The Difference Between New Homes and Older Homes

They don’t build them like they used to. In many ways it is a good thing. The new home construction industry has made great strides by not only improving our comfort and convenience but also our safety and well being.

Here is a comparison of the most significant characteristics and differences in residential home building standards, techniques, trends, materials and customs to show how different they are and perhaps why we should be glad they don’t build them like that anymore.

Brand new house

What’s to like about a brand new house?

  • It’s brand spanking new!
  • It’s under warranty.
  • It is a safer building and more convenient than all of its predecessors.
  • It won’t contain asbestos, C.S.S.T, Chlordane, mold, lead pipes, lead paint, Copper gas lines, R-22 Freon, lead roof flashings, etc.
  • It will be more energy efficient. It will contain more attic insulation. It will be equipped with high-efficiency air conditioning and heating equipment and therefore utility bills are likely to be lower.
  • More efficient new homes come equipped with radiant reflective roof sheathing that helps lower utility bills even more.
  • Although new homes are generally more expensive, this gap can be made up in a few years by the lower cost of maintenance. New homes usually go up in value and fairly soon if the economy is good.
  • It will be equipped with many basic features that have been greatly improved. For example: quiet garage door openers, pre-wired for cable and/or satellite, pre-wired for the Internet, heat-resistant windows, etc.
  • It may even be equipped with remote-controlled ceiling fans, lights that shut off by themselves whenever no one is in the room.
  • It will likely come with a security system already installed.
  • It will likely be equipped with a lawn sprinkler system that is intelligent enough to not come on when it is raining.
  • Common areas such as a clubhouse, walking paths, green belts, playgrounds and community swimming pools.

What’s not to like about a brand new house?

  • Often more expensive. Most people tend to buy larger homes than they previously owned or rented so there may not be an appreciable difference in the cost of utilities because of it.
  • The builder knows and expects you to add 10-15% in upgrades, so the price is always more than advertised.
  • It has no history. Everything about it is ahead of it.
  • We won’t know for some time if any of the newest and latest building materials will be recalled for safety or quality issues like Chinese drywall, C.S.S.T. (gas lines), Poly-Butylene, etc. or even banned from the U.S. such as Chlordane.
  • Builders are not only permitted but are encouraged to use materials that have not yet been “time-tested” such as PEX (plastic water lines).
  • It will be equipped with water-saving toilets that will actually waste water by forcing you to flush more than once to clear them.
  • Will the builder respond quickly and responsibly to any issues that we have during the warranty period?
  • Privacy fences are desirable because there is little privacy between neighbors especially tract homes. Particularly true of two-story houses (yours or your neighbors).
  • Narrower spaces between property lines. Newer tract homes are being built with spacing more like urban high-populated cities were a hundred years ago.
  • Getting the sod started requires over-watering of the irrigation system and keeps the yard muddy for nearly all of the first year. The lawn doesn’t flatten out for nearly two years unless you are able to roll it down yourself before that.
  • It may have little or no landscaping and may not even have sod. Some builders charge extra for pretty landscaping.
  • Homeowner association dues can be expensive. Common areas and amenities like community swimming pools are not free. They cost money to build and to maintain.

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Compare those features to this typical home built in the 1960’s.

What’s to like about a house built in the 1960’s?  1960

  • Big yards! Big front yards and bigger back yards. Privacy fences didn’t became fashionable until much later so many lots were separated merely by chain-link fencing.
  • Real “dimensional” lumber was used; heavier and very dense woods such as yellow pine or even oak. If the house was built for a composition shingle, the roof deck was made from siding planks of pine or fir called “ship-lap”.
  • The bathrooms in these houses were almost indestructible. Most likely the original pink, blue or yellow tiles are still intact; even the original floor tiles may still be in place.

What’s not to like about a house built in the 1960’s?

