Buying a Ranch Style House

Introduction to Ranch Style Homes

The Ranch Home Style is known for its simplicity of form and is one of the most popular and common types of homes in our area.  Ranch Style homes, or Ranch Homes or just Ranches, were typically built in the 50s, 60s and 70s but occasionally we see some that were built in the 80s or even later (later era ranches are a great option!).  This article is not about aesthetics or style but is more focused on the maintenance and repair implications of buying and owning a Ranch home over the long-term compared to other types of homes.  Ranch homes that were built after 1960 have the benefit of more modern practices– see Pre-1960 homes for more information on things to consider when buying earlier ranch homes.  See also Buying Older Homes.

What to love about the Ranch Style Home:

  • Simple form: Because of their simplicity of form, ranches are cheaper to build and maintain than other styles of homes-  see Guide to Building an Affordable Home for more information.
  • Good access for repairs and maintenance: Ranches over basements will typically have good access to the floor framing for repairs and maintenance.  Roof framing is generally very accessible as well.
  • Good materials: In our area it is not uncommon for the roof and floor framing of ranch homes to be constructed of Southern yellow pine which is more decay and pest resistant than other species of wood.  Standard dimensional lumber or plywood sheathing was often used for floor and roof sheathing which tend to last longer than other materials used today.  In well maintained ranch homes the framing looks as good as the day it was installed.
  • Brick veneer: Many ranches are known for their brick veneer siding.  Brick veneer still needs maintenance but it does not need to be painted and is not prone to decay.  Generally brick veneer is a lower maintenance siding than other types.
  • More modern construction practices: The electrical service for ranch homes in our area is typically 100 amp or greater which can usually accommodate the electrical loads of more modern homes.  Most ranches built after 1960 in our area contain copper pipes (not galvanized) and cast-iron which are longer lasting materials.  More modern practices were used for framing supports (like the use of ledgers at joist and beam connections) so we tend to see less sloped floors than houses built before 1960.
  • Deep overhangs: Ranch homes are known for their deep overhanging eaves.  Deep eaves help protect the siding, trim, windows and doors from water damage.
  • Predictable issues:  Many of the issues that we find in ranch homes are predictable and typically easier to repair.  See below for more information about exceptions and other typical issues.

When not to love Ranch Style homes (or exceptions):

As a general rule ranch homes are a great opportunity for buyers that are open to buying an older home and are willing to do some repairs that are generally manageable for the average homeowner.  The following conditions are exceptions to the rule:

  • Neglect:  Our area suffered economic depression for many years and many ranch homes experienced more than typical neglect.  See Buying a Neglected Home for more information.
  • Pre-1960: Ranch homes built before 1960 tend to have less modern electrical, plumbing and framing practices.  See Pre-1960 Homes for more information.
  • Crawl-Spaces: In our area crawl spaces with passive foundation vents typically become very wet spaces over the decades.  Most ranch homes are between 35 and 70 years old which means that unless the house was exceptionally well maintained typically the foundation area will have experienced some advanced decay, wood destroying insect damage and other moisture related damages.  A ranch home built over a basement typically experiences less moisture damage over the decades than a ranch built over a crawl space.  See Foundation Systems for more information.
  • Extensive Un-permitted Additions and Renovations:  I have inspected countless ranch homes and discovered that the original construction quality was very good but the home was made much WORSE because of extensive unpermitted additions or renovations that were done later.  It is common for these additions to be owner built, poorly conceived or otherwise of a poor quality.

Typical issues of Ranch Style Homes:

One of the biggest causes of typical issues in the classic ranch is time itself.  Over the decades most of these homes have experienced some neglect by different owners through no fault of the original construction or design.  The good news is that many of the typical issues of a Ranch Home are relatively easy to address compared to other styles of homes.

