aging in placeBy Debbie Farson

With seniors enjoying longer and healthier lives, many can stay in the homes they’ve loved for years with only a few simple modifications to increase comfort or accessibility.

Those renovations, however, require some special considerations not present when improving newer homes. Here’s a short list of older home issues to be aware of before you renovate:


1. Lead Paint: Lead exposure can lead to behavior, learning and growth problems in children (protect the grandkids!) and cardiovascular, kidney and reproductive problems in adults. The EPA estimates that lead paint is present in 87% of homes built before 1940, 69% of those built between 1940 and 1959, and 24% of those built between 1960 and 1977. Often, it is lurking under layers of newer paint but can release toxic material into the air when disturbed by sanding or other renovations. Federal law requires contractors who disturb painted surfaces in homes built prior to 1978 to be EPA-certified and follow specified practices to prevent lead contamination.

2. County Code Changes: Building codes change frequently and, if you engage in new construction, you’ll have to meet the new requirements. So, don’t assume that, because your house already has a screened porch, you can simply replace it with a new one. Recently-passed setback regulations may prohibit building in the same dimensions as before. Check the code before you swing your first hammer!

3. Asbestos: Asbestos floor and ceiling tiles were manufactured until the 1980s. They pose a danger only if they are no longer whole and intact because their fibers, shown to lead to mesothelioma in some cases when breathed, are otherwise bound inside the tile.

4. Sewer lines: From the 1950s to the 1970s, tar-covered wood pulp sewer piping was used extensively. Yup. That’s right. Cardboard sewer pipes! They seemed to last pretty well for about 50 years but, with advanced age, came susceptibility to breakage, deformity and tree root intrusion. Be aware of the signs of sewer line breakdown: foul odor or backup from the lowest drain in the home and/or slow-flushing toilets.

5. Windows/Doors/Insulation: It may be true that older homes are, generally, built more solidly than those of newer construction, but when it comes to energy-efficiency, the old properties can’t compete. Windows, doors and insulating materials have improved significantly in the past several decades. You owe it to yourself, your home and your wallet to investigate replacement of these items for long-term energy and utility bill savings.

Finally, you’re not in this alone! Work only with licensed, experienced contractors. They’ll have the proper knowledge and certifications to make sure your older home remains a safe place to stay through the golden years.

Article originally published on HomeWise Referrals

Debbie Farson is the owner/operator of <a href=”” target=”_blank”>HomeWise Referrals, Inc. HomeWise has been taking the hassle out of home improvement for Metro DC area homeowners, by referring them to licensed outstanding contractors and following up to ensure satisfaction, since 2002. Debbie is a PSL member and can be reached at or 703-360-8222.