Author Topic: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"  (Read 7149 times)

Trudie

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My husband and I are weighing whether we want to purchase a newer condo in FIRE or purchase a smaller house needing renovations on a small city lot and go that route. In our 20 years of marriage we've lived in two houses we built ourselves, so I consider us to be new house people and very intimidated by old homes (not handy).  My question is, in what years did construction standards change so that we could be assured of getting a reasonably safe home (especially electrical and plumbing systems) if we did extensive renovations?  My guess is sometime in the 80s, but I may be way off.

I see small homes for sale and they're cute, but most would surely have old electrical and plumbing systems... If those type of renovations were to be required I'd rather ante up and buy new(ish).

On the other hand, if we can buy something of a certain safer vintage and update it I would be totally comfortable with the cosmetic improvements -- especially after designing and building two homes.  We don't need a huge place and I actually would want a small yard so I could xeriscape and plant a kitchen garden.... I would try to eliminate turf grass.  This is impossible to do in most neighborhoods with new homes.

Bracken_Joy

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2017, 12:07:44 PM »
I'm not an expert on this, but I like wasting time on google, and you got me curious =) I do know some of this from our house search, DIY stuff, and working on relative's rentals though. Oh, and from living in a 1920s house last year- yeesh that was a learning curve!

Lead required to be eliminated from interior paint- varied by state (some earlier), but federally was banned in 1978.

Electrical:
I thought this was a neat overview: http://www.workingre.com/electrical-systems-older-homes/ Stopped using knob and tube in the 1940s. We used 2 wire Romex until 1965 according to that. We use a 3 wire romex/NM for most stuff now, and so I found this: https://www.nachi.org/forum/f19/just-some-tidbits-info-history-ac-bx-and-non-metallic-cable-98049/ that says that basically requirement changed to mandating NM in 1984. Another thing the overview goes into is when we switched to GFCI breakers and receptacles. So I found a source on that:
For GFCIs- https://www.nachi.org/forum/f19/gfcis-code-changes-history-chart-12234/ (second post down). Key ones, GFCIs required oudoors in 1973, any replaced receptacle must be GFCI requirement started in 1993.
At some point we went from using fuse boxes to breaker boxes. This says it was the 1960s: https://www.thespruce.com/service-panels-changed-in-the-1900s-1152732 But I did find some message boards claiming you can still see fuse boxes in some 1970s houses.

Plumbing:
Apparently we went from using galvanized iron pipes from 1860s-1960, then switched to using copper. Then copper got very spendy, so we switched to PVC/PeX, etc. I guess one of the big concerns with copper is that it "only" lasts about 50 years, so a lot of homes from the 50s/60s that had it are now needing full piping replacement. I found an article about this: https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/home-maintenance-tips/do-you-need-replace-your-plumbing/ (Although it claims copper lasts 75yrs, which is longer than I've read previously). Something to note too is that PVC/PeX is only expected to last ~25 years, so 80s/90s houses with it could potentially have more plumbing concerns that an older house with copper piping.

BrokeNoMo

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2017, 12:13:15 PM »
I've owned houses as old as 1865 (adobe 2 feet thick), and as new as 1991, with a 1948 and now a 1977 we just purchased a few months ago.

Stay away from very old homes unless you are handy; the 1865 and the 1948 both nickel and dimed us. The 1991 was poorly built using cheaper materials and systems.

Much depends on what the previous owners have done during the remodels. If it has been modernized and updated in the past ten years, it might be better than many "new" homes. We had replaced every major "system" in our 1948 home prior to selling it, so the new owners should do better than we did.

Our current home built in 1977 is solid brick and overbuilt; in 2007 they gutted it and remodeled. That included high efficiency heater/air conditioner, water heater, and R-30+ insulation in the attic. All of the plumbing has been redone professionally. We bought it because we no longer wanted a "project house", we wanted a retreat that was simple and peaceful to live in, and it fulfills that very well.

I'm sure the more construction oriented mustachians will be chiming in shortly...

Laura33

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2017, 12:15:58 PM »
My husband and I are weighing whether we want to purchase a newer condo in FIRE or purchase a smaller house needing renovations on a small city lot and go that route. In our 20 years of marriage we've lived in two houses we built ourselves, so I consider us to be new house people and very intimidated by old homes (not handy).  My question is, in what years did construction standards change so that we could be assured of getting a reasonably safe home (especially electrical and plumbing systems) if we did extensive renovations?  My guess is sometime in the 80s, but I may be way off.

