Insuring Older Homes
You’ve found your dream home, it’s a old villa from the 1920’s, it’s picture perfect – but is it insurable?
So what is the deal with old homes?
Before the early 1930’s in New Zealand some councils had their own building bylaws, while others had no requirements at all. In 1931 the Napier earthquake changed everything. It became evident that some of the construction methods used, including unreinforced masonry, were unsuitable in a country built on earthquake fault lines.
In December 1935, the first uniform set of building standards were implemented in New Zealand. These requirements set the foundations for the code of compliance building regulations we have today.
What do you need to look for on an older home?
It’s common for older homes to have foundation issues. Sagging or wavy floorboards is the giveaway to problems with the piles. Check under the house for cracks and signs of shifting, or decay in timber piles. Mould can also be an early warning sign of weak foundations and other problems.
Scrim is sacking (think hessian) that is stapled to thin wooden strips known as Sarking. Think of it as kindling and newspaper, the perfect fire starter. Scrim and Sarking is effectively the wall board that the wallpaper attaches to. It is likely that over the past 100 odd years, it will have been wallpapered over, and possibly painted multiple times.
To test if your property has scrim wall boards you can use the knock test – Scrim will sound like you are knocking on wood, it will be near impossible to distinguish any studs. You could also use the floating wallpaper test – with age the hessian Scrim starts coming away and gives the impression of floating, bulging or twisting wallpaper. Check for this in room corners. Finally you could try a close inspection – you can sometimes see rough sawn board (Sarking) or hessian (Scrim) where wallpaper is loose or has come away, or the wallpaper will look ‘textured’ as the woven hessian fabric has imprinted the wallpaper from underneath.
If your home is brick, chances are it is unreinforced double brick and the brick walls provide both the structure and the exterior cladding. After the 1931 Napier earthquake, regulations prevented brick from being used as a structural element. Unfortunately these types of older homes do not fair well in an Earthquake.
Weatherboards were originally constructed from native timber, and unlike modern materials require a lot of maintenance, including regular painting. Unmaintained weatherboards will begin to rot over time, which will reduce weather tightness.
An iron roof is expected to last about 50 years. As a roof ages flashings will corrode and loosen, nails will go missing and leaks will develop. Good maintenance and painting will get you so far, but eventually it will need to be replaced.
Unreinforced masonry chimneys are a hazard to the home, and to anyone, and anything near your home. It is not uncommon for 100 year old brick chimneys to come crashing down on the house, cars and people during earthquakes and storms. If the fireplace is unused these should be removed to the roofline. If the fireplace is still in use, then the chimney should be checked for its stability and reinforced if required.
If the house has old pipes, they may need replacing due to mineral build up, leaks or corrosion. Make sure you closely inspect any exposed pipes to see if they’re properly working. Mineral buildup won’t be that noticeable until you’re trying to have a shower and wondering why not much water is coming out. Original plumbing pipes would have been copper and may still be in good condition. However when upgrading to mains pressure pipework and fittings may not have the ability to cope with the additional pressure.
If replumbing was carried out during the late 1970s and early 1980s, a particular type of black plastic pipe (Dux Quest) was likely to have been used. After a short time the product was taken off from the market because there were numerous incidents of pipes bursting and causing considerable damage. If there is black plastic piping from a renovation dating from this period, it will need replacing.
Original Electrical Wiring and Switchboard
In 1888 Reefton (in the South Island’s West Coast) was the first town in the country to be connected to the public grid; surprisingly the power was supplied from a hydroelectric power station, not a coal power plant. By 1910 locally generated electricity was widespread. The earliest wiring was cloth-wrapped rubber insulated in metal conduit. It was designed for a very small number of outlets. In the 1930’s rubber wrapped wiring (with an earth wire) was used without conduit. This wiring deteriorated as the rubber insulation perished and became brittle. Many homes would have been rewired in the 1950’s and 1960’s with PVC or early versions of TPS wiring. This is also known to deteriorate over time, and wasn’t designed to be covered by insulation.
Homes have more lights, electronics, gadgets, and appliances (including some that are permanently on standby) than anyone from the 1900’s could ever have imagined. The original wiring was not designed to handle this load, and was not built to last. Most house fires we see are electrical. Couple deteriorated wiring with Scrim and Sarking and you’ve got yourself a bonfire ready to go.
What are initio’s pre-1935 minimum requirements?
As you can see old houses are a little riskier to insure, and typically have higher premiums. Initio can provide an instant quote and insurance cover online for houses that are built in 1935 or after. To insure older homes built prior to 1935 we will need to provide a bespoke solution. At a minimum, we will require that the property has:
– Piles and Foundations; Original piles replaced and no outstanding defects or damage such as rotten weatherboards or sinking piles.
– Wall Linings; No walls lined with scrim or sarking, and is relined with gib board or similar modern material.
– Historical Classification; The home is not classified as a Heritage Building or Historic Places Trust building by local council or government.
– Exterior Cladding; No outstanding maintenance.
– Roof; Roofing that has been replaced within the past 30 years and repainted in the past 10 years.
– Plumbing; PVC piping replaced in the past 30 years, or checked and confirmed to be in good condition.
– Electrical; No original electrical wiring (including switchboard with circuit breakers) that hasn’t been checked and signed off by an electrician.
How do I get a quote to insure my older home?
You can get an instant house insurance quote for your Pre-1935 home using our insurance quote calculator by selecting ‘Pre-1935’ as the property age. This will give you an indication of the cost to insure your old home.
When you go to purchase cover you will be required to answer our Pre-1935 declaration questions regarding our minimum requirements listed above. A referral will be sent to us to review your property if the answers you provide clear our minimum requirements.
If we are happy with the condition of the property we can confirm to provide insurance cover on your house. We may at times need further documents such as a building report if you don’t know when the property was renovated or what work has been completed.
For more information on insuring different types see our insurance covers designed specifically for
Landlord insurance – all in one house and landlord insurance, including loss of rents, malicious damage & more.
Multi unit insurance – for serious landlords with multiple units under the same roof.
Holiday home insurance – for the bach and for holiday homes that are also rented out (eg Bookabach, AirBnB)
Home insurance – for your own home, and contents.