home inspectors - mobile logo

How to survive your first old home purchase

BY Steve Rodriguez
Steve Rodriguez
BY Steve Rodriguez
Steve Rodriguez

An old home is a wonderful thing.

Aside from the charm and character, an old home brings a host of problems not found in newer houses.  Like poor wiring, cracked foundations, clogged pipes, and weak roofs.

Now, don’t avoid an older home because of these issues, they’re normal.

But old homes need special attention because today’s building codes are very different than 50+ years ago.

In fact, many homes weren’t inspected by city code officials at all.  So it takes a trained eye to spot the unique problems of older homes.

Especially if they’re hiding beneath a renovated or remodeled surface.

Leaving you with old materials and building methods that wouldn’t meet today’s standards.

So a professional home inspection for older homes is a good idea.  Because some lurking problems aren’t obvious without expert probing.

For example, it’s important to know if the foundation can handle the weight of a renovation or addition.

And over time new bathrooms or kitchens will mask plumbing and electrical problems.  Like the shiny new sink connected to a clogged pipe only a few feet away.

So let’s look at some common problem areas:

1. One of the first places to look in an older home is the basement.

old basement

These cellars kept household items and dry goods and were never meant as living spaces.

TV’s weren’t invented and a rec room was unheard of!  So the fancy finish may make the basement feel solid, but who knows what lurks behind the paneling?

Faults and failures here can mean expensive Kansas City foundation repair or higher insurance rates.  And decades of exposure to poor drainage or high moisture can cause serious deterioration.

That’s why I turn my nose on when I walk downstairs.  A musty odor tells me that rot and mold are nearby.

2. The roof can also be a problem area after half a century of cold winters and hot summers.

bad roof shingles

No matter how many times it’s been re-shingled.

Chimney deterioration is common. Also look for rusted flashing, rotted fascia boards, and a sagging roofline.

3. Ceiling insulation is also a common (but minor) problem in older homes.

vermiculite attic insulation

You might see new insulation on top of sawdust, shredded paper or wood shavings as a way to cut the heating bill.  This a no-no because these materials are combustible.

Check to make sure there’s enough attic ventilation, too. This wasn’t always important 50+ years ago.

4. Hot air and hot water heating systems are still around.

gravity fed boiler

These rely on gravity and low-pressure steam so not only are they expensive to run, their parts will be way past their life expectancy.

5. Many 50+ year-old homes still have 60-amp service.

knob n tube wiring

Knob-and-tube wiring is a special concern because it’s so unique and old.  In fact, this is the reason many older homes have no insulation the attic.

6. The plumbing is the last focus area.

galvanic corrosion

• Clay sewer lines break
• Cast iron drainpipes crack, leak, and clog
• Galvanized water lines corrode
• Vent pipes get plugged up

That’s why the plumbing system is my #1 concern in older homes.

I also find copper pipes connected straight to galvanized pipes.  This is bad because it causes corrosion and breakdown.

There you have it.  Insider tips to beat the biggest problems in older homes so you know what to expect before you move in.

Photo of author


Steve Rodriguez is a Certified Master Inspector® and the owner of Bulldog Professional Inspection Services. He will perform your home inspection and has personally uncovered tens-of-thousands of defects in 14,000+ Kansas City properties since 2003.
best home inspectors badge in kansas city 2016-2024
top 3 home inspectors in kansas city 2023 badge
top 25 under 25 badge
certified master inspector badge
Citys Best Award Badge 2024
top home inspection companies in kansas city badge
verified veteran owned business