I see small homes for sale and they're cute, but most would surely have old electrical and plumbing systems... If those type of renovations were to be required I'd rather ante up and buy new(ish).

On the other hand, if we can buy something of a certain safer vintage and update it I would be totally comfortable with the cosmetic improvements -- especially after designing and building two homes.  We don't need a huge place and I actually would want a small yard so I could xeriscape and plant a kitchen garden.... I would try to eliminate turf grass.  This is impossible to do in most neighborhoods with new homes.

Highly variable -- don't think there's a specific answer.  If you want to know when local homes were built according to the latest code, check your local building permit department and figure out when the current code was adopted.

The more fundamental problem is that standards are ever-changing, and some get better while others get worse.  My house, for ex., is 130+ years old.  It is solid as a freaking rock -- survivor bias, homes that weren't as solidly built didn't last that long.  OTOH, the electrical system has been updated so many times that we basically ripped out and replaced the entire first floor and basement -- and we still have some switches that are tied to completely illogical circuits!  A home built in the last decade or two will have more current systems, but may also have things like bouncy floors and crappy trim carpentry (modern/cheap builder-grade construction standards).  And "no insulation" can actually be easier to deal with than "crappy 30-yr-old insulation that has to be removed before we can put good new stuff in."  Plumbing is now PVC vs. metal, which may be better or worse for longevity (suspect the jury is still out), but boy my old cast iron drain pipe is *quiet*.  Etc.

So rather than make sweeping generalizations, I would strongly recommend finding the best, most thorough home inspector around and having them take a good, hard look at any home you are interested in. 

But if I am going to make a sweeping generalization, I would say be wary of homes in the 10-20-yr-old range.  They *look* modern and new.  But when we were house-hunting this last time, we realized that many, many components of the "newer" homes we were looking at had lifespans between 10-20 years -- ALL appliances, hot water heater, some roofs, windows, etc.  So here we thought we were going to buy a newer home for the ease of maintenance, but still have to replace tens of thousands of dollars of stuff anyway!  Not to mention that many of the finishes that looked the fanciest when installed looked the most dated 20 years later (baby blue carpet, drapes right out of Knott's Landing, beaten-up formica countertops, lovely generic oak-and-brass cabinetry, etc.).  In the end, we discovered that our current house was a better deal than the more modern "classic suburb" homes nearby, because we were going to have to throw so much money into replacing so much of those "newer" places within the next few years anyway that it just made sense to get the cheaper/older house and do it all at once (and to our standards).

If you want a specific cutoff, I'd say post-1980 for lead paint and asbestos concerns, and also because I think there were issues with galvanized plumbing pipe that were discovered in the '70s, so you should be safe if you post-date that period.  I think GFCIs are also important, so if you don't want to deal with that kind of update, I'd go post-'93 per Bracken_Joy.

HipGnosis

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2017, 12:26:29 PM »
You (two) actually, physically built two homes or you paid a general contractor to build each home with your input?  Big difference. 
Also not clear what you mean by 'safe systems'.

It doesn't sound like you would be happy with the imposing limits of what you can do to your home under condo association rules.

Electrical and plumbing of 90+ % of existing homes are 'safe' and functional.  They don't 'need' to be replaced.

There are loads of renovated houses you can choose from.  Flipping homes is all the rage.  But so many of them are done by amateurs and/or done as cheaply as possible for maximum profit to the renovator (aka flipper).

Find a good realtor (research well) that will be your 'buyer agent'. 

Trudie

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2017, 12:37:35 PM »
You (two) actually, physically built two homes or you paid a general contractor to build each home with your input?  Big difference. 
Also not clear what you mean by 'safe systems'.

It doesn't sound like you would be happy with the imposing limits of what you can do to your home under condo association rules.

Electrical and plumbing of 90+ % of existing homes are 'safe' and functional.  They don't 'need' to be replaced.

There are loads of renovated houses you can choose from.  Flipping homes is all the rage.  But so many of them are done by amateurs and/or done as cheaply as possible for maximum profit to the renovator (aka flipper).

Find a good realtor (research well) that will be your 'buyer agent'.

We paid a contractor.  Purchased and drew up the plans ourselves.  We weren't buying into a development.

