What does your home inspector really see?

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

Have you ever wondered what your home inspector really sees when he or she is looking over your old house? Sure, they might see the beauty and character that you cherish, but their trained eyes will see things that the average homeowner will almost certainly miss.

Houses are rather like people -- they tend to show certain universal signs of age. Where we might see fine lines and wrinkles, the old house might start to show sloped floors or questionable roofing. Where we discover an extra few pounds or those gray hairs, an old house might have out-of-date wiring and plumbing problems. Understanding when those problems are going to show up is part of the job of the home inspector, as it makes the rest of their survey much easier.

Problems unique to young houses

Though it might seem like young houses are in tip-top shape, that isn't always the case. Very new houses often show problems with quick construction, especially if it's a tract home and was completed in assembly-line fashion. Houses that have a few years under their belt are time-tested, and they might show more serious issues, including cracks in concrete driveways, exterior paint showing signs of fading and wear, uneven settling of steps or patios, and problems with cheaper appliances, such as garbage disposals.

What happens when a house hits the fifteen-year point? That's when the major appliances start to grumble with age. Heating and cooling systems might start kicking up a fuss. The roof might be nearing the end of its life. Those cracks and sags are now a bit more prominent.

Issues with middle-aged homes

At twenty-five years, the house is settling into the stretch of middle age, and it shows. At this point the lighting might be questionable, as what was up to code two decades before is probably phased out. Settlement is becoming prominent, and you might even notice a slope to the floors in various rooms. Creaks and groans are common.

Fifty is also considered middle age, but it's getting up there into geriatric territory. Home inspections will focus on things like plumbing, which is due to be replaced. If there's brick in the house, the mortar is starting to break down. Settlement is clear now -- simply place a golf ball on the floor and watch it roll in crazy directions. Heating and air conditioning units might be brand new, however, because they already failed and had to be replaced.

Common troubles with old homes

And then…ah, the true old house. That stately beauty that has been standing for sixty, seventy years, or even a century. A gorgeous, well-kept old house like that can be enough to make the home inspector pause in silent respect.

But alas, there will be problems. Galvanized pipes usually only last 60 years at best. Gorgeous hardwood floors might have suffered with even the best of care, and after the age of 50 are on their way out. Masonry houses in which plaster is attached directly to brick might be showing signs of water damage. Most windows will need to have careful restoration or replacement. Chimney caps, eaves, and roofs could be in need of repairs. And of course, sagging roofs and spreading walls are common.

However, even with all of these problems, an older house that has stood the test of time can be lovingly restored and maintained to last another century. That's why it is so important to hire a home inspector who truly understands old houses, who can easily see the beauty within, and can tell you with certainty what it will take to breathe new life into your masterpiece.