  • Foundation areas:  Most ranches are between 35-70 years old.  Poor grading, drainage and maintenance has caused many of these homes to experience foundation damage and water penetration in the basement or crawl space.
    • Basements: It is not uncommon to see horizontal cracks, stepping cracks, and differential movement at the foundation walls which can indicate buckling and settling.  In our area the uphill side of the foundation wall (often the front) is the side that exhibits the most water penetration issues because it is retaining the most earth.  The best basement foundations today are built with concrete and rebar, but most foundations of our time are built similarly to the classic ranch (hollow 8″ ‘block’ CMU) and will likely exhibit the same symptoms in 35-70 years.
    • Crawl Spaces: Ranch crawl spaces typically have experienced water damages over the decades such as compromised foundation walls, decayed framing, wood destroying insect damage and wood destroying fungus.  The best crawl space foundations of today are mechanically dehumidified ‘Closed Crawl Space’ systems but most foundations of our time are built similarly to the classic ranch crawl space (with foundation vents) and will likely exhibit the same symptoms in 35-70 years.
  • Decks: Decks typically have a 25 year life expectancy and should be re-stained or painted every 3 years.  This means that most of the decks have been replaced and if they haven’t they will be in poor condition.  Sometimes the 2nd or 3rd generation of decks are already in poor condition, or were not properly installed.
  • Additions and Renovations: 
    • Porch/deck additions: are very common in our area.  At some point the owner looked out at their deck or porch and decided to turn it into a finished area.  Many of these additions were un-permitted and have typical issues.  Most of these additions can be managed with some select repairs and upgrades but occasionally a full renovation is needed.  See Porch/deck additions for more information.
    • Patio/Garage additions: are very common in our area.  At some point the owner looked out at their patio or garage and decided to turn it into a finished area.  Many of these additions were un-permitted and have typical issues.  Most of these additions can be managed with some select repairs and upgrades but occasionally a full renovation is needed.  See Patio/garage additions for more information.
    • Basement renovations: Most basement renovations do not have adequate water-proofing or clearance between the finishes and the foundation walls.  Most of these additions can be managed with some select repairs and upgrades but occasionally a full renovation is needed.  Sometimes finishes installed directly over sub-grade foundation walls can hide defects such as structural issues, water penetration and mold.
  • Framing Supports:  It is common to find missing floor joist/beam supports at stairs, chimneys and other transition areas– sometimes these will cause settling and sloped floors over time.  Generally these defects are easily repaired but, depending on the severity, the floors may never be made level again.  It is also common to find temporary adjustable columns in the garage.  Sometimes we will find sagging plywood or sheathing in the attic where the sheathing intersects- today we use H clips between the plywood/OSB to prevent sagging.  It is not uncommon to see some repair framing in the attic but for the most part the attic framing of ranches are holding up very well over time.
  • Chimneys– Chimney defects and roof leaks are very common with ranch homes.  We nearly always find some evidence of a leak and some framing damage at the chimney.  Some other common defects are: improper flashing, thin/deteriorated chimney crowns, missing flue caps/spark arrestors, deteriorated grout, cracked flue liner, leaning chimneys, damaged dampers, etc…  Many older chimneys with cracked flues in our area now have a gas log appliance venting through the original masonry flue liner which is a cheap solution but is also very energy in-efficient.  Most chimneys in ranch homes will need a full renovation: best practice is to install a new insulated insert with blower, metal flue, new metal crown and flue cap, etc…
  • Gutter Systems: Should have been replaced already.  Many still need repairs, maintenance or replacement.
  • Siding/trim/painting: Lead paint may be a concern for Ranch Homes with flaking paint that were built before 1978.  Selective repairs to the siding/trim are often needed especially at corners and gutter transition areas.
  • Energy Efficiency:  Unless they were upgraded, ranch homes often need repairs when it comes to energy efficiency– the roof framing is typically under-insulated, floor framing is typically not insulated at all, windows are single pane, and doors are solid wood (not insulated).  Insulation and energy sealing may be needed between basements/garages and the heated/finished areas.
  • Unfinished garage: Original Ranch garages are often un-finished and un-insulated and can be a fire safety concern.  Garage doors should be upgraded to insulated doors with eye sensors.
  • Electrical: Most Ranches built before 1975 do not have an equipment ground (or a third wire) at the electrical outlets.  Upgrades may be needed especially at plumbing areas (GFCI outlets) and high use areas (additional outlets with equipment ground).  Switches, outlets and electrical fixtures also wear and typically need replacing after 25 years.
  • Heating and Cooling Systems: Most original furnaces should have been replaced by now but it is not uncommon for the duct work to be original.  Un-insulated round type duct work was commonly installed in Ranch Homes- this duct work was designed for heating only.  When this older type duct work is used for cooling it can cause energy loss, condensation, and potential air quality issues over the long-term.  Most of this older duct work contains asbestos tape/seals that are a health concern when made air-borne.  The original heating/cooling equipment and duct work should be replaced by now.  It’s also common to find improperly installed bathroom fan vents, dryer vents, and hood vents which can cause condensation issues as well.
  • Plumbing:  It is common to find some framing damage caused by long-term plumbing leaks or flood events at areas.  We might also see partially upgraded plumbing due to aging plumbing materials- so we may see a mix of cast-iron, lead, galvanized, PVC, ABS, copper and PEX plumbing.  Cast-iron is an excellent material however acidic sewage can cause corrosion over the decades.  In some cases the copper plumbing may be thinning or corroded at areas as well.  A Sewer Scope Inspection is highly recommended for older homes to evaluate the condition of the ‘sewer lateral’ or the waste pipe between the house and the city sewer (typically at the street).

Conclusion:

I love a well-maintained Ranch Home– the issues are usually predictable and fairly manageable.  As a Home Inspector, I appreciate the simplicity and functionality of this American classic.  Ranch Homes will need more maintenance and repairs than newer homes or town-homes but need less maintenance than their peers of the same era and typically they need much less upgrading  and repairs than historic homes built before 1950.  For some buyers with the right skill set and appetite for repairs, a lower priced fixer-upper Ranch home could be a great opportunity.   Buyers of ‘Neglected’ Ranch Homes should do their due diligence carefully- is it worth the repair costs and hassle of renovating?  Do they have the stomach for extensive repairs, renovations, and managing different contractors?  Is there another home out there that has less issues and checks the same boxes?

In all cases, hiring an experienced Home Inspector so you can make an informed decision is paramount.  I hope this article was helpful to you.

Asheville Ranch Style Home Inspectors

Builder Buddy is your resource for Ranch Style Home Inspections, Ranch Home Inspections, Older home inspections, 1960s Home Inspection, 1970s Home Inspection, 1980s Home Inspection, Vintage Home Inspections, Historic Home Inspections, 1950s Home Inspection, Pre-1960 Home Inspections and more.  We also provide Ranch Style Home Radon testing, Ranch Style Home Mold testing, Ranch Style Home Water testing, Ranch Style Home Well Inspections, and Ranch Style Home Septic Inspections.  Schedule online or call with questions.

 

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