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Thread: Old Homes - How often should they get a complete over-haul?

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    Old Homes - How often should they get a complete over-haul?

    I've been researching this problem for some time and Google's not been too helpful. So in the name of not asking a barber if I need a haircut (asking a construction company) I thought I'd field the question here first for some preliminary advice.

    Long story short I had a painter/small repair guy at our place over the summer, who mentioned that our home might need major renovations - electrical, plumbing, ideally insulation (which may contain asbestos). His reasoning was that our home was built in the sixties, and after that span of time it's usually a good idea to bring everything up to a modern standard, which hasn't been done in our house before.

    Basically what I'm wondering is how accurate that claim is - whether bringing a home built in the 60s up to code is actually an urgent issue for any reason. Some of our rooms could definitely use a face-lift, but I'm more interested to know if we need to tackle the guts of our house, and if we do, what time frame we might be looking at.

    I also recognize that this depends largely on the specifics of our house which I'm not too familiar with, but even if anyone has ideas for how to go about looking into this problem that'd be great.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    I've been researching this problem for some time and Google's not been too helpful. So in the name of not asking a barber if I need a haircut (asking a construction company) I thought I'd field the question here first for some preliminary advice.

    Long story short I had a painter/small repair guy at our place over the summer, who mentioned that our home might need major renovations - electrical, plumbing, ideally insulation (which may contain asbestos). His reasoning was that our home was built in the sixties, and after that span of time it's usually a good idea to bring everything up to a modern standard, which hasn't been done in our house before.

    Basically what I'm wondering is how accurate that claim is - whether bringing a home built in the 60s up to code is actually an urgent issue for any reason. Some of our rooms could definitely use a face-lift, but I'm more interested to know if we need to tackle the guts of our house, and if we do, what time frame we might be looking at.

    I also recognize that this depends largely on the specifics of our house which I'm not too familiar with, but even if anyone has ideas for how to go about looking into this problem that'd be great.
    If it ain't broke don't fix it. That being said, you should know the limitations of your home and not stress. My house was built in 1888. SO it is not 100% up to present building standards. But when I had my bathroom redone, I got to see the beams of my house. The size booth in length and thickness dwarf what we use today. I have some old knob and tube wiring. I just don't overload the circuts and whenever I can I run new lines with modern wiring. Am a punching a billion holes in my plaster walls, no. If you have asbestos and it is an any position to be aerosolized, it should be professionally removed.

    Get a good contractor you tryst have your systems gone over.

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    Before it is too late and falls apart.

    Leaky roofs are a good sign.

    The idea is preventative maintenance. Keep up with repairs to avoid a large scale problem. Reapint before it becomes a problem. Check the roof for rot.

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    A lot depends on how well things are working now.

    It is important to know if your walls, ceilings,floors contain hazardous materials such as lead or aesbestos. Lead paint is hazardous if it begins to deteriorate or if it is chewed on by a small child. Some children chew anything, including window sills. Asbestos *may* be ok if it is left undisturbed. Chances are a major renovation would disturb some of anything containing asbestos. It's better to know straight up. And it is 100% better to ask an expert in asbestos and check with your city for regs, etc. Your safety and that of your family is of the utmost importance.

    You probably don't have knob and tube but your electrical is probably out of date. Our panel is much more modern than that and it's out of date. What we are doing is having the house rewired as projects come up. This is not my idea but it is very, very difficult to get an electrician to commit to doing your entire house in my area because of the demands on their time. They did some when we re-did the kitchen which was a gut by necessity from floor to ceiling. Wiring was updated by necessity, plumbing was slightly relocated and a waste stack from the second floor was original to the time the house first had indoor plumbing and in an abundance of caution it was replaced as it would have been behind cabinets and the stove and ovens so if it had leaked (waste! from the bathroom!!!) it would have been extremely expensive to repair any damage. It was prudent to replace it so we did.

    We're adding a master bath in a small room off of the largest bedroom (i.e. the master) which has meant installing insulation where there was none before and updating wiring in that area of the house as well as updating some plumbing in addition to installing some plumbing. We're also replacing an inefficient window with a more efficient one which will have obscure glass in it for privacy required.

