Old Cabin at PittIt’s been over 250 years since Pittsburgh was founded in 1758. This city is old, and so are its structures! If you’re in the market to buy a house in Pittsburgh, you’ve probably browsed or even visited several old houses for sale in the area. Depending on their upkeep, some are in better shape than others. How do you know what to expect when you’re buying an old house in Pittsburgh? As local homebuilders, we have a few ideas…

1. Poor Insulation


Eskimos fishingOwens Corning Corporation, the worlds largest manufacturer of fiberglass, wasn’t founded until 1935. It wasn’t until many years later when houses were being insulated regularly with fiberglass. It took even longer, as late as the 1970’s, for state building codes to incorporate the insulation of exterior walls.

Additionally, homebuilders did not use as much insulation or place it in as many places as is recommended today. Depending on what year the house was built (particularly before 1980), you can expect to have little to no insulation. This makes a house very energy inefficient and can become quite costly as temperatures regularly reach seasonal extremes in the area.


2. Beautiful Architecture


Frick Mansion, ClaytonWith age comes beauty! If you don’t believe it, take a look at the beautiful architecture of many old homes & mansions in Pittsburgh. This unique style and architecture is unusual to come by in a new home. Older houses in Pittsburgh often include original woodwork, high ceilings, and an exterior covered in embellishments. Sure, new homes are big and beautiful, but you can’t buy character!

The only disadvantage of investing in a home with vintage architecture and furnishings is the required maintenance that comes along with it. Rotting original wooden fittings or a dilapidating roof can cause a homeowner a lot of time and money.



3. An Unfinished Basement


A BasementFinished basements make great rec rooms or man caves, but don’t expect an old home to have one. In fact, your basement will probably look more like a scene from the last horror movie you saw. Old basements in Pittsburgh are usually dark, cold, and damp and are primarily used for storage.

If you envisioned your dream home with a basement that people enjoy spending time in, considering building a new house from the ground up instead of buying an old one. Finishing an existing basement can prove to be a difficult project, especially if mold or mildew gets involved. Heartland Homes builds spacious basements with optional recreation room, media room, bath and wet bar available in many of their home types.


4. Outdated Plumbing & Wiring


An old outletIt’s easy to forget to upkeep and update the infrastructure behind the walls of a house. It’s likely that the old house you are looking at has outdated plumbing or wiring, which can lead to bigger problems down the road. As mentioned above, older homes usually lack the necessary insulation to keep pipes from freezing when the temperature drops. This can lead to a pressure buildup, resulting in a burst pipe. As a result your home could suffer water damage, which could lead to mold problems, and so on.

Unless you know the complete history of the house in question, there could be unknown damage to the wiring. This could potentially make the house unsafe. Be sure to ask about the full history of the home, including any past incidents or replacements that may have taken place.


5. The “Pittsburgh” Toilet


Old Pittsburgh ToiletMany houses built prior to World War II in Pittsburgh are likely to have an infamous Pittsburgh toilet. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “Pittsburgh toilet,” it simply refers to a toilet that is found in the basement of a home in Pittsburgh with no surrounding walls. In other words, a toilet without a bathroom. It’s not unusual for a shower and a sink to accompany the toilet, but walls do not separate the area from the rest of the basement.

Because Pittsburgh is historically an industrial town, workers used to enter their homes through the basement. They would clean and relieve themselves before entering the upstairs of the house. Today, you might consider putting up some walls so that you can officially call it a restroom. But hey, don’t knock it ’till you try it!


6. A Fireplace (condition may vary)


FireplaceFor a time, fireplaces were built into houses out of necessity. They kept homes warm and provided aesthetic value as the focal point of a home’s main gathering room. As coal became a more popular source of energy for heating homes in the 19th century, the purpose of a fireplace shifted from being practical to becoming a part of tradition. While they are beautiful and cozy, fireplaces & chimneys require maintenance. As the years have gone by, many homeowners in Pittsburgh have let their old fireplaces fall out of working condition.

Many old buildings in Pittsburgh have non-working fireplaces, which are only present for decorative purposes. If you’re lucky, you might not have this issue in the house you’re considering and can enjoy the fireplace on Pittsburgh’s cold winter nights. However, it can be very costly to restore a fireplace & chimney that have been taken out of commission.


7. No Air Conditioning


An old fanPittsburgh has hot summers and cold winters, so having climate control is a big deal when living in the city. Air conditioning, particularly central AC, wasn’t made available in homes across the US until the 1950’s and later. Until that point fans, high ceilings, and underground rooms were included in homes to help the family inside stay cool.

Unless the house you’re considering has been retrofitted with central air conditioning ducts, you can expect to depend upon fans or window AC units to keep the house bearable on the hottest summer days. Fortunately, older homes were built with some features to help deal with extreme temperatures as mentioned above.


If an old house in Pittsburgh is starting to sound like more work than you were prepared for, view new homes available from Heartland Homes!

About Adam Packard

Adam Packard has been a marketing professional for over 10 years. During that span he has spent time in the gaming, racing, entertainment and real estate industries. Outside of the office, he enjoys all types of sports, including basketball, baseball, golf & harness racing. He resides in Moon Township, with his wife Jackie and two sons Nicholas & Jacob.