Bracken_Joy

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2017, 12:46:16 PM »
But if I am going to make a sweeping generalization, I would say be wary of homes in the 10-20-yr-old range.  They *look* modern and new.  But when we were house-hunting this last time, we realized that many, many components of the "newer" homes we were looking at had lifespans between 10-20 years -- ALL appliances, hot water heater, some roofs, windows, etc.  So here we thought we were going to buy a newer home for the ease of maintenance, but still have to replace tens of thousands of dollars of stuff anyway!  Not to mention that many of the finishes that looked the fanciest when installed looked the most dated 20 years later (baby blue carpet, drapes right out of Knott's Landing, beaten-up formica countertops, lovely generic oak-and-brass cabinetry, etc.).  In the end, we discovered that our current house was a better deal than the more modern "classic suburb" homes nearby, because we were going to have to throw so much money into replacing so much of those "newer" places within the next few years anyway that it just made sense to get the cheaper/older house and do it all at once (and to our standards).

I would agree with Laura here- because we *purposefully* got a 1995 home for this reason. It got us the location we wanted that we otherwise wouldn't have wanted to pay the price to get into. But yes, a LOT has failed in our first year here. We knew most of it ahead of time- ie, the water heater we knew would need replaced, so when it stopped draining, we just replaced it. It was original to the house and very inefficient. There was new roof and siding before we bought. If there hadn't been, it would have needed replacing- it's amazing how much siding and roofing work is being done on my street right now, since all the homes are the same age.

Some of it I happily embraced- we wanted weird stuff like an induction range instead of gas, so it was actually desirable to NOT have the kitchen upgraded.

But if you're looking for a turn-key, don't deal with stuff home? Even a really well built 22 year old house will be coming due for a lot of work potentially.

I definitely agree with Laura's recc that the best thing you can do is get a very thorough inspector and communicate your concerns to them and your real estate agent.

Sibley

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2017, 01:02:39 PM »
The first house I tried to buy was an 1890 house. I backed out because of 90% right DIY, but the 10% that was wrong was BAD. Like, needs new siding, main beam, structural issues, plumbing & electrical done wrong, etc.

The house I am buying is a 1919 house. The DIY that was done is ok. They're crappy painters, but the electrical and plumbing are ok. I'm aware of older electrical and plumbing systems. With a few minor things I need to do, they're fine. Yeah, the galvanized pipe in the crawl space may start leaking at some point and I'll need to replace it, but any pipe can leak. I'd rather get a house that I know the bones are good. I've heard so many horror stories about the crappy building that is modern houses, and I defy you find a house built recently with my glorious wood floors and moldings.

Some of the "bad" things aren't really a problem if they're intact. Lead paint - only an issue if it's flaking or you're sanding (or you've got kids/animals that chew on things). Asbestos - a lot of older homes have asbestos wrappings around piping. As long as it's dry and intact, it's not an issue. You can wrap it with something else to contain it if something changes, but it's not an emergency.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2017, 02:29:40 PM by Sibley »

Uturn

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2017, 02:11:03 PM »
If you go to other parts of the world, people are living in good houses that are 100's of years old.  Everything needs maintenance and updates at some point, it all depends on how well the original construction was and if the updates and maintenance were done properly.  Anything build at the peak of a building boom should be looked over a bit more critically, due to builders hiring anyone who can mostly tell the difference between a hammer and saw to keep up with demand.  A poorly renovated flip will cost you more than if you just bought the junker and did the renovation yourself. 

I'm currently trying to buy a house built in 1973.  It needs some cosmetics and asbestos removal, but has good bones and has been well maintained.  I've also looked at the house next door to it, and I'm not sure I would take it for free.  No maintenance done in the last 10 years, DIY electrical done by a moron, and a cracked in-ground pool.  It's not a matter of when they were built, it's a matter of what they are. 

Spork

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2017, 02:18:49 PM »
My husband and I are weighing whether we want to purchase a newer condo in FIRE or purchase a smaller house needing renovations on a small city lot and go that route. In our 20 years of marriage we've lived in two houses we built ourselves, so I consider us to be new house people and very intimidated by old homes (not handy).  My question is, in what years did construction standards change so that we could be assured of getting a reasonably safe home (especially electrical and plumbing systems) if we did extensive renovations?  My guess is sometime in the 80s, but I may be way off.

