What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A fresh coat of paint and tidy landscaping can make a 1990s home look younger than it’s age. The exterior style of the era is not much different from newer homes, and they typically lag only slightly behind the millennial design trends in floor plans, interior finishes and amenities.  

    But a 1990s house rides the crest of the first wave of major component replacements. A shingle roof lasts 17 to 24 years, an HVAC system is good for about 15 to 20 years, and a water heater departs in around the same time frame. When you consider that you are looking at a 20 year old house, plus or minus a few years, this means the home is likely ready—or overdue—for multiple big-ticket repairs. If they are not already changed out by the seller, you should expect at least one of them to drain your checkbook soon after closing. See our blog posts Should I buy a house with an old roof? and What is the average lifespan of an air conditioner? and What is the average lifespan of a water heater? for more on this.


    The energy code requirements for insulated windows, higher R-rated insulation in the walls and ceilings, and a tighter building envelope did not begin until after 2000, so these homes will be less energy efficient than newer ones. Kitchen and laundry appliances may still be functional, but look dated, if not yet replaced.

    There are also two building materials used in the ‘90s that later turned out to be problematic. Polybutylene piping was installed by some builders until about 1994, but because of leakage is now recognized as a material that requires replacement. Read our blog post What does polybutylene pipe look like? Why is it a problem? for more info. 


    Next are moisture intrusion problems with Exterior Insulated Finish Systems, a stucco-like exterior wall finish, if a drainage opening was not provided at the base of the wall. It is commonly referred to by its acronym EIFS (pronounced “eeefs”). Read our blog post What is the difference between EIFS and stucco? for further info.


    But homes from the 1990s offer a nice balance between affordability and the advantages of newer construction, so this era may be the right choice for you. We hope you find a good one...and be sure to get a home inspector to check it out for you. 

    Older homes also have some advantages to consider. See our blog post Why is buying an old house sometimes the best choice? for details.

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1940s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

   Visit our HOME INSPECTION and COMMON PROBLEMS pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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