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How to Know If a House Has Good Bones

When you’re shopping for a new home, there are a lot of things to take into consideration. You want a home that you can see yourself owning. It should be aesthetically pleasing, in a neighborhood that makes sense for you, and it should be within budget. However, there are some things that you have to look for that aren’t as immediately apparent.

You’ll often hear Realtors say a home has “good bones,” but what does that mean? Essentially, it means that the house has a good basic framework. Just like you can’t tell how healthy a person is by looking at their outside, you can’t always tell a house’s health at first glance.

Here are a few ways to know if a house has good bones.

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Check the Foundation

People usually associate the foundation of the home with the bones of a home. The foundation determines the home’s stability, and if it’s in disrepair, it’s a costly thing to fix. Meticulously inspect both the inside and outside of the house. See if there are cracks in the walls. Make sure that all the doors and windows open and close properly. Look out for cold spots, sinking floors, or mildew issues. These can all indicate a foundation issue.

Additionally, see if your realtor knows what types of studs are used in your home. There’s a lot of discussion on wood vs metal studs and which is superior. It’s generally accepted that metal is superior unless the house was built in the early 20th century. However, wood studs can still be the right choice; you just want to know which were used in the house to get an indication of potential structural concerns.

Assess the Insulation

Insulation directly determines a house’s ability to maintain a comfortable temperature. Without proper insulation, it’s nearly impossible to keep a home warm in the winter or cool in the summer without causing expensive electricity costs. To check insulation, run your hands along the walls, ceilings, and floors. If any of them feel cold or damp, there’s likely an insulation issue.

There’s a standard level of insulation required for homes, and government mandates require some structures to have things like continuous insulation, which is an added layer of insulation to prevent moisture and increase thermal performance. Even if added insulation isn’t required, if energy-efficiency is a concern, you’ll want to ensure that every area of the home is adequately insulated.

While we’re on the topic of energy-efficiency, be sure to look over the types of windows present in the home. Make sure they’re adequately sealed, energy-efficient, and that they open and close properly. Windows are a great indicator for overall home health, so don’t bypass looking at the windows.

Thoroughly Check the Floors

Another indicator of a house’s bones is its flooring. While most homebuyers are prepped to replace carpet, there are still other flooring issues to address. If the home has wood floors, look out of cupping, gaps, stains, buckling, and peeling finishes. If the house has indoor concrete floors, be sure to check for cracks or discoloration.

You also want to check for any areas of the floor that are sinking, as this can indicate structural problems.

The Floor Plan and Position

The floor plan is more of a personal preference than an indication of poor construction or bad bones. However, it’s important to check out the layout of the home. Homes that have weird room entrances or bizarre setups aren’t easy to remedy later. While the previous owner might have been okay with a bathroom connected to the kitchen or a front door that opens into a bedroom, you might not be.

Also, take into consideration the home’s position. Maybe it’s close to a busy street or train station. Perhaps the neighbor’s house is so close that you can watch their television (and read the subtitles) through the living room window. Maybe it’s several miles to the nearest store. Perhaps you're okay with all of that. Either way, be sure to take note of the position of the house because that can’t easily be changed later.

The Inside Systems

You can’t talk about bones without mentioning electric and plumbing. It’s a little difficult to assess the electric, but there are few things you can do. Be sure that there are no exposed wires or inoperable light switches. Check that the outlets are in places that make sense, too. It also doesn’t hurt to take a glance at the breaker box.

For plumbing, listen for sounds coming from the pipes and make sure the water pressure is good. Check for stinky drains and make sure that they don’t drain too slowly. Also, if you see stained walls, it could be a sign that there are plumbing problems.

Find a House with Good Bones

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Don’t fall for quick fixes or ignore warning signs. If something seems amiss, it probably is. Use this guide and your gut instincts before purchasing any home, and make sure to use a real estate agent and an inspector you trust. If you’re cautious and aware of potential problem areas, you can avoid accidentally buying a home that needs unexpected and expensive repairs.

Matt Lee is the owner of the Innovative Building Materials blog and a content writer for the building materials industry. He is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that save money, improve energy efficiency, and increase property value.

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