6 Potential Pitfalls of Insuring an Older Home


UPDATED: FEB 2020 | 2 MIN READ

Old Victorian Houses in San Fransisco

Shopping for a new home is always exciting. If history and character are at the top of your “must-have” list, you’re likely perusing vintage beauties over cookie-cutter single-family homes. It’s easy to be swayed by stunning stained-glass windows of a 1900’s Victorian charmer. Or the cozy, rustic feel of a farmhouse fixer upper. But an older home can be full of quirks and potential drawbacks—especially when it comes to protecting it. Below we’ll take a look at some things to consider when insuring an older home and what to expect from your insurance company if you ever need to file a claim.

1 – Antique plumbing 

While some details can be charming, dealing with outdated plumbing can be a nightmare. Copper and galvanized steel pipes were once standard in homes. However, these materials are especially problematic since they tend to rust. Unfortunately, after decades of wear and tear, leaks and flooding are common issue new homeowners face.

If you wake up to busted pipes flooding your basement, take a deep breath. Your homeowners insurance likely covers water damage and plumbing issues. Keep in mind though, that depending on the location and cause of the burst your insurance company might only pay for the damages caused by the leak. This means that replacing the pipes might actually be on you.  

2 – Vintage appliances

Some people adore quaint accents of an older home, like a mustard color kitchen. If that’s your thing, hey that’s great. But it’s important to know older appliances can be hazardous. For example, a wood burning stove greatly increase the risk of a fire in your home.

Let’s say your vintage oven goes up in flames while baking a cake—your homeowners insurance can kick in to repair or replace it. However, appliances will typically not be covered if they give out due to routine issues (like age or regular wear and tear). So if your aged water heater decides to quit in the middle of winter, you’d be on the hook to replace it. 

3 – Outdated wiring

The U.S. Fire Administration claims around 67,000 home fires are caused by bad electrical wiring each year. While that number is staggering, it’s no surprise that out-of-date electrical systems are mostly to blame. Knob and tube wiring is typical of homes built in 1880 through 1940s. Between 1965 and 1973, aluminum wiring was predominantly used. Both of these systems are considered hazardous and some insurance companies might hike up your rates or not insure your home at all due to this wiring. 

If you fall in love with a house that has an outdated electrical system, there’s still hope. Get a licensed electrician to take a look and see if the wiring needs to be replaced. If it does, your insurance company might offer a new wiring credit.

4 – An Aging Roof

Most roofs can last up to 25 years. But that number varies greatly depending on your location, the materials used, and other factors. An old roof is a serious red flag since it’s prone to leaks and major water damage. Your safest bet is to have it professionally inspected but a quick glance will help you spot a few things. If the shingles are curling or buckling, that’s an indication you’ll need a new roof. Crumbling or missing shingles are also a telltale sign of damage.

Since an older roof can lead to future costly damage, your insurance company will likely quote you at a higher rate. During the process of buying a house with an older roof, you might be able to negotiate a lower price which could leave money left over for reroofing. A new, sturdy roof that protects against lightning and hail can actually save you money on your homeowners insurance. 

5 – Problems in the Attic

The attic is commonly overlooked since most people only use it for storing holiday decorations or excess stuff. But an attic can cause a lot of issues if you’re not careful. Even if your roof is in great shape, tiny openings in your chimney, stack vents, and other areas can allow water to enter and thus lead to nasty mold. Build up from steamy showers and boiling water can also sneak through ceiling gaps. Not only is mold hazardous to your home, it has potential to cause long-term lung disease or respiratory problems.

If you discover mold in your attic (or anywhere) prepare to shell out the big bucks. Mold remediation is costly, especially if it covers a large area. Check with your insurance company to see if you’re covered on this one. Depending on the cause of mold, you might have to pay out-of-pocket for removal. 

6 – Pests in the Crawl Space or Basement

Understandable if you took one look at the basement or crawl space and decided they were fine. Older homes tend to have unfinished, creepy basements complete with stone walls, exposed pipes, and dirt floors. And unfortunately, secluded, dark basements are ideal for rodents. 

If you spot feces or urine from small animals, you’ll need to take action immediately. Rodents enjoy gnawing through wood beams and electrical wires which can lead to major damage. And you’ll likely have to take care of this one yourself since homeowners insurance usually doesn’t cover animal infestations. 

Is An Older Home Worth It?

While there’s much to admire about a classic Colonial or modest Bungalow, there’s a lot to consider as well. Older homes require costly upkeep and are typically harder to insure. 

If you know what to expect and how your homeowners insurance will work, an older home could be a perfect fit. But if you’re not prepared to take on the efforts of an older home, you might want to choose something newer and create your own history. 

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