How Old is My House? A Greater Chicagoland Home Inspection Primer Pt 1, St Charles, IL

Home Inspector with Greater Chicagoland Home Inspection

Greater Chicagoland Home Inspection's new blog, "Life at the OLD Homestead"  is meant as a primer for those interested in intricacies of old homes.   I love old homes...I love inspecting them, I love restoring them, I love living in them.  This is dedicated to that passion, and hopefully will shed some light on some of the finer points of these time capsules.

Determining the Age of a Residence Part 1 

It is relatively easy to date modern buildings, in the St Charles area, and other Illinois suburbs through the use of city construction and zoning records and historical data.  While record keeping can instantly, there are many turn of the century or earlier buildings, which may not have as detailed records.  Some construction dates of early town residence may be "circa", or approximate, due to the lack of or loss of early record keeping.  This mainly happened in rural areas, but with suburban sprawl over the last half a century, older existing suburban homes are also suspect. When this is the case, some fun detective work can help the owner find out some really great information.


Building materials are one of the most common ways to date a residence.  Often times cast or fabricated items such as heating grates or radiator covers will have the Manufacturer Company information and date stamped or cast into the metal.  I was able to determine the circa of one of my Oak Park residences this way.  For one reason or another, the documents dated the house "circa 1903", but after further investigation, the date stamped on the original heating grates throughout the house was 1906. 

Some history of housing components can help you determine an approximate age of a house.  While a single feature will not determine the correct year the residence was built, multiple features will help you complete the puzzle, for a close, if not exact determination of the construction date.


If you lucky enough to find a production date, excellent!  But often times, it is necessary to look for architectural historical references.  Understanding types of materials or methods used in during architectural periods are another means to find out construction dates.


Below are some interesting material use facts  




•·         Prior to 1800, nails were hand made by a blacksmith.  They appear crude looking compared with more recent nails.  They are usually squared in appearance and have a beaten look to the top.

•·         Type A- and Type B nails were common from 1790 to 1830. They were created by wrought iron and are squared.

•·         Wire nails, or modern nails have been used since 1890.  They are machine made and rounded for a more practical use.



•·         Knob and Tube Wiring, or K&T was a method of wiring used from the 1880's through about 1940.  It is an obsolete system that can be a fire hazard, due to the increased amount of amperage needed to run modern electrical devices, or shoddy repair through the years.

•·         Aluminum wiring was used from 1967 till 1975.  At the time copper prices were extremely expensive. Aluminum wiring was discontinued in 1975, as it was deemed a fire hazard. 

Electrical Receptacles

•·         Non-polarized receptacles have two slots of equal size, and no ground slot.  These were used mainly from 1904-1926

•·         Polarized receptacles are two-slotted, one wider than the other to allow for proper polarity. These were mainly used from 1927- 1960's

•·         Grounded and polarized receptacles were created to ground an appliance or device. They can be identified by the round hole beneath the center of the polarized slots.  

Dating a residence by the type of receptacle is often a tricky.  Over time, they are often upgraded to handle grounded appliances, replacement due to breakage, or during a renovation.  It is common for inspections to find modern receptacles improperly wired, therefore not having proper grounding.

Hint:  Look for the Pig Nose!  A pig nose is an outlet which has been painted over so many times, that the only visual indication of it existence is the two slots peeking through.  Often times, this is an indicator of an original outlet!

 Non-Polarized Outlet

Polarized, non-grounded outlet

polarized-grounded outlet

Part 2 of this blog will include floor coverings, wall coverings, and lathe and plaster.



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Leslie Ebersole
Swanepoel T3 Group - Saint Charles, IL
I help brokers build businesses they love.

Another great post! Please don't make me figure this out by myself, my brain will short out. 

You need to do a pithy series on unrecorded well and septic....sticky topic. Email me if you want detail on idea....



May 10, 2010 04:14 PM #1
Rich Edgley
Greater Chicagoland Home Inspection - Saint Charles, IL

Oh its on the way, Leslie.  It's on the way.  I have some great photos about underground oil tanks too! 

This subject is way too big for one post.  I imagine over time, it will be book sized.

May 10, 2010 04:57 PM #2
Roseanne Campagna
John L. Scott RE Maple Valley, WA - Maple Valley, WA
Kent/DesMoines/Blk Diamond/Renton/Maple Valley, WA

I just found you and looking forward to reading all the posts. It probably isn't a new idea, but these are going to help me do CMA's.


Jul 19, 2010 04:27 AM #3
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