What you can REALLY expect when you buy a 100 year old farm house

So, three years ago, we took the leap and bought the old farm house. We’re livin’ the dream. A lot of people spend hours watching renovation shows and hope to one day be able to bring an old beauty back to life with a little creativity and a lot of hard work and on the surface, especially on TV, the whole thing can seem pretty exciting and romantic. I’m not saying that it’s not, but I am saying that when I tell you about how scary and shameful many parts of our home still are, I’m not lyin’. Since about 98% of the time, I show you fun, pretty pictures, I thought it might be fun to have a look at the other side of reality at our place. Who doesn’t love to snoop through other people’s messes some times? 🙂

What can you really expect to inherit when you buy an old farm house? I'm sharing all the dirt (sometimes literally)!

So of course when you buy an old house like this, you’re going to get an inspection. Because you’re smart like that, right? You want to know what you’re getting into. Well, as fun and interesting as those things are, it seems like they never really tell you the full truth. ‘Cause then, honestly, no one would buy houses, ever. The thing is though, as scary as some of these things can sound on paper, none of them have been something that we can’t deal with. So let’s tour the madness!

Wiring and Electrical

In almost any old house that you get into the wiring is going to be straight up weird. I can pretty much guarantee it. There were so many switches and extra thermostats and gadgets that were just taped over when we moved in here. Our house didn’t even have electricity or running water when it was built, so these things were added in over time and there have been a lot of different ways of doing electrical throughout the years. We’re lucky to have a couple of rooms (like the kitchen and master bedroom) that are completely modernized and up to code, and the rest of the house is only a little outdated, mostly. One of the houses we looked at had all kinds of crazy things going on, like knob and tube wiring mixed with other things, and it was just a little too much for us to deal with at the time. We do have some pretty ridiculous looking outlets though. They’re functional, but we’ve been slowly updating them as we go through the renovations on different rooms.

What can you really expect to inherit when you buy an old farm house? I'm sharing all the dirt (sometimes literally)!

Leaky Roofs

So, our roof wasn’t too old when we moved in. It was about 10 years old, but it was leaking in MULTIPLE places! All over the house. We replaced it with a new steel roof last year, that’s supposed to last until the end of time, but we still have some pretty dramatic evidence of the stress we felt every time it rained that first year. And it always rains here.

What can you really expect to inherit when you buy an old farm house? I'm sharing all the dirt (sometimes literally)!

And this one:

What can you really expect to inherit when you buy an old farm house? I'm sharing all the dirt (sometimes literally)!

Yup, that’s for real. When the roof used to leak, pieces of cement board would fall out and land on the stairs below.  Thankfully this is just in a back hall leading down to the basement that we don’t use very often, so it’s not a high priority. It definitely reinforces my point that our house is far from perfect though, doesn’t it?

Scary Basements

Speaking of basements, I can’t believe that I’m about to show you ours.

Let’s just get it over with.

What can you really expect to inherit when you buy an old farm house? I'm sharing all the dirt (sometimes literally)!

Again, as far as old farm houses go, this one is actually pretty good.  I swear that one of the basements we looked at was half swamp. This one is at least dry enough to store our stuff in and keep a usable extra fridge in. In time we hope to really clean it up and make it a really nice storage area, but that’s obviously a long way away.

Seemingly Random and Senseless Renovations of all Kinds

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cursed the previous owners. Why did they do all these things to this nice old house?! Well, I’ll tell you why. Because all of these things seemed like a good idea at the time and worked for the family here at the time. And there was a lot of time. So things like the wall paneling, multiple colors of peel n stick tile, and terrible paint colors, were all perfectly lovely at one time, I’m sure.

What can you really expect to inherit when you buy an old farm house? I'm sharing all the dirt (sometimes literally)!

Here’s one spot where I’ve pulled up the peel n stick tile off the hardwood and then haven’t done anything about it since. See? Even I’m contributing to the madness! Why did I do that? Even places where the previous owners did a quick and not-so-quality job are understandable, because who hasn’t done a little quick fix “just for now” and then left it for way too long? Well, now it’s up to us to deal with all these things, but that’s what we set out to do, so we only have ourselves to thank for that, really! 🙂

Weird Smells

Old houses can build up quite the impressive smell. Cooking smells, pet smells, people smells, garbage, leaky roofs, all building up over 114 years… and yeah. Luckily a good primer before painting, and good basic renovations do help a lot.

Sloping Floors and General Non-Levelness

What can you really expect to inherit when you buy an old farm house? I'm sharing all the dirt (sometimes literally)!

I don’t think “level” was really a thing back when this house was built. They built the outside walls out of brick first and then filled in the inside walls after. Of course, over time everything settles and there are definitely noticeable slopes in the floors in some of the rooms, but you just have to go with it. Chris loves his level so this can be a challenge for him, but he’s learned some ways to work around all the weird angles that we find in this place.

