Renovating An Old House? 5 Common Problems To Keep In Mind

Apr 02 2019
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My goodness if a house is considered old when it hits its 30th birthday then mine must be considered ancient! My old farmhouse was built in 1905 so this year she is 104! I knew going into this that no part of the home (electrical or plumbing) had been updated since the 1950s and a portion of the home had not been touched nearly back to when she was built. So, right away, I got power turned off at the house and a couple of outlets installed for me at my pole so I could run lights.

From there, it was a full gut job knowing I was safe to move forward without worry of getting electrocuted! If I had been in town I would have also had the water turned off, but, in my case, with a private well meant: no electricity, no water.

Kitchen reveal at the Grandma's House DIY home tour! 15 months of renovation, remodeling a custom country kitchen with a cast iron sink after a full gut.(This is a contributed post, for more information about my compensation please read my disclosure policy)

America has numerous old houses. Close to 40% of all homes were built before 1970, 19% after 2000, and 3% after 2010, according to Eye on Housing. So if you want to buy, remodel, or live in an old house, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with some problems associated with older homes.

But first, what is an old house?

Generally, any house older than 30 years is considered old. Homes age gradually, and most problems discussed in this post slowly accrue. The quality of the original construction and continuous maintenance can significantly impact the property’s life.

Termite Damage

Over time, termites can damage homes’ wooden structures, such as floors, drywall, and structural support. The damage is particularly severe in the southern part of the country where termites are active nearly throughout the year.   are more likely to have preexisting termite damage or active termite infestation because of poor foundations or drywall.

Common signs of termite damage include:

  • Pinpoint holes in drywall
  • Buckling or sagging floors
  • Bubbling or peeling paint
  • Hollow-sounding floorboards or wooden supports


Prevention is the least invasive and affordable solution to termite infestation or damage.

Therefore, remove all the affected wood vectors from contact with the lowermost part of the house. Stop water from collecting near or against the foundation by installing a surface drainage system. Replace decks and other wooden structures attached to your home using treated lumber.

Finally, remove root systems and dead stumps near your house and seal any visible foundation cracks as they offer ready entry points for termites.

Plumbing Problems

The likelihood of a pipe failure that can damage walls and floors, or flood your home is the biggest hazard of an old house.

A serious pipe failure can render the home temporarily uninhabitable and will probably cost you thousands of dollars to clean up. It can also lead to long-term issues such as mold infestations.


Before buying an older house, it’s is prudent to consult a blocked drain plumber to assess the piping material used and the entire plumbing system.

Mold And Mildew Damage

Homes prone to a lot of moisture are more likely to develop mold and mildew issues. Although this problem is common in bathrooms and basements of wet-climate homes, mold and mildew damage can occur anywhere.

Old homes are prone to the problem because moisture can easily seep through the leaking pipes and compromised foundations. But because the infestation can begin inside walls, homebuyers can easily walk through mold-infested homes without noticing the problem.

Uncontrolled mold growth can exacerbate allergies and respiratory challenges like asthma in healthy kids and adults. Very young kids, very old adults, and people with weakened immunity can suffer from serious infections.

Mold eats away surfaces such as wood, grout, drywall, and other porous materials. If left unchecked, mold infestation can also affect the structural integrity of your property, making it uninhabitable.


The best way to fight mold and mildew is prevention. So buy a dehumidifier for your basement. Also, ensure there is proper ventilation in your home using fans and by opening windows during dry weather.

You can also treat small infestations with mold spray, kitchen gloves, abrasive brushes and sponges, and elbow grease.

Before and after of my multi functional multi purpose entry and dining room that is also now doubling as my office and mudroom too! See how I transformed this space during a DIY do it yourself renovation, gutting my Grandma's 100 year old farmhouse and making it all new again!

Structural Or Foundation Problems

Older houses are prone to several structural and foundation problems, like uneven slab or perimeter foundation, damaged piers, damaged pilings, and dry rot in above ground studs.

These problems tend to occur in areas with unstable bedrock, lots of soil moisture, and seismic activities. Most homeowners can catch structural and foundation problems before they escalate.