My parents' home was built in 1964 and had grounded copper romex for wiring and sweated copper plumbing.  Moreover, it was built like a brick shithouse.  Every stinking wall had two rows of blocking in it (which makes it super sturdy but a real pain to add cabling.)   And not that it adds to safety, but it had huge, super cool moldings everywhere.  There were crown moldings in the closets for crying out loud.  When we sold the house after my dad died, it sold for super cheap because the neighborhood was old and the "in crowd" was living across town.

Moral of the story: Don't rule out older houses.

Retire-Canada

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #10 on: May 17, 2017, 03:46:16 PM »
My house was built over 100yrs ago and it has not been a hassle to maintain in the past 7yrs we've owned it.

Fishindude

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2017, 03:57:06 PM »
My house is over 100 years old. There are many aspects of older homes that are far better and nicer than new homes such as; real masonry work vs lick and stick, real hardwood floors, doors and trims, masonry fireplaces and chimneys, heavy wood framing, no OSB sheathing.     The problem areas are typically mechanical and electrical systems, windows and insulation, all of which can be brought up to modern standards if it isn't already.  Older homes are also generally built in the best locations for drainage, breeze, view, etc and the landscaping and trees will already e mature.

seattlecyclone

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #12 on: May 17, 2017, 03:58:42 PM »
There's really no one-size-fits-all answer here. It's not the age of the house, but the age of the components. A 100-year-old house with original wiring might scare you off, but a large fraction of houses that old have had some level of upgrades to that system at some point in the past. Same with plumbing and heating and everything else. Things wear out, they need maintenance, etc. If that maintenance was done recently, the things you're worried about may be just as new (or newer) as in a house from the 1990s.

SwordGuy

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #13 on: May 17, 2017, 06:54:25 PM »
First off, check out this posting from MMM:  http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/12/26/cure-yourself-of-tiny-details-exaggeration-syndrome/.

We've lived in homes from the 40's thru the 60's.   They were built better than most of the ones we saw built from the 80's onwards!   The older homes - those that have survived - were generally built to last.

 

COEE

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #14 on: May 17, 2017, 09:33:39 PM »
Personally, I like 70's vintage homes.  They are well constructed.  Some of the older ones have aluminum wiring so you have to be careful there, but that's not a deal breaker for me (assuming the house is still standing).  Some of the popcorn ceilings with asbestos in it - just try to get one that has already had it removed.  Easy.

My last house was circa 1970.  It's nice, efficient, and comfortable - I wish the family room was a smidge bigger, but whatever.

JLee

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #15 on: May 18, 2017, 02:17:39 AM »
My house was built in 1976 and renovated in 2011. It has pex plumbing and modern electrical wiring - it's been nearly maintenance-free since I bought it in 2013.

chasesfish

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #16 on: May 18, 2017, 05:13:11 AM »
I'm going to have to echo a lot of the other people's comments:  There are some things that are based on the age of the house, but most of this is about what is the quality of the construction and how well has the house been maintained?

Cast Iron Pipes before 1960 or so are a real issue.  Not something you always have to replace quickly, but you have to manage them in a flat area.  Electrical before the mid 1960s if not upgraded is an issue.  Electrical panels can sometime need to be upgraded.

I bought a 1991 house in 2007 and that thing cost me a ton of money.  The prior owners didn't keep it up well, it was not high quality construction, and at 15-20 years, some major replacements start happening.  It was a large tract built subdivision home in Georgia.   I did A/C units, roof, windows, re-plumbed the house, sump pump, replaced a master shower that was leaking through to my living room.  After all that, we still had to structurally reinforced a drive-under garage and I somehow managed to not have to replace the crummy siding that came on the house.

My last two houses have been 1949 and 1955 single level, 3 bedroom houses in older areas.  Both of these houses are built like a rock.  One example is 1x6 diagonally placed panels for the roof instead of ply board. 

The 1949 had a hodgepodge of renovations that were completed and not completed.   We liked the house, learned a ton on it, renovated a bunch of it, and lost some money all in because in hindsight, I just overpaid based on the condition of the house and what had been/had not been updated.   Kitchen flooring was a big issue, the prior owners just covered up the potentially nasty flooring.

My current 1955 house had a professional renovation done in 2006.  The style is now "out of favor", but they did a great work.  Modern power in all rooms, 1/2 new plumbing (one of the two lines is still cast iron), and all the consumable fixtures updated (A/C, Water Heater, Roof, windows).  The underlying structure is solid.

