Tips: Buying Homes for Remodels or Additions - Part 2


Preface by Matt Fajkus:

"Purchasing and developing a residential property is a very big investment for most people, in relative terms. We respect that and we want to help owners make informed decisions. Below, David explains some of the key elements we consider when evaluating the condition of an existing house, to help choose the best direction forward."


In our previous post we talked about general project aspects like expectations, cost, codes, and time.  In this post we’ll be elaborating on the more tangible topics to consider that are directly related to a potential purchase property. In order to most effectively evaluate a home and property for remodeling or building an addition, it’s best to consult with and hire professionals as early as possible (Architect and Builder) so that you can make the right choices to meet your goals.

1. Structure – The importance of a strong and durable home: The existing structure of a house can be critical when deciding if a home can handle an addition, especially with additional floors. A home’s structure includes the foundation systems and the framing for walls, floors, and roofs. The structure acts as one complete system, designed by a Structural Engineer and based on the property’s soil conditions determined through a Geotechnical analysis of the earth below the home used to adequately design the correct foundation on which to build.

Houses may experience settlement (the distortion or disruption of parts of a building due to unequal compression of its foundations; shrinkage, such as that which occurs in timber-framed buildings as the frame adjusts its moisture content; or undue loads being applied to the building after its initial construction) over time. Certain soil conditions as well as slab foundations and pier-and-beam foundations may present their own unique problems with age. Foundation and structural repairs can often be temporary solutions and may also cause a trickle-down effect with the need to repair new cracks in walls or other surfaces. 

Major structural failures and problems should be readily recognizable. When looking at a home for purchase, observe whether the walls straight and if they have cracks. Does the floor slope, feel weak, or does it have an undulating surface? Do all of the doors and windows open and close smoothly? When considering a new home, consider if the existing foundation and framing can adequately accept increased and redistributed loads. A Structural Engineer can come inspect the existing conditions and help determine if and where new structure to supplement the old should be added, if repairs should be made, or if portions of the structure need to be replaced.

2. Building Envelope – Insulation, Materials, and Openings: The building envelope is comprised of several components which includes the sheathing, vapor barrier, insulation, exterior finish materials (wood siding, stone, stucco, and roofing), windows and doors. All of these are extremely important to the performance of the house that directly affect indoor air quality, thermal comfort, mechanical system efficiency, and the transmission of sound, water, and air. Any or all of these systems may need to be removed and replaced with newer, higher performing components.

If the vapor barrier has not been installed correctly or has outlived its lifespan, water vapor will most certainly be introduced into your walls and could cause rot and mold, resulting in decreased indoor air quality.

A house might be under-insulated or not insulated at all. This will affect the home’s performance in terms of efficiency of heating and cooling as well as interior comfort regarding sound transmission. Old windows and doors will need to be replaced for the same reason, as they are susceptible to water and air infiltration and will act as a thermal bridge for heat and cold. 

3. Infrastructure – Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing: Many potential home owners might be quick to overlook the infrastructural components of a home as they are not a part of the visual aesthetic. An aging house’s plumbing, electrical and mechanical HVAC systems will most likely need an upgrade.
The electrical wiring could be outdated, the electrical panel may not contain enough circuits for new needs, and the services coming to the house might need to be upgraded to a larger capacity.

Adding square footage to your home will require either an upgraded and larger HVAC system than existing, or additional units to handle increased heating and cooling loads. Likewise, if you increase your home’s efficiency through new windows, door, and insulation, then your system might be too large and not function properly. The same goes for water heaters.

Plumbing is another potential hidden cost that you will want to have tested before purchasing a home.  Have a plumber inspect the home and perform a static pressure test. This will let you know if there are leaks in the plumbing, potentially even under the foundation of the house, which are difficult and costly to repair. Many homes built in the last century used cast iron drain lines under the house, or worse, clay pipe. Those have most likely deteriorated by this time and need to be replaced. My wife and I had this test done before our last home purchase, and it led to a $20,000 repair that we could have negotiated against the sale price, or in our case had the seller repair.

Written by David Birt.