“Yikes!” “Uh-oh …”
The homeowner and I were watching our contractor remove deck boards that concealed an area of a foundation wall that we thought might have settled.
The homeowner had noticed a problem when the front door began to stick, and an unmistakable settling of the floor under the door had soon followed.
The contractor and I assumed that water had caused the foundation to settle, leading to a drop of the floor system – a relatively common problem in older homes that is sometimes easily stabilized and repaired.
Ugh. Which one of us was going to give the homeowner the bad news – her minor settling problem in the house she’d recently purchased was rapidly becoming a very expensive major repair?
Problems in older homes are often well hidden. More often than not, serious damage doesn’t show any symptoms until the damage is significant and expensive.
There are clues, but even trained eyes sometimes have difficulty telling normal wear and tear from the signs of serious underlying problems.
Most old-home problems, however, have predictable causes and if you know where to look you can find hints that might lead you to discover concealed damage.
Find the problems early enough and you might be able to fix them relatively easily, or keep yourself from buying into unexpected expensive repairs.
Problems with gutters and downspouts are the biggest cause of water damage – they must be cleaned and checked regularly.
If you’re looking to buy an older home, check the condition of the gutters and downspouts – they’re big clue to finding hidden water problems elsewhere in the house.
As the ground around a home settles naturally, it can slope in toward the house and begin directing water at the foundation wall. Modern waterproofing systems can delay the subsequent damage for a while, but older homes don’t have sophisticated waterproofing systems – if they have any at all. Many very old homes have porous stone foundations that have no ability to repel ground water.
Check the grade at the perimeter of the house – settling near the foundation may indicate water in the basement.
Plug it in
Check any visible wiring to see if it’s made of aluminum, which is also considered a fire hazard and was discontinued decades ago. Look around the house – are there lots of extension cords and plug adapters? Are there “burn marks” around some switches and outlets? Are there rooms without any outlets at all? Replacing an electrical system to remove safety risks or to bring the system up to current codes can be a very expensive project.
Richard Taylor is a residential architect based in Dublin, Ohio and is a contributor to Zillow Blog. Connect with him at http://www.rtastudio.com/index.htm.