10 specific areas to inspect on historic homes






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The foundation is probably the main priority, since it's the component that bears the load of the entire home. Foundation failure or repairs can be especially expensive, and parts of it may be hidden. So, looking at the foundation is a time to do your best.

Wall Coverings

The wall coverings often provide clues to any foundation movement. Soil or foundation movement typically shows up as diagonal cracks emanating from the corners of doors and windows. You may also see stepped cracking in masonry walls, especially near exterior corners or below windows.


The roofs of older homes are typically wood shakes or shingles. Some jurisdictions no longer allow the installation of wood roofs. This may create a conflict with a landmark committee. 

If the roof will need replacement soon, the owner may be facing not just removal of existing layers, but installation of solid roof sheathing over the original spaced sheathing that was typically installed with wood roofs. You should make your clients aware of the potential extra cost.


Older homes may have undergone work by someone not familiar with acceptable building practices. Although it's often difficult to see floor and wall framing, watch for problems such as the structure being out of plumb, out of level, or not flat.

You may see work done that employed methods quite different from modern methods. Check for failure before calling something a defect just because it looks different.


You may want to recommend a lead test of the soil of the home's perimeter. When lead was used as an ingredient in the manufacture of paint, the exterior paint coating would eventually oxidize, and a lead powder would form on the surface, ultimately washing into the soil around the home's exterior by the rain. Over time, lead can accumulate in the soil to a level at which it represents a health risk to children and pets.


It's often difficult to tell whether a window is original, and it's a question that's often asked. Your concern as an inspector is to describe the window's condition. You'll be looking for failure of the finish coating and decay on wood-frame windows, especially in the corners of the sill. You'll be checking for hardware condition, and proper operation of the hardware and window itself. Single panes are not a defect.

Electrical Systems

In inspecting an older home, you may find that the electrical system is original, that it's new, or that it has had work done on it over the years. It's not unusual to find electrical components from multiple eras in one home. They may all be energized, or they may be partially energized.

Most inspectors, when they're confronted with these older systems, recommend a specialist inspection by a qualified electrical contractor. The liability connected with electrical systems is high, since these can burn down the home or cause serious or fatal injury. It's better to pass on this liability unless you feel very confident in your own expertise.

Plumbing Systems

You'll be looking for evidence of plumbing leaks, as usual. There are still a few homes around with galvanized supply pipes, so you'll check for functional flow at fixtures. Also, you should mention any unsafe conditions, such as missing or obsolete traps. In the past, lead distribution pipes have been a problem, but very few currently exist.

Heating Systems

Serious problems can develop from poorly understood venting of furnaces, boilers and water heaters. Condensation is one problem. Water is a solvent and will deteriorate many materials.

Toxic Materials

You may encounter toxic materials when inspecting older homes. Watch for asbestos-like material on heating system exhaust ducts. Asbestos was also used in vinyl products, such as flooring, and in the process of manufacturing roofing tiles. The amount of asbestos in thermal insulation has been exaggerated, but most thermal insulation releases particulates into the air when it's disturbed, so you should wear a respirator in attics and crawlspaces where you may encounter exposure

Source: www.nachi.com

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