Historic Homes Are Cool But….

Historic homes are cool but, it’s important to understand issues that could come up with an older home when you are planning to purchase one so that there will be no surprises down the road. The materials that were used and the way things were installed back in the day can potentially present a safety or a health hazard today. Here are some things to look out for when you’re considering buying an older property:

Electrical Issues

Aluminum wring could be found in an old home. Aluminum wiring has been known to be a fire hazard. The issue with aluminum wiring is that it expands and contracts causing a loose connection at the breaker, therefore causing the wiring to overheat which can lead to a fire. Aluminum wiring was used in homes in the mid-1960s into the 1980s before it was realized to be a fire hazard.

Federal Pacific “Stab-Lok” panels is an electric panel that was installed in homes in the 1950s into the 1980s. Problems with Stab-Lok panels began to surface in the 1980s. It was discovered that the brakers in  Stab-Lok panels would allow the wiring to overheat, leading to a house fire. These panels have been responsible for many house fires, so if one is found in an old home, it would need to be replaced for safety reasons. Here’s a link on more about Stab-Lok panels: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stab-Lok

Knob-and-tube wiring is a wiring method that was used in homes in the early 1900s into the 1960s. This electrical wiring method has been found to be a fire hazard today. The reason why is connections tend to not be covered in boxes, the wiring, insulation, or sheathing can become brittle, leaving exposed wiring. These wires also tend to be buried in insulation which is a fire hazard. At the panel, fused neutrals could be found, which is a fire hazard, so, if knob-and-tube wiring is found in an old home, the wiring would need to be updated.

Back in the day, there was no GFCI outlets. GFCI receptacles where not required in houses until 1971. So, if you’re looking at an older home, chances are all the outlets are ungrounded. An ungrounded outlet is a shock hazard. Grounding ensures that electricity is safely transferred away from the outlet in the case of an unstable current. Keep in mind that all outlets may need to be updated in an old home.

Health Hazards

Asbestos can be found in many places in old homes. Asbestos is a mineral that is composed of flexible fibers. The presence of asbestos in building materials and home products is not really a health risk. Asbestos becomes a health risk when its fibers are released from the material to the air and breathed in. If inhaled, asbestos fibers can lay in lung tissue for a long time, as a result lung cancer can develop after many years of exposure. Here are materials that asbestos could be found in old homes:

  • Wall and attic insulation
  • Water pipe and heating duct insulation
  • Shingles
  • Siding

Here’s a link on more about asbestos: https://www.asbestos.com/asbestos/

If you’re looking at a home built before 1978, chances are it has lead-based paint somewhere in the home. Lead is toxic and is a health hazard, especially to small children. Children can get lead poisoning by swallowing/absorbing lead-based paint chips. Their toys could also become covered with lead dust, and we all know kids love to put things in their mouths.  It would be a good idea to have a lead expert check for and remove lead paint from an old home before moving your family in. Here’s a link on more about lead paint:https://www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family-sources-lead

Plumbing Issues

If you’re looking at a home built between 1978 and mid-1995, it could have Polybutylene piping. It’s not if these pipes will leak, but when. PB piping has a history of failure from chemical reaction with chlorine in public water systems as well as fitting failure. PB is no longer an approved plumbing system because they are prone to leak. The last thing you want is a plumbing system leak, be prepared to address this issue when looking at a home between 1978 and mid-1995.


Also, don’t be surprised if an old home has foundation issues. It is very common because of normal wear and tear due to age. If you love historic homes, and like the idea of putting a modern touch on it, just be aware, open minded, and prepared to due some work to the home. Historic homes are cool!


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