As much as restoring an old house can be a big, frustrating mess that you don’t see coming, there are probably just as many benefits that will surprise you if you take on the challenge.

For one, building a house back in the day, without all of the technology and conveniences that we have now meant they REALLY had to plan out what they were doing. If you find a house that’s still in pretty good shape 100 years later, chances are that the builders of your home did a pretty great job. Our home sits right next to a creek, too close by today’s building standards, and yet we never get a flooded basement, even when half of the town is underwater. Our house is also incredibly energy efficient in a lot of ways. It’s still cool here in the Spring long after everyone else has had to turn on their A/C and we turn our heat on in the Fall pretty late too.  Strategically planted trees, and double-brick wall construction seem to have made a big difference for us.

We also have an amazingly unique floor plan, one that you’d never see in a new build, but one that really works for our family. Our kitchen and laundry room are in an addition that can be totally shut off from the rest of house so I can get stuff done late at night or early in the morning without disturbing anyone and there’s a washroom in there that seems really strange until you realize how convenient it is to be able to do laundry, bath the kids, and cook dinner all pretty much in the same room.

Most of all, I love the sense of pride and wonder that we get from owning our own little piece of local history and being in charge of its care and restoration. And it doesn’t hurt that we seem to get a ton of compliments on our cute house no matter what state of semi-disrepair it’s in!

What about you? Have you ever dreamed of bringing an old house back to life?

Don’t forget to visit my most recent home tour if you’re feeling in need of some pretty pictures to look at after all of this old house messiness!

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I know exactly how you feel. Our house is a mid terrace (joined on to a row of houses) and was built in 1905. That was the way they did things in England at the time, and means that we only have windows to the front and back of the house as the side walls are shared with our neighbours (which presents problems in itself). We have allsorts of wonderful weird angles, levels etc, I dont think any of our rooms are square and dont get me started on our cellar (basement!) Luckily I have a very handy husband (like yours) who can turn his hand to almost everything.

I grew up in an old house -full of character and full of problems. I have to say that on days that I miss the charm, I do appreciate how much easier living in a new build can be. Of course, there’s still nothing like hundred year old baseboard, is there?

It’s true!… if your baseboards are in good shape. Most of our old baseboards are in terrible shape so we’ve had to fake them anyway. No one seems to notice though. 🙂

Our first house had a half dirt basement. It was built in the 20’s and had huge rooms. We really loved the huge kitchen and high ceilings. My dad even lived in an old farmhouse once that had a pond in its basement. That old hose did not have any closets, wonky electrical and the only way to get into the attic was to climb up on the front porch roof, since years ago access from inside had been covered up who knows where. But we enjoyed that house while we were there. Old houses have a charm all their own.

Oh goodness – I completely understand about the quirks of old buildings. In my case I live in an almost 100 year old apartment block, and there are some very odd things going on. I’m currently in the process of repairing a wall that bulged out. Thankfully (knock on wood) I don’t yet have anything that looks like your ceiling.

I love the romance of an old farmhouse. However, when we were looking for our farm I realized I didn’t love the reality of an old farmhouse. We ended up with a circa 1960s/70s bungalow that just happens to be surrounded by a really old farm. Of course, our house still came with all kinds of electrical issues, so there are never any guarantees. We’re trying to bring a little more country style to our bungalow, so that we can have both the form (deep front porch and rustic stone fireplace) and the function (useable basement and open floor plan).

I just showed my husband this because we’re really starting to look hard for an antebellum home to purchase as his retirement nears…we’re wanting a projects house to a certain extent but it’s nice to be reminded of all the little things that old houses bring!

It’s so funny how we thought we were really getting a house that mostly needed cosmetic updates because the old owners took pretty good care of everything. We still have a mountain of crazy things going on though, even though this was the most “livable” house that we found. I guess you just can’t escape these things with an old property! Get ready!

OH man…I could’ve written this post. With our renovations we’ve kind of “repaired” a lot of the “repairs” that happened over the past 100+ years here {we had the same leaky ceiling in our upstairs hall, weird plaster jobs, odd electric work, and a general confusion {on our part} about what had been done}.

Our basements a lot scarier though 😉

My basement is a dig out it has a 10×10 concrete floor with 3′ high block walls, the rest is open to the crawl space. When it rain water runs across the floor. Everything must be on blocks. Super scary lol, I’m always afraid a critter is going to get in with me.

Loved reading about your house. We are moving into ours in 10 days. Built in 1841, I’m sure we will be finding many of the same issues that you have dealt with. Ready for the adventure that I’m sure it will be.

Congratulations! Hope you find many happy surprises with your new home to go along with all of the not-so-happy issues!

Thank you for showing honest pictures of your home. I live in a 120 year old farmhouse just like yours something always needs to be repaired. I see DIY blogs on here and get discouraged because everyones home looks perfect and the projects look easy. It certainly is an adventure owning an old home. You have a good blog thanks for sharing

I’m so glad you liked this post, Sim! I get that same discouraged feeling all the time from looking at all of these perfect pictures. A good dose of reality mixed in there is probably good for all of us!

