How to Tell if a Home Has ‘Good Bones’

Everyone is familiar with the old adage “beauty is only skin deep.”

In the real estate industry, this popular phrase could be interpreted to mean that a cursory glance of a home’s exterior cannot properly speak to a home’s structural integrity.

Some of the prettiest homes on the market are money pits waiting to happen for an unlucky buyer, while the rundown house at the end of the block is a jewel just waiting to be polished. It is all about identifying the ‘good bones’ — those essential home characteristics that are impossible to remodel. 

Look for Signs of Strong Foundation and Wall Framing

To the untrained eye, a large hole in a wall may be a major red flag, while a couple of cracks in the corner may be written off as no big deal.

The reality is that the hole is probably the result of a freak accident, whereas the cracks are a symptom of foundational shifts that will continue to cause future headaches.

Homes with good bones do not have large exterior cracks or protruding bricks, zig-zagging interior cracks that span the height of the wall, doors that catch when opening, or do not latch properly when closing, or large amounts of nails protruding from the drywall.

In addition, one issue with traditional framing, even in newer homes, is the tendency for wooden piers and oriented strand boards to rot when exposed to excessive moisture. Insulated concrete form (ICF) framing is not only stronger but provides complete protection from moisture, guaranteeing good bones in a house, regardless of age.

Consider the Home’s Location and Orientation

real estate location

Location, location, location–it’s the realtor’s mantra.

While being located in a beautiful gated community can help the realtor sell homes, location goes just as far in determining a home’s bones. After all, you can’t just pick up a house and move it.

There is only so much you can renovate in a new home. Proximity to neighbors or loud roadways are factors that can affect long-term value and quality of life. Homes located near rivers or forested areas often have real threats of flooding or fire damage.

Just as important as location is orientation, as the direction a house faces cannot be changed.

If the windows to the living room and/or master bedroom face the west, you can guarantee that these rooms will be intolerably hot at dusk during summertime, leading to massive AC costs.

Check for Insulation of Walls and Ceiling

Good bones are essential to protect against unforeseen, insidious future costs of homeownership.

Heating and cooling costs will add up in bad bone houses that are not properly insulated.

Astute home buyers will look for wall framings, such as ICF, that has high thermal mass and roof insulation that uses Polyiso technology, both signs of good bones that will ensure sustainability and control heating and cooling costs.

Consider the Roofing Material

roofing materials of a house

While the roof is part of the home’s exterior, and it certainly contributes greatly to the appearance of a nice home, it is just as much “bones” as it is “face.”

There are a number of different roofing materials, such as clay tile, wood shakes, and asphalt shingles, that provide varying levels of protection from the elements and serve as the first line of defense in home insulation. 

However, when considering if a home has good bones, take a look and see if the house is roofed with more contemporary synthetic shingles. Synthetic shingles are a superior roofing option for holding up in conditions of high wind and hail, as well as offering increased fire and UV protection.

 Matt Lee is the owner of the Innovative Building Materials blog and a content writer for the building materials industry. He is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that save money, improve energy efficiency, and increase property value.