The Homeowner's Guide to Fixing Up an Old House

Old homes come with a lot of charm and a lot of work. If you’ve recently purchased your older dream home or have lived in it for years, chances are you’ll need to do some necessary house repairs to bring it up to code and keep it in great shape for years to come.  

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The way a home is constructed changes with technology, federal and state building codes, and cultural trends, meaning that issues with homes built in the 1970s will probably be different from the types of problems with homes built in the 1940s. Even more recent builds vary in repair needs, so 10-year-old house vs. new house construction will have different home repair concerns. The thought of fixing up an old house may be overwhelming, but remember that you can start with the small things and save up for the more significant, costly repairs.

To help you with your house repairs, we’ve compiled this handy home repairs list, which provides old house repair ideas for protecting your old home.

Lumber and Foundation Repairs

1900–1950

If your home was built between 1900 and 1950, it was probably built with green lumber, or wood that was not kiln dried. Luckily, green lumber is not known to cause any structural issues, although it can create gnarly knots and contortions. If you want to give your historic home a cosmetic upgrade, consider replacing your framing lumber or wooden deck with kiln-dried lumber, which will ensure that your home’s framing and outdoor spaces are stable and do not crack. 

1950–2000

Though this time frame is more recent, homes built in these decades still often suffer from foundation issues ranging from minor fractures to more serious damage in support footings. Soil erosion can exacerbate foundation distress further. If your home has uneven floors, stair-step or diagonal cracks, or doors that won’t latch, you may need to conduct an old house foundation repair.

Wall Repairs

1900–1950

Homes built during this time often have balloon–framing, or long studs of wood that are multiple stories tall. This can be a fire hazard, so you may want to install fire blocks during your old house wall repair to break up a potential fire’s path. 

Another issue with walls in homes built before 1950 is a lack of insulation, meaning you’ll feel the cold and the heat much more than in a well-insulated house. To keep the indoors temperate, consider adding insulation to create a protective layer between you and the outdoors. You can retrofit new plastics, fiberglass, or expanding foam insulation to your walls when fixing up your old house. 

Finally, homes built in this time frame often rely on plaster walls, or strips of lath connected to wall studs and then covered with plaster. Plaster walls are much more prone to cracking and crumbling than drywall. A structural crack can cause bigger issues down the line, so it’s essential to repair your home’s plaster wall issues before they turn into a real hassle. 

1950– 2000

Many home builders during these decades relied on hardboard composite siding, which was seen as an inexpensive option for building new-home construction. However, this type of siding can cause swollen, warped, and discolored walls; rusting and popped-out nails; and termites. Replacing composite siding with new manufactured siding will protect your home for years to come. 

Piping Repairs

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1900–1950

Heating duct and pipe systems in homes built before 1950 often used asbestos fibers for insulation. Asbestos is now known to cause cancer, so if you are renovating your older or historic home, you should hire a trained asbestos professional to inspect, test, and replace your asbestos insulation. This isn’t a task for DIY home repair—leave asbestos removal to the pros.

Also, steel plumbing pipes were usually installed during this time frame. Because they rust over time, steel pipes can clog and then burst. If you have an older home, you will likely need to replace its steel piping system. 

1950–2000

Galvanized piping, or steel pipes coated in zinc, was commonly installed in homes in the mid-century. Like steel piping, galvanized piping corrodes and rusts over time. Homes built during this time also often used cast iron drain pipes, which corrode over the years and can become clogged by roots that enter through the weak spots. If your older home has steel, cast iron, or galvanized piping, you may want to consider replacing your piping system to ensure your plumbing system lasts for years to come.

Wiring and Electrical Repairs

1900–1950

Electrical wiring became standard for new home builds around the 1920s. For the first time ever, most homes had current-carrying wires installed. However, the knob and tube-style electrical wiring used from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries is considered by many to be dangerous due to shoddy modifications for higher-capacity service and appliances, insulation issues, and lack of ground wire. These issues can lead to electrical fires. When conducting house repairs, consider having the knob and tube wiring system removed and replaced for safety reasons. 

1950–2000

You will likely want to upgrade your electrical systems while fixing up an old house that was built during this time. Electrical wiring installed in the second half of the 20th century is often undersized compared to our modern-day electrical needs and amp requirements.

When opening up your walls, aluminum branch circuit wiring is also something to pay attention to. This type of wiring poses a severe fire hazard. Replacing your aluminum branch circuit wiring with copper cable or modifying it with COPALUM will ensure that you and your family stay safe in your older home.

Roof Repairs

1900–1950

Houses built during this time often have poor gutter systems and unlined chimneys. An unlined chimney can be unsafe since it does not allow for proper ventilation, so you may need to repair or replace the roof and chimney in your historic home.

Poorly made or not well-maintained gutters can affect your roof with pooling water that can seep into the interior. If the gutters are still in good shape but clogged with debris, this is an easy DIY home repair fix. Here are some tips for cleaning your gutters.

1950–2000

You may think that buying a house with a 20- to 40-year-old roof protects you from needing roof repair; however, houses built from the 1980s onward typically used fiberglass roof shingles that crack and tear over time. Fiberglass roof shingles often experience thermal splitting caused by exposure to the sun. Be on the lookout for missing or deteriorated shingles while making your home repairs list.

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Fixing up an old house can be an extensive project, but updating it to current standards is important for maintaining its charm.

No matter the issues your specific home faces—whether you’re remodeling a historic home or updating an old family home—investing in a home warranty that covers items no matter their age is a good way to ensure that your home and budget are protected. Your home’s systems and appliances, like plumbing, electric, and kitchen and laundry appliances, undergo natural wear and tear over time. For homeowners of older houses, it’s important to have peace of mind that issues can be taken care of before they become expensive headaches. For complete home warranty coverage for your older home, check out pricing and plans from American Home Shield. 


After checking off these items from your home repairs guide, check out our ultimate home maintenance guide to keep your old home not only up and running but thriving.

AHS assumes no responsibility, and specifically disclaims all liability, for your use of any and all information contained herein.

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