One of the reasons why your friend’s brand-new house feels more comfortable and seems safer than your older home is that it was built to standards set by the most recent building and electrical codes.
So even though you’re not required to update your mid- to late-20th century (or earlier) home as building codes change through the years, it’s actually a pretty good idea to do it anyway. Here’s why:
1. You’ll save money on electric, gas and water bills. Your old home might have its original, single-pane windows, which are drafty and force your air conditioning and heating system to work harder and cost you more. New homes come with double-pane windows that do a better job of keeping the weather outdoors and your conditioned air inside. Plus, an older home might have less attic insulation than today’s building officials believe is necessary to prevent the oven-hot summer air in the attic from wafting down into your house. And you might still be using toilets that flush five gallons of water every time you use them instead of the 1.6 gallons or less that the toilets in new homes use. Newer homes also have low-flow showerheads, better insulation around plumbing pipes, more reliable seals on air conditioning ducts, and air conditioners that are sized more accurately for your house and today’s lifestyle.
Consider upgrading the equipment that is driving your home’s energy and water bills through the roof, and your payments could match your neighbors’ who live in newer, tighter, more efficient houses.
2. Your family will be safer. Even more than energy efficiency, safety is the focus of building codes and the concern of building officials. So the codes have changed over the years to require builders to include more safety features in new homes. Among them: railings next to indoor and outdoor staircases; tempered glass in windows near doorways, stairs and in the bathroom, where people are most likely to slip and crash through them; hard-wired electric smoke detectors with battery backups in every single bedroom, outside the bedrooms in the hall, and on every floor of the house; and arc-fault circuit interrupters in bedroom receptacles.
Building officials have deemed that upgrading a home with these items can help prevent fires and falls. Why wouldn’t you want to do that in your house, even if you don’t have to?
3. Your house will be better able to handle the needs of a 21st century family. The builder of your older home never even dreamed somebody would be plugging in a microwave oven, a gym-quality treadmill, a 54-inch TV screen, desktop computers, printers, scanners and a slew of rechargeable phones and gadgets. Back then, lights and kitchen appliances were the big energy users inside the home, and the original electrical wiring was meant to accommodate them.
If you’re using high-powered, and expensive, electronic home theater, office, kitchen or workout equipment, you could be overtaxing your electrical circuits. Call an electrician, who can “pull” new circuits from the home’s main electrical panel to get you more juice in the rooms where you need it.
4. It will be easier to sell your house when you’re ready. Any potential home buyer who comes to your open house is going to think twice about buying a home with two-prong electrical outlets, drafty windows, water-guzzling bathroom fixtures and a rickety air conditioning system that’s probably way too big to keep your house comfortable and humidity-free without running constantly.
Chances are, your realtor will advise you to make some of those improvements when you put the place on the market.
Why not upgrade a little at a time as you can afford it, even if you’re staying put for a few years, instead of putting it off and having to sink a ton of money into the upgrades all at once when you want to sell your house? Use modern building codes as your guide to home improvement, and you’ll reap the side benefit of a more comfortable home that’s less expensive to operate.
DIY FAQ: HOW CAN I UPGRADE MY OLDER HOME SO IT COMPLIES WITH TODAY’S BUILDING CODES?
DIY FAQ: DO NEW BUILDING CODES APPLY TO OLD HOUSES?