Homes by Decade

When purchasing a home, it is important to be educated about building practices throughout the decades. Building materials and construction practices have evolved and it is important to know if obsolete systems or health and safety issues may exist. On this page I will take you through the different eras of residential construction from 1940 to present day describing obsolete systems as well as innovations. The items listed may or may not exist in the home you are considering, depending on updating, remodeling and replacement of major systems that have taken place. We are basing this on a typical home of 1200 to 2500 square feet.

1940-1960

STRUCTURES

Homes with a “crawlspace” are common into the early 1950’s. Poured concrete monolithic slab foundations became the improved standard by the mid 1950’s. Masonry walls with little to no thermal insulation are typical. “Stick built” wood frame homes were poorly insulated. Roof structures were stick built and “over spanning” was common until factory built trusses became common by the late 1960’s. Trusses were an improvement. Roofing is usually a shingle type.

PLUMBING

Every type of residential piping material commonly installed between 1940 and 1960 is now considered obsolete. If the home includes Galvanized steel plumbing for the water supply, drain system or both, it is possible that a video inspection of the drainage piping (that can also include cast iron and other metals such as Brass) may be warranted. The Galvanized gas piping of this era is also considered obsolete. Asbestos cement pipe or “Orangeburg” was widely used in water mains from the meter to the building.

ELECTRICAL

The original electrical services in these homes were the obsolete glass fuse type of very low amperage, usually no more than 100 amps. Modern needs for the home sizes discussed here require a 200 AMP service. The wiring was a 2 wire system that did not include a 3rd ground wire.

ENVIRONMENTAL

Asbestos can be found in roofing shingles, floor tiles, textured paint, flue pipes, duct insulation and drywall compounds. Much misinformation exists regarding Asbestos so we encourage you to do a little research. By this time, any lead based paint has been covered with many coats of latex and should not be a concern.

1960 to 1972

STRUCTURES

Monolithic concrete slab foundations are standard. Block masonry homes became very popular and thermal insulation of block construction becomes the norm. Trusses are the standard for roof structures. Poorly insulated attics and inefficient windows are typical. All homes are designed for central HVAC systems. Overall: structures of better quality than previous decades.

PLUMBING

Little has changed in plumbing materials or practices from 1959 until 1972. See 1940 to 1960 above.

ELECTRICAL

Plastic circuit breakers replaced obsolete glass fuses. Service sizes go from 100 AMP maximums to 125 – 175 AMPS depending on square footage. Grounded wiring is phased in. This is a major leap forward in safety. However, between 1968 and 1972, single strand aluminum wiring for 120V circuits became common due to a spike in copper prices. It is widely known that there can be an increased fire risk due to the higher expansion/contraction rate of aluminum. This allowed the aluminum to become loose at contacts and Buss bars causing an arc. This was phased out by about 1976. If aluminum wiring is present, follow your inspector instructions regarding a need for further evaluation by a licensed electrician. “Three phase” services are also common and are considered obsolete as well as a safety hazard. Transition from overhead service drops to underground service drops. This was a major improvement for both safety and aesthetics.

ENVIRONMENTAL

Relatively unchanged during this period. See 1940 to 1960 above. If anything, more materials with Asbestos are introduced during this period.

1972 – 1978

STRUCTURAL

See 1960 to 1972 above. No major changes or innovations during this period regarding structures. However, window quality is improving… slightly. The push for energy efficiency is getting traction.

PLUMBING

Big changes in 1972. Copper water supply piping became the standard. ABS and PVC plastic became the standard for drain/ waste/piping. Huge improvements for residential plumbing. Copper remained the standard until about 2000.

ELECTRICAL

Standard electrical service amperage has increased to 175 AMPS or better as we approach 1980. Ground Fault Circuit interrupters (GFCI’s) are introduced specifically for wet environment areas. These are required in baths, garages, exterior locations and pool /spa lights. Major safety improvement.

ENVIRONMENTAL

Lead based paint has been phased out. Asbestos is still used in many building products. These are slowly being phased out. However, 1978 was the big year of change when it was basically outlawed for all residential building materials. For certain products, existing Asbestos stock piles were allowed to be used up so it can exist in homes as late as 1981.

1978 to 1992

STRUCTURES

Poured concrete “stem wall” foundations with floating floors became the foundation system of choice. This means the foundation walls and floor slabs are poured separately. Floating floors can be affected by poor drainage and expansive soils. The day of block homes has more or less passed and wood framing with Stucco cladding is dominant (cheaper) with some builders offering 2×6 exterior walls with good thermal insulation. Trusses are typical for roof structures. Federal standards for insulation of walls and attics had become R- 13 to 22 for 2×4 and 2×6 walls and R-30 for attics in 1978. However, few homes are including dual pane windows until the late 80’s. Much of the energy efficiency gained by 2×6 walls and insulation standards was lost due to very dated window technology.

PLUMBING

Copper used for water and ABS plastic used for drain/waste/vent piping is typical. This is a period of excellent and dependable material. The exception here is that the residential plumbing industry experimented with a plastic pipe known as polybutylene. Introduced around 1987, polybutylene did not fare well in our climate. Plumbed through attics or flat roof ceilings, it was subject to heat damage as well as a recall with a class action suit due to failing “crimp” connections at joints. Later versions of this pipe eliminated the crimp connections in favor of “home runs” from a monobloc directly to the fixture. However, the damage was done and PB pipe became the material non grata even though later versions posts 1990 were greatly improved and dependable.

ELECTRICAL

By 1980 200 AMP services are standard to accommodate our modern needs…….finally. By 1992 GFCI’s also partially required in kitchens.

ENVIRONMENTAL

No more Asbestos.

1990 to Present Day

STRUCTURES

Around 2000, we went back to the future with Post Tension monolithic slab foundations gaining popularity and becoming the norm by mid-decade. Huge improvement over stem walls/floating floor or old school monolithic slabs. Until 2005 copper pipe was sometimes run under a slab that could not be jack hammered or opened to repair. Wood framing, trusses, stucco most common. Attics are well insulated and better ventilated than in the past. Stucco defects more common in the early years of this period. Stucco products and applications have vastly improved during this era. Building “envelopes” became much more energy efficient. Dual pane windows became standard and better quality overall.

PLUMBING

By 2005 PEX plastic mostly replaced copper as the piping of choice. Good performance so far with no known product defects. (Although all piping products are subject to leaks.)

ELECTRICAL

GFCI’s required in kitchens, baths, garage, exterior and at any other wet environment areas. “Arc Fault” circuits for bedrooms were introduced. Major safety improvement. “Solar Back feed” systems are introduced. I suggest doing a search of these terms for further information.

ENVIRONMENTAL

No known hazards during the current era.

The old phrase “they don’t build ’em like they used to” no longer applies. Today’s homes are far better than homes of yesteryear. This page is by no means a complete compilation of all the different styles and materials that are out there and the information presented is not absolute. Here we have covered what you are most likely to find throughout the different eras of building technology. We have not included any info regarding HVAC systems because most will only last approximately 20 years and hopefully the home you like will have an updated system.