This topic came up within weeks of my old clay and cast iron sewer piping backing up due to tree root invasion – my house, built in 1890, offers numerous opportunities for getting to know about plumbing, electrical work, carpentry and the test of patience. What I didn’t know then was just how common a problem this is in older homes like mine! Read on to learn what I wish I’d known long before troubles made their appearance! Special thanks to E.Walsh, Director of Community Outreach at Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.


For some people summer fun might be hanging by the pool or taking that long-awaited beach vacation. For others, it could be about finally tackling that renovation project around the house.

One thing to be mindful of, however, is the older the home, the more problems you have to be mindful of. Here are key issues that homeowners can run into upon starting a reno project.

1930: Clay sewer pipes

  • Clay pipes were popular in the since the 1800s through the early 1900s
  • Clay pipe is known for being very heavy and extremely tricky to cut out
  • Sometimes called terra cotta, are very susceptible to root intrusion and leaks. Once roots get into the line they grow bigger and bigger which breaks up the clay and ruins the lines
  • Additionally, the clay pipes were commonly fused together from shorter/odd lengthed pipes and over time they can separate
  • Replacing clay pipes with the modern pipe of choice, PVC, can prevent expensive leakages

1940: Asbestos

  • Asbestos was commonly used in building materials from 1930 through the 1980s
  • The fibers can be found in insulation, wallpaper, ceiling/floor tiles, and furnaces among others
  • The disturbance of the carcinogenic fibers can eventually lead to serious diseases including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis
  • Removing any outdated material out of your home safely can prevent an expensive and often fatal battle
  • Although its use is heavily regulated, some building and construction materials are still allowed to include up to 1% asbestos.  

1950: Galvanized Pipes

  • These pipes are steel dipped in protective zinc – the zinc was intended to prevent corrosion and rust
  • Unfortunately, the pipes are likely to rust and corrode on the inside after decades of exposure to water leads to leaks
  • Galvanized pipes can discolor water due to the release of iron, this issue is easy to spot if their is a brown ring stain in a porcelain sink
  • Plan to replace those old pipes with PVC or copper pipes for a much longer lifespan

1960: Non-grounded Outlets

  • Homes built before 1960 commonly have outlets with just two vertical slots – these outlets are non-grounded outlets
  • This means that the electricity only comes in on one wire and out on the second – there is no place for any surplus electricity to go in the case of a power surge which can lead to an increase risk of fire, shock, or electrocution
  • More “heavy-duty” appliances — like washers and dryers, computers, or big-screen television sets more likely you’ll need to upgrade your outlets to ground wire
  • Since 1962, the National Electrical Code has required grounded three-prong outlets for new homes built in the United States

1970: Lead Paint

  • Lead paint was banned for household use in 1978
  • Dust and lead paint chips inhaled can pose serious health risks especially to women, children, and unborn babies
  • If your family is growing and you want to turn the old office into a baby room, don’t start scraping until you have a professional check it out


No matter what year your home was built, it’s important to know what problems you could be at susceptible to during a remodel. Renovating your home is completely possible to do yourself as long as you’re careful and deligent.