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Common Issues Found During Inspections

Updated: Apr 5

After you put a property under contract, it’s time to have it inspected. This can be as scary (or scarier) than the initial contract negotiation, and sometimes it’s more work. It’s essential to understand what to expect during an inspection. As homes get older, it’s normal for them to need repairs. Construction standards change over time, so older homes will often have outdated systems when you compare them to homes built today. However, it is important to compare the homes you are inspecting to homes of similar vintage for context.


Understanding this before you have the property inspected helps you get through the process with less stress.



Major Systems in Homes of Any Age


  • Foundation/Slab

Foundation engineering has improved dramatically since the 1990s, so you see fewer issues with newer homes. However, foundation problems can happen in any home in central Texas due to our expansive clay soil. The good news is that properties usually don’t start suddenly moving, so if a property is within tolerance now, there’s a great chance that it won’t have problems in the future. Foundation repair is expensive and very involved. This is often a “deal killer”.


  • Foundation/Pier and Beam

Many central Austin homes have pier and beam foundations; this is a system of concrete piers that hold a wood frame, creating a crawl space under the home. Some central Austin homes even have the original piers from cedar trees! Personal opinions vary on how to manage pier and beam homes that are not perfectly level. We have always avoided leveling pier and beam homes unless we were about to undertake a large remodel and wanted to minimize shifting once a new ktichen and bathroom was in place.


  • HVAC (Air Conditioner) 

HVAC systems are generally $8000-$12,000 per unit if they need to be replaced. They will typically have a lifespan of 15-20 years before they need to be replaced. You don’t proactively replace an old air conditioner, but you will usually replace an older system when it does finally break. (We have seen systems as old as 30 years still chugging along, but that’s probably just luck!)

 

  • Roof

Roofs are built with 20 or 30-35 year shingles (sometimes there are 50-year metal or tile roofs, but this isn’t as common.) Shingle roofs are typically $10k to $15k, but the price does vary based on the size of the roof. Inspectors will usually say a roof is “at the end of its useful life” when it’s a 15-year-old roof that’s rated for 20 years or when it’s a 20-25-year-old roof rated for 30 years. Central Texas has had more than our share of hail in the past few years, a roofer can tell you if a particular address has had hail in the past.


  • Hot Water Heater A traditional hot water heater lasts 10-15 years (sometimes up to 20.) They’re relatively simple machines and don’t usually break, but the tank will eventually fail. When that happens, it’s $1500-$2000 to replace it. Tankless water heaters have more moving parts. They’re $3500-$4000 to replace.



Homes Built from 2000 to Present

Homes built in the past 20 years don’t have many common issues. It’s important to be aware of the major systems listed above, and you can expect many minor items to be called out during the inspection.


  • R22 Coolant in HVAC Systems R22 coolant was used in most HVAC systems until 2010 and it was known to deplete the ozone layer. In 2010, the EPA. stopped the sale of new air conditioning units that use R22. In 2020, the US banned the manufacture or import of R22. Because of this, most HVAC systems built in 2010 or earlier that use R22 (which is most systems built during this time) are obsolete. If the coolant leaks, you cannot refill it. If the system breaks, most HVAC techs will recommend a total replacement.


  • Fogged Windows  All homes built from 2000 to present will have double-paned (and sometimes triple-paned) windows, which is great. When double-paned windows lose their seals, they will fog, which isn’t great. This is a cosmetic issue, but they do look bad, and they will be written up in the inspection. It is roughly $200 per window to replace the panes.



Homes Built from 1990 to 2000


  • Fogged Windows Most homes built from 2000 to present will have double-paned windows, which is great. When double-paned windows lose their seals, they will fog, which isn’t great. This is a cosmetic issue, but they do look bad, and they will be written up in the inspection. It is roughly $200 per window to replace the panes.


  • Masonite Siding This is a siding material that is no longer in use because it is a poor product. Masonite is a pressboard product that will soak in water and then deteriorate. Masonite siding is not a problem with regular maintenance (paint) but many homes built in the 1990s have not been perfectly maintained, so it’s normal to see issues. Replacing all of the siding is very costly. You can typically replace sections of the siding and repaint as a much more cost-effective solution.



Homes Built from 1970 to 1990


  • Aluminum Wiring (1968-1976) Aluminum wiring was very common during these years, but you sometimes see aluminum wiring in homes built in other years from 1960-1990. Aluminum is less than ideal because it expands and contracts as it heats and cools, which can cause the connection points to loosen over time. You do not need to replace aluminum wiring (per code.) There are different opinions on the subject, but it’s code to either pigtail the aluminum/copper connections or to replace the outlets with CO/AL-rated outlets.


  • Lead-Based Paint (<1978) Lead-based paint is a potential health risk and lead paint was banned in 1978. According to the EPA, 24% of homes built from 1960-1978 have lead paint and 87% of homes built <1940 have lead paint. It’s safe to assume that the older a home is, the higher the likelihood that it has lead-based paint. Lead-based paint is harmful when ingested and conditions are most dangerous when paint is peeling or chipping. RealSimple has an excellent write up here.


  • Foundation Problems Foundation design was better in the 1980s than the 1970s and it was better in the 1970s than the 1960s, but it wasn’t great in any decade. In Austin, there is more expansive clay as you head east. It’s a good idea to be more aware of a property’s foundation as you look at older homes and as you head east. There are some neighborhoods in Austin with known foundation problems and we can help you identify them when you’re looking in one of these neighborhoods.