There's no replacement for learning and experiencing as much as you can about home construction/renovation and buying right on the front end.

Laura33

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #17 on: May 18, 2017, 06:48:13 AM »
Anything build at the peak of a building boom should be looked over a bit more critically, due to builders hiring anyone who can mostly tell the difference between a hammer and saw to keep up with demand. 

This is also excellent advice, to the extent you can tell.  Our c.1885 house was solid foundation, new roof, plaster and lath walls, etc. -- solid.  We're talking when we removed an interior staircase, the wall behind the plaster was covered with hand-cut diagonal planks 14" wide, with a perfectly even 1/4" gap between them.  Someone cared enough about the quality of the construction that they took the time to perfectly install planking that would never be seen again for the life of that wall.

But sometime after WWII, the house was divided into two apartments, and they enclosed the back porch and added on a bathroom upstairs.  When we took the drywall off the back porch, I swear I am not exaggerating when I say there wasn't a single piece of wood longer than 3'-4' there.  They had even kept the window frames in place and just sort of tacked in boards diagonally willy-nilly to fill the gaps -- once the drywall was off, the wall literally shook when you pushed against it.  And the flat roof over the upstairs bathroom is the only part of the house that has repeatedly leaked (unfortunately, it is in a bad location -- the interior joint of the two legs of an "L" -- and so we don't have another easy option to fix it without reframing the entire back side of the roof).

Oh, and the prior owners had replaced the original single-pane windows with "modern" vinyl windows that, after 20 years, were so warped that you could feel the wind coming through -- I used that 3M window wrap, and it would billow out when the wind blew.  I would *much* have preferred if they had left the original windows and storms!  That was a very, very expensive fix (35 windows, most in non-stock sizes).

Tl;dr:  All of the problems we have had with our house are directly attributable to the people who fucked with it post-WWII.

Fishindude

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #18 on: May 18, 2017, 06:54:23 AM »
The majority of new houses I see being built today are not something I would want to spend much money on or plan to keep very long.  They look nice, but they are just not going to hold up very well over time.   

Kroaler

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #19 on: May 18, 2017, 07:04:18 AM »
The majority of new houses I see being built today are not something I would want to spend much money on or plan to keep very long.  They look nice, but they are just not going to hold up very well over time.   

I feel differently.  I think construction standards are superior on modern built homes as an average compared to older homes.    Its my belief (I have no research on hand) that the reason many people feel that older homes are built better is "Survivors bias".   Only the Best built homes from any time are still standing.  The inferior constructed ones have all rotted / burned down.   So we are comparing the top 40% of old homes to the bottom 30% of new homes.  I dont think that is a fair way to judge modern construction.

Laura33

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #20 on: May 18, 2017, 07:35:27 AM »
The majority of new houses I see being built today are not something I would want to spend much money on or plan to keep very long.  They look nice, but they are just not going to hold up very well over time.   

I feel differently.  I think construction standards are superior on modern built homes as an average compared to older homes.    Its my belief (I have no research on hand) that the reason many people feel that older homes are built better is "Survivors bias".   Only the Best built homes from any time are still standing.  The inferior constructed ones have all rotted / burned down.   So we are comparing the top 40% of old homes to the bottom 30% of new homes.  I dont think that is a fair way to judge modern construction.

I agree completely with this reasoning.  But the question isn't "when were construction standards higher" -- it is "what age house is most likely to give me quality construction."

I think that answer is older houses specifically because of survivor bias:  since the crappily-built older homes have already removed themselves from the marketplace, if you find an older home still standing, odds are it was well-constructed.  IOW, your universe of homes is limited to the top 30-40% of homes from, say, 1900, maybe the top 70% of homes from the 1960s, and probably 99% of homes from the 2000s.  So you have a higher chance of buying a crappily-built modern house than a crappily-built older one.

Which is also why an excellent inspector is worth his weight in gold.  Because any old house needs a careful eye to age-related issues.  And even if you limit yourself to modern houses that are up to current building codes, you need someone to help you distinguish the crappy ones from the solid ones.

Spork

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #21 on: May 18, 2017, 08:07:17 AM »
The majority of new houses I see being built today are not something I would want to spend much money on or plan to keep very long.  They look nice, but they are just not going to hold up very well over time.   

