The three curses of old homes

When it comes to old homes, people can have huge differences in opinion. For some, living in a house full of antiquity can be alluring. For others, creaks of old floorboards and a crumbling infrastructure can be enough to convince a resident that their haunted home is based on an ancient burial ground (or something equally unfortunate).

Jason Wall is a HVAC technician of over 23 years with Griffith Energy Services. He enjoys blogging about home maintenance and connecting with other professionals online to share his expertise. For those in the latter camp put off by the creaks and groans, he describes three of the worst problems that homeowners can face in aging properties – and a few steps you can take to take care of them.

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Heating, cooling and ventilation concerns

If it hasn’t seen TLC for long enough, a home can quickly become extremely poor in terms of energy efficiency. It can also often come with poor ventilation, “warm” or “cold” spots, and extreme humidity issues. This doesn’t even begin to address the hazards of refrigerant leaks in heat pumps which will thankfully become less of a concern as the R-22 refrigerant phaseout folds out over the next few decades.

Older homes tend to come filled with ducts that leak airflow. A home that hasn’t seen an energy audit for a while will be prone to gaps along doors, windows, floor gaps, attics, and crawlspaces – just to name a few areas. While sealing these gaps and replacing these components with modern air conditioning, heating, and ductwork systems can be expensive, the more reckless decision is to continue using a system which doesn’t function as it should. It can be uncomfortable – and even dangerous if mould or other contaminants exist – to ignore essential maintenance and upkeep.

Conduct a home energy audit, have your heating system inspected by a heating engineer, seal gaps and replace insulation if necessary to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

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Plumbing problems

When plumbing goes wrong, you’ll notice. This is especially true if your home was built before the 1960’s and retains its original plumbing, since galvanized steel is easily plugged and corroded. Because most people tend to only replace pipes as problems arise, chances are that most older homes still retain some of this piping. When these aren’t the problem, sewer lines may be at fault.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine whether or not something has gone awry with a home’s piping since it mostly runs behind walls. If your water meter continues to indicate flow even when all sources are turned off, this is a strong indication that a leak exists in your system.

One of the most alarming symptoms of a plumbing system that desperately needs a fix though is a musty smell. While often attributable to gaps where rainwater might enter, the presence of mould behind walls is more often than not the product of bad plumbing, so check for signs of moisture around piping and consult a plumber if needed.

Besides the obvious alarm that mould should raise for residents, leaking water can also create a deadly hazard if it runs into any electrical sources.

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The hazards of old wiring

When I say that arriving into an old home for the first time can be an unpleasant shock, I’d prefer to mean that in a metaphorical sense. Compared to older varieties of wiring, today’s electricity is far safer than it has ever been. Before even turning on a home’s power, checking it’s wiring to ensure that it doesn’t pose a fire hazard is essential. If you aren’t qualified to work with electricity, consult an electrician to help. Old wiring can be dangerous when mishandled.

Old knob and tube wiring systems were covered in flammable cloth, couldn’t be grounded or even spliced into a grounded circuit and had a tendency to melt when they were overcharged. Any wiring of this type should be replaced. On the other hand, armored cable wiring is relatively safe (though not ideal). As opposed to knob and tube systems, these are easier to ground. However, arrange for a professional to check the insulation, since it tends to degrade to dangerous levels once every five years or so.

If you need help finding a tradesman to inspect and fix problems in your home, post your job and up to three local tradesmen will get in touch to quote. Browse their profiles before selecting the right tradesman for you.  


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