For the Love of Old Houses

If you share my appreciation for Richmond, you’ll likely share my love for its rich historic architecture. Our city boasts a plethora of structures and homes that trace their roots back to the 1800s and 1900s. These old houses exude a unique charm and character that’s hard to replicate in newer constructions. While some may argue that this “charm and character” can bring extra responsibilities, I believe it’s all a matter of perspective.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, skilled craftsmen endowed these structures with details that are not only rare to find today but would also come at a hefty cost in modern construction. The materials they used have undergone significant transformations. Back then, old-growth lumber was abundant and affordable, making it the backbone of both the underlying structure and the visible finishes. Nowadays, this lumber is considered a premium choice and can be quite expensive to procure. When I think about the positive attributes of these old houses, a few things come to mind:

  1. Solid Structure: The old-growth lumber used in these homes results in exceptionally durable and robust structures.
  2. High Ceilings: Ceilings higher than 9 feet can transform a small house into a spacious and comfortable living space.
  3. Architectural Details: From inlaid hardwood floors to intricate plaster rosettes and detailed moldings, these houses are adorned with craftsmanship that’s hard to find in contemporary homes.
  4. Prime Location: Old houses are prevalent in Richmond’s most desirable neighborhoods, offering a sense of history and a connection to the city’s heritage.

If you’ve never lived in or owned an old house, it’s perfectly normal to have concerns and questions. In fact, I’d be more surprised if you didn’t. Construction standards evolve continuously and have done so since the introduction of building codes. What was once considered acceptable building practice may not align with today’s standards. However, just because a historic house may not meet current construction codes, it doesn’t necessarily mean the house is unsafe or requires immediate updates. Most issues an inspector might highlight are often considered “grandfathered,” requiring modification only in cases of clear and immediate health or safety concerns. Here are some common grandfathered building elements found in older Richmond homes:

  1. Knob and Tube Wiring: The presence of knob and tube wiring can vary, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate trouble.
  2. Two-Prong Electrical Receptacles: While grounded receptacles are ideal, they may not be present in an old home unless it has undergone significant renovations.
  3. Limited or Missing Insulation: Older houses typically lack the insulation standards of today, but adding insulation can address this issue.
  4. Missing or Short Railings: Old regulations didn’t mandate railings on low porches and steps like today, but there are creative ways to add or improve them while preserving the original architecture.
  5. Windows with Sash Weights and Pulleys: Old windows often used pulleys, cords, and weights. It’s common to encounter broken sash cords, but they can be easily repaired.

Old house buyers may also come across signs of other issues that are not uncommon in older homes. As long as these issues have been addressed or can be feasibly resolved, they shouldn’t raise significant concerns:

  • Old Termite Damage: It’s not unusual to find signs of old termite damage in older Richmond homes.
  • Damp Basements: Water can seep into old basements for various reasons, but landscaping and drainage improvements can often mitigate this.
  • Heating Oil Tanks: The presence of an oil tank doesn’t necessarily signify a problem; soil testing and tank inerting can address any potential issues.

While I firmly believe in the charm of old houses, I acknowledge they may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re considering one for your next home in Richmond, I encourage you to consult with friends and family who own old houses, seek advice from trusted advisors, and ask plenty of questions to ensure it’s the right choice for you.

Interested in finding your next historic and charming home in Richmond?

Patrick Sullivan

Patrick Sullivan

Phone: +1 804.397.5078

Multiple-time Distinguished Achiever award winner, 2017 Richmond’s Finest Business Professional and a VIrginia Living Magazine Top 50 Realtor. Architecture lover, outdoor enthusiast and a true fan of all things RVA.

Click here to learn more about Patrick

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.