Possible Problems With Your Vintage Home

Rebuilding a barn to a modern country home
Photographer: Simone Bossi

Owning an older home is a responsibility that brings rich rewards.

Whether you are renovating an older building, as Studio Wok did with this barn, or moving into one that has already had some attention, you will become custodians of a small slice of history. An older building comes with quirks and features that set it apart from faceless new developments built in identikit fashion, side by side on a soulless estate on the edge of a town.

When you commit to an older property you accept there will be elements that need some tender loving care and others which may need persistent attention to maintain the quality of life of the inhabitant. Indeed, programs on television such as Escape to the Chateau highlight the huge rewards and the significant challenges posed by taking on an older property.

Even if you are not ambitious enough to buy a French castle, a traditional farmhouse or cottage may pose you problems that a new build will not. The uniqueness of a vintage home comes at a cost, with certain repairs or tasks far more likely to be required. So, we are going to examine a handful of aspects you may need to pay attention to if you buy an older home that would not be a problem with a new build.

Electrics

One aspect of your vintage home that may need serious attention is the electrics. Depending on the age of the home, you may need to consider a rewire should you move in, or at least an update on existing equipment. Indeed, in more remote areas, the electrics may not be in place at all, which presents a unique opportunity to you as custodian. Could you take your vintage home off-grid, living like those who have before but using new and innovative methods of power, such as solar or wind energy? Even if your period home is on the grid and wired safely, the fixtures and fittings may well need updating to efficient and safe modern alternatives.

Plumbing

With any older property, there is the problem of potentially out-of-date plumbing. Even if you purchase a property which has had some updates made to the bathroom and kitchen, it is likely that most of the pipework is original; re-plumbing a house is not as straightforward as rewiring it. Even something as simple as a leaking stopcock could cause you problems, and knowing a handful of basic repairs could be an advantage. There are usually two stopcocks on your water supply, one is outside the property and is typically the responsibility of the water company. The second is somewhere on your property and HomeServe confirms that the stopcock is your responsibility. Everything from that second stopcock onwards is down to you, so make sure you are aware of the equipment you have, and any possible problem points, such as any pipes exposed to the elements which could freeze and burst.

Insulation

An older home may not have adequate insulation, which is important for energy efficiency in the modern world. Depending on the age of your property, it may be possible to install cavity wall insulation retrospectively, but in older homes, you may need to use products such as insulating plasterboards. Check under floorboards too, to gauge what level of insulation you may have. It is relatively easy and simple to install insulation between floors and in the roof, and it might make your period home as cosy and comfortable as anything being built from scratch today.

Asbestos

The Health and Safety Executive confirms that 5,000 people a year die from exposure to asbestos in the UK – that’s more than the amount of people killed on UK roads. And this stat is replicated across other European countries, too. As such, you must be incredibly careful if you find it in your older home. Sadly, it was a commonly used building material, found in cement, wiring, roofing and flooring compounds and thermal insulation. It had such strong fireproof properties that it was a solution for all manner of problems. If you are in any doubt at all, contact a professional. Asbestos is not a unique feature of your period home, so you shouldn’t try handling it yourself.