  • Federal Pacific Electrical Panel “FedPac” panels were one of the most common electrical panels from the 1950s to 1980s. Federal Pacific lost a lawsuit in 2005 and is no longer in business. There are no conclusive studies to determine if there is additional risk to owning a home with a FedPac panel (and there are still millions of homes with these panels) but inspectors will always call out these panels and electricians will always recommend that you replace them. More Information is Available Here.


  • Single Paned Windows Double-paned windows didn’t exist until the 1980s and weren’t common until the 1990s. When you’re looking at homes built in the 1980s or earlier, it’s great to take note of whether or not the windows have been replaced with double-paned windows. Double-paned windows look nicer, they block noise, and they’re far more energy efficient than single pane.



Homes Built from 1960 to 1970


  • Cast Iron Plumbing Cast iron plumbing was used in almost every home built pre-1970. This is the sewer line that runs under the house and to the street (in the ground.) Cast iron rusts over time and will fail eventually. It’s can be expensive to fix, in the tens of thousands. When looking at older homes, it’s very important to note if the sewer lines have been replaced or not and get a bid so you understand the cost of home ownership while you are in your option period.


  • Lead-Based Paint (<1978) Lead-based paint is a potential health risk and lead paint was banned in 1978. According to the EPA, 24% of homes built from 1960-1978 have lead paint and 87% of homes built <1940 have lead paint. It’s safe to assume that the older a home is, the higher the likelihood that it has lead-based paint. Lead-based paint is harmful when ingested and conditions are most dangerous when paint is peeling or chipping. RealSimple has an excellent write up here.


  • Outdated Electrical Panels We see many Federal Pacific electrical panels in homes built in the 1960s, but almost every panel installed in this decade is now considered outdated. It’s great to look to see if the electrical panel and service have been updated. If they haven’t, it’s almost certain that an inspector will call this out and an electrician will recommend a replacement.


  • Aluminum Wiring (1968-1976) Aluminum wiring was very common during these years, but you sometimes see aluminum wiring in homes built in other years from 1960-1990. Aluminum is less than ideal because it expands and contracts as it heats and cools, which can cause the connection points to loosen over time. You do not need to replace aluminum wiring (per code.) There are different opinions on the subject, but it’s code to either pigtail the aluminum/copper connections or to replace the outlets with CO/AL-rated outlets.


  • Foundation Problems Foundation design was relatively new in the 1960s, so it’s common to see problems. Most homes built in the 1960s have a foundation movement that is beyond tolerance if the home is east of Mopac. Homes west of Mopac sit on more stable soil (limestone) so foundation problems aren’t as common.


  • Single Paned Windows No homes built in the 1960s had double-paned windows, but many have been replaced over the years. It’s a great idea to take note of this when shopping.



Homes Built Pre-1960


  • Foundation Problems (Pier & Beam) Slab foundation engineering began in the 1950s and it’s common to see issues in homes east of Mopac. Many homes built in the 1950s are on a pier and beam (crawlspace) foundation and almost all homes built pre-1950 are on pier and beam. This type of foundation is less expensive to fix than a slab, but it’s very common for them to be out of level. It’s so common, in fact, that it’s normal to “shim” a pier and beam slab every 10 years to correct the movement.


  • Cast Iron Plumbing Cast iron plumbing was used in almost every home built pre-1960. This is the sewer line that runs under the house and to the street (in the ground.) Cast iron rusts over time and will fail. It’s a very expensive fix in the tens of thousands. When looking at older homes, it’s very important to note if the sewer lines have been replaced or not. This repair is a lower cost in homes with pier and bean foundations.


  • Lead-Based Paint (<1978) Lead-based paint is a potential health risk and lead paint was banned in 1978. According to the EPA, 24% of homes built from 1960-1978 have lead paint and 87% of homes built <1940 have lead paint. It’s safe to assume that the older a home is, the higher the likelihood that it has lead-based paint. Lead-based paint is harmful when ingested and conditions are most dangerous when paint is peeling or chipping. RealSimple has an excellent write up here.


  • Outdated Electrical Panels Almost every panel installed pre-1960 decade is now considered outdated. It’s great to look to see if the electrical panel and service have been updated. If they haven’t, it’s almost certain that an inspector will call this out and an electrician will recommend a replacement.


  • Ungrounded Electrical Outlets You can tell if the outlets are ungrounded because they will be 2-prong (instead of 3.) If this is the case, then there’s no ground. Beyond the fact that you have to buy an adapter to plug in lots of electronics, the lack of a ground is a safety hazard. Grounding every outlet is expensive. You can install GFCI outlets throughout as a less expensive solution that is per code. Many electricians will recommend grounding one outlet per room as a less expensive solution that is much safer than ungrounded outlets.


  • Asbestos Siding Asbestos siding is extremely common in homes built pre-1960. Hey, asbestos is a great insulator! The good news is that asbestos siding becomes a problem only when it’s crushed and the dust gets into the air. If you choose to replace the siding, there is an additional disposal cost for asbestos, so it’s more expensive to replace than any other type of siding.


This list doesn’t encompass everything you’ll find on an inspection, but these are high-impact items that are great for you to be aware of. Please reach out to us if you have questions about anything here or any other repair items!


Cheers,

Jen & the team




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