Problems With Houses Built in the 1990s

Lets remember that the 1990s spans an entire decade – homes built in the early 1990s will not have the same problems as ones built in 1999, yet there are some distinguishable aspects of homes from this decade compared to ones being built today. Some of these characteristics are good, others not so much. It’s also worth saying that home construction style in the U.S. still varies by region – an example being less insulation in the southern states compared to the north, or roofs with a lower pitch in Florida than Wisconsin due to snow loads. Without considering the regions, let’s take a look at some of the problems with houses built in the 1990s from a general lens.

problems with houses built in the 1990s
Photo by Zac Gudakov on Unsplash

Polybutylene Water Piping

Some homes that were built in the 90s may still have PB water piping. This type of water pipe was banned from new construction in the mid-1990s, but there was nothing mandating replacement of existing. Although this is unlikely as the problem with PB water  lines was the fact it deteriorated quickly due to reactions with chemicals in drinking water. So, the chance you still have these is low, but not zero. If you suspect you have PB water lines, get them replaced as soon as possible because not only will they cause trouble, insurance carriers will not cover these pipes because of increased liability.

Masonite Siding

Masonite siding was popular in the 1990s – this product is also known as pressboard or hardboard. It’s a synthetic material comprised of wood fibers pressed in a thermoset resin. Many similar products are sold and used in construction today, but the newer generations of siding is far superior to what was used in the 90s. If you think you have old pressboard siding from the 90s, consider replacing it as soon as possible. Problems with this old style siding are mainly based around the absorption of moisture. Over time, the wood fibers embedded in the resin accumulate moisture and swell, leading to cracks in the siding. This ultimately allows moisture to infiltrate your home causing wood rot and insect problems.

Single Pane Windows

Although double pane windows were mainstream in the U.S. before the 1990s, this did not stop builders from going cheap on windows. Many homes from the 90s have single pane windows that should be replaced because of their poor ability to insulate the home from hot and cold.

Single pane windows have since been replaced with double pane windows – or a windows with two panes of glass. The two glass panes are separated by a very thin boundary of air, or sometimes inert gas, that provides an extra layer of insulation. To put this in perspective, the walls in your house have an R value of 12 – 16 depending on how they are built. A single pane window has an R value of around 1, and a double pane window has an R value somewhere between 2 and 5 depending on construction. Windows are already poor insulators, so scrapping those single pane windows for new will save you money on heating and cooling costs in the long run.

Attic Water Heater

Another one of the common problems with houses built in the 1990s, and some even today, have water heaters in the attic. While this does kind of make sense – central water distribution to plumbing, higher temperatures in the summer, plenty of space in the attic – there are other more costly downfalls to this somewhat outdated practice.

The few benefits are outweighed by the fact that water heaters located in the attic are much harder to repair and replace. Some plumbers won’t even consider replacing one without moving it to the garage or another spot on the ground floor. Another issue is if there is a leak – the water will come pouring down through your ceiling or walls destroying your home.

The last and most significant issue here is the risk for fire. Your attic is dry and filled with combustible material – and your water heater has one of two types of heat source. Electric heaters have a heating coil inside the tank, and gas heaters have a natural gas burner below them – either of these have a risk of failure. The big takeaway here is, if your water heater is in the attic, start thinking about a plan for when it comes time to replace it. Moving it to the garage, or replacing it with a tankless water heater are two popular options.

Federal Pacific Power Panels

Some homes built in the early 1990s have Federal Pacific power panels. These were manufactured and installed in homes for decades – and it turns out they were faulty. If you have a Federal Pacific power panel in your home, I urge you to get this replaced as soon as possible. I say this with experience as my last home was built in 1991, and of course had a Federal Pacific power panel. Apparently there was no issue with it for twenty plus years, then one evening in 2016 I smelled burning plastic! The power panel was in my garage and had caught fire. Luckily it was small and I was able to extinguish it, turn off the main breaker and call the fire department before too much damage had been caused.

Image of a residential power panel

The biggest problem I see here is that people generally overlook details such as a power panel. When you buy a home, have an inspection done and ask these questions. When I bought my last house, the inspector did not mention the power panel even though it was a well known problem at the time!

Should I Buy a House Built in the 1990s?

If you are wondering whether or not its worth purchasing a 90s era home, I am here to tell you YES! All homes built in every decade have some sort of problem. Owning a home can be summarized as one big problem after another – but it’s also great to be able to invest your time and money into an asset that will bring safety and happiness to your family.

I present you with this list of problems with houses built in the 1990s not to deter you from buying an older home, but to educate you so you are not surprised or overwhelmed when you are presented with an unexpected repair bill! If you want to read about some of the upsides to buying a 90s home, click here!

Did I miss something that you have found to be an issue in your 1990s era home? Let me know! I love to hear from readers.