Common signs of structural and foundation problems issues include:

  • Doors that fail to latch or jam
  • Persistently stuck windows
  • Off-level floors
  • Cracked concrete or tile floors
  • Visible wall cracks


Although you may easily notice structural or foundation problems, it requires an expert to assess and address the issue. A modest problem such as a crack your perimeter wall can cost hundreds of dollars while serious problems like uneven soil that may need support piers can cost thousands of dollars.

Roof Problems

Old houses tend to have deteriorating roofs, which presents challenges such as pest infestation, compromised insulation, and interior water damage. Some early signs to watch out for include:

  • Damaged or missing shingles
  • Moisture in the attic
  • Critters in the attic
  • Crumbling roof cement
  • Sagging or bowed gutters


Before purchasing an old house, check the roof’s age and condition. Consider hiring a roof inspector if there are any signs of wear or if the seller doesn’t know when the roof was installed.

Once you’ve identified problem areas with the roof, you’ll have to get them sorted as soon as possible. But owning an old house also means keeping the roof in good condition long-term. This is where a roof maintenance plan comes in. It can help you save money on repairs and prolong the life of your roof.

A roof maintenance plan will also help you stay on top of any potential issues that might arise. By keeping an eye out for cracks and leaks, you can catch them before they become big problems. Once you have a roof maintenance plan in place, you’ll be able to enjoy years of beautiful weather with minimal worry.

Moving into, renovating or living in an older house can be exciting. It can be much better when you know these problems to keep you prepared.

Before purchasing an old house, check the roof’s age and condition. Consider hiring a roof inspector if there are any sign of these 5 common problems(This is a contributed post, for more information about my compensation please read my disclosure policy)


  1. April 3, 2019 at 5:29 am

    I’m laughing now, Tarah – not at you, but at the statement that a house more than 30 years is considered old. My little house was built in 1800! Mind you it is stone and not wood, so no worry about termites…. we don’t have them in the UK but parts of France do (thank goodness for those 21 miles of water!). But old houses here have different problems….. so in a way, we are just the same.

    By the way, you might like to look at my blog….. because I have just posted this week about a new thing in my garden – a mini-pond for wildlife. And if nothing happens except the blackbirds taking a bath every morning, it won’t matter at all.

    I am waiting for your next post about the house….. :o)

    • April 3, 2019 at 8:17 am

      Susan, I will totally go check it out! We don’t have termites this far north either but I ran into a whole pile of carpenter ants on the second and those things are just nasty giants. They cleared out though after I removed their hideaway thank goodness! I’ve always thought stone houses made so much more sense then timber frame perhaps here in the states we just didn’t have the access to stone that Europe does?

  2. April 4, 2019 at 1:48 am

    Tarah, I think it’s more about what is readily accessable when you come to build. I think when the first Europeans came over to the new world, they had to get shelter pretty quickly and cutting down a few trees will give you a log cabin – and then you have a space to plant food. I know my own house was built with stone that was available in the area (perhaps there was a small quarry nearby)- it’s all odds and sods and therefore has been rendered (covered with a cement jacket). But it’s possible that the render came later, perhaps as a fashion thing! Or perhaps the mortar between the stones was failing in places and the cement solved the problem. Timber frame houses are being built here now (but that’s because it’s a cheaper method and it’s all about the money, isn’t it?) and then filled in with brieze blocks (large grey building blocks) The red bricks are added afterwards on the outside. Whatever side of the Atlantic, it’s still home inside the front door, isn’t it?!

    • April 4, 2019 at 12:52 pm

      Susan, yes that makes a lot of sense for sure! I always thought how amazing it is to live in a home that’s literally hundreds of years old. I saw a “remodel” of a home that had been built in a cave that they literally had NO idea how old it actually was! SO COOL! I just find all the history so incredible but I like old things lol. Obviously!

  3. April 6, 2019 at 9:05 pm

    I would add electrical as that can be very expensive! Ditto HVAC, heating and cooling. Always good to have a furnace/AC inspection, separate from a home inspection, as we learned the hard way. Also any potential dumps of chemicals on the property, especially if you’re going to grow food or have livestock. Contaminated water supply too.

    • April 7, 2019 at 7:39 pm

      Oh very true Nancy! All really good points to keep in mind, I never even considered a contaminated water supply – that is something everyone should check on before buying a property especially one with its own well!

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