Why old houses seem haunted


via—Norman Bates’ house in Psycho (Steph and Drew, this is for you)

Halloween is around the corner, so in the spirit of the season, I’m sharing my theory about  why people are sometimes scared of old houses. It’s simple: The lighting in historic homes is almost always inadequate, so the houses look spooky.

Think about it: Old homes have old wiring and were not planned to support all the fancy lighting we want today—sconces and chandeliers and table lamps in one room. Lots of houses weren’t wired to support this amount of lights, and not only were light fixtures limited, but outlets were too. So a single flush-mount light (or maybe a small chandelier in a “special” space like the dining room) was usually considered sufficient. And some rooms didn’t have a ceiling fixture at all.

I can’t tell you how many old houses I’ve been in that have been restored, not remodeled, so the owners opted not to add more lights. These houses are almost always dimly lit. Low lighting can sometimes seem cozy, but in a drafty house (old houses had little or no insulation), the small amount of lighting can feel spooky.

Take this room, for instance. The house is well over 100 years old, and this is an upstairs bedroom. During the day, you might think, “What a fun room for kids to share!” and it’s true! It has so much potential and character with the ceiling angles and close quarters and all. But imagine trying to get your kids to go upstairs and sleep in that room come nightfall. Mine would run down the stairs every night and expect to climb in bed with me.

So if you’ve written off old houses for this reason—even if it was totally subconscious—I hope you’ll reconsider. The beauty of living in an old house today is that if you update your electrical, you can add more light fixtures. There’s no reason to live in the dark, and there’s no reason to disregard a historic house because it has a single flickering light in the living room.

But to be honest, that would kind of scare me off too. •


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