Home Risks by Decade

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It has been on my wish list for years to write an article to help clients understand the benefits and risks of buying homes from the most recent decades. There are big differences between buying a home from the 1960’s versus buying one from the 1990’s and newer is not always better.

One of the reasons I’ve never been able to do this is that it is hard to generalize homes as so much of what makes a home ‘good’ is the behaviour of the occupants since original construction. Every home really needs a case-by-case evolution for home owners to understand the risks of each home. This is really why the home inspection industry exists.

Here are some considerations before we get to the details:

  • Structure - While the engineering advancements of each decade have changed, this has more to do with ascetics (.g. bigger room spans) than with a failure concern. No particular decade had higher failure risks using common methods of each generation.
  • Wear and Tear - I’ve inspected mint condition 1960’s homes lovingly cared for by long term occupants and I’ve inspected 4-year old homes destroyed by poor occupant lifestyle and behaviours. We have to presume homes are generally well cared for when making generalizations by decade.
  • Generalizations - Obviously we are making generalizations over a long time span. In some cases, a 1989 house resembles more a 1990’s decade home. Every home really is unique but there are some common theme I’m trying to capture by decade.

The Chart

I’ve chosen to use a chart to help compare each generation of homes general characteristics. This chart may not be well formatted for your screen. Try using a desktop browser with a wide screen (or turn your phone or tablet) for the best view.

As always, we recommend you always get a full inspection of any home you might be buying but this chart may help you understand some risks in your buying process.