  • Many of the characteristics that were found in the decade before apply to houses built in the 60’s.
  • It was once common to find that the HVAC ducts were embedded in the concrete slab. A few homes still are equipped that way. It is more common to find that the HVAC ducts are in the crawl space area of a pier and beam foundation. Both of these conditions can produce extremely poor air quality and in extreme cases create what is commonly called a “sick house” resulting in serious health problems.
  • It is common to find that the gas water heater or a gas heating system (or both) is located in a bathroom or bedroom closet. This was customary in the 50’s and 60’s but is prohibited now.
  • Bathroom tiles were set in concrete and reinforced with an expanded wire mesh. You don’t scrape off these tiles. It takes crowbars and sledge hammers and a knowledgeable contractor to renovate these bathrooms.
  • Air conditioning didn’t become customary until the late 1960’s and early 70’s.
  • Gas Air Conditioners became very common. The technology was clumsy by today’s modern high-tech standards. It would not be long before the science of these systems would be overtaken by the advancements in Freon technology.
  • Gas air conditioning systems were prevalent in the 1960’s but today you would be hard pressed to find a house equipped with one.
  • During this era of construction, two-wire non-grounding type electrical conductors were still widely used by builders.
  • Overuse of building materials containing high levels of Formaldehyde in wall paneling, carpeting and others existed in the 1960’s and into the next decade until the toxicity of the chemical was realized and addressed.
  • If the house was built between 1965 and 1974 it may be equipped with Aluminum wiring. Aluminum electrical wiring is almost always an issue when acquiring homeowners insurance and has become very unfavorable among home inspectors because of safety.
  • Unless it has been replaced it will likely be equipped with the original FEDERAL PACIFIC, GENERAL ELECTRIC OR ZINSCO electric service panels. Other brands were used back then but these were widely used by builders of that era in North Texas.
  • The Federal Pacific and the Zinsco panels have fallen from favor by home inspectors and most electricians because of issues of safety and will likely be flagged during a home inspection.
  • Two-wire non-grounding type electrical circuits are likely present in this house. During this era of construction, two-wire non-grounding type electrical conductors were widely used by builders. It was easy to accidentally reverse the polarity of an electrical outlet and never realize it because everything still worked.
  • Since transistorized circuitry was just beginning to change the world, polarity didn’t matter as much in house wiring. Now, because houses built in the 50’s are still so prevalent, computers and other devices and appliances make polarity and grounding extremely important.
  • Electrical wires stretched from the house to detached building and draped across the yard were common.
  • Outdoor low hanging electrical service wires are common especially if the electrical service has not been updated since the house was built. Also ordinary house wiring can often be exposed, unprotected and stretched from the house to the detached garage or other outbuildings; either draped across the driveway or the back yard or worse, buried underground without a conduit.
  • Many homeowners who wanted to light up the back yard for security or for recreation attached electrical wires to trees. It wasn’t until the electrical code was revised and prohibited that practice in 1992.
  • Many roofs were framed for use with a lightweight wood shingle roof. Some sagging of the roof framing can often be detected in places because the frame was not intended to carry the extra weight of heavy plywood sheathing and the heavy load of the composition shingles.
  •  Because of wood shingles and wood shake roofs squirrels and rodents were able to gain easy access to the attic and many of them spent a lot of time there before being discovered. Rodents and squirrels could always find water in the attic in the form of condensation at the air conditioning equipment.
  • Dryer vents were allowed to exit into the garage or into the attic in the 1960’s. That practice is no longer permitted for all the obvious reasons.
  • During the 60’s, roof skylights became popular and at that time they were not designed well. Not only that, few installers were qualified to flash them properly so most of them leaked.
  • Houses built with a pier and beam foundation came with a crawl space opening located on the outside of the building. That design made it difficult to keep out general pests such as rodents, squirrels and other critters.

What’s to like about a house built in the 1950’s?  1950

  • Big yards! Big front yards and bigger back yards. Privacy fences didn’t became fashionable until much later so many lots were separated merely by chain-link fencing.
  • Real “dimensional” lumber was used; heavier and very dense woods such as yellow pine or even oak. If the house was built for a composition shingle, the roof usually had sheathing planks made from pine or fir and was called “ship-lap”.
  • Many 50’s-era homes were built with wood shake or wood shingle roofs. By now, the house has had several roof replacements; likely now has a composition shingle, Hardie shake, Aluminum or other type of roof covering.
  • The bathrooms in these houses were almost indestructible. Most likely the original pink, blue or yellow tiles are still intact; even the original floor tiles may still be in place.

What’s not to like about a house built in the 1950’s?

