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Pros and Cons of a 1960s Home?

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    LESLIE: Alright. Now we’ve got Phyllis from the Jersey Shore calling in. What can we do for you today?

    PHYLLIS: I am looking to purchase a home. And the problem is I’m looking at a very specific area because I don’t want to leave the current school district the children are in. And all the homes around here were built in the 60s. So my first question is: what should I look for in that era of home construction that might be a red flag? And also, the way the homes are all built, the bottom floor has radiant-floor heat and upstairs is hot-water baseboard. And I just – I can’t imagine that 50-year-old pipes are not going to go at some point. And I’m wondering, how do I make sure they’re OK or look for signs that they’re getting weak?

    TOM: So you’re basically looking for the good, the bad and the ugly of 1960s construction.

    PHYLLIS: Correct.

    TOM: And the story is that it’s actually a pretty good time for home construction. You had copper plumbing, you had decent wiring. Sometimes the services were a little small but if the homes were mostly natural gas, you really don’t need more than about 100 amps to power pretty much everything, including central air conditioning. And you’ve got hardwood floors. Very frequently, you had hardwood floors in 1960 houses. And it’s interesting because they put the hardwood floors in and they very promptly covered them with wall-to-wall carpet.

    LESLIE: With shag carpeting.

    TOM: Or shag, yeah. That’s right. Which actually protects them very nicely and didn’t allow them to wear. So, it’s a pretty good year for home construction.

    Now, because it’s a 50-year-old house, you’re obviously going to have – how old is the furnace? How old is the water heater? Stuff like that to consider. What’s the general maintenance been? But in terms of an era of home construction, I think it’s a really strong era.

    Now, if you’d asked me about the 80s, I would tell you, eh, not so much. Those houses were put together pretty fast and not always in the best possible way. But the 60s is a pretty good year for construction.

    PHYLLIS: Oh, good. Because I’m moving up. I live in an 80s house now.

    TOM: Oh, there you go. So you’re going to get better.

    In terms of that radiant heat, that’s probably one – the one weak link that that home has. But the thing is, you can’t really determine how far along it is and whether or not it’s going to break. It probably will eventually fail and when that happens, you’re going to be faced with a pretty costly repair. You’ll have to put in some alternative heat system because it’s virtually impossible to repair those pipes in the slab.

    So the first floor of your house will either be running new baseboard pipes or you’ll be running electric radiant or you’ll be adding an air-to-water heat exchanger so that you can take hot water from the boiler, run it through a heat exchanger and blow air over it through your HVAC system, the same one you use to cool the house.

    But I wouldn’t obsess about that. I mean it’s probably going to happen eventually but it may not even happen in the time that you own this next house. So if you like the neighborhood, 1960s is a pretty good era for home construction.

    PHYLLIS: Great. That’s great news. Thank you so much.

    TOM: You’re very welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

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