I feel differently.  I think construction standards are superior on modern built homes as an average compared to older homes.    Its my belief (I have no research on hand) that the reason many people feel that older homes are built better is "Survivors bias".   Only the Best built homes from any time are still standing.  The inferior constructed ones have all rotted / burned down.   So we are comparing the top 40% of old homes to the bottom 30% of new homes.  I dont think that is a fair way to judge modern construction.

I don't think it's era or construction standards so much.  To some degree "survivor bias" is real. 

It goes back to why the house was built in the first place:
* A custom home built for a family that plans on living in it 50 years and are heavily involved in the design/building process: Probably going to be well built
* a booming neighborhood full of spec homes built for middle managers to live in 7 years before they step up to something bigger: Probably going to suck, no matter what era it was built in.

Fishindude

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #22 on: May 18, 2017, 08:19:49 AM »
Modern Plumbing, HVAC, electrical and insulation systems in today's homes are much better, less troublesome and more efficient than the stuff that was originally installed in older homes, but the following are just a couple examples of why I say older homes are better built than most of the new stuff being built.   

Fireplace - An old fireplace was 100% masonry constructed with clay tile lined, concrete block flue and real stone or brick laid with real mortar, very thick, heavy duty and fireproof.   Today's fireplace is a sheet metal box with a triple wall metal flue run up through a wood framed chimney enclosure and the brick or stone you see on interior is typically that stick on stuff about 1/2" thick, purely cosmetic.

Framing & Sheathing - Just look at the difference in a wall stud or floor joist in and old home vs new.  The material in new stuff is about half the weight, smaller in size and much softer stuff.  You won't find gluelam beams or I joists in an old home it will all be full depth native timber.  You won't find any OSB sheathing on an old home either, it will be real plywood of full planking.

Hardwood floors - The old stuff was real, full thickness hardwood.  Most installed today has a very thin hardwood surface laminated over a pressboard type material.

Siding - Old homes were typically real wood siding or masonry on the exterior.  Today's are typically vinyl sided with possibly and accent area or two of stick on stone or brick.  Rocks from your lawn mower, a hail storm, or a skateboard impact will quickly break or damage the new stuff.

Wood Trims & Details - A whole lot of old homes have awesome hardwood trim; 8" baseboard, 6" door casings, hardwood panel doors, built in cabinets and shelving, beveled glass, 10' ceilings, etc.  You won't see much of this in new homes.

Disclaimer  ..... There are still a few really well built custom homes being built today, but they only represent a very small percentage.

ChpBstrd

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #23 on: May 18, 2017, 02:25:41 PM »
I've lived in my circa 1961 house for 5 years (bought at age 51). Prior to that, I lived in a 1993 house that I bought in 2003 (bought at age 10) and lived in for 9 years. Here are the areas I have, and have not, performed work:

1993 house:
1) All the builder's grade appliances died within those few years: HVAC, dishwasher, garbage disposal, fridge, stove, garage door opener with plastic gears, water heater, etc. $10k total? IDK. The HVAC guy told me the old system struggled because the intake was undersized and the house is almost all flex-duct.
2) The builder's grade aluminum double-pane windows felt like single-pane in the winter. Vinyl siding made storm windows not an easy option.
3) The roof was planked in OSB and sagged so you could see each rafter. Technically this caused no problems, but a falling tree limb once poked a thumb sized hole right through!
4) The posts supporting the deck, which was 15' above the back yard, apparently migrated with time and were no longer level.
5) An add-on over a previously covered deck had constant problems with drywall cracks.
6) Bricks next to the driveway started cracking out because nobody had installed an expansion gap between the house and driveway.
7) By age 12, the vinyl flooring and carpet were unbelievably nasty. I replaced all the flooring in the entire house. $7k?
8) Added 2" cellulose over the original 6" fiberglass insulation.
9) Water started pouring through a light fixture during a thunderstorm. Traced it to a deteriorated vent pipe rubber boot.
10) Water and debris would flow down the driveway and into the garage.

