picture of it from Google Earth:



The tract house (not including land) appraised for more than the bungalow in 2006 when we moved, but there is no doubt in my mind which house was built better and will still be standing in a 100 years, even though the milk carton had a 100 year head start.

Perfectly described the difference!!!

I too lived in both "older" homes & the "newly" built under 5 yr ol' construction with a fancy HOA neighbourhood clubhouse...

My in-laws also build a brand new house (but they build it themselves with Amish help)... now that is a very different story of course compared to the builder mass produced ones.
^^^ note the difference ***
(One you get to hand pick or hand make the materials when possible... the other is "factory" stuffs... ahem MIC drywalls eg.)

"I" choose to buy (after that living experience, and job experience) an older home... with plaster walls as well.

That new 5 yr old house I've lived in prior to buying, have walls so paper thin, I hear all kinds of wind noise... while my older, better build home have just seen through Irene & Lee plus that minor earthquake without so much of any noise or jiggle even. I actually felt safe in it even when we are surrounded by hundred yr old trees... with so many branches down through the night from the storms.

Another great exterior example... my plaster walls may have some little chips & hairline surface cracks of age.... that 5 yr old house when I was still there already have the problem of the front concrete steps "hollowing out" = not properly laid & laid w/o foundation. It not only happened to that house... driving around the whole neighbourhood, most of the homes have that same problem... including the front steps of the HOA clubhouse.

My shutters may be old... the winds of Irene at 70 - 120mph did nothing to it. While I lived at that new 5 yr ol house in that HOA estate... shutters have to be replaced twice b/c it blew off... on a normal windy day.

Sad to say, I'd left a friend who still lived in that same neighbourhood that she told me... when Irene hits, even though her house is on a hill... she had to buy a sump pump for her basement that had flooded while my older house also on a hill closer than hers was to a body of water with an open drainage right outside of my house (and I though would flood) is dry as a fart.

So... if you really really want a new house.

Be the one who build it, pick out that material & oversee the quality of the work (like hire quality builders like the Amish & not just some "cheap labor" to cut cost).

DO NOT let others be in control so they can *blame* the bad build on *bad materials* (beyond builder's control like the drywall; sue who???) they are just unlucky enough to buy. **Control every step of the way like my FIL did!
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Old 02-02-2012, 08:15 PM
 
20,793 posts, read 58,764,107 times
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There is good and bad with everything as you know. Yes, older homes tended to have nicer woodwork, etc. but you could add that to a new home. The "bones" of older houses varied, some were good, some were not. Insulation, windows, etc. are also a concern in an older home. Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are not. I have lived in homes built in the 1860's and in the 1990's and pretty much everything in between. The "best" house we had was a 1945 story and a half. Great bones, great layout, well insulated, windows were solid--even though they were single pane, low energy costs (heat/cool), etc. The "worst", our 1920 Craftsman. Everything looked great but you could blow candles out through the drafty windows, squeaky floors, highest heating bills we have ever had, etc. (still love that house though). Then factor in the higher repair costs for older homes.

I have also noticed a HUGE difference in how solid homes are built in various parts of the country. You don't need to build a house in Arkansas to withstand 80+ inches of snow and -45 cold along with 120+ heat so they are not as solidly built as something you would find in the north, for example. Doesn't make them a bad house.
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Old 02-02-2012, 08:18 PM
 
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P.S. Just to add... the builders are in the business to profit from the sale of the house they build... to make money from the buyers / consumers. But if you were to build your own house, the only person you are seeking to profit will be yourself... that is the difference and how the big builders & developers can afford to build their dream homes & drive big trucks & fancy cars.

Something to think about... "your" money in "their" pockets.
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Old 02-03-2012, 05:02 AM
 
Location: Charleston, SC
5,615 posts, read 14,115,668 times
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I own and have renovated old (early '20s) to new (2002) houses. My thoughts:

Old / better
- Trim wood is greatly superior to the normal stuff used / on par with custom materials now. Right now I'm restoring window casings, door frames and a couple of windows in a bathroom and this house has close to 3/4" thick solid American Chestnut everywhere.
- Solid core doors were the norm, rather than hollow core and molded hollow doors.
- In our case we got lucky and the original wood flooring was in pretty good shape, and could be used without restoration.
- Location (close to downtown)
- Design is superior IMO, and well suited to dealing with the hot summers in this region.

Old / worse
- The trim I mentioned is buried under 9 layers of paint, and in some areas a layer of varnish below the paint and finally the original shellac.
- No insulation, anywhere.
- Fire blocking was not yet a concept or requirement.
- Some items were not meant to be repaired without a lot of trouble. Take for example, the cords attaching the weights to the double hung windows. To replace a broken one requires removing window casing, which often tears up the 9 layers of paint below.
- The effects of time... the place settled and needs to be leveled to make everything straight again.
- In the past, flood plains were not defined yet. "Significant" improvements require elevating the living space above the flood plain level. At least that can be done in conjunction with leveling...
- A/C had to be retrofit in, resulting in some unsightly ductwork in the 1st floor.
- Cast iron door hardware was vastly inferior to steel. Shrinkage wasn't taken into account well, and a lot of parts either never fit right or were broken when I bought the place.
- Wiring, wiring, wiring... Knob and tube is rarely adequate for current electrical loads. Condition of insulation is also normally quite poor. Likewise for ungrounded systems I've been lucky enough to inherit.

Last edited by scuba steve; 02-03-2012 at 05:11 AM..
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