Characteristics common in a 1950’s era house that are totally different from new homes are:

  • Wood roof shingles and wood shake roof coverings
  • Asbestos in roof shingles
  • Tar and gravel roofs
  • Asbestos in exterior siding
  • Asbestos in attic insulation
  • Asbestos in ceiling tiles
  • Asbestos used in drywall (sheetrock)
  • Gas floor heaters
  • Copper gas lines
  • California-style flat roofs
  • Lead pipes
  • Whole-house attic ventilators
  • Two-wire non-grounding type electrical systems (some systems with as few as 6 circuits total)
  • Kitchens wired for only a few conveniences (before dishwashers, disposer, microwave ovens, etc.)
  • Kitchen appliances shared electrical power
  • Low-hanging electrical service wires
  • Paints that contained lead
  • It was built before air conditioning became popular and affordable so the air conditioning system that is in place now was not always there. Don’t be surprised to find a huge fan in the hallway ceiling that was once used to cool the house in the summer. It was often call a “whole house attic ventilator”. (It should have been removed altogether once the air conditioning system was installed but not all were.)
  • Unless it has been replaced by previous owners, the original cast iron sewer line will still be in use.
  • Although gas wall heaters made by Sears, Montgomery Ward and others were still common, gas forced-air heating systems began to replace them. Gas floor heaters and room space heaters often remained connected to the old Copper gas lines.
  • In the 1950’s it was customary for builders to use Copper for Natural Gas appliances. It is still common to find that the gas heater and the gas water heater have a Copper gas line still attached.
  • It is common to find that the gas water heater or a gas heating system (or both) is located in a bathroom or bedroom closet. This was customary in the 50’s and 60’s but is prohibited now.
  • The gas water heater barely fits in the closet. In the fifties, a 30-gallon water heater was a common size and by now the replacement is likely 10-20 gallons larger and a tight squeeze in the closet.
  • The exterior walls of most houses of the 50’s were not insulated. If the attic contained any insulation it likely contained a modest amount of asbestos and was little more than an inch or two deep.
  • Expect to find the gas heating system to be in similar straits. Since the house was designed for a heating unit only, expect the tiny closet to now hold a heater and an air conditioning system with barely enough room to open the air filter compartment.
  • Roof lines became more California ranch-style designed for wind loads; usually low-pitched which means little or no attic space. Often times the attic cannot even be entered at all.
  • If the foundation is a pier and beam, it is highly likely that the crawl space cannot be accessed; which means that it hasn’t been accessed….for years…maybe decades. This means that plumbing issues are likely to be a problem and may be discovered during an inspection. Even worse, because of the limited access, ongoing costly plumbing issues may not be discoverable during an inspection.
  • If the original bathroom tiles are still in place, remodeling is a little more of a task than simply removing tiles. You don’t scrape off these tiles. It takes crowbars and sledge hammers and a knowledgeable contractor to renovate these bathrooms.
  • Unless it has been replaced don’t be surprised to find the house equipped with the original FEDERAL PACIFIC, GENERAL ELECTRIC OR ZINSCO electric service panels. (Other brands were used back then but these were widely used by builders of that era). The Federal Pacific and the Zinsco brand panels have fallen from favor by home inspectors and most electricians because of issues of safety and will likely be flagged during a home inspection. If your house is so equipped it is not the end of the world. There are ways to deal with it.
  • Two-wire non-grounding type electrical circuits: During this era of construction, two-wire non-grounding type electrical conductors were the standard systems installed by builders. It was easy for electricians to accidentally reverse the polarity of an electrical outlet and never realize it. Radios, clocks and most everything else still worked even though they were reversed. Since transistorized circuitry and integrated circuits were just beginning to change the world, polarity didn’t matter as much in house wiring or home ownership. Now, because houses built in the 50’s are still so prevalent, computers and other devices and appliances make polarity and grounding extremely important. (There are remedies that do not involve re-wiring your entire house.)
  • Low hanging electrical service wires were allowed in the 50’s. Today they are not. There are many houses still equipped with the original low hanging power lines. We still find  electrical systems that have not yet been updated since the house was built. Ordinary house wiring that is exposed, unprotected and stretched from the house to the detached garage can still be found by inspectors and appraisers; wires either draped across the driveway or the back yard or worse, buried underground without the benefit of conduit. Conditions such as these need to be systematically corrected.
  • Twelve-inch ceiling tiles became very popular in the late 50’s and all through the following decade. Most of them contained asbestos and formaldehyde, both of which were later found to be unhealthy.
  • The typical range hood or range vent did not require a dedicated circuit and was permitted to share electrical power with other devices and outlets in the kitchen. When microwave ovens became fashionable and popular, people thought that they could simply remove the range hood and install the microwave oven in its place. Microwave ovens consume too much power for a shared circuit and continually tripped the breaker until corrected. The same goes for refrigerators, dishwashers, food disposers, etc.

