9 Things to Consider When Buying a Victorian Home

Victorian homes offer a particular charm and old-world style that’s quite desirable. However, they require more diligence and extra work to keep their structural integrity in shape and lasting. Whether or not this comes as a shock to you, the good news is that period-style homes are easier than ever to repair. With today’s modern materials and advances, you can restore a Victorian home to its original glory.

So if you’re on the hunt for a Victorian home with lots of character, don’t be shy or intimidated about the work it might need. Just be mindful about the home’s repairs and overall state, being honest with yourself about what you’re getting into. Here are nine things to consider when buying a Victorian home.

1. Does the Hardware Need to Be Replaced?

From the door knocker to the kitchen cabinets, take notice of the hardware. Over time, older homes become a montage of mismatched hardware pieces. While some vintage-style hardware can be more challenging to find, don’t worry too much about missing or broken pieces. Today, you can find antique hardware to match a variety of period styles. All you need to do is find a home restoration store to order vintage-style replica parts to match existing window casement hardware, crystal doorknobs and other hard-to-find hardware items.

2. Is the Roof Structurally Sound?

The roof of a Victorian home was not built to withstand the weight of modern materials. Back then, the roof joists and rafters were constructed of wood 2x4s and intended to support lightweight slate tiles. However, when cheaper concrete tiles entered the scene, many Victorian roofs were retiled without the weight taken into account.

As a result, the home could have cracked rafters, which harms the roof’s structural integrity. Standing in the street, see if your roof appears straight. If it’s wavy or pitched, there could be potential damage and the joists and rafters would need to be repaired.

3. Are There Straight or Bowed Exterior Walls?

When buying a Victorian home, make sure the walls are straight and flush. If there is any bowing or angles, this could point to signs of a structural issue. In particular, if there is a wall that bows outward, there could be problems with the home’s foundation. Have a home inspector take a deeper look.  Jo Cowen Architects

4. Does the Home Have Pointing or Cement Render?

A period-style mortar, pointing is a type of finish between the home’s exterior materials, such as bricks, stone or whatever is used. Today, we see more cement-based mortars, but with period-style homes, a lime mortar was often used. However, like cement, pointing can be neglected and can allow water inside the house.

Make sure your Victorian home doesn’t call for extra expenses by ensuring the pointing and external render is in good shape and isn’t cracked from water penetration and freezing temperatures. If an external sand cement render has been applied, you can have it professionally removed, but keep in mind the bricks might need restoring as well. If the home has pointing, you simply might need to repair the original lime mortar, as it’s more flexible and aesthetically pleasing

5. Are There Working Chimneys?

Never assume that a chimney works. In older Victorian homes, you’ll expect a few chimneys, which are lovely focal points in a space. But if you want them to be more than a nice mantel to decorate, make sure they are in working order. Homeowners can go many years without using a chimney, which can cause fire hazards even in modern homes.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends a yearly cleaning, but as a general rule of thumb, a period home should be inspected to ensure it’s structurally sound. In a Victorian home, keep an eye out for unintentional leaning chimneys and broken chimney pots, a telltale sign of neglect.    

6. Inspect the Ventilation System and Grilles

Many Victorian homes were designed with a unique ventilation system. The home’s ground floor features a suspended flooring structure with a layer of floorboards over timber joists. Since Victorian homes can often be damp, you want to ensure there’s a proper ventilation system in place, consisting of grilles and air vents between the steps or on the lower parts of the walls to allow airflow and prevent mold growth and bacteria.

7. Are There Signs of Water Damage?

Take notice of potential water damage signs, such as dampness along the walls or buckling hardwood floors. If you can, identify the source and determine if it’s coming from above or below, which can point to several issues. 

For example, if the dampness appears to come from above, it could point to plumbing or piping issues or roof and gutter issues (which you should also inspect from outside). If you find the dampness is coming from below, it could be signs of flooding or a cracked foundation. Either way, you’ll need to account for the repairs, which could be expensive or, at the very least, complicated and time-consuming.

8. Was the House Recently Renovated?

Check for signs that the house has been renovated recently. Is there an extension or added room? Or an area that has been refurbished? While these are all beautiful additions and updates to a Victorian home, you need to make sure it was done by a professional and completed to code. Not to mention, you should verify that the renovations have not undermined any historical preservation guidelines or town planning violations. 

9. Look for Signs of Cracks

Look around the home’s exterior for any cracks. Cracks are caused by movement, potentially shifts. Sometimes a shift is natural, but other times it can be caused by subsidence. If you come across two nails joined by a wire, inquire about any history and investigation into its cause. The size and direction of the crack can also indicate different things.

Buy Your Victorian Dream Home

If you find a lovely and charming period-style Victorian home, don’t walk away with intimidation because you’re unsure how to restore it. Instead, remember these nine considerations and you’ll have a confident walkthrough.

Happy Victorian home buying!

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