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5 Hidden Costs To Consider When Buying A Historic Home

So you're looking for your next home in Niagara and you've come across something that is unique and beautiful and has captured your heart. The only thing that's lingering in the back of your mind is that it's a historic home and doesn't that mean it's going to break down soon?


Not necessarily... obviously I can't make any assurances on all homes available but generally speaking historic homes (we'll say homes that are 100+ years old here in Niagara) has somethings you should look out for but generally speaking their better built than many new homes these days - after all they are already 100+ years old already!



In this article we're going to highlight the 5 (potentially) biggest costs associated with historic homes here in the region. The good news is that you can snag it for less than a modern, turnkey home. The bad news is that updating an older home, even with something as simple as a bathroom remodel or kitchen renovation, can be challenging and costly. With older homes come a host of potential issues, including complex plumbing problems and other hidden costs that can add up quickly. Although historical homes can be charming and full of character, it's important to be aware of the not-so-fun repairs that come with the territory. Here are eight home improvement projects that may catch you off guard, along with estimated repair costs.

1. Wiring and Electrical Upgrades

Electrical and wiring concerns can be a significant issue when buying an old house. Here are some potential concerns and costs to consider:

  • Outdated Wiring: Older homes may have outdated wiring that is not up to code and could be a fire hazard. Knob-and-tube wiring, which was commonly used in homes built before the 1950s, is particularly problematic and needs to be replaced entirely. Upgrading wiring to meet current electrical codes can cost between $3,000 and $10,000, depending on the extent of the work needed.

  • Insufficient Electrical Capacity: Modern electrical demands are much higher than in the past, and older electrical systems may not be able to handle the load. If the home's electrical system is outdated, you may need to upgrade the service panel or add additional circuits to support modern appliances and electronics. This can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 or more, depending on the extent of the work needed.



  • Safety Concerns: In addition to outdated wiring, there may be other electrical safety concerns to consider when buying an old house. Faulty wiring, overloaded circuits, and other electrical hazards can pose a danger to you and your family. It's essential to have a professional electrical inspection done before purchasing an older home to identify any potential safety hazards.

  • Increased Insurance Costs: Older homes with outdated electrical systems can be more expensive to insure. Insurance companies may require electrical upgrades or charge higher premiums to insure homes with outdated wiring or electrical systems.

  • Unanticipated Electrical Repairs: Finally, electrical repairs can be costly, and unexpected repairs can quickly add up. When purchasing an old house, it's important to budget for potential electrical repairs, including replacing outdated outlets, switches, and fixtures, repairing faulty wiring, and upgrading the electrical system as needed.


2. Plumbing Repairs

Plumbing is another area of concern when buying an old house. Here are some potential concerns and costs to consider:

  • Outdated Pipes: Older homes may have pipes made from materials that are no longer up to code or have reached the end of their lifespan. Lead pipes, for example, were commonly used in homes built before the 1950s and can pose a health hazard if they start to deteriorate. Replacing outdated pipes can cost between $2,000 and $15,000, depending on the extent of the work needed and the type of material used.

  • Galvanized Pipes: Galvanized pipes were commonly used in homes built before the 1960s and can corrode over time, leading to leaks and low water pressure. Replacing galvanized pipes can cost between $2,000 and $6,000, depending on the extent of the work needed.

  • Sewer Line Problems: Older homes may have sewer lines that have deteriorated or become blocked over time. Sewer line repairs or replacement can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 or more, depending on the extent of the damage and the type of repair needed.

  • Plumbing Leaks: Older homes may be more prone to plumbing leaks, which can cause water damage and mold growth. It's essential to have a professional plumbing inspection done before purchasing an older home to identify any potential leaks or water damage.

  • Inefficient Fixtures: Older homes may have inefficient plumbing fixtures that use more water than necessary. Upgrading to low-flow toilets and faucets can save you money on your water bill and improve the efficiency of your plumbing system.

  • Unanticipated Plumbing Repairs: Finally, plumbing repairs can be costly, and unexpected repairs can quickly add up. When purchasing an old house, it's important to budget for potential plumbing repairs, including replacing outdated fixtures, repairing leaks, and upgrading the plumbing system as needed.


3. Foundation and Structural Repairs

Foundation and structure are crucial components of any home, and older homes may have unique concerns that need to be addressed. Here are some potential concerns and costs to consider when buying an old house:

  • Foundation Issues: Older homes may have foundation issues due to shifting soil, poor construction, or simply age. Foundation repairs can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the extent of the damage.