Few/Zero problems: wiring, plumbing, sheetrock

1961 house:
1) The HVAC from the early 90's was toast. So was the ductwork, which was caked with hair and dust on the inside. $18k to redo it all with top-of-the-line.
2) Previous owners failed to use treated lumber on the covered back porch wall with screened windows which was an add-on. The whole thing crumbled as I dismantled it. Replaced with anchored treated posts, railing, and redid vinyl siding on that whole wall. $1,500 in materials and many hours labor and research.
3) Added 3 whirly vents because attic ventilation was insufficient.
4) I have a brown/pink bathroom that is hideous. Next project!
5) Prev. owners redid a bath with white grout in the 90s. NEVER USE WHITE GROUT FOR ANYTHING.It cannot be kept clean. Good god, think people!
6) Prev. owners added onto the back of the house with a low-slope roof. It now has wrinkles in the shingles. One leak occurred during a thunderstorm where the add-on joins the old roof and creates a flat spot.
7) A pinhole leak occurred in my copper kitchen sink drain. Replaced with all-plastic for $25. Detergents or foods corrode copper, which is why it is no longer used for drain lines.
8) Back deck needs replanking due to age.
9) Replaced all outlets in the house because they were so loose plugs would fall out. The insulation on the 12-gauge 2-wire ungrounded cables was in good shape. Installed childproof outlets, so no need for covers! Not to code because the new outlets still aren't grounded, but not a problem either.
10) Crawl space floods because outside ground is higher. Adding french drains soon.
11) Added 6-8" cellulose over existing 6" fiberglass and rock wool. Utilities are very low, house is very quiet, and the HVAC is likely to last much longer now.
12) Nails are backing out from under the sheetrock in various places, making bumps.
13) 1960s sliding doors suck! Openings are not wide enough to replace with real doors. Ugh...

Few/Zero problems: hardwood and tile flooring, circa 1980's? garage door opener, wires themselves, vinyl replacement windows, cast iron sewer lines

THINGS TO AVOID OR AT LEAST SCRUTINIZE:
-flat or even semi-flat roofs
-add ons: 99% are badly done
-copper drain or sewer lines
-copper gas lines
-10 year old appliances
-particle board under carpet
-old HVAC systems
-water heaters older than 5, esp. if flooding would cause damage
-subfloor rot in bathrooms
-galvanized steel water pipes
-unlevel floors
-HVAC or water heater closets too small to install high efficiency replacements.
-Undersized HVAC air intake.
-Inaccessible parts of the crawl space or attic.
-Note that replacing flooring surfaces can be more expensive than more intimidating repairs, such as foundation work or a new sewer line.

kimmarg

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #24 on: May 18, 2017, 11:30:37 PM »
* a booming neighborhood full of spec homes built for middle managers to live in 7 years before they step up to something bigger: Probably going to suck, no matter what era it was built in.

There's an age factor here too. How many subdivisions for middle managers were built in 1880?

Spork

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #25 on: May 19, 2017, 06:29:01 AM »
* a booming neighborhood full of spec homes built for middle managers to live in 7 years before they step up to something bigger: Probably going to suck, no matter what era it was built in.

There's an age factor here too. How many subdivisions for middle managers were built in 1880?

None... they were all built in the era deemed to be "safe".  That was sort of my point.

Ebrat

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #26 on: May 19, 2017, 07:00:43 AM »
Tl;dr:  All of the problems we have had with our house are directly attributable to the people who fucked with it post-WWII.

Our house is about 90 years old, and this has been our experience, too.

BeanCounter

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #27 on: May 19, 2017, 07:02:17 AM »
I have lived in and/or owned a variety of homes from an 1881 farm house, a 1900 Sears home, a 1949 spec cape cod thrown up for factory workers at the time, and a 1982 custom built home.
I think there are two things that matter-
 -how the home has been cared for by previous owners. Did they keep up with maintenance? If they did improvements and renovations did they do them well? One of the things we loved about the 1982 home was that it was a one owner and we could tell that everything that had been upgraded since the original was done with the very best. He also had records and notes on everything that had been done. When things were replaced, when they were serviced and by whom.
 -The older the home the more expensive the maintenance or renovations become. Fixing or changing things in my 1982 home is MUCH, MUCH cheaper than the old farm house. Dealing with issues in the cape cod were still more expensive, but because there are so many in the city most workmen were familiar and understood how they worked. The old farm house is literally one of a kind. Which is what makes it so cool, but also expensive to care for. Every time we start a project on the property we have no idea what we'll uncover. Some of it is cool stuff, but usually it's another pain in the ass, expensive step to deal with.

AlanStache

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #28 on: May 19, 2017, 12:13:39 PM »
I am not sure I have ever come across a home inspector worth his salt; the two times I have bought a place they both missed big things. 

