They Don't Build 'Em Like They Used To...

By
Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

And we should all be thankful for that!

Antique Kitchen StoveAs a home inspector one phrase I hear time and again is, houses were built better (insert an age, time frame). There certainly is no question that older houses still standing now, often have great details and character. These relics often have beautiful trim work and interior finishes fitting of the period, which are naturally not found in today's construction. But what about the actual house construction? The bones to use a common phrase. Eye candy is what we see, what of the stuff that really matters, that we can't typically gaze upon? 

There seems to be a certain nostalgia for older houses. I think we may tend to romanticize our past, our childhoods, the house we grew up in. Or maybe it was Granny's house we fondly remember. No matter, the mind has a way of painting beautiful pictures. 

And playing tricks on us.

Older Roof FramingOne common method in older construction I find is a minimally framed roof. I see this again and again in older homes. If the house were built today, the framing would most likely not be approved. And yes, they are still functioning. However, these older, they-don't-build-'em-like they-used-to roofs are showing why they are no longer built in this fashion. 

During a recent inspection of an older house built around 1917, I found the roof framing to be as expected when checking the attic. 2" x 6" rafters spanned about 24" inches apart. The spanning on  these older houses tends to be a bit loose. Another common characteristic I find, is the original roof covering, cedar shingles, are still on the roof. Which means there are a lot of layers of roofing on an older, over spanned roof. 

Laser pointer on rafterWith just a quick look around, it is quite apparent the rafters are bowing. Again something I find to be quite common with older houses of this construction. A simple trick I came up with demonstrates the rafter bend is to place my laser pointer from my infrared thermometer along a rafter. One can easily see the light does not touch the member along its full length, thus indicating a bow. Here the light fell at the bottom most point over an inch below the rafter. Several more of the rafters were in similar condition, with one found to be cracking. 

While the interior finishing's of these older charmers may be beautiful, the over all construction at times leaves much to be desired. 

 

Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Rainmaker
47,164
Youree Lundy
Keller Williams Advantage III Realty - Orlando, FL
Your Realtor For Life

Good points for someone looking at an older home.  I miss the character, but I do not miss the maintenance on the older homes.  

Jan 25, 2015 08:59 PM #1
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Which is why I love to sell new construction.  Fact is, those old homes are a money pit.

Do they sell??  Of course they do.  They meet the price for which a buyer is qualified to or wants to pay. 

One of the exceptions is older communities, not older homes.  There are historic communities that offer added value, but they are rare.

Jan 25, 2015 09:16 PM #2
Rainmaker
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David Popoff
DMK Real Estate - Darien, CT
Realtor®,SRS, Green ~ Fairfield County, Ct

James just another perfect example on why buyers need to do home inspections. ~ Dave.

Jan 25, 2015 09:54 PM #3
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Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Jim, of course you won't get any argument from me, I will take new any day.

Jan 25, 2015 10:18 PM #4
Rainmaker
679,919
Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert
Zion Realty - Gilbert, AZ
Broker/Owner of Zion Realty ZionRealtyAZ.com

Houses in my market here in Arizona are thankfully so much newer that we don't run into many of the problems older houses tend to have. 

Jan 25, 2015 10:58 PM #5
Rainmaker
563,900
Fred Hernden, CMI
Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area - Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque area Master Inspector

Those were the days, huh? Those trusses and rafters were built onsite, probably had nobody to inspect it or sign off that it was built correctly. Today, with pre-fabricated trusses built offsite in a manufacturing plant, todays roofing structures are much better.

Jan 26, 2015 02:02 AM #6
Rainmaker
683,909
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Youree, Maintenance and typically a higher cost of ownership. 

Lenn, Some people actually like and seek out older homes. However I think your correct, most of them meet the buyers price point.

Dave, Yep, totally agree :)

Charlie, Me too. Really what's not to like?

Nicole, That market sounds like an inspectors dream :) Some house's here can be 200 or more years old.

Fred, City inspection didn't happen that far back around here. 

Jan 26, 2015 09:07 PM #7
Rainmaker
1,840,105
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

You new guy, you.  When I was a contractor I used to demonstrate bowing with a chalk snap!  Yes, that was a couple of days ago.

Great stuff.  I really liked my son's 1923 house in Vermont.  His huge attic was a lot of fun.  We talked about what he would need to do because he wants to finish it (addl support and such).  That would make it a fabulous space!

Jan 27, 2015 07:35 PM #8
Rainmaker
683,909
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Jay, Yes, some of those older attics are huge! I remember exploring my Grandmothers ginormous attic. It was lot's of fun!

Jan 27, 2015 08:26 PM #9
Rainmaker
1,840,105
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

My grandmother's house, circa 1910, had one of those, except there were lots of dark spots with lots of stored stuff.  Made it spooky!  My HO train set was in a partially finished room on that level and I would run to it so none of the dark stuff would get me.  Then I ran back downstairs!

Jan 27, 2015 08:37 PM #10
Rainer
26,202
John Helmick
John Helmick Success & Ohio Property Inspection Services - Dayton, OH
Realtor Personal Growth/Success Coach

I would agree that the roof structure is the most suspect system in older homes in our area.  It would appear to me, generally speaking, that the floor framing is of much better construction.

Feb 17, 2015 10:34 AM #11
Rainmaker
683,909
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

John, Not always around here. A common method of floor framing was to notch the joists at the foundation wall, effectively reducing the bearing capaicity. Also, over time, the wood splits from the notch. Not so good. 

Feb 17, 2015 09:15 PM #12
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James Quarello

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