Old House Blues

February 9, 2012

Problem Spots, The Crazies

Whenever I have had a professional carpenter, plumber, electrician, or whoever over to the house, every one of them inevitably says, “Oh, new homes have problems, too!” That always surprised me because I assumed that new construction was more durable, cleaner, better built with better technology. According to many professionals out there, this is not true. I am appalled, because newer homes *should* be built better. With newer homes, you don’t have to hack into support beams to retrofit plumbing pipes or electric wiring. New homes are insulated and already have coaxial cable and new windows and bright, shiny roof decking with no mold. What makes new homes so shabby? Poor craftsmanship?

Old homes are built well, I’ll give you that. 150-year old houses were built at a time before the spotted owl goons could shut down entire forests, when home builders could carve 12-inch beams out of home grown oak and walnut woods.

But when it comes to “modern” comforts (like central heating!), old homes are woefully lacking. If you have always loved in a newly built home, you don’t have any idea of the drafts that blow your napkins off the table, of the icicles that form on the INSIDE of the house… here are a couple typical Old House problems. I also offer my opinions and/or advice, for kicks. šŸ™‚

1. Critters
Old homes almost always have critters– bats, squirrels, mice, chinch bugs, ants, carpenter bees. We have pretty much seen it all. An owl in the hot water exhaust pipe, possums in the basement, raccoons in the garage, bats in the house, mice and honeybees in the walls…. yep. How i wish I had been blogging when we discovered bees in the wall! One day, I looked out my window and saw a tornado-like swarm of bees swirling around an upstairs window. All of a sudden, the wall was covered in bees, all squirming to enter a rather large hole in the siding. I found out later that some brilliant National Grid guy had replaced my power cable anchor, screwing in the new anchor to a new area on the siding but NEVER CLOSING UP THE ORIGINAL HOLE. It became a nesting place for all sorts of creatures.


Barn owl in the water tank pipe.


We had no idea how to get rid of the bees…. when we pounded the wall in the bedroom, 20,000 bees erupted in angry buzzes. We eventually had to rip open the walls on a frosty autumn day (the bees were stupid in the cold). We vacuumed them up and tore out the honeycomb. A lot of the comb was still good, so we ate it. šŸ˜€

2. Mold
Old homes have mold. I HATE mold. Mold comes from leaks, and old homes have lots of leaks. We’ve had our share of mold from chimney leaks, ice dams, holes in the walls, etc. Mold is tough to remove. I quit trying to clean it when it invaded the wall cavities– instead, I gutted the living room and replaced everything. Sometimes, I still smell the faint odor of mold…


Ice dam damage. These leaks create mold inside wall cavities.


3. Plaster dust
As long as there’s 1 square foot of plaster in an old house, the place will be dusty. Eep, I dislike plaster very much. I dislike dusting, too…


Attic cellulose insualtion also creates a ton of dust.


4. Crooked walls, crooked floors
This doesn’t bother me as much, unless I am renovating and I need to somehow wedge a perfect 90 degree section of drywall into a 85 degree corner! I don’t mind that all my pictures tilt a little. I do not like my bookshelves tilting so noticeably, though!

5. Bouncy floors
Bouncy floors make me nervous. There’s something very creepy about bopping up and down in my desk chair when one of the kids walks by. So far, the floor seems none of the worse for wear, but I have detected some cracks in the joists below. If I ever get another house, maybe I’ll choose one that has solid concrete floors. ANYTHING that doesn’t feel like you’re walking on a waterbed as you cross the room, lol.


Support posts help alleviate bouncy floors.


What could you add to the list? I’m sure there are more quaint little things about old homes that I have missed here. Feel free to add your own two cents.

In the next post or so, I’ll talk about the benefits of living in an old house!

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4 Responses to “Old House Blues”

  1. lin Says:

    Was the owl alive or dead?

    We have a house built in the 60’s and our problem is finding parts for things around here without re-building everything.

  2. Marg Says:

    I am sure there are lots of things wrong with an old house but they sure were better built than they are nowadays. Take care.

    • Mrs. Mecomber Says:

      Lin– when we finally got the owl out, it was dead. šŸ™ Broke my heart. It had flown into the chimney alive; I’d heard banging around in there that day. I thought the chimney had been capped, but I guess not *ANOTHER* thing to do around here.

      Marg- right you are, old homes were built better. It’s just age that has them sagging. I’ll cover more of this in the next post.

  3. Rena Says:

    Our house is 112 years old, that is what my sale paperwork said. I have not researched it though. Its a very well built house as well.
    However, we need a new roof, the roof is slate and its the original roof. Slate roofs last about 100 yrs and ours did. The previous owner said that she didn’t have any leaks or repairs to do until about 10 yrs ago. Replacing a slate roof is expensive and not many roofers want to do it. Our roof is very steep. Also, we can’t afford to put on a new roof and we hope to move within a few years, God willing. So, we had a roofer do a patch cover on our roof (which is a big no no for slate roofs) but we had to do it to stop the leaks. It was our only affordable option. There is still another leak on the left side of the roof but we will have to patch it from the inside since that side is inaccessible without a lift.

    I always thought that newer homes had less problems too. Well, now we don’t feel so bad!

    We have mold in our basement and garage ceiling. Not much in the basement but there is a lot on the drop ceiling tiles in the garage. We don’t use the garage for our cars, its for storage. I hardly ever go in there so don’t worry about the mold much. It needs to be taken care of this spring or summer though. Its been on our to do list for awhile and we need to stop procrastinating.