    You should definitely find out if your house has lead paint inside or out and find out if it needs abatement. There are simple kits that show the presence of lead by a color change. If there's lead and you're not demolishing the surface and the paint is intact and not likely to be chewed on, you're probably safe. If you decide to remove surfaces with lead paint, you MUST have this done professionally and ideally if no one is pregnant and there are no small children in the house.

    Some older homes have lead water pipes. It would be wise to have this looked into and updated if this is an issue. If the foundation is good and dry and the roof is good and the house is dry, you're probably ok there.

    I don't know how well your wiring is working for you. Today, with modern appliances, there can be significantly greater demands on the power than there were in the '60's. I know you've done some work but am not sure if any of it involved opening up walls or parts of walls and exposing wiring. If you find something bad like: aluminum wiring or knob and tube--you must replace. If everything seems to be working well enough, you can simply figure that you will likely need to do some updating as you update spaces or do major renos. If it is merely a case of not having enough outlets or grounded outlets, you can probably do it room by room as necessary.

    I know how painful it is to spend money on the mechanicals instead of the pretty stuff or fancy stuff like new appliances or new bathrooms, etc. But it's necessary from time to time.

    Furnaces should last 20+ years if they are modern; longer if they are old school.
    It seems that many appliances hit their useful lifespan at 8-10 years which I think is criminal. And yes, this includes expensive appliances with well respected names behind them. I find this unacceptable. IMO, appliances should last a minimum of 20 years and ideally much longer. Note: appliances are somewhere you should not skimp. Buy the best you can and try to buy from a local dealer who provides periodic service. You might pay a bit more up front but it is definitely worth it long term.

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    Super Moderator Bronzeage's Avatar
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    Bringing an old house up to code is always a good idea. There's a reason the code changed. Fifty years ago, in the US, electrical codes required a duplex outlet for every 8 feet of wall. This resulted in most rooms having an outlet near the center of each wall. This was fine because there was nothing to plug in except a lamp and maybe a radio. Today, an entertainment center can easily have four or more plug in devices.

    I've worked with Habitat for Humanity from back in the days when they rehabbed old houses. We don't do that anymore. The cost per square foot to bring an old house up to code exceeds building from the slab up. The main expenses are electrical service and HVAC.

    This is the real point. What's it going to cost and what do you get out of it. A house that's less likely to catch fire is a real benefit. Lower utility bills are nice. A more comfortable and convenient house is great. It comes down to a cost benefit analysis. It might be cheaper to move.

    If this were my dilemma and since about 8 weeks ago, it is, I would start with electrical. If the breaker box and service is to low for current needs, that's number one. Old wiring is usually fine, unless it has to be moved. Insulation get brittle and shifting the wires around can result in large areas of bare copper. Older houses are likely to have ungrounded outlets, which is not as big a deal as some people think. Very few modern appliances have a ground plug, anyway. Unless we are talking about a house built before WW2, most updates are done along with a major remodel or addition.

    As for aesbestos, that depends on where and what it is. It's usually fine, as long as you leave it alone. If there is aesbestos pipe insulation, floor tile, or exterior siding, that can be a major expense in any project.

    While we're finding ways to spend your money, don't forget to check all surfaces for lead based paint.

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    Our house was built in 1928. There are certainly things not 100% but not unsafe. Do what is necessary and do what is necessary to keep it safe. My wife's brother is a builder and does 99% of the work when it's needed. Nice to have that convenience.

    One big repair was we had to have the house repointed because the mortar was failing. That was the biggest necessary expense. Our outside walls are not wood, just building tile and brick fascia so the structure was compromised and had to be repaired. I've added a layer of insulation on the interior of most of those walls to save a few bucks.

    Kitchen redone. Bath redone. Floors redone. Upstairs finished. New windows and doors. New roof and gutters and downspouts. New furnace. Added AC. New electrical service with mast. A couple new water heaters. All that over 30 years so no hurry.

