I’ll Never Buy a House Built After 1949—Here’s the One Reason Why

published Oct 5, 2019
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Credit: Diane Deaton Street

While some people like to look at sports scores or kitten memes whenever they have an idle moment, I like to look at real estate listings. It’s not that I’m looking for another house, but I’m not not looking, you know? And living in Louisville, Kentucky—a decent-sized city—there’s always a lot to look at. As much as I like scrolling through listings, I don’t need to see every last new build or far-flung condo. So I filter my results always, always by one factor: age. Specifically, I set the newest possible year built to 1949.

Yes, I like old homes. My home was built in 1887, the other two homes we’ve owned were 80-something and 90-something years old, and our first rental house was even ancient. But I didn’t realize just why I couldn’t stand newer homes until one Sunday. After spending the day at open houses, I realized it really came down to doors: All the new homes I saw had hollow core doors that were nothing like the solid slab wooden doors all my homes had.

“When did houses start using those thinner, lighter doors?” I wondered. In short order, Google satisfied my curiosity: I found an article that said, prior to 1949, these wooden doors were built to code, but when it became harder to source large, old-growth timber, things changed. I can’t find the article and it didn’t cite a reference about this bit of building history, so to verify, I reached out to the International Code Council (ICC) for confirmation.

According to the ICC, it’s not that cut and dry: In the code records they dug up, there was a mention of a “1 and 3/8-inch thick self-closing, tight-fitting solid wood door,” but it referred to a door between an attached private garage and a single-family dwelling of a particular occupancy type.

Because this isn’t verification I want from the ICC, I decided to ask my dad, who’s been a homebuilder since the 1970s.

In the almost 50 years he’s been building houses, he’s never set a true solid wood door—not even in the seriously high-end custom homes he’s built. Most commonly, he uses hollow core doors—yes, they’re flimsy, but they’re also the cheapest and get the job done (for the most part). Then, at roughly a 50 percent price increase, there’s a “solid” door that’s actually usually just a three-inch wood perimeter filled with glued-together sawdust. The closest thing to a true solid door would have to be custom made in a mill yard. But, even then, my dad says it wouldn’t be “solid” in the old way. It would most likely be constructed of wood panels held together by “biscuit” joints.

So, even though it’s not a perfect system, in order to get what I—a hardcore (pun intended!) door lover—want, I’m going to continue with my 1949-filter system. While it’s not the precise year a switch was flipped, I’ve found it’s the only way to guarantee that I not only get those old doors, but I also get cool doorknobs, doorframes with decorative molding, tall baseboards, original hardwood floors, and high ceilings—basically, everything I love in a house.

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