Take a careful look at older homes TheStar.com - living - Take a careful look at older homes
Faulty wiring and insufficient insulation common problems
March 22, 2008
**Heather Greenwood Davis
Special to The Star
If you’re a first-time home buyer considering the purchase of an older home you’ll want to have some extra money at your disposal before signing on the dotted line.
At the very least, you should be prepared to fork out a few hundred dollars for a home inspection. At the worst, you may need to budget thousands for unexpected upgrades and repairs.
So says Mario Kyriacou, the 2007 recipient of the NACHI (National Association of Certified Home Inspectors) award for Inspector of the Year. The Toronto inspector (360degreeshomeinspections.com) says that while he recommends inspections for newly built homes as well, the potential hazards in an older home make it a necessity.
Kyriacou says he routinely runs into faulty wiring, insufficient insulation and poor renovations when inspecting homes that clients were just about to purchase.
“It makes them aware of the condition,” says Kyriacou. “They can budget for upgrading the services or decide not to purchase that home altogether. My job is to inform my clients to make the correct decision in purchasing their home. They have a budget and they’re burdened if they have to unexpectedly upgrade the furnace.”
And not all of the things he finds are simply financial hazards. Older home builders often used materials that would make any homeowner wary. (Asbestos anyone?)
Here are some of the main culprits that you’ll want to ask about before falling in love with that cute vintage down the street:
1. Knob and tube wiring **
**How you’ll know: **“Typically a knob-and-tube home would be built in the 1950s or before with 60-amp service. It’s something that you can usually see in the furnace room,” says Kyriacou. But watch out for the “bait and switch” he warns, where the previous homeowner has simply updated what you can see: essentially putting a shiny cover on an old system.
“I recently did a home inspection where it was a 60-amp service but they had installed a new breaker panel in the basement and labelled it as 100 amps,” he says. “All the wiring in the electrical panel was all updated, but when I went into the furnace room and dug around some more I saw that the knob-and-tube circuits were still active.”
**If you take it: **Be prepared to pay. “It’s not enough power for today’s homes,” says Kyriacou who points out that newer homes typically have between 125 and 200 amps.
You may also have trouble getting home insurance: " Most carriers do not want to underwrite a policy with any knob and tube in the home," he says. “A few carriers will carry you if you have less than 5 per cent knob and tube. They’ll underwrite the policy at a premium.”
**2. Aluminum wiring **
**How you’ll know: **“It consists of black fabric covered wiring and is typically found in homes built in the 1970s,” says Kyriacou.
**If you take it: **There’s an increased risk of an electrical fire, particularly in homes where some of the wiring, but not all, has been updated or replaced. “It’s something that most homeowners don’t realize,” he explains. “When they go to Home Depot or Loews to purchase wiring now it’s all copper and they mix and match copper and aluminum. This is not good: Aluminum corrodes when in contact with some other metals and copper is one of them.” Changing the wiring will cost several thousand dollars depending on the size of your home.
**3. Missing insulation in attic **
**How you’ll know: **The house seems drafty and energy bills are high.
**If you take it: **Be prepared to spend the money required to upgrade it so you’re comfortable. Though the missing insulation may not be a building code violation it can add significant amounts to your heating and cooling costs.
**4. Hazardous material **
**How you’ll know: **Chances are you won’t. It will take a trained eye and some tests to be sure, but older homes are more susceptible, says Kyriacou. “In the older days asbestos was used widely in wrapping supply ducts in a home,” he explains. “A lot of the homes used hydronic heating – radiators – and those pipes are wrapped in asbestos wrap and that can be potentially dangerous if disturbed.”
Vermiculate insulation can also be problematic if tampered with. And then there’s the arsenic.
“In older homes in the plaster they used horse hair to bond the plaster together and horse hair was treated with arsenic,” says Kyriacou. “I see this all the time, people taking saws to cut door openings or remove walls entirely in the home without taking precautions to wear respirators or masks.”
**If you take it: **You’ll want to factor in the cost of having professionals handle any renovations you have planned.
“The average homeowner doesn’t know how to handle this stuff and protect the rest of the home from contamination,” says Kyriacou.
**5. Oil-to-gas furnace conversions **
**How you’ll know: **The telltale sign is two holes into the foundation wall of the home or a pipe sticking out of the ground in the backyard. “Often the connecting tubing has been removed but the tank itself is still underground,” says Kyriacou.
**If you take it: **" It can be really costly to remove an oil tank that is leaking into the backyard," he warns. “Often times, the current owner didn’t even know it was there.”
Reach Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org.