Okay April, here it is. Or at least the first part of it. And, since I rushed some of this, please excuse the "draft" quality of it. Hopefully, I'll refine it at a later date.
If I'd remember to bring my camera with me last weekend, this would be an illustrated list. It was unbelievable. Everywhere I went this weekend their were prime examples of water damage, failing roofs, bad foundations, collapsing additions, etc. I may have to do a version two of this with photos.
Also, I'd highly recommend this book, Renovating Old Homes by George Nash
. Among other things, it has a lot of info (and photos) on how to assess an old house's condition.
The extremely short version of it is this: Rot, mold, moisture, termites, environmental hazards (asbestos, lead, oil leaks, etc) and structural failures (roofs and foundations in particular) are things are need to look for in an old house.
And, here are a few tips or cardinal rules.1)
Don't move a house, ever. Leave that to stupid, crazy people like me.2)
Nearly anything can be fixed, repaired, or refurbished if given enough time and money; however, just because it can be done doesn't mean that you
should do it. Pick your battles based on your budget and emotional fortitude.3)
No matter how bad you think a house is, it is usually twice as bad and it will take twice as much time and money too. If you move a house, go ahead and triple everything for a good measure.
Now for the long versions. Here are some of the things that I would look for if I were in the market for an old home.General Exterior1)
What are the exterior walls of the house clad in? Brick, original wood lap-siding, asbestos, aluminum, vinyl, etc?2)
If it is asbestos, aluminum, vinyl, or other type of "modern" siding, was it laid over the original siding (typically wood of some sort) or did they tear the original siding off before they installed the new siding? Nearly every house I've seen has had the original siding underneath. If this is the case, typically one of two things has occurred (or both). The new siding has protected the original siding from the elements and it is in better shape than you'd expected, or the new siding has trapped moisture between it and the original siding and rotted it.3)
What is its condition? If brick, is the mortar still good? Does it need to be repointed? Was it "repaired" with concrete? If so, has the concrete started to crack the bricks yet? [I've never owned a brick house; if anyone has something to add to this, please let me know]. Is the wood rotten, termite eaten, warped, etc? Is the paint on it lead based (chances are pretty good that at least a few layers are)? Can the siding be saved with a little repair or does in need to be completely replaced?4)
Asbestos? You'll want this to come down sooner or later. As long as it isn't crumbling in such a way that the asbestos fibers are becoming airborne, you should be okay as I understand it. [Again, I've never had to deal with this problem; Greg at the Petch House has if I remember correctly. Please let me know if you have some tips on this]Roof1)
How old is the current roof and what is it made of? Composition shingles/asphalt shingles typically have a 30 year life span. If they are incorrectly installed (i.e. laid over pre-existing layers of roofing), reduce the expected life span by 10 to 15 years.2)
If the shingles (or other roofing material) are laid over older layers, how many layers are there? Example: The Devil Queen had two (or three?) layers of composition shingles laid over the original wood shingles. Over 100 years, the weight had caused portions of the roof to collapse.3)
Is the roof shedding its shingle or other roofing material? This is usually a sign that it's time to replace it.4)
Has the roof been patched with tar, asphalt, or other material? Pay particular attention to the areas around chimneys and vent pipes.5)
Is the roof sagging or uneven in anyway? If so, check the framing to see if it is damage. Sometimes though, this can be caused by settling and may not be a problem.6)
Is there moss or other plants growing on the roof? If so, you can assume that the roof will need to be replaced. You might also have some serious drainage issues you need to identify.7)
Go into the attic and look at the underside of the roof. Look for stains or other signs of leaks on the underside of the roof. If there are signs of leaks (current or fixed), go down. That is, water flows down, so look for where it would have gone once it entered the house. Did it pool between the joists? Did it seep through the ceiling into the room below. Did it run down the inside of a wall? Look for the usual rot, mold, etc.Foundation
What kind of foundation does the house have? Crawlspace, full basement, partial basement, slab, pier & beams, concrete, rock, brick, etc?2)
How high is the sill plate from the ground as viewed from the exterior of the house? Most codes that I am aware of require a house to be 18-24 inches above grade. Many older homes are not. I've seen some that actually touched the ground in places. Moisture damage is possible, and termites damage can almost be guaranteed.3)
Does the surrounding ground slope towards or away from the house? French drains or landscaping can take care of this, but check for signs of water damage, mold, etc.4)
Are there cracks or holes in the foundation?5)
Look for mold, water stains, and standing water in the crawlspace or basement. We once looked at a house (40-50 year old ranch house in Atkins) that had standing water in the crawl space. It was a deal killer for us.Additions1)
Does the house have any additions to it?2)
If the house does have additions, do they extend beyond the original foundation or roofline of the house?3)
If the answer to #2 is yes, carefully check where the addition is attached to the house. This is often one of the weakest spots on the house. A lot of additions are poorly executed and poorly designed creatures which are structurally unsound or trap water. The Devil Queen's front and back porches were enclosed in the 1980's or early 1990's. Because of how they were built, they didn't ventilate well and collected moisture inside the porches. They'd rotted from the inside out by the time we acquired the Queen. Even if we hadn't moved her, we'd have to raze the porches and rebuild them.
Labels: check list