  • Structural Damage: Older homes may also have structural damage caused by water damage, pests, or general wear and tear over time. Structural repairs can be costly, depending on the extent of the damage and the materials needed to fix it.


  • Mold and Mildew: Older homes may also be more prone to mold and mildew growth, which can be a sign of water damage or poor ventilation. Mold remediation can be costly, depending on the extent of the damage and the materials needed to remove it.

  • Historic Designation: If an older home is designated as historic, it may be subject to additional regulations and restrictions when it comes to making structural changes or repairs. This can add additional costs and complexities to any repairs or renovations.


4. Insulation and Energy Efficiency

Older homes were not built with energy efficiency in mind, and as a result, they may have poor insulation. Upgrading insulation and replacing windows and doors can help make your home more energy-efficient, but it can be a significant expense, with costs ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 or more depending on the size of the home.

  • Poor Insulation: Older homes may have poor insulation, which can lead to energy inefficiency and higher utility bills. Adding insulation to an older home can cost between $1,500 and $3,500, depending on the extent of the work needed.

  • Single-Pane Windows: Older homes may also have single-pane windows, which can be drafty and allow heat to escape. Replacing single-pane windows with double-pane windows can cost between $500 and $1,000 per window, depending on the size and type of window.

  • Energy Efficiency Upgrades: Upgrading an older home to be more energy-efficient can be costly, but it can also save you money on your utility bills in the long run. Upgrades such as installing a programmable thermostat, adding weather stripping to doors and windows, and upgrading to energy-efficient appliances can all help improve energy efficiency.

  • HVAC System: Older homes may have an outdated HVAC system that is inefficient and in need of replacement. A new HVAC system can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 or more, depending on the size of the home and the type of system installed.

  • Boiler & Radiators: Additionally, many older homes have boiler and radiator heat instead of forced-air heating systems, which means there is no ductwork for central air conditioning. If central air conditioning is a must-have for you, it's important to keep in mind that installing a central air conditioning system in an older home can be costly and may require significant modifications to the home's existing heating and cooling systems.

Tip: A ductless split system can be a great option for cooling an older home that doesn't have central AC or ductwork. It consists of an outdoor unit that is connected to one or more indoor units by refrigerant lines. These indoor units can be mounted on the wall or ceiling

and blow cool air directly into the room. Because they don't require ductwork, they can be a cost-effective and energy-efficient option for cooling a home. Plus, they offer the flexibility to control the temperature in individual rooms or zones, which can be more efficient than cooling the entire house when only certain areas need it.


5. Lead and Asbestos Removal

Asbestos was commonly used in home construction in Ontario from the early 1900s to the 1980s. It was used in a variety of building materials, including insulation, roofing shingles, floor tiles, and plaster. Asbestos was valued for its heat-resistant properties, durability, and affordability, which made it a popular choice for construction materials.

Here are some potential concerns and costs to consider when buying an old house:

  • Health Risks: Asbestos is a known carcinogen and can cause serious health problems if inhaled. Asbestos fibers can become airborne when materials containing asbestos are disturbed, such as during renovation or repairs.

  • Asbestos-containing Materials: Asbestos was commonly used in insulation, floor tiles, roofing shingles, and other building materials. If an older home has these materials, it may be necessary to have them removed or encapsulated to prevent the release of asbestos fibers.

  • Professional Inspection: It's important to have a professional inspection done before purchasing an older home to identify any potential asbestos-containing materials. A professional asbestos abatement contractor may need to be hired to remove or encapsulate any materials containing asbestos.

  • Removal Costs: Asbestos removal can be expensive, depending on the extent of the materials containing asbestos and the complexity of the removal process. Asbestos removal can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.


But it's not ALL bad...

While it's true that buying an old house can come with its fair share of potential concerns and costs, it's important to remember that many of these homes were built to last (hence them being old and still available, right)?


The craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into constructing many historic homes often surpasses what is seen in new construction. While newer homes may come with updated features and materials, the focus on profit can sometimes lead to shortcuts being taken in the building process.

As a result, new homes almost certainly will not have the same level of longevity as older homes. Brick, stone, and solid old grown timber will last generations. When considering the purchase of a home, it's important to weigh the potential costs and benefits of both old and new homes. While there may be more potential issues to address in an old home, the quality of construction and materials used may ultimately make it a better long-term investment than a newer home.

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