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Old vs. New

When residential buildings face off, who’s the winner? Here, a toe-to-toe comparison.

 
Prewar
New Construction
Solidity
Winner: Prewar
Thick firewalls and solid brick or stone, often built on a steel framework. Super–sturdy. "Almost all modern residential buildings of any height are cast–in–place concrete," says real–estate consultant Jonathan Denham of Denham Wolf. They tend to sway less than steel–framed office buildings, but the prewars still have an edge.
Aesthetics
Winner: A matter of taste
If the details haven't been peeled away over the years, there's nothing like it. But there's a point where "charming" becomes a euphemism for "decrepit." A wide range. The best are beautiful minimal spaces; the worst are drab, corner–cutting shoe boxes.
Layouts
Winner: Draw
Graceful Park Avenue layouts aside, many prewars have inefficient, compartmentalized plans, with kitchens too small and master baths rare. Upside: wider hallways, generous foyers. Most have open layouts. Less strictly useful areas, like foyers, are often eliminated—never mind that buyers often miss them.
Plumbing
Winner: New Construction
Old copper and cast–iron pipe holds up for a long time—but not forever. Vintage toilets use much more water than new ones, but they flush without a second thought. Shower pressure is ... well, let's say variable. The rest of the country has mostly gone to PVC plastic pipe, but New York has largely stuck with durable copper. The new generation of water–saving toilets is much improved from the crappy ones of the nineties. Shower pressure is covetable.
Windows
Winner: A matter of taste
Some prewars have pretty ones—Tudor casements, for instance—but if they're original to the building, they're likely single–paned and leaky as anything. They don't block noise well either. Many maximize views with nearly floor–to–ceiling windows that are double– or even triple–paned and energy–efficient. But you won't see a lot of stained–glass transoms.
Ceilings
Winner: Prewar
Averaging around nine feet, with many higher, often with crown molding, beams, medallions, and other ornamentation. After decades in which builders stuck to eight feet and not an inch more, some plush new projects are going up to nine feet and occasionally more—but most are standard.
Closets
Winner: New Construction
There are rarely enough, and those that are there are often inefficiently deep and narrow. Affluent buyers have been known to convert a spare bedroom into a walk–in. Way better. Often standardized at two feet deep—enough for oversize 22–inch hangers and the clothes on them. Most have doors that run almost the full width of the closet, making access easier.
Air–conditioning
Winner: New Construction
If you have it, it's a box in the window. In rare cases, a sleeve has been tunneled through an exterior wall, so you don't have to block the view, but that still limits your options. Not only central; it's quiet and often sophisticated, with multiple temperature zones. No contest.
Heating
Winner: Draw
That old single–pipe radiator system may clank like crazy, and the exposed cast iron can sear your skin—but when it works, it really delivers a fantastic amount of warmth. Fan–coil systems work just fine, but they don't get really toasty like their predecessors, if that's your preference.
Soundproofing
Winner: Prewar
Apartment–building plaster walls and concrete floors block out the neighbors' din better, says architect and building–code consultant Michael Zenreich. Gypsum wallboard—a.k.a. Sheetrock—is good for construction speed and easier to break into for repairs, but a lot of noise gets through. Today's floor slabs, typically cast concrete on steel, are similarly mediocre at soundproofing.
Electricity
Winner: New Construction
Old buildings usually have 40–amp service for each apartment—enough for everyday lighting, but don't think about installing an electric oven or anything luxe like a steam shower. Sixty– to 100–amp service, which will run pretty much anything you can wire or plug in.
Amenities
Winner: New Construction
Gracious spaces like courtyards are nice, but otherwise, it's all retrofitted: a gym in the old steamer–trunk storeroom, maybe. Everything that might be a selling point has been offered, from concierges to infinity pools. Gyms and gardens are probably the most common, and most widely appreciated.


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