Whenever you put an offer in on a house, the smart thing to do is to make sure the offer is contingent on a good inspection report from a home inspector. While a general home inspection might cover most issues with a newer home, an old house might need more extensive inspections if you really want to get an idea of what condition the house is in and what health issues might be there.
Old houses have beautiful craftsmanship, but you also want to make sure they are reliable and healthy places to live. Here are some extra inspections you should consider if you're hoping to own an older home.
Asbestos is a fireproof material that seemed ideal for all types of construction. It was used for centuries for fire safety and chemical resistance. It used to be added to almost every kind of home and commercial building, especially in areas where fireproofing was important. You might find asbestos in floor tiles, chimney wraps, siding, insulation, wiring, plaster, cement, and ceiling tiles.
As the world developed rapidly during the first half of the 20th century, asbestos was mass-produced in home building products. But people soon began to realize that using asbestos in buildings was hazardous, causing severe lung problems and the growth of aggressive lung cancer, called mesothelioma.
The use of asbestos in home and commerical buildings, while not entirely banned, was brought under tighter control in the 1970s and '80s, so modern homes do not have asbestos. However, if you are buying an older house, you should get an asbestos inspection to make sure that you aren't at risk of being exposed to the dangers of asbestos.
Lead is another potential hazard in older houses. Lead was used in plumbing and in paint. It might also be in dyed or painted tiles. Lead testing is important because exposure to lead, especially during childhood, can cause marked mental defects. People with lead poisoning have lower IQs and behavioral problems and can exhibit antisocial behavior. There are physical consequences as well. Heart problems, autoimmune diseases, and even infertility can result from exposure to lead.
A lead inspection may cost more, but it's essential to ensure your health and the health of your children. If you learn about the presence of lead in the home, or even in the soil around your home, you can take steps to remediate the problem or find a different home to live in before you complete your purchase.
Older homes have outdated electrical systems. Your house may have remnants of knob and tube wiring, or fabric-covered wires that are now a fire hazard. The most dangerous thing about old electrical systems is how they have been altered or added on to through the years. The original electrical work was not designed to handle the load of a modern electrical household, so you may discover things like an overloaded electrical box, ungrounded outlets, no GFCI outlet protection, and other problems. These are harmful because they can hurt your appliances with unregulated power, increase your risk of electrocution, and cause issues with fire safety.
Finally, you should consider radon testing. Radon is a common problem in many areas throughout the United States, and it can increase your risk of lung cancer. This colorless, odorless element can pool in high amounts in basements or crawlspaces. Newer homes have better basement sealing and radon mitigation installed, but older homes don't have this protection. You can have the radon levels tested in the basement before you buy the house.
Buying an old house can be rewarding, but you should always go in with both eyes open. Schedule additional inspections before closing on your house.