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Old 06-10-2009, 12:36 PM
 
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If I were to do this, what sort of things should I be on the lookout for. Figure a house that's roughly ~150 years in age in the Northeast (New England).
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Old 06-10-2009, 01:23 PM
 
Location: Grosse Ile Michigan
30,253 posts, read 74,332,513 times
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What to look for? What matters to you?

Old plumbing will be a problem. Look for plumbing that has been replaced with Copper or PEX.
Sewer lines will ahve been repalced, find out how recently.

Watch out for no, or bad insulation in the walls.

Plan to buy invisible storm windows to seal up your old windows.

The basement may be leaky. They did nto instal drainage systems or sump pumps. Some homes already have them added.

Watch out for Alumium wiring. It is dangerous. You also may find a lot of houses with very small panels (50 am or 100 amp). 200 amp panels are the current standard. A new panel will cost at elast $2000 installed (the penel itself costs abotu $100). I have no problem with Knob & Tube wiring as long as it is not aluminum. You may want to have the connections checked. You may want to instal GFCI outlets since there is no ground.

Uneven floors are common. As long as you are not seeing major cracking in walls or fundation, it is generally just differential settlment. Still you should probably always have the foundation/structure checked.

Older houses generally do not have fireblocking in the walls. If you do not have fire resistant insulation, the lack of fireblocking will allow a fire to travel very quickly between floors. Instaling fire blocking is impractical. You would have to remove most of the plaster.

Cosemtic issues are generally irrelevant. Floors need sangins, a small crack here and there, etc.

OUtdated kitchens and bathrooms are what you want. Updated kitchens and bathrooms are usually only our of date rather than authentic and quaint. Besides most "updating" is done wrong.

Common things that you just live with:

Doors and windows that do not quite close and open properly

Uneven floors.

Sink faucets that drip.

noisey heating systems.

dust collecting moldings (baseboard, chair rail, crown, window and door casings, etc).


What you do nto want in my opinion:

Updated vinyl or alumium windows.

Updated kitchen or bathrooms (discussed above). You escecially do nto want something "trendy" in an old house. It will be yesterday's trendy in a few years and there will be no historic charm left to your home.

Removed or modernized moldings.

Modern replacemnt doors (it is very expensive to find and instal antique doors to correct "modernizations"

Billy Bob additionns or modifications (the worst are often enclosed porches).

Water intrusion problems (foundation, not roof. Replacing the roof is no big deal).

Easy to resolve issues:
Carpeting over the hardwood (just remove it and pull out the 15000000 tacks or staples that they use.
Old torn or painted wallpaper
minor cracks in plaster.
Painted moldings (lots of work, but not difficult to remove the paint).
Broken or missing glass panes. (Except stained or leaded glass, that is very difficult to repair.)
Roof leaks (you probably need a new roof anyway).
missing or broken door or cabinet hardware.
water heater


Things that are great to find:

POrch (bigger is better)
Bay windows
Quarter sawn oak (floors, mantles, doors, moldings, paneling, or built ins)
Antique tile
Fireplace (have the chiminey checked).
bay window
stained glass
hardwood stairs
carved stair railings.
thick plaster walls
cross lighting (rooms with windows in at elast two walls)
Bubbly glass in windows.
Built ins
crown molding
picture rail
steam or hot water heat
spooky basement (basements should be spooky).
An attic full of old junk
A garage full of old junk
old roses.
wall markings shoing the groth of a child.
History of the house and the people who lived there.
Bullets embedded in a wall or beam.
Old photographs.

Last edited by Coldjensens; 06-10-2009 at 01:37 PM..
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Old 06-10-2009, 01:43 PM
 
Location: Eastern Washington
16,160 posts, read 52,856,337 times
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FWIW, we have 100 amp service to the house, even with an electric range this has not been a problem.

But we have enough sense to realize we can't use the oven, the dryer, and a lot of hot water all at once.

IMHO older houses are typically better built than most current or recent construction.

To me the worst problem an old house can have is a current owner who has "McMansion-ized" part or all of it, and then wants to make money on their mis-deed.
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Old 06-10-2009, 02:56 PM
 
48,503 posts, read 92,718,870 times
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The first thing I would look at is foundation probems.Many can be brought on by no drainage planning before the house was constructed.Many older homnes were just p[laced on peice of property .Also the heating and cooling/insulation. . In many homes the insulation was poor and poor heating and cooling duct work because energy was cheap in not the too distant past.Of course their is the sewer and water linesa as mentioned earlier. Older homes can be a real pain unlesss kepp up and expensive to correct problem like heatig and colling with poor insualtion. Just as many home in the 40's and before were designed for cross draft cooling that include more windows that are single pane and really cost cooling aand heat wise both in the type of glass and the number of windows.
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Old 06-10-2009, 05:27 PM
 
5,019 posts, read 13,619,717 times
Reputation: 7081
Quote:
Originally Posted by Coldjensens View Post
OUtdated kitchens and bathrooms are what you want. Updated kitchens and bathrooms are usually only our of date rather than authentic and quaint. Besides most "updating" is done wrong.