    There was a bit of asbestos here and there from the old coal furnace ducting which I removed. I'm sure there is lead paint but it is all encapsulated.

    If your kitchen is old and dark and doesn't spark joy and you have the money then go ahead and upgrade, but do your homework so you're not disappointed. We helped friends with their kitchen decisions.

    You can hire a home inspector to tell you everything you need to know about your house. Local real estate agents can give you names but shop around, it's your money.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    Bringing an old house up to code is always a good idea. There's a reason the code changed. Fifty years ago, in the US, electrical codes required a duplex outlet for every 8 feet of wall. This resulted in most rooms having an outlet near the center of each wall. This was fine because there was nothing to plug in except a lamp and maybe a radio. Today, an entertainment center can easily have four or more plug in devices.

    I've worked with Habitat for Humanity from back in the days when they rehabbed old houses. We don't do that anymore. The cost per square foot to bring an old house up to code exceeds building from the slab up. The main expenses are electrical service and HVAC.

    This is the real point. What's it going to cost and what do you get out of it. A house that's less likely to catch fire is a real benefit. Lower utility bills are nice. A more comfortable and convenient house is great. It comes down to a cost benefit analysis. It might be cheaper to move.

    If this were my dilemma and since about 8 weeks ago, it is, I would start with electrical. If the breaker box and service is to low for current needs, that's number one. Old wiring is usually fine, unless it has to be moved. Insulation get brittle and shifting the wires around can result in large areas of bare copper. Older houses are likely to have ungrounded outlets, which is not as big a deal as some people think. Very few modern appliances have a ground plug, anyway. Unless we are talking about a house built before WW2, most updates are done along with a major remodel or addition.

    As for aesbestos, that depends on where and what it is. It's usually fine, as long as you leave it alone. If there is aesbestos pipe insulation, floor tile, or exterior siding, that can be a major expense in any project.

    While we're finding ways to spend your money, don't forget to check all surfaces for lead based paint.
    Yeah. I figure we've already spent more in renovating this house than we ever did buying it outright. And will sink at least half that into it again before we're done.

    That does not count needed, expensive periodic maintenance such as new furnaces and roofs or when the city forced everybody in my neighborhood to remove perfectly good sidewalks and re-install new ones.

    Of course our house is pre-WW2 and pre-WW1 for that matter. Actually pre-20th century.

    OTOH, a good friend of mine has (had) built several houses and I know that's not an easy or perfect solution, at least if you are very detail oriented. She and her husband just purchased a 4 year old house that is chock FULL of problems which I wouldn't expect at the price they paid.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    I've been researching this problem for some time and Google's not been too helpful. So in the name of not asking a barber if I need a haircut (asking a construction company) I thought I'd field the question here first for some preliminary advice.

    Long story short I had a painter/small repair guy at our place over the summer, who mentioned that our home might need major renovations - electrical, plumbing, ideally insulation (which may contain asbestos). His reasoning was that our home was built in the sixties, and after that span of time it's usually a good idea to bring everything up to a modern standard, which hasn't been done in our house before.

    Basically what I'm wondering is how accurate that claim is - whether bringing a home built in the 60s up to code is actually an urgent issue for any reason. Some of our rooms could definitely use a face-lift, but I'm more interested to know if we need to tackle the guts of our house, and if we do, what time frame we might be looking at.

    I also recognize that this depends largely on the specifics of our house which I'm not too familiar with, but even if anyone has ideas for how to go about looking into this problem that'd be great.
    Not knowing your house or what you are considering or the cost of things in your area or your tastes, my very spitball guess at what some things cost is:

    New kitchen: $50K
    Re-wiring entire house: $10K--can be done as you do other projects
    Refreshing bathroom: $10-$15K
    New roof: $8-15K depending on materials used and size of roof, etc.
    New heating/cooling: $10K

    I know you've done some work already so you know what that kind of thing costs.

    As for time frame: it really depends on not only the scope of the project but also how busy the various trades are. I'm in the middle of a major project now that is taking a bit of time because we are competing for the time of various trades.

