What You Need to Know About Insuring an Older Home

Older homes can be great. They are charming, full of character and have a story to tell. But before you let yourself fall in love with a home that was built before the 1970s. be aware that they also usually also have more advanced wear and tear. This means potentially expensive repair and replacement costs. It also means that insuring an older home can be more expensive than insuring a home that was  built recently.  An experienced insurance agent can help you understand your options when insuring an older home, but here are some large ticket items to watch for that can make your insurance more expensive and might even have to be replaced before you move in to bring the home up to code:

The electrical system:

Electrical systems and wiring were very different 60 to 70 years ago. Homes that were built in the 1930s didn’t have the same kind of electrical appliances that we have today. An older home may not have sufficient capacity to handle a family’s modern day electrical needs. An older home may not even have enough electrical outlets for all of the appliances, light switches and the average family’s electronics like TVs and computers. Using extension cords and power strips isn’t a permanent solution. Overloading a home’s electrical system is dangerous and can potentially cause a fire.

Safety codes were also quite different 50 years ago. Some homes built in the 60s and 70s used aluminum wiring instead of copper. Aluminum wiring connections can loosen over time and can be a fire hazard–and can lead to higher premiums when insuring an older home. Homes built before the 19070s also often have electrical fixtures that are ungrounded. If an electrical outlet is not grounded or polarized you have no protection against shocks from defective fixtures or appliances using that outlet. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, faulty wiring is the leading cause of residential fires. Each year, household wiring and lighting causes an estimated 32,000 home fires resulting in nearly $674 million in property damage.

Outdated plumbing:

  • An older home will have older plumbing. Plumbing from the 1960s and before used galvanized steel. Galvanized steel pipes might suffer from corrosion and blockages over time.
  • Pipes are not confined to just the house. Outdated plumbing can result in massive sewage issues. Sewer lines can be made of cast iron, clay, or plastic. Some older sewer lines may be made of tar paper used from the Civil War to the 1970s. This type of sewer line would need to be replaced as soon as possible.
  • Sewage issues are not just smelly and expensive, they can also be dangerous. If methane gas is inhaled it can lead to health issues such as headache and heart palpitations. If it builds up in your home it can be a fire hazard.

The roof:

  • A roof should last approximately 20 – 30 years depending on the materials, how well it has been maintained and where you live.
  • Roofing materials have been updated over the years. Up until the late 1970s, asbestos was a commonly used fire proofing material and was used in roofing products. If you find out that your home contains asbestos, you will need to have a professional asbestos removal company handle the removal.
  • If your roof is more than 15 years old and you see any examples of possible damage such as buckling and curling, algae growth, rotting, or blistering, you should have it professionally inspected. A damaged roof can ruin your attic, ceilings and walls. It can also contribute to the growth of mold and mildew, create a fire hazard, and compromise the structure of the home.

Historic or antique value:

An important point to consider when insuring an older home is the historic or antique value of the home. Those original light fixtures, beautiful stained glass panels and custom woodwork are beautiful, no doubt, but it will be more expensive to purchase antique materials and supplies and hire skilled labor to repair or rebuild a these features, so you will need to count on paying more for you insurance—unless you are fine with having the cheapest possible repairs made.

Aged appliances:

  • Older homes typically have older appliances. These appliances can be potential fire or electrocution hazards. Refrigerators in the early 20th century relied heavily on gases like ammonia and ether to help the cooling process.
  • Older appliances might contain Freon and mercury switchboards that must be disposed of properly.
  • Aged appliances have to be vented properly. Over time an appliance’s vent mechanism may deteriorate creating exposure to dangerous gases. Vents should be free of cracks and gaps.

Old Decks:

Brackets and fasteners can become corroded and fail to support older structures such as an outdoor deck. Hardware can become worn with exposure to the elements creating a potential hazard. When purchasing and insuring an older home, be sure to have a professional inspect the deck, porch and any additions to the house for structural stability.

Chimneys:

Old chimneys pose a possible fire hazard. Older chimneys are often unlined creating a draft that can leak toxic gases into the home. If the chimney is used for wood burning, the build-up can create a fire hazard.

Given that older homes can come with so many potentially expensive repairs it is important to have an experienced insurance agent guide you through the process of insuring your older home. This does not mean that your home is unsafe. It just means that you will have different considerations when buying insurance. You may be advised to have inspections or repairs completed prior to insuring an older home. You may look at additional considerations for insuring your older home such as:

  • Increased dwelling protection to cover expensive replacement costs
  • Water backup coverage to help cover the plumbing and sewage
  • Roof surfaces extended coverage
  • Coverage for today’s building costs to cover the increase in costs to rebuild the home to today’s safety regulations

When insuring an older home, be sure to purchase enough coverage by working with an experienced agent who can assess your situation. Long story short, don’t be scared off by an older home. As long as you have the money to bring the home up to code and are willing to pay a little more for insurance, the charms of an older home will far outweigh any setbacks.

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Steve Gebhardt

Gebhardt Insurance Group was honored by AAA Insurance for being the top New Policy Agency in Arizona for 2013 and achieving the "Emerald Achievement Award."
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