Common things that you just live with:

Doors and windows that do not quite close and open properly

Uneven floors.

Sink faucets that drip.

noisey heating systems.

dust collecting moldings (baseboard, chair rail, crown, window and door casings, etc).


What you do nto want in my opinion:

Updated vinyl or alumium windows.

Updated kitchen or bathrooms (discussed above). You escecially do nto want something "trendy" in an old house. It will be yesterday's trendy in a few years and there will be no historic charm left to your home.

Removed or modernized moldings.

Modern replacemnt doors (it is very expensive to find and instal antique doors to correct "modernizations"

Billy Bob additionns or modifications (the worst are often enclosed porches).

Water intrusion problems (foundation, not roof. Replacing the roof is no big deal).

Easy to resolve issues:
Carpeting over the hardwood (just remove it and pull out the 15000000 tacks or staples that they use.
Old torn or painted wallpaper
minor cracks in plaster.
Painted moldings (lots of work, but not difficult to remove the paint).
Broken or missing glass panes. (Except stained or leaded glass, that is very difficult to repair.)
Roof leaks (you probably need a new roof anyway).
missing or broken door or cabinet hardware.
water heater


Things that are great to find:

POrch (bigger is better)
Bay windows
Quarter sawn oak (floors, mantles, doors, moldings, paneling, or built ins)
Antique tile
Fireplace (have the chiminey checked).
bay window
stained glass
hardwood stairs
carved stair railings.
thick plaster walls
cross lighting (rooms with windows in at elast two walls)
Bubbly glass in windows.
Built ins
crown molding
picture rail
steam or hot water heat
spooky basement (basements should be spooky).
An attic full of old junk
A garage full of old junk
old roses.
wall markings shoing the groth of a child.
History of the house and the people who lived there.
Bullets embedded in a wall or beam.
Old photographs.

Awesome awesome post! I tried to rep you, but the rules......

This was my favorite:
Quote:
Billy Bob additionns or modifications
Oh yeah. Run away. Often it costs more to tear out those "improvements" than it would be to start with a fresh, but outdated, "unrenovated" property.
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Old 06-10-2009, 07:08 PM
 
186 posts, read 808,890 times
Reputation: 96
Great stuff!! Question though, around what time did fire resistant insulation become the norm? Is that relatively recently? How far back? 10, 20, 30 years? Just curious, I may not buy an antique, I am in a state of flux. The situation is dynamic.
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Old 06-11-2009, 08:01 AM
 
3,020 posts, read 25,097,306 times
Reputation: 2791
Default Buying the antique, not all it seems........

Well if you bought an old house, 150 years old or so, you are talking something built before the Civil War. In a way they are a bit of an illusion. What the real estate industry loves to market as all charm and get peeps just gooey with nonsense. More a talking game than reality. Charm factory is the game. Get the suckers to pay a super premium for what can be an illusion if you are not super careful.

First of all it probably has been updated, modernized with all that non-essential stuff like electricity, toilets that flush, stupid running water in some lil rooms. Real heat and maybe some of that cool air on demand. Everything is a bit of compromise. Who did the renovations is super important, when they were done, how they were done is everything. Not every hack is qualified to redo a very old house, it takes far more skill. You must use the right materials. Basically you are trying a balancing act of preserving the charm but to make it livable / safe / efficient by some modern standards.

Going in and doing a total gut on an old house probably will ruin it if not extremely careful. But you also have a trade off on what parts reach the end of their working life and how any type of replacement is handled. Just common sense sezs some major renovations are going be required. Especially things like plaster. Squeeky floors are part of the charm but I don't believe they will be sagging in a very well built old house.

The one big thing is understand nothing will be "Standard". Just about nothing is an easy, cheap direct replacement. Nobody will ever talk about the ramifications of that fact. Either you learn to live with non-functional doors, windows, etc or you go through the perils of some type replacement.

In my present house which is only a mere 86 years old, I knew the exterior doors all would have to be replaced. They were never right from day one, old local made doors that were falling apart, leaked like crazy and were never properly installed. Forget charm, you got to have something that works in doors. Of course nobody will mention what might be required to make it so. I would love to have an "inspector" have detailed the flaws, what was going to have to happen to replace them, what do you think would have been the possibility of that happening? I doubt very high. Forget 3 hours, $150, the cost of the new door and you are in business from most contractors. I would hate to think what it might have cost to have it done proper, in older houses you just about have to be able to do the work yourself, most ancient houses are not economically viable projects, it just costs too much to put them totally right. You actually have to care about what you are doing and have the right tools / skills and be willing to devote the amount of time that it is going to take.

