One of our favourite things about downtown Toronto is all the old houses – gorgeous century homes oozing with character located in the some of the city’s best neighbourhoods. We live in a Victorian from 1887, so we’re intimately aware of what it’s like to own an old Toronto house.
If you’re considering buying an old Toronto house, here’s what you need to know:
- Knob and Tube Wiring Many (many!) old Toronto houses have old electrical wiring – wiring that wasn’t designed for today’s electronics. While old doesn’t necessarily mean bad, much of the old wiring has been (badly) altered – and it can be tough to insure a home with knob and tube wiring. Home inspectors are helpful at identifying knob and tube wiring – but you can be pretty sure old wiring exists if you see original lathe and plaster walls. Click here for more info than you probably want about knob and tube wiring.
- Insulation re-World War 2 houses likely don’t have any insulation – it’s actually a relatively new technology. In the past, air pockets in the wall cavities were used to help seal a home, but it’s not likely enough to keep your heating bills down. There are ways to add insulation to your home (assuming you even have access to an attic!) but it can be expensive.
- Building Codes Many first-time home buyers are surprised to find out their old Toronto house isn’t “up to code”. Building codes change all the time, and houses are not required to comply retroactively; they only need to comply to the standards at the time the house was built or renovated. And many houses are renovated without building permits – which means the renos don’t even comply to the new codes!
- Termites/Mice/Other Living Creatures Nobody likes critters, but many of us in old Toronto homes are unwittingly living with them. Termites were first discovered in TO in 1938 and have happily moved into many of the city’s hottest neighbourhoods including Leslieville, along the Danforth and even the suburbs! Old TO homes also have lots of cracks – perfect entryways for rodents. It’s estimated 70% of us are living with mice – you can read more about getting rid of mice (and rats) here and more about termites in Toronto here.
- Basements Old Toronto basements weren’t intended to be living spaces and many basements are less than 5 feet high. And don’t even get us started about how many basements have leaks, dampness and mould.
- Heritage Designations Many of Toronto’s finest homes have heritage designations – meaning they are protected by the city. If you buy a heritage home, there will be limitations as to what kinds of changes you can make to it – and a whole lot of bureaucracy. But at least you’ll have that pretty plaque that your neighbours will be jealous of!
- Closets We have no idea where people of the early 1900’s stored their clothes – or maybe that’s what life was like pre-GAP and pre-Winners. Nonetheless, most original homes have very few closets – and forget altogether about finding a coat closet in the entrance.
- Drains – Lots of old Toronto houses have clay drains. And that big beautiful tree in your backyard? Careful it’s not growing through your drains (we’ve had this happen to 2 clients in the last year).
- Lead pipes and supply lines The city is slowly converting it’s water mains from lead, but many old houses have lead pipes, which means lead in your drinking water. Click here to read more about lead pipes.
- Sloping floors Over time, every house settles, so most century homes are cursed with sloping floors. True story: the floors in our upstairs office slope so much that our desk chair rolls across the room. Floors can often be straightened – at a price. A home inspector can help determine if the sloping floors are a result of settling – or if there are bigger structural problems.
Scared yet? If you’re thinking of buying an old Toronto house, there are certainly a lot of things to watch out for – but a good Realtor and home inspector can go a long way to protecting you. And really…who wants to live in a soul-less box of a house anyway?