Dear Barry,

I’m considering the purchase of a home that was built in 1951, and I have two questions:

1. Are plumbing systems from that era consistent with today’s standards? (I think the pipes are steel.)

2. Are electrical systems of that age safe, and are they capable of providing enough power for today’s electrical needs? –David

Dear David,

Construction standards have changed considerably in the past half century, especially with regard to plumbing and electrical systems. The use of galvanized steel water piping was abandoned in favor of copper in the late 1960s, and now the plumbing industry has moved from copper to PEX (cross-link polyethylene). The problem with old galvanized pipes is that they usually have internal rust build-up, which reduces water volume. The most obvious symptom of corroded water lines would be changes in shower flow when other plumbing fixtures are operated.

Electrical systems in the early 1950s had much less capacity than today’s systems because there were fewer electrical uses at that time. Typical breaker panels from that period provided from 50 to 70 amps, and some systems were still equipped with old-fashioned fuses. Today, the minimum service size is 100 amps, and homes are wired with many more circuits than they were in the early 1950s.

Many aspects of a 1950s home are obsolete by today’s standards. Therefore, be sure to hire a highly qualified home inspector before closing escrow on this property.

Dear Barry,

Our homeowners insurance company recently sent an inspector to our home to make sure the value of our policy covered replacement costs for the building. They now say the property value has increased by about $75,000, so they are raising the premium to pay for the additional coverage. Are insurance companies allowed to do this, or do I have recourse? It seems to me that the increased value is largely due to inflated land costs, not increased value of the building. What can we do? –Nicole

Dear Nicole,

There is a modern-day proverb, often quoted with bitter irony. The “golden rule,” they say, is that whoever owns the gold rules. And who, after all, is more heavily laden with golden wealth than insurance companies? Hence, they lay the rules, and we pay the jewels. Nevertheless, you may still retain a small voice in the conversation.

The state agencies that govern the operations of insurance companies often have review processes whereby complaints can be considered. You should check to see if such recourse is available to you. Inflated land costs, as you’ve said, should not increase the cost of replacing a home. On the other hand, the significant rise of construction costs in recent years may weigh in favor of the proposed premium increase.

Aside from these conflicting considerations, insurance costs should always be expected to rise. It’s one of the immutable constants of worldly existence, as inevitable as death and taxes.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at

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