Seeing Beyond the Surface Part 1: Interior Systems
Looking for a new home can be exciting, but also really stressful. Part of that comes from assessing something so important in such a short amount of time. I often think of house hunting as speed-dating for the biggest purchase of your life. One of the things that I do as a Realtor is point out potential issues that buyers may not be aware of and provide a balanced picture of what it might mean to own a specific home. This article is the first in a series spotlighting those issues.
Modern lifestyles tend to require more electricity than those of our grandparents, so it’s a good idea to make sure the electrical systems of an older house will meet your needs. Are the outlets grounded? Is the wiring safe and up to date? Will the power service and panel meet your needs? Generally between 100 and 200 amps of power comes into a home from the utility company through a service entrance on the outside of the house. It flows through an electrical meter and a shutoff switch and then to the main breaker in your electrical panel. 200 amps is pretty common in new construction but you will occasionally see as few as 60 amps going to an old house. Here’s a good article on how much electricity a home requires.
A house’s foundation is probably the least glamorous component to consider, but it is one of the most important, especially for an old home. All foundations should be scrutinized carefully by a home inspector, but Portland in particular has some foundation issues to watch out for. Many early Portland foundations were made partially of sand from the Columbia River which unfortunately turned out to be a lot more silt than anyone realized at the time. This, plus a century of damp climate, has lead to many crumbling foundations in the Pacific Northwest. Foundations can be repaired and even replaced entirely, but it can be one of the most expensive problems to solve with a house (often tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars), so if the inspection raises doubts about the foundation of a house you’re considering, you might want to have a structural engineer take a look.
If a home is more than 40 years old and the plumbing hasn’t been replaced in that time, chances are it has got galvanized plumbing that is nearing its end of life. Galvanized pipes are steel pipes that have been coated with zinc. Over decades they corrode and rust leading to significant buildup inside the pipes that can eventually constrict the flow of water. This corrosion can also contribute to a buildup of lead in the water, which can be harmful if consumed. Galvanized pipes are not the end of the world, but the expense of replacing them should be factored in to your long term plans. The good news is that the modern replacement plumbing is PEX tubing, which is both cheaper and easier to install than metal pipes.
Next time we’ll talk about some issues facing the outside of the house. See you soon!