Old Homes (80-100+years)
Some of the best homes ever built were constructed long ago with slow growth lumber that is much stronger and resistant to termites than todays managed forests. Building materials were rarely changed and homes were overbuilt. The ceilings tend to be lower they did not have central A.C. and often just a single bath. Their electric is often times still knob and tube and about once per month we still find the occasional fuse box. High probability of Asbestos and Lead containing materials, strange but because of the old growth timber and no OSB they do not promote/ grow as much mold and wood rot takes years and years.
I put these at before the 1978 ish time frame, Block foundations, often have aluminum wiring and Federal Pacific or Zinsco Breakers (defective products) , great hot water baseboard heat but often times they do not have Central Air conditioning. Often times you will see people flipping homes pulling out the baseboard heat and installing heat pumps. because many of these homes do not have insulation in the walls I will question how comfortable they will be in the winter when they need to get the heat from the ceilings down to the concrete floor. Almost every home build before 1978 is going to have lead in the paint, solder etc. and asbestos in the building materials somewhere in the house. Around 50 years ago 2x6 roof rafters were no longer strong enough so they switched to 2x8s, homes built during that learning curve require a knee wall in the attic because deflection is common. Houses typically get updated every 20 years so pay attention to the age of the systems at 20, 40, 60 years, do the math.
Newer (1980 forward)
Building materials now change every few years, over the past 30 years I've watched building materials that were supposed to be the best, newest, and easy to install, would “last forever” often have issues after only a few years. As those materials are used they evolve and as they resolve the issues with them they are replaced by a newer material and the cycle starts over again. Somewhere around the 1990’s builders stopped flashing homes properly and began using just caulking, I’ve observed many, many homes with rotted wood beneath the doors, a couple of years ago the builders finally began installing pan flashings (again) beneath the exterior doors and the county began requiring that windows be flashed properly rather than just caulked. Suddenly what was old is new again. Mold has become an issue with these fast growth (chop them up and glue them back together) building materials that are now used. We do not inspect for mold, in fact I have never been in a house that did not contain mold somewhere. If you are concerned about Mold hire a professional to do testing, both inside and outside the home because mold spores are almost everywhere and you do not want someone testing the problem to also sell you the repair, in my opinion that is a conflict of interest.
Homes typically get updated at 20 years so if the house is of that age pay attention to the roof, Heat, A.C. etc.
BUILDING A NEW HOME
Yes get it inspected or at least tell them you are. A Builder is required to build to “Code”, that is lower standard and while a home inspector does not have any authority, when the builder learns that a Home Inspector will be inspecting what they built you will get a better home. Occasionally we are asked to act as an arbiter between the Buyer, the Builder and the Warranty Company, if you have an issue with a new home follow the procures in the Warranty, do not deviate because even though you may be right, if you do not properly follow the process you most likely will not win and have wasted money in the process. As info, the warranty is not controlled by the builder, it is a contract purchased by the builder from a 3rd party.
Make sure the footer is on virgin soil, failure to do so will result in excessive settlement.
Before the foundation is backfilled, check for proper drainage, make sure there is stone covering the perforated pipe, make sure there is filter covering the stone. If this is not done in a couple of years the drain will clog and the basement will begin to take on water.
Today’s foundations are very good, very few have problems and after a few years 90% will have 3 vertical cracks ,unless they are leaking water don’t sweat it, during construction check exterior walls for cracks and cold pours, make sure snap ties are sealed below grade
Floors and Ceilings
Before drywall is installed you need to check the framing, check the floor joists, many builders are using manufactured floor joists, they look like wooden I beams, or open-web trusses. Open-web and thin-web I-beam joists are especially vulnerable to failure.Remove flanges,,, insert cantilevered joists and other structural members are not installed/supported properly, are cracked and because of fire they must be properly protected from fire. Trusses work as a system, and losing a single member may threaten the entire system. Installed properly they function great. However it is crucial that Wooden I-Beams are supported properly under ALL load bearing walls with web stiffeners or squash blocks. The squash blocks need to be slightly taller than the floor joists. Very often you will find that the squash blocks are cut 1/4" short. If so, over time the floor joists may crush, compromising strength thereby transferring/showing settlement in the walls, doors, and floors above it. Make sure the top and bottom of the I-beam are not cut.
If you plan to install a deck later arrange to have the builder install and flash a rim joist of sufficient strength to support the deck.
Make sure that bathroom fixtures are properly supported and that plumbers haven’t cut critical framing members. Jiggle the Plumbing fixtures before they install the drywall, believe it or not they took the access panels out of the code so most builders no longer install them.
Have the builder install electrical boxes and supports for ceiling fans that can be installed at a later date.
Follow the plumbing through the structure to insure that framing members were not cut improperly. If possible, insulate chases that contain vertical PVC drains because of noise. Make sure that plumbing is properly supported; check the water meter to make sure the pipes are not supporting the weight.
Have the contractor install outlets for garage door openers. (May cost extra)
Insure that electrical boxes are not sticking out more than ½” past the face of the stud.
Electrical installations are inspected by outside independent firms. Typically, few problems are experienced with this item.
Make sure that flashing and counter flashing is installed properly at chimneys around skylights, and valley. Most builders are finally putting Kickout flashings at the base of the J-Channels.
Inspect all trusses to make sure that they are supported where designed and haven’t been modified or dropped from the truck loosening the plates 1/16” gap can result in 80% loss of strength. Trusses are designed for a certain load and are made to be supported at the designated point.
Check the grading, look where the downspouts are going to dump water. Water needs to get at least 10 feet away from the foundation before it is absorbed or else it may end up back in your basement.
Vinyl siding should hang on the nails, not be secured too tightly or else it may buckle on hot days.
Make sure all penetrations (i.e. electrical service, bath vents, dryer vents, sump pump etc.) through the siding are caulked.
Make sure the grading is at least 6 inches away from siding, (termites)
Observe where heat vents will be located in the home. Make sure that furnace vent allows for snow drifts in the winter. Look for any flexible ducts that are crushed.
Upper and lower return vents will make your house much more comfortable in the summer and winter.
Check for air flow at registers.
Check for pipe support on gas piping, it should not be supported by the water heater or furnace and the rubber gasket installed where it enters the cabinet.
Have the heating contractor install a cut out for the furnace filter. It is much easier to change the filter if you do not have to take the heater apart.
If you are installing a fossil fuel furnace have the contractor install the unit with the combustion air supplied from the exterior of the structure because this will help cut down on heating bills enabling you to enclose the heater in a smaller room and cut down on the radon gas entering the home.