    My biggest pieces of advice are as follows: Hire the best possible general contractor you can. Yes, you're a smart guy and full of energy and you could possibly tackle some of these tasks yourself but you do not have the expertise nor the contacts that a general contractor has. I hired the best contractor in town. He's not the cheapest but I know from experience (he did our kitchen) that he is completely honest and trustworthy and he does not try to upsell me on anything. I've seen projects carried out by other contractors and I am 100% convinced that mine may be more expensive upfront but long term: he's a good value. Not only that but I know that I can trust any of the subcontractors he hires. They are always need and clean and efficient and scrupulously honest and do excellent work. No one ever has to re-do or fix their work down the line.


    Our biggest conflicts are when he tries to keep me from spending money on what could best be called 'pretty' rather than strictly functional. Not only is he honest and trustworthy and highly skilled but he has an absolutely stellar reputation with the trades. That last part is HUGE in ways you cannot even begin to imagine. He can talk the various trades into doing things and on time frames and prices that they'd never do for me. Ever. And I know them and I don't quibble about price, let them do what they need when they need to do it with no complaint and I pay the day I get the bill. Every. single. time.

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    Bronzeage's recommendation of first ensuring the electrical service is adequate I think is the wisest choice. For example, I live in a 1400 sq ft townhouse with a 200 amp service but I run gas for the furnace, water heater, and stove. Also, the panel had at least half a dozen unused spots for additional circuits.
    There are load calculators on line.

    Consider too, do you plan on staying in that house and if not, resale factor comes into play.

    Your insurer should be able to tell you what various work should cost. They have high-low estimates on many things. I found this out when I had a slab leak.

    You'll never know if you have a good contractor if you don't know where he is getting his materials and what the best way to do the job is. I deal with small contractors in my job. It's worse than I thought. Don't get the cheapest or the most expensive. Watch how detailed the quote is. More is better. The phrase "It's standard industry practice." means it's the quick, cheap way of doing things.

    I fixate on the mechanicals. I don't wait for it to break to replace it. Then you are in a hurry and don't have time to do your due diligence. If the water heater is fifteen years old, replace it. Sump pumps don't die on sunny days. And the furnace will stop working in January, at night, on the weekend.

    Find books and read them. I've taken notice of some of the stuff you read. You can do this.
    Dwight

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    I believe you can safely remodel/upgrade on an as-needed basis, although I agree with TV and Credit Cards about trying to stay ahead of the curve.

    Our house is about 80 years old (built 1940) and we have done periodic maintenance as required, which seems to work well.

    The house was designed by a well-known somewhat eccentric local architect, and we haven’t touched the kitchen tiles or upstairs bathroom tiles, which are we think charming. We don't do much cooking anyway.

    When we bought it 25 years ago, it turned out it had been a rent house for many years and repairs had been done on a Do-It-Yourself basis. The plumbing for the upstairs bath had been replaced in the 70s with that polybutylene plastic piping that had a tendency to leak, and leak it had. We had to have all the pipes replaced with copper, and completely redo the downstairs bath, which was directly underneath, including re-tiling etc. We had this work done before we moved in and got it included in the price of the house.

    Since then we’ve had a continuous expense, every ten years or so, repainting the exterior, as we live in the sun belt, which is hard on paint. The wiring was original, not knob and tube but cloth insulated, and the cloth had rotted off and/or been chewed by rats. Also the breaker box was definitely not code (two different electricians remarked that the manufacturer had gone out of business “because of all the lawsuits”). So we had the house completely rewired two years ago. It was an epic job lasting two months, but I sleep better now.

    Last year we had to replace the complete HVAC system, which must have been 30-40 years old. The new unit is much more efficient.

    The house had no insulation, so I did that (four separate attic areas - didn't do the walls) when we moved in. I also added a living room fan (other rooms had fans) and a new AC/Heater duct in the living room.

    That’s all I can think of. May need a small amount of foundation work eventually, as the front door sticks when it gets hot and the clay soil expands..

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