Pay attention to your old house

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Inspection, Old Houses, Old House Construction, Home Improvement Tips

I learned many hard lessons during that first year of living in my old house.

How many times have you seen beautiful, thick and luscious ivy on the side of a stately home? The greenery always makes the home even more charming. It reminds us of English countrysides, expansive lawns and old brick that has seen a good century or two.

That’s what I thought as I enjoyed the look of ivy and vines on the low brick walls surrounding my house. It was also climbing a trellis near the garage. In the back of the house, it was slowly climbing up the wide brick chimney base that led from the ancient fireplace. It was gorgeous. It was perfect. It made my house look even more like a fairy tale.

How ivy and vines can be a bad thing

Ivy climbing a house. Image credit: Syracuse.com

But shortly after hiring a landscaper to make my lawn look like that English countryside, he pointed to the ivy and said, “We’ve got a problem.”

In the thrill of seeing such lovely ivy on my house, I made the classic mistake of not thinking about what was happening underneath it. That would be the tendrils creeping into every crack they could find in the brick, shimmying under the neighboring clapboard, and wrecking havoc underneath the lovely green blanket.

It was a fortunate lesson learned. There wasn’t much damage, but it was still an unexpected hit on my pocketbook–and my pride. But if I had let the beauty of the ivy continue to overshadow what was happening underneath, there would have been serious consequences down the road. The takeaway lesson: always pay attention to your old house, even to things that seem benign.

How to protect your old house

Here are a few other things I have learned to notice along the way:

  1. If you think you smell mildew, be wary. That heavy scent could speak to water where it shouldn’t be, and it doesn’t necessarily have to come from the bathrooms or basement. For instance, the scent of mildew in the corner bedroom could indicate standing water underneath the house.
  2. Pay attention to the floorboards. Floorboards that are bowed, cracking or sagging can sometimes be written off to the passage of time, but there might be a more sinister problem going on, such as that dreaded issue of water damage.
  3. Keep tabs on how things are working. Is the power flickering a bit when you turn on a light? Is there one particular outlet that keeps shorting out? Is the water flow a bit less than usual? These are things you should check out immediately, because plumbing and electrical issues with an old house are common, and they can spell disaster if left unattended.
  4. Check out sticky doors. If your doors are suddenly sticking in the frame or grinding against the floor, you might have a foundation problem. Get a contractor out to take a look.
  5. Look for crumbling wood. Termites and beetles can make their presence known by crumbling wood throughout your house. Though they usually stay underneath the house where they can’t be seen, don’t take any chances. If you have wood anywhere in your home that appears to be crumbling, pitted or otherwise falling apart, call in an expert.

The longer you live in your old house, the more familiar with its quirks you will become. Don’t attribute anything to the simple age of your home–it could be the first signs of a serious situation, and that means it needs to be checked out now. The longer a problem is allowed to fester, the more expensive it can get.