What to expect when buying a house built in the late 1950's?

9 Replies

Hi.  Anybody have a few tips on what to expect or look out for with late 1950's houses.  The electric supply box looks normal.  The attic is insulated but I don't know what to expect with the walls.  The single pane wood windows are painted shut.  Is it alot different than a 1970's home?  What about plumbing?  Thanks in advance.

You can expect asbestos in flooring and insulated heating ducts, it may be in the insulation as well. Usually, you'll have rock wool insulation, newer insulation laid on top. Asbestos shingles were used in roofing and siding as well. Check any old gas flue as well. Asbestos was used in many things, even sheetrock, wall paper glue, so have it inspected.

Lead paint can be in the original painted surfaces, inside and out.

I believe it's an issue when lead paint is chipped or peeling. If you are required to remove such matters it can be very expensive, so check with your local building code office.

Other things that may be there;

Got a septic tank buried in the back yard? Not an issue unless it's still used

Odd size windows, means custom window replacement

Clay tile sewer lines could have been used, cracked, damaged lines can leak

Lead pipe water supply lines, won't kill you, I used them ever since

Wiring may not be three prong grounded lines, check behind the outlets.

Fuse boxes were used then, not breakers as today, but that may have been changed out, 60/80 amp service lines were common, utility company may have updated to 120 amp, in the 60's, may not be sufficient today so see if the service line in is 200 amp.

Electrical boxes can be smaller and metal, light switches and ceiling boxes, won't hang just any new ceiling fan from just any old boxes.

Check the bathroom electrical outlets near sinks and tubs, make sure they are grounded properly.

Old floor registers for return air and ducts, these could be abandon when upgraded and covered with carpet. Floor returns are usually in a hallway, walk with a heavy foot and you may find them. Ducts were usually cut into the baseboard and replacement will be difficult.

Central air was used but not common, check the furnace old ones can run forever but then die a sudden death, parts may not be available.

Look for cracks above doorways, an indication of foundation issues, binding doors and windows can indicate such issues too.

The 50's was the building boom, new materials and appliances and cheaper materials, lumber was good (better than today) but they got away from true dimensional sizes as are used today. Prior, you had true 2x4s some were oak and you may have it in the 50's but more pine was used. This will vary too by region and the builder.

All in all, you may have a solid house and most have been updated, the area will tell you a lot as to location and condition of the neighborhood. Building codes were adopted but standards have changed, overall construction was usually very good. Workers actually took pride in what they turned out, but not as much as prior decades, IMO.

Lead paint and asbestos are the main issues, so have it checked out. :)   

     Thanks for the input.  The Seventies homes I have worked on are basically just "dated".....and I know I am no way cut out for the turn of the century type home...but was wondering if I should consider homes with potentially worn out systems....wiring, plumbing....or if the older homes are well built/installed could those systems last 100 years...that is another 20-30 years???

      Good point about the windows.  The house I am sort of considering has too wide a space for the freestanding gas range....curious until you think about those older wider ranges from the 1950s.  

50's and 60's ranchers are in vogue now, a well maintained home built then will easily last 100 years if updated and maintained. Poured foundations, not rock or brick/block, good lumber, stick built no truss systems of plywood and smaller stock. These are not hard rewires if it is needed, unless they are brick or stone and usually that is a façade not a true masonry wall. Tract homes usually had smaller closets too, but custom ranchers can be very nice, change the green shag and the walnut paneling in the den, turn a bedroom into a master bath and walk-in closet! New home! Pex solves plumbing issues, crawl spaces can be low crawl, but at least you can get into them.

These can be hot properties, need to watch the location and maturity of the neighborhood. One of the most sought after areas in Springfield is Phelps Grove Park, built in the late 30's, 40's and 50's. Some new homes have been built where they tore down older bungalows for the location! Watch the neighborhood!  

I have an older rental and the biggest problem I have had is with the plumbing.  Last November I finally purchased plumbing insurance for $297/year.  It paid for itself in one use when a pipe developed a pinhole leak.

Originally posted by @Account Closed :

I have an older rental and the biggest problem I have had is with the plumbing.  Last November I finally purchased plumbing insurance for $297/year.  It paid for itself in one use when a pipe developed a pinhole leak.

 HI Carol-

Did the insurance cover all finish work (ie. drywall, paint, etc) and loss of rent also?

@Leo B.

No.  It just covers the actual plumbing repairs.  Most importantly, it covers the waterline between the house and the property line.  I'm just waiting for the day that fails, and knowing that it costs several thousand to fix, I will keep the insurance as long as I have the house.  For $297 a year, it is worth it.  It also covers minor plumbing issues, such as clogged toilets and sinks.  The plan I have is through Dominion Power, but I'm not sure what geographical area they cover.


My favorite rentals are the 1950's 3/1 ranch style houses here in California. Biggest problems have been electrical and plumbing, but they are typically easy to fix and not that expensive. Some still have the galvanized pipes for plumbing which can restrict water flow due to build up of deposits. The electrical issues are mainly with the houses that have the push buttons instead of switches. I'd take as many 1950 ranch homes as I could as rentals. Well built and easy to rent.

I was going to say asbestos, lead based paint, electrical and plumbing.

These were all explained well in the statements above. As far as the plumbing, it is very possible that it still has galvanized pipes. Galvanized pipes rust over time. I actually rehabbed a house that had them. There were chunks of rust in the lines. Ultimately the rust ended up ruining all of the faucets and caused low water pressure because larger chunks were jammed in the lines. Not a huge deal since they were being replaced anyway. 

Have you checked to see what type of pipe is there? I would recommended CPVC as it can withstand higher temps as opposed to PVC. Joys of having a plumber for a husband :-)

As far as electrical- if it was upgraded it may "look" ok just doing a basic visual inspection but I would definitely have an electrician look at it to make sure everything was wired correctly and not sharing breakers that shouldn't be.

The comments above cover it well.  I would expect that in our area the wiring would be 2 wire (without a 3rd ground wire).  Electrical service maybe less than 200 amps.  Galvanized pipes.  Asbestos and lead paint/pipes.  A good home inspection should help you sort some of these issues out.  While many home inspectors exclude some of these items they should have been trained to identify them and can recommend next steps if they see signs.  Lead paint and pipes can be detected using home test kits available at big box stores.  I just closed on a 1000sqft 3bd 1ba 1953 ranch that has some of these issues.  Its totally workable but you have to do the work to see if it fits your plan.  Good luck.  If you need any help feel free to pm me.

Eric B

Home Inspector

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