Look for dangerous materials in older homes

There is something charming about an older home. Perhaps it has some architectural elements that aren't often seen in modern home construction, or maybe it has an interesting homeownership history. However, it's important for prospective homebuyers to understand the structures they're looking at and know what risks they're taking by investing in a home that's been around for more than a few decades. Before signing a residential mortgage for an older home, homebuyers should know how safe their future house is, especially if they plan to remodel it in any way.

According to Money Crashers, homes are considered new if they were built in the '90s or later, and a house built before the '30s can be considered antique. Zillow reported that in 28 states plus the District of Columbia, most homes were constructed prior to the '90s. The District of Columbia is the only place in the country where '20s-era construction is most common, but the '50s, '70s and '80s hold a large presence in much of the country.

Outdated, dangerous materials

Over the decades, it has been discovered that certain commonly used materials for construction aren't the safest to be around. However, homes built before these discoveries were made - and laws banning them were put into action - are likely to still have remnants of these dated practices in their walls.

Asbestos is one example of this. Thanks to its effective properties for insulation, the material was used in many homes and buildings until the mid-1970s. However, evidence that breathing in the material's fibers can lead to lung cancer prompted legislation banning its use. These laws weren't put into effect until the late '80s, so any home built before then should be tested for the insulation.

Another example is lead. When allowed into the bloodstream, this element can have detrimental effects on a child's IQ and ability to pay attention in school. Lead was widely used in paints and pipes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead paint wasn't banned until 1978. Therefore, all homes built before the '80s should be tested for the presence of lead.

Water Conditioning & Purification Magazine reported that all homes built before 1986 likely included lead fixtures in their plumbing systems. Additionally, homes in the Midwest have the largest concentration of lead pipes still in use today. Zillow noted many Midwestern states are densely populated with homes built in the '50s, at which time they were likely fitted with lead pipes.

If you're looking at an older home, be sure to have a thorough inspection that looks for potentially dangerous substances like asbestos or lead.