“Ned! I am so excited about this wonderful old house that I am looking at…but I wonder if I’m crazy!”
Old houses are wonderful as long as you realize they are a gift that will keep on giving. Just like my ancient self, numerous things are likely breaking down simply due to age- things like the brick masonry piers dissolving due to moisture, or funky wiring…on and on.
The marvelous Meggy and I have had over a dozen of these old pieces of art and we long ago decided that they were too big a project to completely repair in one bite. Instead we learned to break the progress up into priorities.
First- We must immediately fix what will kill us! That is not a joke. Many of these houses have unvented gas space heaters or rusted gas lines. They will either kill you with carbon monoxide when you are sleeping or blow up the house! Yes- number one-gas safety…and smoke/carbon monoxide/ combustible gas alarms!.
Two- Electrical: electricity will reach out and touch someone. Sometimes the problems may simply be taped together connections or loose outlets but in many cases you may have the terrifying knob and tube electrical system that dates back as far as 1915. The wiring had no plastic covering (not invented) no junction boxes -just twisted together connections with electrical tape…and even worse the organic rubber tree rubber on the wire has dried up and fallen off leaving bare hot wires through the attic and crawlspace. In this case the first thing you do is buy several more smoke alarms and have fire insurance in place! Then, go to the fuse box (usually these are fuses rather than circuit breakers) and replace the fuses with 15 amp fuses since they will turn off the power the quickest- if you have circuit breakers then replace them with 15 amp breakers on all the knob and tube circuits. Finally, when you get some money together-replace the knob and tube completely!!!!
Three- Now that you have removed the immediate life-threatening issues then move onto the things that will destroy any new work you are doing- namely fix the roof and stop the leaks in the plumbing. Nothing is so discouraging as painting your nice new living room and then have a roof or plumbing leak pour through the ceiling taking that plaster and sheetrock down, drenching your furniture, your babies and animals. It will ruin your day! Even though the roofer says that you need a roof immediately (because he wants to sell you one) the fact is that you can patch and bubblegum a roof almost indefinitely. We were in our twenties and a $8,000 roof replacement was out of the question, but a bucket of tar and a bundle of shingles were cheap and effective…like $50.00. Particularly if you are brave to do it yourself.
By the way, I was not and am still not handy-my repairs are not pretty but they worked. I had no background in construction-didn’t fix things with my Dad or Grandpa-nope I sang in the choir! But My mother in law bought me the “Readers Digest Do It Yourself Handbook” which was my greatest resource. Today we have YouTube videos and endless internet resources, but that book started me on the path that has made me the home inspector that I am today.
The rest of the process will be dictated by your budget- I suggest fixing the termite damage under the house but things like a new kitchen, refinishing those heart pine floors, snazzy bathrooms and of course painting the outside of the house will come as the money comes in. I really suggest that you NOT go and borrow $100,000 to fix the place up but rather take it in these stages and pay for it as you get the money- you will become intimately acquainted with your wonderful old house in a way that would be impossible if you hired everything out- also you won’t be saddled with huge debt.
Ned Dominick has been inspecting old and new houses for over 40 years. He and his inspectors have examined approximately 35,000 homes in Macon, Warner Robins and Middle Georgia- For more go to his website at www.housetalk.net or give Ned a call at 478-738-0893. Talk is free!