When was the last time you thought about your walls? What are they made out of? What’s inside them? It’s not something that comes up very often, but for some homeowners it can make a big difference in insurance coverage and cost.
There is a big difference in insurance for old houses and insurance for newer ones. Old houses, like 100 year old or older houses, no matter how modest or grand, can be called “historic” homes for their age and longevity. Historic homes can pose some very big challenges to repair. Not only are historic homes constructed differently from modern ones, they often contain unique details, hand-craftsmanship, non-standard measurements, and high quality materials. Many of the materials and techniques used in historic homes are no longer employed today, making them even more expensive for their rarity.
Consider this: today’s frame construction uses 2×4 spaced no greater than 16 inches apart for a load-bearing wall. The open space between the studs is utilized for running wired and pipes, but is mostly just hollow space. When the walls are closed in with drywall, those open spaces are typically filled in with an insulation material such as fiberglass. The 2x4s themselves are almost exclusively southern pine; a soft, fast-growing wood easy to mass-produce and distribute.
Historic homes are neither uniform nor mass-produced. They can have a wide range of wall types, including solid stone, but one of the most commonly seen methods in the US is a solid stick “wattle and daub.” These walls are basically filled with layers of sawn boards – usually hardwood - with a mud or plaster packed in between and covered by a smooth layer of finished plaster. The load-bearing support beams are also typically hardwood – old solid hardwood. 2x4s of this type (common before the 1930s) have been tested to be more than 3x stronger than modern pine!
Other details of old homes, like custom sized windows and leaded glass, hardwood moldings and panel, and artisan ceiling tiles, not to mention thinks like the horsehair plaster itself, are increasingly pricy to repair or replace. Even basic repair work is more time-consuming when the measurements are not uniform throughout and the alignment not exact.
Whenever something is more expensive, time-consuming, and labor-intensive, it’s going to cost more, and that definitely holds true for insurance. Insurance totals and premiums on older houses are higher than comparably-sized and outfitted modern homes. Homeowners can decrease their totals by agreeing to “modern materials and methods” clauses for insurance-covered repairs (allowing walls to be repaired with frame and drywall rather than stick and plaster, for instance) or increase them by insisting that the quality of their historic home be preserved with period-appropriate craftsmanship.
It is up to homeowners to make sure that their homes are insured at the proper level for their needs and concerns. Check with your insurance agent to see if your home is covered at the level that best suits your needs.
About The Author: Nathan Rothwell serves as the lead instructor and subject matter for Insurance License Express, a division of Express Schools, LLC. Since 1996, Express Schools has offered online insurance licensing courses and online real estate courses, as well as online real estate exam prep and insurance license exam prep.