The Problem With Old Houses: NOTHING Is Standard Or Normal

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December 14, 2021, 01:38 PM
The Problem With Old Houses: NOTHING Is Standard Or Normal
The last house I lived in was built in the 1940's. It had a basement that was converted into a "mother-in-law" apartment with a kitchen. WOrked out well for me as I rented out the lower level for several years to help with the mortgage. I needed to replace the interior doors in the basement. I had to cut all 4 sides of every single door to get them to close correctly.

I bet it took me a week to replace those 5 doors. What a PITA.
December 14, 2021, 04:59 PM
My parents just bought a house very close to my farm. The house was built in 1955. Everything is square and well built. Flat head screws were all that was available at the time. It has plaster. My dad used to be a carpenter and will do some minor remodeling but it hopefully won’t require much. He built the house I grew up which is where my parents currently live. We would’ve loved to pick that house up and move it to the location of the new house but that’s not possible.
The older houses are typically better built from that time frame because most of the people involved with the process were skilled tradesmen who took pride in their work. Some of today’s new homes are literally built by the lowest paid hired help available and the craftsmanship shows. Probably because some of them recognize they’ll be in jail or worse in a few years and the fact they’ve never been taught proper technique in some cases. It’s a shame.
I know it’s a hassle to fix up an older house but with basic maintenance I believe they’re built to last unlike some of the newer construction. I’ll be starting a remodel on my house in the next year or two. I’m not looking forward to it but it was the deal with the wife in order to buy the farm it sits on. It was built in 1976. We’re still finalizing design ideas etc plus the whole pandemic.
Best of luck to the OP. Looks like you’ve got it under control. Be safe!

Build a man a fire and keep him warm for a night, set a man on fire and keep him warm the rest of his life.
December 14, 2021, 07:37 PM
worked on an old remodel once 8 ft full 2z4 studs with 2 ft of firewood stilts to get 10 ft ceilings.
December 15, 2021, 09:01 AM
My house is a brick structure built in 1858. In 32 years of residence I've easily spent triple, or more, than the original sale price keeping it maintained. There will always be the next thing to repair or replace. I just accept that as the price of choosing to live here. A building like this could not be replicated today. The skills and materials would be hard, if not impossible to find. I say I would not have bought the place If I'd known then what I know now, but actually I've been happy living here all these years.
December 17, 2021, 07:29 AM
Had a 1950's house like that. It was cheaper to replace the breaker box than a breaker, for example. The best was the plumbing. All supply lines were iron. the electric was grounded to the supply lines, and the water was full of minerals. After 60 years or so, the minerals electroplated to the inside of the pipes, so the entire supply system required replacing.
December 18, 2021, 01:19 PM
I feel your pain. My house was built in 1961 and when I moved in the heater grates all had many many layers of paint and looded like crap. So I run to Home Depot planning on replacing every wall grate in the house. Found out that they were the "old standard" that is now unobtanium.

Some small bit of good news is the worn out two pole electrical outlets actually had 3 wire cordage to the boxes, so in went brand new outlets throughout the house. Also installed 20 amp outlets in the kitchen because they were wired with 12 gauge and you won't accidentally pull a plug out of a 20 amp outlet.

I've stopped counting.
December 18, 2021, 06:49 PM
Originally posted by Scooter123:
I feel your pain. My house was built in 1961 and when I moved in the heater grates all had many many layers of paint and looded like crap. So I run to Home Depot planning on replacing every wall grate in the house. Found out that they were the "old standard" that is now unobtanium.

I have run into the same exact thing. All my register covers are some oddball size, but they are built like Soviet tanks, so what I think I will do is get them sandblasted and repaint them. The new register covers are almost like a thick foil compared to these beasts.

December 19, 2021, 07:23 PM
Preach. I’m certain every board in my house was custom cut and hand fitted by trained apes.
December 19, 2021, 07:47 PM
Phillips screws were invented in the 1930s and initially used in auto manufacture. Can't see when it made the jump to home construction, as no site seems to specify

NRA Endowment Member
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C.S. Lewis
December 20, 2021, 10:20 AM
I'm not sure when things became current standard or when things went to mostly prefab

I agree with one of the posts above, the modern house is built by low bid contractors that cure all ills with an air nailer and later on dry wall mud, or caulk

oops, cut that 2x4 just a hair short? put 5 more nails in it and call it good,

my house, built in 2002 , was built by a local company using some framers out of Wva,
those guys did a good job,

and I had my Dad, and Brother, (Dad was an old school carpenter) that would drive by almost daily and look things over,
if a board was off, the kicked it out and had it replaced,

even then, modern house, should be straight, when I put up Crown Molding in a few rooms years later, I don' thing any corner was a true 90,, mostly due to dry wall tape and mud

