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They Don’t Build Them Like They Used To

A Comparison of Three Residential Constructions

James Siebers    |    Property Valuation

The evolution of building materials has made the newly constructed homes better able to withstand elements like wear and tear and weather. Man-made materials, improved insulation, smartphone thermostats, open layouts, bigger closets and three-car garages make the new homes more energy-efficient and conducive to a modern family’s lifestyle. But to some folks, the charm of an older home—with hardwood floors, wood windows and formal layouts—outweighs the modern conveniences of newer homes.

New Construction

New Construction

Whatever choice you make in housing style, size and age, you will find that construction materials and designs vary from home to home. Before purchasing a home, I recommend that you take time to conduct your own research by touring several homes. Then, after weighing the pros and cons of different styles and ages, decide which home best fits your family’s style preference, lifestyle and budget. Recently, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit several new homes for sale in our neighborhood.

Colonial Home

Colonial Home

Because of my background in real estate and interest in construction, my first stop in each home was the basement where I began to mentally dissect the overall construction of the home. I looked at the foundation, the plumbing, the heating and the electrical systems. I also inspected the bottom side of the first floor and the insulation in the box-sill; then proceeded to the three-car attached garage where I looked at the roof’s truss system, structure and materials.

Bungalow Interior

Bungalow Interior

After making a mental note of all visible interior construction elements, I moved on to explore the home’s interior layout and finishes. I looked at everything—from the flooring and drywall to the cabinets, plumbing fixtures, electrical lighting, doors, trim and windows. I methodically inspected each home’s exterior. All porches, decks, overhangs, roofing, siding, soffits, fascia and gutters appeared to be built for very low maintenance—with extensive use of composites, plastics, vinyl and aluminum.

After finishing the new home tours, I thought about how different many of today’s homes are constructed when compared to the original construction of my son’s 1920s bungalow and my father’s 1970s colonial. For example, the basement height of the 1920s bungalow is seven feet while the new homes have nine-foot-tall basements. The insulation of ceilings has gotten thicker with the new homes having over 12 inches of blown-in fiberglass. Both the 1920s bungalow and 1970s colonial were built in rectangular, compact designs with all dimensions divisible by four, which according to my father, made for less waste in building materials.

Bungalow Interior

Bungalow Interior

In contrast, the new homes we toured that day all had open, great-room layouts with varying ceiling heights and wall angles. Even the paint colors on the walls of the new homes were bolder and more colorful then the soft, neutrals used on walls of the older homes.

Bungalow Attic

Bungalow Attic

While old and new homes were clearly built with different families and priorities in mind, it is fascinating to see how modern renovations of classic properties can achieve the best parts of both models. As an example, I’ll return to my son’s 1920 bungalow. Recently renovated, the home still has all the charm of an old house but now incorporates some of the longer-lasting materials used in new construction and a modified floor plan more geared to his young family than the original owners. And who knows? His charming 1920s bungalow may now last another 90 years.

The table above demonstrates the evolution of building materials used in the early part of the twentieth century to those materials used in today’s homes.

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