 

What’s to like about a two year old house? 2 year old house

  • It has a two-year history. Everything about it is still ahead of it but you now have two years by which to judge the house.
  • It is a safer building and more convenient than all of its predecessors.
  • It won’t contain asbestos, C.S.S.T, Chlordane, mold, lead pipes, Copper pipes with lead solder joints, lead paint, Copper gas lines, R-22 Freon, etc.
  • It will be more energy efficient. It will contain more attic insulation. It will be equipped with high-efficiency air conditioning and heating equipment and therefore utility bills are likely to be lower
  • It will be equipped with many devices and appliances that have been greatly improved; among them are uncharacteristically quiet garage door openers.
  • It may even be equipped with remote-controlled ceiling fans, lights that shut off by themselves whenever no one is in the room.
  • It will likely come with a security system already installed.
  • It will likely be equipped with a lawn sprinkler system with water-saving devices such as rain sensors and buried sprinkler lines that no longer water the pavement.
  • Most of the warranty issues (if there were any) have likely been resolved by now. Most defects and deficiencies have been discovered by the owner by now.
  • There should be landscaping and sod by now. The sod should be well-established and anchored by now.
  • The bumpy lawn should be flattened out by now and the irrigation should be under control.

What’s not to like about a two year old house?

  • Very little. It’s still considered to be new.

What’s to like about a five year old house?5 year old house

  • It has a 5-year history. Everything about it is still ahead of it but you now have 5 years by which to judge the house.
  • It is a safer building and more convenient than all of its predecessors.
  • It won’t contain asbestos, C.S.S.T, Chlordane, mold, lead pipes, Copper pipes with lead solder joints, lead paint, Copper gas lines, R-22 Freon, etc.
  • It will be energy efficient. It will contain an abundance of attic insulation. It will be equipped with high-efficiency air conditioning and heating equipment and therefore utility bills are likely to be lower
  • It will be equipped with many devices and appliances that have been greatly improved.
  • It may even be equipped with remote-controlled ceiling fans, lights that shut off by themselves whenever no one is in the room.
  • It will likely come with a security system already installed.
  • It will likely be equipped with a lawn sprinkler system with water-saving devices such as rain sensors.
  • Many past issues (if there were any) have likely been resolved by now. Most defects and deficiencies have been discovered by the owner by now.
  • The front and rear lawns should be well-established by now.
  • The irrigation of the lawn should be reliable and under control.

What’s not to like about a five year old house?

  • Very little.

What’s to like about a tract home?

  • They are more affordable than custom-built homes which makes them great starter homes or for those on a fixed income wishing to downsize.

What’s not to like about a tract home?

  • Streets are too narrow. No room for parking. Check the neighborhood on a Saturday or Sunday. Most families have 2 cars some have more if they have children or relatives living with them.
  • Driveways are narrow. Builders and developers expect families to drive small cars so that’s how they design their garages and driveways.
  • Privacy fences are desirable because now more than ever there is little privacy between neighbors; especially tract homes. Particularly true of two-story houses (yours or your neighbors).
  • Narrower spaces between property lines. Newer tract homes are being built with spacing more like urban high-populated cities were a hundred years ago. Your neighbor may even be able to change your TV channel…and you his.
  • Patios are barely larger than a 4’X4’ concrete pad.
  • Over-watering of the irrigation system (to get the sod started) keeps the yard muddy for nearly all of the first year. The lawn doesn’t flatten out for nearly two years unless you are able to roll it down yourself before that.

What’s to like about a 10 year old home?

  • It should still have the original major appliances and they all should still work. If so, they will be on the declining side of their half-life. With the exception of the heating and air conditioning system, most major appliances can now be expected to last 18-20 years.
  • The landscaping is usually thriving.

What’s not to like about a 10 year old home?

  • The painted wood exterior finishes are dulling and need to be repainted. The builder’s grade paints are generally low-grade and are not long-lasting.
  • The major appliances are now on the declining side of their half-life and some should be expected to fail or break down during the NEXT 10 years.
  • The landscaping is overgrown and we can now see which shrubs and trees were planted to close to the building and which trees and shrubs should never have been planted. Pest control treatments are no longer as effective in eliminating pests and trees and shrubs are now touching the roof overhang.

Written and distributed by

David Padgett

817-269-4419

Professional Inspector

License No. 58