Are Older Homes Really Built Better?

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on December 20, 2007 · 19 comments

I really miss the old house we use to live in on Newning Street in Travis Heights, and the neighborhood. We lived there from 1991 to 1996, when S. Congress was still gritty and not yet “cool”. We certainly didn’t call it “SoCo”. It was still plain old South Austin and Travis Heights.

The home was built in the late 1800’s. We had no dishwasher, no disposal, no A/C, a dirt driveway, single pane windows, bad plumbing and wiring, and no Cable TV. BUT, it was a true vintage home with wood floors, high ceilings, great archetecture, great trees, great location and certain indescribable charms and nuances about it. Our youngest daughter was born at home there in the corner bedroom in 1996. After the second child, it got a bit rougher with no A/C, so we migrated further South to the Cherry Creek neighborhood, where we bought a more modern 1976 home with central A/C (and aluminum wiring).

We’ve subsequently lived in homes built in 1998, 1969, 2003 and now have now moved into another home we just completed this year.

While I miss the old Travis Heights charm and ambience, as a couple in our mid 40’s with school aged kids, Travis Heights and old houses just don’t fit into this phase of our lives, though we hold very fond memories of pushing the kid buggy through Stacy Park and swimming in the pool there. Would we trade in our modern brand new home for an old clunker in Travis Heights? Probably not while we still have kids at home. The old house had a lot of problems, and now that were are spoiled by living in an energy efficient home where everything functions properly, it’s going to be hard to ever go back to Old Time living again.

One of our inspectors, Bob Petersen, wrote an overview of the differences of older homes versus modern homes built today, which I share below.

By Bob Petersen
How many times have you heard ‘they don’t build ‘em like they used to’? Why do people say this? Is it true? Absolutely NOT!

Besides a FEW things that were better with older homes (no ‘finger jointed’ studs or trim, better quality wood, no hollow doors or ‘pressboard’, better doorknobs and no computer controlled appliances), modern homes are much better in many ways. Here’s a partial list:

Roofing/Insulation: Before 1982 lasted maybe 15 years. Now roofs last a minimum of 20 and some are hail resistant. Older homes had little or no insulation; newer homes have lots of it & much better attic ventilation.

Foundations: Pier and beam or early slabs have lots of problems. Modern slabs have NO problems if properly constructed.

Wiring: Before 1961 homes had ungrounded outlets (with cloth insulation before 1950!). Before 1978 there were no GFI outlets or smoke & CO detectors. Older homes had fewer circuits and fewer outlets per room; or even worse, aluminum wiring.

Plumbing: Homes built in the 1950s and earlier had steel waterlines prone to corrosion and internal scaling.(who thought of running water through steel pipes? That was dumb). The tub and sink fixtures had rubber washers which wore out & needed replacing. Newer homes have washerless fixtures. Older homes have cast iron (or felt paper!) sewer lines which crack, scale up, fall apart and corrode. Homes since the 1970s have pvc which is virtually indestructible. Drainlines are larger in diameter too. Water heater relief valves and flues are much better now than in the 1960s, which makes homes a lot safer. Septic systems are cheaper, smaller and better for the land + have no drain field to replace!

HVAC: Few homes even had central A/C till the 1960s. Remember window units and space heaters? They were awful. Newer A/C and Heating is very efficient, quiet and MUCH safer. The freon used now is better for the environment too…

Appliances: Homes before the 1960s rarely had a dishwasher or disposal and certainly no microwave (how did we exist without those?). Cooktops and ovens had pilot lights which stunk up the kitchen with gas fumes when they went out. Modern dishwashers are very quiet compared to older ones. Older homes often had vent-hoods which blew into the attic! (fire hazard anyone?). I do however prefer the old appliances for one reason, they didn’t have computer controls which are very expensive to repair compared to the older electromechanical controls of yesteryear. Countertop technology has progressed light years since the 1980s!

Building Codes: Are constantly changing for the better which make homes safer and more energy efficient. There were NO codes prior to the late 1940s and fire safety concerns didn’t even exist. Energy efficiency concerns didn’t exist prior to the 1980s. HVAC, insulation, attic ventilation, windows and solar screen technology are light years ahead of even 20 years ago not to mention toilets and appliances which use a lot less water. Homes are much better sealed than they used to be.

YOU can have the ‘good ole days’ if you want ‘em, I like 2007 !

By Bob Petersen
Precision Inspection, Since 1983
(512) 282-0455
used with permission

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