We live in a 1900 grocery store.. The kind where the store owner lived above the store and they still used hooks attached to the building to crane heavy items. With multiple renovations we had 6 entrance/exits. We didnt even have running water or a bathroom on the main floor for the first 7 years (now theres water but no bathroom yet – maybe this year we will realize that goal)! And oh the slopes… You are right the settling is amazing- dont play marbles or set anything down that will roll… But i wouldnt change living here for anything!! (Most days

Wow, Karen! What an amazing experience! I bet you feel such a sense of satisfaction each time you make one little baby step closer to your goal! Good luck with all your renovations! I’m right there in the trenches with you!

I’m still in the love phase with my 1870 farmhouse. No water/electricity. Roof leaks, porch falling down, wasp’s everywhere. But hey, it’s got transoms above all the doors and a lot of beaded board. So it’s a fair trade.

I can totally relate to almost every one of these issues!! My house was built in 1938, my husband swears by Mickey Mouse and Co. Our floors were so crooked that you could roll a ball just by setting it down! My husband fixed those =) He swore when he was fixing the kitchen he wasn’t going to fix another floor!! But, it HAD to be done, and when he got to the wall between service porch and kitchen he called me to look at it….the joist was being held up by an old blue Mason jar!! Our outlets were the old kind that actually stick out on the wall, as well as the switches. I couldn’t for the life of me, figure out why someone would use 16p nails as curtain rod holders….until I tried to put a regular picture hanging nail in the wall. It was like trying to nail through petrified wood! The walls were one row of boards overlapping another row of boards, no insulation! In the kitchen behind the 70’s wall paneling there is old wallpaper and newspaper pasted right to the boards. Not to mention the cotton balls stuffed in the cracks! We had cloth wrapped wiring and single fuse boxes for ONE light! Crazy stuff!! My favorite was the mason jar, and of course the shower drain that just ran straight under the house =)

OK, that mason jar one is pretty crazy! That would make a great ad for the company though! Those jars must be strong!

Love this post! I have lived in old and new. Give me old, weird, crumbling any day of the week, I can deal with it. They may have their problems, and in my opinion, solid and better built. Starting to look for a (let’s get real here), dump that is old and no one wants – that has potential – and dirt cheap (does that even exist anymore?), so i can spend the money on renovation. The old house my parents bought (which I still own), when we were kids had roofing problems too. That first winter was very memorable – we had every available, pail, pot, pan, roasting pan, cup in all sorts of places and all the furniture was askew becase of the leaks. That winter the rain was never ending. My poor dad . . . We made it through and the next spring he ripped it all off and did it right. No matter how big or how small our homes may be, there will always be something to improve upon. Quick fixes included. That is what spit, chewing gum and duct tape are for . . .????

Our Christmas present to ourselves was an 1871 farmhouse on an acre northwest of Ottawa. The wind howled through the small basement that looked like a set from the “Adams Family” and the high-efficiency furnace looked so out of place perched on a small slab on the dirt floor. Two large bundles of batt insulation and foam board later the winds are tamed and the water line has stopped freezing. Need I say it; we love it and projects are planned to take me past my second retirement.

My husband and I bought our first home almost 2 years ago and it was built in the year 1900. Thankfully, another owner had done a full remodel (kept it original but definitely brought it all up to speed) and I adore our old house! Definitely loved the part about the slopes…our master bathroom is sloped so it makes for a fun time using the toilet (we have long sense grown used to it!) and they definitely sorted out how to keep the house comfy without A.C. (we DO have A.C. though!). The fireplace warmed the kitchen and living room so there is a door between the kitchen and the bedrooms so they would keep the door shut in order to not waste the heat on the part of the house nobody usually was in. There are also massive trees planted around the living room and kitchen area that completely shade that side of the house so it doesn’t get excessively hot.

So glad I found this site. Many of the items look like you snuck into our home & took pictures. We just purchased a 1915 farmhouse & like you found some strange & downright scary renovations. The original 1915 craftsmanship is still wonderful & in good shape, it is all of the renovations that are horrible. Such as, at some point they added new windows & cut out all of the old headers!!
It is encouraging to see others tackle & solve some of the same issues we are currently dealing with. Thank you for the REALISTIC look at breathing new life into an old beauty.
God Bless

I just bought a 1915 character home that’s in great shape but i’ve already gotten my first surprise ???? mould on the plastered walls in the master bathroom. I wanted to start my reno with the bathroom bit that will have to wait (I’m also getting the roof done this spring). Lol thanks for the blog, I’m sure I will find it helpful as I move along in this wild journey lol

Haha, good luck, Kaity! It’s worth it after a few renovations when you start to really see things coming together! 🙂