From what I have seen I need to second the idea that older homes tend to be built in geographically better areas, ie not in swamps.  But this too is very individual home specific.

I would not reject an older home just because it is older.  Look ALL homes for what they are and see how that aligns with what you want/expect/are willing to change. 

aetheldrea

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #29 on: May 19, 2017, 07:53:30 PM »
9) Replaced all outlets in the house because they were so loose plugs would fall out.
The last two houses I've lived in, I've had to replace virtually all the electrical outlets for this same reason. What do people shove in there that stretches them out? Confused.

Bracken_Joy

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #30 on: May 19, 2017, 08:01:25 PM »
9) Replaced all outlets in the house because they were so loose plugs would fall out.
The last two houses I've lived in, I've had to replace virtually all the electrical outlets for this same reason. What do people shove in there that stretches them out? Confused.

I think the metal contacts just wear out over time and lose tension. Obviously this'll be sped up when people do nonsense like yanking cords to unplug them, odd angles, etc.

seattlecyclone

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #31 on: May 19, 2017, 08:23:40 PM »
9) Replaced all outlets in the house because they were so loose plugs would fall out.
The last two houses I've lived in, I've had to replace virtually all the electrical outlets for this same reason. What do people shove in there that stretches them out? Confused.

I think the metal contacts just wear out over time and lose tension. Obviously this'll be sped up when people do nonsense like yanking cords to unplug them, odd angles, etc.

Yep. Also the $1 outlets tend to wear out a lot faster than the $3 ones. If you find yourself replacing an outlet for this reason there's a good chance it will get enough use in the future to be worth paying for a bit more longevity in the replacement.

Bracken_Joy

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #32 on: May 19, 2017, 08:26:46 PM »
9) Replaced all outlets in the house because they were so loose plugs would fall out.
The last two houses I've lived in, I've had to replace virtually all the electrical outlets for this same reason. What do people shove in there that stretches them out? Confused.

I think the metal contacts just wear out over time and lose tension. Obviously this'll be sped up when people do nonsense like yanking cords to unplug them, odd angles, etc.

Yep. Also the $1 outlets tend to wear out a lot faster than the $3 ones. If you find yourself replacing an outlet for this reason there's a good chance it will get enough use in the future to be worth paying for a bit more longevity in the replacement.

Excellent point. Also, in reading to check my understanding, something caught my eye that hadn't occurred to me- in a loose outlet, there is an arc flash risk. =\ Definitely a good reminder to replace my one frequently-used outlet that is loose!

Kroaler

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #33 on: May 20, 2017, 08:20:53 AM »
Outlets.

Look inside the 1$ ones.  It is just a bent metal rod for a connection.   It promotes arc flash and wears faster. The 3$ ones have actual plates that connect to the blade of the plug. Much more secure with higher contact surface.

chasesfish

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #34 on: May 20, 2017, 10:09:02 AM »
I'd agree with the survivor  bias with my current home.

The original purchasers of this house were likely upper income.  Most houses in this era were 1300ft on small lots and this one was probably 1,900 originally on twice the lot size.

Old areas in historically wealthy areas tend to be kept up better based on the means of the residents.

Bracken_Joy

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Re: What vintage does a house have to be to have safe "systems?"
« Reply #35 on: May 20, 2017, 10:35:32 AM »
I'd agree with the survivor  bias with my current home.

The original purchasers of this house were likely upper income.  Most houses in this era were 1300ft on small lots and this one was probably 1,900 originally on twice the lot size.

Old areas in historically wealthy areas tend to be kept up better based on the means of the residents.

I think looking at survivorship bias with an eye toward historical income of the area is a really good idea. Because a house being 'around' doesn't always mean it's in good shape, if it's in a crap area. Where we lived last year (1920 worker's cottage in an underserved area) was kinda a shit hole. Still had a tons of knob and tube wiring, the breaker box was a living nightmare, leaky plumbing that was a terrible DIY job, someone had clearly taken a load-bearing beam out at some point (sagging floors and cracks and so on), windows painted shut, it went on and on. It's a miracle it didn't light on fire while we lived there. If it had been in a nice area, I'm sure it would have been condemned years ago, or taken better care of. But, it was in a poor area, and an area that's always been a poor area, and so people put up with it, because that's what they can afford.