I spent a summer working for my grandfather doing carpentry type work (he was a master carpenter who did mostly small stuff as he got older)

most of the old home we worked on in RVA were about as non standard, compared to now, as you could get,

and none had philipshead screws


what I mean by prefab is stuff like prehung doors,
many house we worked on had the door frames framed, then the door hung,

watching a trim carpenter put up trim in a house nearby,, and he used more caulk than a painter, ,to seal up joints and edges,

I was taught to make the joint tight, as in no gaps, and how to use a coping saw,

mostly cause it was the right way to do it, but also because a lot of stuff was stained back then, and you cannot hide gaps when staining wood

unlike painted trim, that can be caulked and painted over

December 22, 2021, 07:19 AM
Being over 60, every house I grew up in was old. Except the one in GA which was the demo for the developer, every room was bigger than the plans they show you. Even had the garage as a big den which worked ok for me and my brother, we'd have trike races in there on rainy days.

Current house was build in the early 70's, we were moving out of our previous 1920's lathe and plaster having sworn off anything less than sheetrock. Move in and the projects start, one being a replacement for big picture window. That's when I discover the wall was ballon framed in a manner of speaking, it's two stories to the peak, but they broke it 8 feet up with 2x4 laid flat. Three courses.

Then a chimney natural rock on both sides for code, 8" thick inside leaning against the framing and yup it's about an 1 1/2" off at 8 feet. Now try to set a window level plumb and square in the hole. Can be done, but trim will run thick at the top to almost gone at the bottom. I've now done the other window and a prehung door in that wall, every one with custom tapered trim. I kept the jig for the table saw to cut it sloped.

But the sheet rock is a lot easier. I won't mention they never laid anything over the partical board on the joists, all of which, including the joists, has sagged. A bathroom remodel with tile flooring required stripping out the partical board, sistering more joists, Strongbarn cross ties to tighten the joists up, 5/8" ply with backerboard then tile. And the kitchen will be no better. Did I mention they laid the underlayment and threw up walls in between the joists?

But the sheet rock is a lot easier.

We had a tornado locally the spring after we moved in, lost trees left and right, neighbors all got new roofs. Me? Nope, 30 year old cedar shakes 100% depreciated no coverage. I learned how to put up 5 rib metal, for half the cost, and those panels were 26'4" long. I had to build scaffold around the house to work off of, and the pitch being 28/12 - an A frame - you worked off a ladder like it or not.

But the sheet rock is a lot easier.

Heavy rains and surface water draining down the poured concrete foundation will cause water inside on the basement floor, it's flooded twice in 20 years. I've got most of the landscape swaled to keep it off, gutters, etc. and then we got an earthquake - same year we got 19 inches of snow and 30 days over 100F and the neighboring metro got an EF5. Major crack top to bottom and leaks. We stripped out the paneling, sealed the crack, and started framing when the third water intrusion came in from near the HVAC. Bad gutter sealing from the joints drying out. It's all done now. Taking up the indoor outdoor carpeting which was glued down with mastic cement was a fun job - imagine using a powered floor scraper and brute force to pull up the carpeting, then a gallon of hot Dawn, causing the mastic to turn into a 1/4" of oobleck you attempt to vacuum up. When it all dries, it goes back to being mastic again, all over you, shoes, socks, hands, the vac, etc. Then we glued down vinyl woodgrain planking which is at least water resistant.

But the sheet rock is a lot easier.

Kitchen remodel next. We will move some windows around and change a door, almost no sheet rocking. Count your blessings.
December 22, 2021, 11:27 AM
I wonder if fifty years from now, everybody will be wondering why we used Phillips screws. Why wouldn’t we have been using standard Robertson #2? They’ll conclude we must’ve been idiots.

Demand not that events should happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and you will go on well. -Epictetus
December 28, 2021, 11:17 AM
I helped my sister and brother in law with a house flip one time . It was built in the late 30's I'm guessing . Knob and tube wiring and a 60 amp main panel . That was a tough one . You should have seen the look on her face when I told her that electric heat central unit was NOT an option . Roll Eyes
December 29, 2021, 10:02 AM
There is one standard applied to every old house.
They're all money pits.

No one's life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session.- Mark Twain
December 29, 2021, 03:10 PM
Originally posted by ChuckFinley:
Phillips screws were invented in the 1930s and initially used in auto manufacture. Can't see when it made the jump to home construction, as no site seems to specify

And they are as awful as they are because they were designed to prevent poorly trained assembly line workers in a hurry using overly powerful tools from overtorqueing screws during assembly.

So they cam out when you apply too much (any) torque, and if you try to force them to accept torque without camming out the poor mating surfaces practically ensure that what you will achieve instead is to round off the screw, your tool, or both.