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Things to Look for when Buying an Older Home

Older homes have their charm, but as anyone living in one can tell you, they also come with more than their fair share of issues. Building and electrical codes have changed dramatically over the years, and our everyday electrical demands have continued to skyrocket. At Kolb Electric, we don’t want to discourage anyone from living in the home of their dreams.  That said, we do want people to be safe, so if you currently live in or are thinking of moving into an older home, here are some things you should be on the lookout for.

Electrical Systems

Electrical wires can function for a long time, especially if they haven’t been damaged and if the insulation hasn’t become brittle and flaked off. Even knob and tube wiring, an old standard for wiring that hasn’t been used in years, can still keep the lights on. Age does catch up with wiring eventually, however, and if the insulation fails, by becoming abraded, being chewed, or any number of other reasons, a short or electrical arc could start a fire.

Older homes often have wires surrounded with a spiral metal jacket. Metal-clad wires are still used today, especially in areas where the wire is exposed to potential damage. Armor-clad wires are distinct and do not have a separate ground wire within the metal sleeve, instead using the sleeve itself as the ground. As a result, for fire safety reasons, armor-clad wires are often barred in new construction.

If you can see obvious signs of a problem, including scorch marks on terminals in switches and outlets, missing or damaged insulation or any other signs that look potentially dangerous, you should call Kolb Electric for home rewiring before you expose your home to a live wire.

Heating Systems

Restoring old chimneys and relining flues are common expenses of owning an older home. Here’s what happened: as coal started to become readily available, existing homes were retrofitted with central heating systems. Nowadays, most coal-fired systems have been converted or updated for oil or gas, but many are still vented into unlined chimneys. Where chimney liners are present, they are usually made of terra cotta and can rapidly deteriorate with higher-combustion, energy-efficient heating equipment.

When evaluating a heating system, make sure you consider its age, type, condition, and efficiency. For example, an old cast iron boiler may last a century or more, but updating to a more modern system can reduce your future heating and maintenance costs.

Plumbing Systems

Old plumbing systems are notorious for being a mish-mash of old and new materials, especially as additions are added to the home or kitchens and bathrooms are remodeled. Iron and lead piping can become clogged with corrosion and mineral deposits, and typically need to be updated in sections. Cast iron piping is even worse, and can corrode from the inside, becoming thin, pitted, and cracked. Horizontal sections are usually the first to go—especially if chemicals drain cleaners containing sulfuric acid have ever been used.  Unless the home has already had repiping done, you can almost guarantee you’ll need to do it yourself.


Unless your roof is under 80 years old and / or is made of slate, you can bet it’s probably not original to the home. There are numerous types of roofing materials, all with unique life expectancies and maintenance requirements. Many older homes have multiple additions with roofs of different ages and types, so like the plumbing system, individual sections may need to be replaced.

If you’re moving into an older home, make sure you have it inspected thoroughly beforehand to make sure it’s safe. And if you need electrical maintenance in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, DC, call Kolb Electric today!

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It does not constitute professional advice. All information is subject to change at any time without notice. Contact us for complete details.