The year 1980 is somewhat arbitrary, but ‘newer’ homes built since then have a lot more in common than ‘older’ homes because of changing trends, style, and construction materials– in this article, we are calling homes built after 1980 ‘newer.’ The public perception seems to be that older homes were built better than today’s homes but are also more expensive and difficult to maintain. Like a lot of trends over time, the quality of residential home construction has become better AND worse over time. There are advantages to buying newer or older homes– read on to discover why an experienced home inspector has reasons to support both of these arguments.
See our article Buying a Pre-1960 Home to learn more about how much construction science has changed over the decades… Homes built in the 1980s have a reputation for being cheaply built. I believe that this reputation stems from states that experienced enormous growth during this time (Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, etc.). Tract builders built entire communities seemingly overnight in search of profits. Here in the mountains of Western North Carolina, we have less available land for these massive tract developments, and although there are exceptions, my experience as a home inspector has been that houses built in the 80s in our area are of comparable quality to the decades before and after.
Are Newer Homes built better than Older homes?
As a general rule, newer homes are safer, more energy-efficient, and less prone to unpleasant surprises than older homes. Houses built since 1980 generally have benefited from better construction techniques, energy efficiency standards, code requirements, and safety standards– by these measures, newer homes are superior to older homes, Revelations about the toxicity of some older materials, especially lead, arsenic, and asbestos, have resulted in reform and today these materials are no longer being installed.
- More closets and storage space than in older homes
- More open floor plan compared to older homes (less compartmentalized)
- Better energy efficiency
- Modern homes have insulated doors, windows, ductwork, and minimum R-value requirements for floors, walls, and ceilings
- Modern Code and safety standards:
- Safety features such as GFCI and AFCI-protected circuits, smoke/CO detectors, equipment ground wiring, circuit breakers, and wiring that is not air-cooled (like Knob and tube wiring used until the 1940s)
- Fire separation, fire blocking, and fire resistant materials
- Safety standards for stairs, decks, and railings
- Improved framing support details (bolts, ledgers, etc…) to prevent settling and framing techniques to prevent wind/hurricane damage, such as J-bolt anchors, hurricane straps, etc…
- Improved flashing and clearance requirements to prevent siding/trim/framing decay
- Improved HVAC and fireplace exhaust systems (flues, etc…)
- And many other improvements
- Fewer lead or asbestos-containing materials
- Updated plumbing materials
- Some older plumbing materials were known for toxicity, corrosion, deterioration, and sudden failure, such as galvanized, lead, Orangeburg, etc…
- Newer everything
- Less history of repair/maintenance neglect
- Less un-permitted additions, renovations, and repair work
- Less history of catastrophic water damage and fire events
- Less aging components. (Every component of the home has a life expectancy, including electrical, plumbing, foundation, etc…)
Are Older Homes Built Better than Newer Homes?
Older homes were built on larger lots and/or prime locations. Over time older homes have depreciated but they have also benefited from more mature landscaping and more established neighborhoods. One category where the improvements over the last 40 years are less obvious is the quality of construction materials. An argument can be made that some construction materials used before 1980 were superior to those commonly in use in our time. We may also discover in the future that some of the chemicals in materials we use today have serious health implications and should no longer be used.
- Tend to be located on larger lots or more prime locations
- Tend to be located in more established areas and neighborhoods
- More mature landscaping
- Unique character or charm
- Stronger and more decay-resistant wood
- Older homes typically used older growth woods for framing, floor/attic/wall sheathing, etc… Older milled wood was stronger and less prone to sagging, delamination, and water damage than plywood/OSB sheathing, Masonite/fiberboard, and finger-jointed wood.
- Mature and decay-resistant species of trees produce wood with longer life expectancies (Southern Yellow Pine, Locust, Cedar, Redwood, etc…)
- Fewer Plastics (more metal)
Product Class Action Lawsuits since 1980
While there have been many improvements to construction technology over the last 4 decades, there have been several products and techniques installed since 1980 that have proven to be failures and have resulted in class action lawsuits. Below is an abbreviated list:
- Certainteed Weatherboard (the late 2000s-2014)
- A fiber cement siding product that contains fly ash which is a coal manufacturing by-product
- The fly ash causes the siding to become brittle and crack prematurely.
- Zurn Q-PEX and dezincification (1996-2010)
- Bronze PEX fittings made during this era by certain manufacturers were prone to de-zincification, corrosion and leaks.
- Masonite or fiberboard (the 1980s and 90s)
- A siding product made from glue and wood fibers prone to pre-mature swelling and decay
- EIFS or Synthetic Stucco (the 1980s-1990s most common)
- A non-draining synthetic stucco over wood framing method known for hidden water damage issues
- GAF Timberline (1998-2009)
- A fiberglass/asphalt roof shingle that is prone to premature cracking, tearing, and splitting due to defective manufacturing materials and processes.
- Ungrounded CSST or aluminum Corrugated gas lines (1990s-present)
- Un-bonded thin aluminum corrugated gas pipes are at risk of lightning-related fire damage. Corrugated pipes should be bonded (driven rod, etc…) or replaced with black steel.
- Polybutylene (1978-1995)
- A plumbing material that is known to become brittle or damaged when exposed to chlorine (municipal water)
Products with Health Concerns
Newer homes are less likely to have asbestos, arsenic, and lead-containing materials however, some newer toxic materials have come onto the market, and likely, there are some that we are installing today that we don’t know about yet.
- ‘Chinese Drywall’ (2001-2008)
- Exposure to chemicals in Chinese drywall can result in nose bleeds, headaches, coughs, upper respiratory or sinus problems, rashes, and difficulty breathing.
- Laminate Flooring (2011-2015)
- Vinyl laminate flooring known to contain unhealthy amounts of formaldehyde were widely distributed in the early 2000s. Vinyl flooring still contains formaldehyde but at lower levels.
- VOCs, SVOCs and Plastics (1980s-present)
- VOC and SVOC: Many (or even most) modern paints, building materials and furnishings contain volatile or semi-volatile organic compounds. Laminate materials, vinyl siding, countertops, tub/shower surrounds, sinks, vinyl flooring, are just a few of these materials.
- Plastic Materials are known to contain BPA, phthalates, and other volatile and semi-volatile organic materials that are known to affect our health.
- Even our most common plumbing materials, PEX and PVC contain volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds. Alternative plumbing materials, like PEVA, are coming to the market, but we could be many years away before they are readily available.
- We are only beginning to understand the long-term effects of the increased presence of VOCs, SVOCs and plastics in our homes- it is likely there will be increased consumer concern in the future.
- It is common for older homes to also to contain VOCs, SVOCs and plastics as they become updated with vinyl siding, vinyl flooring, sinks, countertops, tub/shower surrounds, newer plumbing materials, etc.
Generally, newer homes are more comfortable (energy efficient), safer, less prone to earthquake/wind damage, and need less expensive updating and repairs. Newer homes tend to be larger with open floor plans and larger storage and closet areas and are, well, just newer. Older homes have a unique quality, can be cheaper, and are often located in more established areas with larger lots.
Buyer preference depends on experience, lifestyle, and tolerance for repairs. Older and newer homes can potentially provide years of low-maintenance living (or remorse) depending on their condition, which is why an experienced home inspector should always be hired for buying, selling, and maintaining regardless of age or type.
Buying a newer or older house in Asheville or in the WNC area?
Builder Buddy is your resource for newer, modern, or Contemporary Home Inspections in the Asheville area. We also provide Commercial Inspections, Pre-listing inspections, Annual Inspections, Radon testing, Mold testing, Water testing, Well Inspections, Septic Inspections, and more. Schedule online or call with questions.