1960's1970's1980's1990's2000's - Current
Site and DrainageHigher - Original low consideration for site flood risks and changes in site grading over time slope water to structure. Drains often undersized, at risk for clogging, or missing.Medium - Site drainage was often considered but materials like big-o drainage have been known to fail and need expensive repairs.Medium - Site drainage was usually considered and materials improved. Owner maintenance variable.Lower - Original building design usually took into account drainage. Maintenance by owners highly variable.Low - Usually these neighbourhoods were well planned by municipalities for drainage and individual homes had good materials and planning.
ExteriorLower - Generally if you have an exterior material like traditional 3-layer stucco which has performed well for 40+ years, it will continue to perform with maintenance. Cosmetic improvement is the main reason for exterior material replacement. Balconies were less common.Medium - Wood siding and large wood balconies were very popular in the 1970's and as these systems require high maintenance, conditions vary greatly.Medium - Mixed siding systems existed with some like aluminum being very good. Rear elevated decks were common and condition varies based on maintenance. A short lived building trend with minimal roof overhands and face sealed stucco siding performed poorly and has high risks.Lower - Vinyl siding was very popular in the 1990's and this material performs very well as installed. Unfortunately vinyl siding can hide damage from leaking gutters or poor performing window jut outs.Low - Learning from leaky condos in particular had a big impact on building code changes resulting in rain-screened or vented cladding exterior systems which are good for our climate.
RoofingMixed - Roof's were generally smaller in the 1960's and original materials will have been replaced. This is something that needs to be reviewed case by case. Home may by on 3rd or 4th roof material cycle.Mixed - Roof designs became larger and more complex in the 1970's. Original materials will have been replaced. Evaluation is a case by case situation. Home may by on 3rd or 4th roof material cycle.Mixed - Roof designs became a little simpler generally again in the 1980's. Some original materials may still exist in good quality wood systems but generally second (or third) generation materials will be present.Mixed - Wood roofs were popular for style reasons but the wood material was of poor quality and service life was as little as 15 years. Concrete tiles emerged as more popular and with a 50 year+ life these have been good systems. Evaluation of system is case by case.Lower - Fibreglass backed asphalt shingles have become very popular and are sold with 25-35 year warranties. Code changes in the late 2000's slowed the use of concrete tiles but either of these common materials has a longer service life.
PlumbingLower - Generally good copper water distribution lines were in use and cast iron drainage systems. While all older systems have risks of small leaks from wear and tear, these materials are not a high risk.Lower - Copper water distribution lines were dominant and plastic (ABS) drainage systems. While all older systems have risks of small leaks from wear and tear, these materials are not a high risk.Medium - In an effort to reduce building costs, thinner walled copper pipes and an early plastic material (poly-b) both lead to premature failure issues and leaks. ABS drain lines have a good performance record.Higher - Poly B was used extensively in the 1990's and has a legacy of a higher risk of leaks. Expect insurance premiums to be higher if this piping is in the home. ABS drain lines have a good performance record.Low - Newer PEX plastic material has so far had a good track record and in combination with the long performing ABS materials, these plumbing systems are currently low risk.
HeatingCaution - There were still some new homes in the 1960's with oil heating systems. The legacy of oil tanks and leaks can be very expensive to remediate and may need expert review. Forced air heat systems were most common.Mixed - Natural gas forced air furnaces were most common. Some homes may still have original furnaces which are now well past service lives and in addition to being inefficient, they may also be health risks. Evaluation on a case-by-case basis is needed.Mixed - Natural gas forced air furnaces were most common. Mid-efficiency furnaces became more common in the later 1980's. Evaluation on a case-by-case basis is needed.Medium - Mid-efficiency furnace were most popular as well as hot water radiant systems. Some high risk conditions like poly-b hot water heating may exist. Equipment ages on earlier 1990's homes may be at end of service life.Lower - High efficiency furnaces are more common or hot water heating with PEX piping. Normal maintenance is needed of equipment to maximize service life.
ElectricalHigher - Insurance companied have become wary of fuse based or less than 100-amp electrical service which may require upgrading. Home wiring is generally good qualify grounded copper which is a good material.Caution - A short lived period in the 1970's saw solid core aluminum wiring used which has a higher risk of fire than copper. Insurance companies are wary of this material. Where copper wiring is present, 1970's electrical systems are generally ok.Lower - Original 1980's breaker based copper wire systems are still considered a modern electrical system. Changes and tampering by occupants are usually related to concerns.Lower - Original 1990's breaker based copper wire systems are still considered a modern electrical system. Changes and tampering by occupants are usually related to concerns. Amateur installed basement suites are most common sources of electrical deficiencies.Low - Original 1980's breaker based copper wire systems are still considered a modern electrical system. Amateur installed basement suites are most common sources of electrical deficiencies.
Ventilation and CondensationLow - 1960's homes were not built with energy efficiency in mind which means they 'leak' a lot of air. This 'leaking' of air effectively improves air circulation and reduces risks of condensation. Consideration for this is needed when modernization like airtight windows are installed as ventilation performance may change and cause problems.Lower - Like in 1960's houses, 1970's houses tended to 'leak' enough air to compensate for occupant lifestyle. Complex designs in 1970's homes and additional bathrooms create higher risks as things like high efficiency windows are installed today. Evaluation is case-by-case.Medium - 1980's homes came standard with double pane glass, improved door seals, and more insulation. Depending on occupant lifestyles, some homes can have condensation issues. Early 1980's homes tended to be 'leakier' and later ones had more of the 1990's issues. Evaluation is case-by-case.Higher - Energy efficiency became a big concern in 1990's building codes. This lead to 'tight' houses that can trap humidity. Homes designed for one family now having multiple suites can also also generate more humidity than the home was designed for. Occupant lifestyle has the biggest impact on home condition but 1990's homes were the least forgiving of the last few generations on this issue.Medium - Building scientists started to learn about humidity issues from the 1990's homes and started to introduce forced systems to ventilate homes. These have mixed results and time has not proven them out. Occupant lifestyle is the biggest issue with home humidity management. Evaluation is case-by-case.
Attic InsulationCaution - Some use of an asbestos containing insulation called vermiculate can be found in 1960's homes. All vermiculate must be lab tested for asbestos prior to being disturbed. Vermiculite is found in less than 25% of homes.Minimal - While it met building code at the time, common insulation levels in 1970's homes is well below expected standards for comfort and energy efficiency today. Improvement is often recommended. Fibreglass batt insulation is the most common material.Medium - Building codes progressively called for more insulation in the 1980's. These are still well below modern standard. Fibreglass batt insulation is the most common material.Better - Building codes progressively called for more insulation into the 1990's. Improvement is always possible but with a diminishing return. Loose fill (blown-in) fibreglass and cellulose are the most common materials.Good - Building codes aggressively called for high levels of insulation by the end of the 2000's. Loose fill (blown-in) fibreglass is the most common material. Loose fill may be as deep as 3-feet to meet building codes.
Life Safety SystemsPoor - While some design considerations were present for safety such as windows in bedrooms (emergency exits) and handrails on stairs, often no electronic or obsolete electronic protections are available. Occupants need to install modern smoke and CO detectors.Poor - Smoke detectors become more common by the late 1970's but much of this equipment today is obsolete or missing. Replacement with modern equipment should be expected. Occupants need to install modern smoke and CO detectors.Middle - Hard wired smoke detectors on each level of the home became the standard in the 1980's however equipment has a 10-year life and needs replacement. Occupants should also install CO detectors.Maintenance - Hard wired smoke detectors should be on each level of the home and replaced if older than 10-years. CO detectors need to be installed on each level of the home and would not have been original equipment.Mixed - By the late 2000's, smoke and CO detectors were required in all new homes. With short 10 and 7 year service lives, maintenance is needed to ensure equipment is current and functional.
Doors and WindowsPoor - Single pane windows (sometime with wood frames) and poor weather stripping on wood doors generally leaves original materials as obsolete for both performance and energy efficiency when found today in these homes.Medium - 1970's homes generally used insulated doors and aluminum often double glazed windows. Original materials may perform poorly due to wear and tear but are usually less functionally obsolete. Medium - By the 1980's aluminum windows with double paned glass was standard as was steel or fibreglass insulated doors. Material performance is variable. Poor - The 1990's was not a good time for windows. Many sub-standard quality windows were built which required replacement due to poor performance and fogging. In addition to ventilation issues, windows became common sources for condensation to form and cause water damages. Premature replacement of window systems in these homes is common.Low - Vinyl window systems are common in the 2000's. While some poorly built product still exists (fogging), generally the windows are less draft and vinyl material was less susceptible to condensation issues. In the mid-2010's new codes greatly improved window and door performance.


By James Bell - Author | Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc