Hidden Electrical, HVAC & Plumbing Problems in Older Homes
As homes age, there are quite a number of problems that can arise. Our teams specialize in electrical, plumbing, heating, and cooling systems and want to share the top 14 hidden problems we've found in older homes:
What Electrical Issues Do Older Homes Have?
- Modern appliances draw more power, and in older homes, it can cause your electrical panel to exceed the safety limit and will require an upgrade.
- If you hear popping, buzzing, or cracking anywhere near the breaker or other electrical appliances, it could signify a loose connection. This may be the sound of wires sparking and needs an electrical inspection right away.
- For homes built in the 1960s and '70s, aluminum wiring was very popular to use. Unfortunately, due to the expanding and contracting of this type of metal, wiring becomes loose, which is a fire hazard. If you notice lights dimming or flickering for no real reason, it's time to call an electrician to do an entire system inspection. Your electrician may suggest more traditional wiring or having all the connections pigtailed with copper.
- For homes built before 1940, have a budget set aside for rewiring the entire house. In most cases, tube and knot, one of the wiring’s initial standardized designs, was used. Even though was effective, as the wiring aged, its insulators broke down quickly. This design meant that the exposed wires were left, which could easily cause electrocution or fire.
- Look around at all your electrical outlets. Do your outlets have two or three prongs? Not only is a two-pronged outlet an inconvenience, but this also means the outlet is not grounded. A grounded outlet will keep you from getting shocked when plugging in an electronic device. While cheap adapters do exist, they do not fix the problem. You'll want to set aside a budget to have an electrician change these out.
- What brand is your electrical panel? As homeowners insurance requirements change, so does their requirement on what type of electrical panel is insurable in your home. Here is a quick list of the most common manufacturers and panels that are non-insurable due to the dangerous fire hazard threat to your home:
Federal Pacific – Federal Pacific sold millions of breakers from the 1950s to the 1980s. It was found that 25% of all panels were defective and may not properly trip, causing a serious fire hazard. They were also prone to overheating.
Zinsco – Zinsco panels were used up until the mid-1970s. There are not many left, but they can still be found in some older homes. They simply cannot keep up with the high electrical demands of today’s homes — and in some cases, causing wires to melt, exposing homeowners to a higher fire risk.
Sylvania – These panels were primarily used in the '60s and '70s, and they are rebranded Zinsco panels. Yes, you read that right. Sylvania panels are Zinsco panels, with just a Sylvania sticker on it. Therefore, they have the same electrical issues as Zinsco panels.
Challenger – Challenger panels built and installed in the '80s and '90s were found to have issues overheating under normal conditions at the metal “bus bar.” This led to expansion and contraction of the bus bar, and electrical arcing between the bus bar. Over time, these components would melt down, causing a shock or fire hazard.
What Heating & Cooling System Issues Do Older Homes Have?
If you've purchased an older home and it hasn't had renovations done in years, then yearly maintenance on the AC system usually hasn't happened either. Yearly AC maintenance extends the life of an AC unit, and without it, units typically show signs of breaking down at year 6. Trying to repair a fragile older unit, with new parts can cause damage to the unit in other areas. As new parts draw more power, within days, other fragile pieces start breaking. This is a telltale sign your unit needs a full replacement versus continuously replacing parts.
Also, newer units are energy savers, so the cost of running them will be much easier on your monthly electric bill. If your old system is still working, start saving now and watch for sales to upgrade to a new system. You can keep track of our promotions to save money when the time comes for replacement on our website or Facebook pages.
What Kind of Plumbing Issues Do Older Homes Have?
- Many years ago, people had hand-dug wells as their sole water source. Having a hand-dug well can cause some fairly significant issues. Today’s modern homes are equipped with artesian wells that are drilled. While we don't service wells, it's important information to know.
- In older homes that use city water as their sole water source, the water has hard water deposits, chlorine, and other natural minerals that will shorten the life span of fixtures and appliances.
- Old homes are bound to have had repairs, and some of those may have been DIY projects done by amateur handymen or homeowners. These types of repairs may be hard to spot by a homeowner, but our plumbing experts won't miss them, especially during your yearly whole-home inspection.
- Most homes built before the 1990s are likely to have pipes made of materials that are no longer recommended by licensed plumbers, and may even be banned from use in homes completely. For example:
Lead Pipes: Lead pipes were used extensively in homes before the invention of blasting furnaces capable of casting iron. Materials like lead are highly toxic to humans. It's best to replace these for the health of those living in the home. Also be wary of lead fittings on copper pipes, as these are common in older homes.
Galvanized Pipes: Galvanized pipes were commonly used for water lines in homes built before the 1960s. They are made of iron and coated with a layer of zinc, which over time will erode leaving the iron pipe to rust, causing blockage, and eventually the corrosion of the pipe. Most people replace galvanized pipes as needed, only replacing portions that have deteriorated.
Polybutylene Pipes: Polybutylene pipes, found in homes built from the 1970s to 1990s, are made of a plastic resin that was much cheaper than the copper pipes before it. It's thought that the plastic and oxidants in water create a chemical reaction that leads to the breakdown of the pipe.
Iron Pipes: In homes with cast-iron piping that is 25 years or older, sewer line failures are common. If you have cast-iron pipes in your home, it's best to replace them before a failure, which can be pricey. However, some signs you have sewer line failure are sewage backups, sewer odor, mold, slow draining, extra green grass on your lawn, indentations on your lawn, cracks in your foundation, septic waste pooling in your yard, rodents, and bug infestations.
Sometimes, the only problem with the plumbing in an old house is the type of pipe and fittings used. In this case, you can simply follow the old plan, but you must replace all old plumbing with modern pipe and fittings. Pipe replacement is pretty easy to do and something you should hope for. Generally, when this is the case, you will simply need to use larger pipes of more modern material.
- A sewer line belly involves the formation of a curved portion of the pipe. Even sewer lines that start out with proper slopes may develop bellies as time goes on as the soil under and around the pipe shifts and settles. A sewer line belly makes it difficult for wastewater to flow smoothly since it must move upward along one side of the curve.
Note: Sewer bellies also tend to accumulate solid waste, which can further restrict flow and lead to backups inside your home. In some cases, a plumber can repair a sewer line belly by shoring up the foundation of the pipe. In other cases, the bellied section of pipe may need to be replaced entirely.
- Many old houses don’t have vents installed near drains. This is a situation that has to be corrected to meet building codes. Vents help used water drain away quickly. They also stop sewer gases from rising into the dwelling. You must check local building codes to determine exactly how close to the drain your new vents must be.
A poorly planned system can cause problems like temperature and pressure fluctuations in the shower when water is used elsewhere. It could also lead to frequent clogs and backups due to insufficient drain pipe size. Before updating the plumbing in your home, take the time to understand plumbing best practices, especially regarding old houses. Follow the tips presented here, along with local codes and ordinances, and you’re bound to install your plumbing system properly.
Solution: Replacing Hot & Cold Water Pipes
Typically, when you have original plumbing installed for more than 50 years, you may need the hot and cold water pipes replaced. This process is called "repiping." Repiping ensures that any problems arising from older pipes can be resolved, and you do not have to keep putting up with frequent repairs.
When repiping a house, you must be careful not to damage essential features or structural elements. Examples include plasterwork, beams, and even flooring. This is one of the reasons you must enlist the help of a professional plumber. Our repipe team is quick, efficient, and in most cases can get the job done effortlessly. Repiping a home is a major project, so permits, and many hands are needed to get the job done. Be mindful of inspection delays, along with supply issues, as the housing market has dramatically increased in the Duval, St. Johns, and Flagler County areas.
Solution: Yearly System Inspections
When purchasing an older home, or your home suddenly becomes an antique, you'll want to have a yearly system inspection done for your heating, cooling, electrical, and plumbing systems. Our three companies have combined forces to bring you the David Gray Comfort Club. Our Whole Home VIP plan gives our homeowners of antique homes the peace of mind they need for their systems. Read more about the many plans available.