It was a dark and stormy night -- in an old house

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Musings, Old Houses

Few things will show the true age of a house like Mother Nature. When the Weather Channel says things are going to get rough, you can bet that means a smorgasbord of strangeness coming from your old house.

Whether they are spring flings or winter blizzards, putting away the patio furniture and securing things outside is always your first line of defense against storms. But sometimes the storm can seem determined to get into the house itself. That's when your old house starts to seem haunted at best, and rickety at worst.

How old houses weather the storm

The bad news is that there will be times when it sounds like your house might fall apart at the seams. The good news is that every one of those awful sounds has a reason behind it, and it's much more bluster than bite. Here are the things that annoyed me (okay, frightened me!) during those early days of old-house living.

Is that tree going to fall?

The shade trees that are so lovely during bright, sunny days become ominous harbingers of doom when storms roll in. The whole tree will bend and bow. Leaves will be torn free to bounce wildly across the yard. You will look at the big branches and wonder which one will fall on your house first. You will start trying to figure out which area of your house is the safest if a tree does happen to land on your roof.

The Remedy: Before the next storm rolls in, trim away the weak and old branches. Then relax about the rest. That tree is much stronger than you think.

The mysterious draft

You know the one. You are walking through a hallway in the middle of the house, where there are no windows and exterior doors, but you feel it -- a draft strong enough that it stops you dead in your tracks.

The added bonus to the mystery draft is the door that opens on its own. Sometimes a draft will catch the door in just the right way and fling it open with enough force to make you scream in fright. Other times it will open slowly, as though there is someone behind it trying to sneak up on you.

The Remedy: Invest in serious weatherstripping, add insulation if necessary and caulk well around windows and doors. You can even put foam insulation pads behind your electrical outlets. Over time, those mysterious drafts will start to disappear.

The sound circus

An old house sends up a cacophony of strange sounds during storms. There are the usual creaks, moans and squeals. There is the wind whistle that seems to come from every room in the house. There is the rattle of glass, a sound that makes you think every pane is going to shatter. And inevitably, something falls over, probably thanks to the aforementioned mysterious draft.

Add in the amazing vanishing power -- that flickering that happens at the height of every storm -- and don't be surprised if you start to wonder about hauntings. Even the most emotionally and mentally solid person can be reduced to wide-eyed fear when those shutters suddenly start to slam against the upstairs window.

The Remedy: Invest in flashlights, find the quietest room in the house and distract yourself with a board game. No matter how tempting, avoid ghost stories.

It's already stood for a century…

...and it will stand for another.

Once you grow accustomed to the way your old house acts during a storm, there are few places more comforting. Though there might be tense moments, there is also that moment when the storm has passed and you reassure yourself: This house was standing strong long before I got here, and it will be standing long after I am gone.

So do what you need to do to make your house secure, then settle back with a tall glass of your favorite soothing beverage and raise a toast to the storm raging outside. It's going to be a long night.