It has been that way for 82 years—how can it be wrong?

I love the passionate and sometimes heated “discussions” revolving around whether old construction is better than new construction.  Of course if one does not define any parameters one can come to the conclusions they are looking for either way.

Inefficient older home

However, given that a better than average builder in 1800 has built an absolutely state of the art house, and a better than average builder in 2000 has built an absolutely state of the art house, there is no question but what the 2010 house is going to be superior–in probably any way you may choose to define superior.

It will be structurally sounder, it will have a better foundation, it will be far more energy efficient, it will have safer electrical systems, it will have safety glass, it will have smoke alarms, it will have frost-free hose bibs, it will have indoor plumbing, it will have double pane windows, it will be “comfortable” everywhere in the home, and snow will not build up on the window sills “indoors.”  There won’t be any asbestos products or lead paint chips for your kids to snack on.  The floors won’t squeak either.

Newer more efficient home

I realize that what most people mean is that compared to that great old mansion on the expensive side of the tracks that was built by some bootlegger baron in the early 1900’s, the tract houses on the other side of the tracks being built today are much worse.  But then we are not comparing apples and apples–we are comparing apples and lemons.  All those houses on the other side of the tracks built in the early 1900’s are long gone–because they were crap houses.  Just because all our crap houses are still around does not mean that there are no REALLY good quality ones around.  I would argue that the tract quality houses built today are even superior to the tract quality houses built in 1900–but only time will tell.

In my own home, built in 1930 (and certainly not by any bootlegger baron), which I would consider of “better-than-average” construction, but not “great,” I found a faux pas from 1930 that shows that quality control was as much an issue in 1930 as it is today.  It also shows how redundancy of building techniques can result in some mistakes being fairly forgiving.   During my recent window/siding replacement project, when I was taking the old siding off, I found where the original felt paper had been installed wrong.  It was actually lapped the wrong way, and for 82 years it has not been a problem.


Why has it not been a problem?  Because the siding had not failed yet.  As long as the siding acted to keep water off the building-paper it did not really matter which way it was lapped.  If water had been able to get behind the siding it would have been able to run behind the felt paper as well.  If this had happened there would be a problem sooner or later–especially on the “weather-side” of the home.

This is also a good example of the kind of things that no home inspector can see–unless he is replacing his own siding.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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