Another thing to look for is dry rot. It is in every old house. The question being, where and to what degree? Do not depend on some inspector to find it. I'm not sure if it adds charm, maybe so.

The question of fire blocking should be a very big question. Few very old houses will have a proper system. It is difficult to back fit without major gutting. You could have a nice debate about what level of blocking is acceptable, fire always finds the hidden flaws. In some houses just about impossible due to their design. Therefore a super reliable fire detection system is a super must, you can't let the fire get started. Will go through the shack like snake oil thru a tin goose. Have that escape plan down pat and learn to run quick, the charm is a flaw for sure in that circumstance. I've lost count of the number of old houses I've worked in, almost none were really safe in a fire, it was going to spread so quick.

If looking at old houses, you need the ability to judge so many factors. In the end it always comes down to money. What is the house really worth in its present condition? A few years back some of my relatives were looking to buy a house. Primarily concentrating on older houses, trying for the super deal, all the new houses were nothing but junk.

There was one that I remember so well. Seemed like the perfect buy, the dream old farm house. Had it all, the history, age, charm, location, land, condition, etc. This puppy just reeked charm. One of my sister's knew its story pretty well. Was a bit over priced but everything is relative. It was brick, all the brick exterior had been recently replaced, craftsmanship was excellent. So easy to fall in love with. Pant, pant, we just have to have it.

We go have a look, house is not open but we can see in the first floor windows. Looks well done. But I walk around back and the new bricks are starting to develop the classic staircase type cracks in the mortar in a few places. It has been done over the old rubble foundation, the same cause that probably caused all the old bricks to fail on the original and it was happening all over again. Showing up this time very, very quick, talking maybe a few months. There was no proper brick ledge with a support for brick walls in the foundation, the fatal flaw with no cure. Do you really want to own such a puppy? Plus it was obvious all the old debris was buried on the site, lots of it under the old garage which somehow had been jacked up in elevation. Once you know certain fatal flaws it is game over, the question in all old houses is what might there be? It is get the emotion totally out of it, never say those stupid words, "O' how pretty".

In the end you are accepting a sort of time capsule with little ability to make major changes in the design period without destroying the charm thing. The house must remain what it is and was or it becomes a sort of bad joke. The illusion game can be strange. The only real question becomes what is it really worth? For many old houses, maybe even most, that answer is always far less than they are asking. The charm in the cold hard light of day is just not worth that much if the house is not functional / reliable / safe / efficient by some modern standard. Everything is that brutal compromise between reality and illusion. DO NOT depend on anybody in real estate industry to provide much in the way of guidance.

All their prattle and machination and seeming fool proof procedures are just to make the suckers focus on the charm part. You really want somebody who has a lot of experience actually working on old houses to answer the only question that counts, "What is it worth?" The other chuckle is finding the fatal flaw within the first hour.

Last edited by Cosmic; 06-11-2009 at 08:36 AM..
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Old 06-11-2009, 03:38 PM
 
Location: Orlando, Florida
43,855 posts, read 48,519,188 times
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I love old houses. I would always take the chance and live with the consequences.
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:11 PM
 
Location: Grosse Ile Michigan
30,253 posts, read 74,332,513 times
Reputation: 38246
Quote:
Originally Posted by potatosoup View Post
Great stuff!! Question though, around what time did fire resistant insulation become the norm? Is that relatively recently? How far back? 10, 20, 30 years? Just curious, I may not buy an antique, I am in a state of flux. The situation is dynamic.
Itdepends on the type. A lot of vermeculite was laced with Aesbestos. people get panicy over it. If you have it reseach and decide. Cellulose has had fire resistant materials for al long time, but it has gotten a lot better recently. I do nto know what year(s). Some houses have blown in fiberglass. That will not burn, but it iwill melt. I am not sure about foam. I have read claims both ways. One says it will not support flame, another says that when it gets hot, it burns fast.


THe best solution is to not set your house on fire. If you eliminat supidity, there woudl be very very few house fires. SO just dont be stupid.
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Old 06-12-2009, 02:28 AM
 
Location: I think my user name clarifies that.
8,292 posts, read 25,469,812 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by potatosoup View Post
If I were to do this, what sort of things should I be on the lookout for. Figure a house that's roughly ~150 years in age in the Northeast (New England).
If it's a house that's that old, and hasn't had serious work recently, you're probably looking at an almost complete rebuild - from the foundation/basement up.

Get ready to stick some SERIOUS money into your project.
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