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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
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    3

    Default Do we need a structural engineer?

    We recently purchased a two-story home built in 1850. After living here for a bit, we noticed that the floors are sagging quite a bit both on the first and second floors. The foundation is field stone and is partially built into a hill.

    The floors are small, only about 480 square feet per floor (about 20 feet wide by 25 feet long) with one main beam running across the main floor that is exposed and has been enclosed with decorative wood. The main support in the basement is a single 6x10 about 3/4 across the beam. The basement has carpet on cement but it feels like there is a slightly raised square "stump" (for lack of a better word) in line with the existing support beam.

    The main floor sags in the middle and has a definitive dip towards the outside wall. The dip appears to be a good 2 inches or so and a hairline crack is visible on the outside wall between the wall and the floor there. The main floor is open concept with no support for the existing beam crossing the space except for the outside walls.

    The second floor also seems to have a main support beam but the wall underneath it was taken out to put in a closet.

    After we moved in and winter set in, we noticed a lot of thin cracks from the corners of windows straight up, sometimes to the ceiling but they stop there.

    We don't really care if the floor are level but it seems like the house needs to be kept from further sinking/settling. The open concept living room (which has a 70's parquet floor) seems wrong in a house like this too. I feel like there should be a support beam somewhere in there.

    From the reading I've done we should consult a structural engineer but I don't know how to go about hiring one.

    Oh, and to complicate things further, the sagging point in the middle seems to be a point of delineation. From the sag to the front of the house, the floors on the first floor and the basement floor are level. From the sag backwards (towards the hill) the is a slight incline that is similar to the hill. A doorway built into the fieldstone foundation on the front side of the house is perfectly level.
    Last edited by AngelFish411; 12-02-2013 at 10:48 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Northern Virginia
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    975

    Default Re: Do we need a structural engineer?

    A single room in a 20x25 house would not have been an original floorplan in 1850. If bearing walls have been removed failure is inevitable. One of our specialties has become effecting "structural remediations" guided by a very competent and historically sensitive engineer. You don't want your efforts to essentially be poking around the edges, if something needs to be done, you want to do it all at once, and with the best advice, and with a safe plan. If it's as bad as it could be, it will be a very disruptive job.
    During demo/discovery, the original floorplan will likely be revealed, if a set of trained eyes is there to interpret the vestiges of walls and doorways. There could be a literal roadmap under that 1970's parquet.
    The 1818 brick house we saved in 2009 had been "opened up" in the teens or 20's, so the new point loads they created took quite a few decades to end up with the 7" sag we encountered. But t was still moving down, down. You may have decades of service left, or not.
    I don't know why you would get cracks at all windows from a floor beam/support issue. I take it this is a wood-frame house?
    Casey
    Remove not the ancient landmark, which your fathers have set.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    SoCal
    Posts
    5,066

    Default Re: Do we need a structural engineer?

    You definitely need someone who has experience to show you what's needed to be done. An experienced general contractor or a rough framer would be the way to start. And where do you find them? look in lumber yards, ask at building sites, friends and co-workers might know someone, etc. If needed, they can direct you to a trusted engineer.

    Just don't let the house sag further more.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Maryland
    Posts
    1,157

    Default Re: Do we need a structural engineer?

    It sounds like columns and bearing walls were removed without consideration for the loading on the beams or any modifications were inadequate.
    A structural engineer or a good builder should be able to access the situation and provide remedies.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Houston Texas
    Posts
    2,358

    Default Re: Do we need a structural engineer?

    There will be some invasive demolition of sheet rock to see the history of the building.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Posts
    3

    Default Re: Do we need a structural engineer?

    Thanks for your replies. I contacted a couple of general contractors today and have set up appointments to have them come assess the problem. We did have a small amount of money set aside for contingencies/problems that might arise with an old home. I hope we don't blow through that too quick.

    Depending on what the contractors think the problems are, I wonder if we could make a claim against the home inspector's insurance. The house was vacant when we bought it, and I asked about and pointed out various cracks and sags during the inspection but was told it wasn't a problem. The same with the open-concept living area.

    My husband thinks I watch too many construction shows...maybe they finally paid off.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Posts
    3

    Unhappy Re: Do we need a structural engineer?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sombreuil_mongrel View Post
    A single room in a 20x25 house would not have been an original floorplan in 1850. If bearing walls have been removed failure is inevitable. One of our specialties has become effecting "structural remediations" guided by a very competent and historically sensitive engineer. You don't want your efforts to essentially be poking around the edges, if something needs to be done, you want to do it all at once, and with the best advice, and with a safe plan. If it's as bad as it could be, it will be a very disruptive job.
    During demo/discovery, the original floorplan will likely be revealed, if a set of trained eyes is there to interpret the vestiges of walls and doorways. There could be a literal roadmap under that 1970's parquet.
    The 1818 brick house we saved in 2009 had been "opened up" in the teens or 20's, so the new point loads they created took quite a few decades to end up with the 7" sag we encountered. But t was still moving down, down. You may have decades of service left, or not.
    I don't know why you would get cracks at all windows from a floor beam/support issue. I take it this is a wood-frame house?
    Casey
    Yes the home is wood framing. From the only part of the unexposed basement, I can see joists that run from the front of the house towards the center beam. I can also see that the joists were notched at the top and a second beam was run perpendicularly across the joists. When walking on the main floor, we can feel dips between those perpendicular joists (mostly towards the center of the house).

    In this same exposed section, I can also see two joists that were notched to about 50% and about 8 to 10 inches in length to allow to pipes (we can see where the holes for the pipes were in the floor above. I did point out the large notching to our home inspector who said it wasn't a problem...

    The rest of the basement ceiling was drywalled or plastered at some point. The walls were also finished with plywood and painted white. We didn't even realize it wasn't drywall until a week after we bought the place.

    There are outlets along the basement wall. I popped the cover out of one and it looks like they notched one of the big beams in front of the stone foundation to put in a box for the outlet.

    We do have a foundation company coming it to look at the foundation later this month as well.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
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    1,093

    Default Re: Do we need a structural engineer?

    Quote Originally Posted by AngelFish411 View Post
    In this same exposed section, I can also see two joists that were notched to about 50% and about 8 to 10 inches in length to allow to pipes (we can see where the holes for the pipes were in the floor above. I did point out the large notching to our home inspector who said it wasn't a problem...
    Well, I must admit to being shocked. Unless there's support close to both sides of this notching, nobody in their right mind would declare a joist cut halfway through as "not a problem"- that's a big and obvious one which could lead to a partial floor collapse if left unrepaired!

    It does seem that some (or maybe much) support has been removed here, and it was not designed to have it missing. Which this inspector also missed. All too often, some well-meaning person (including some who call themselves carpenters) will remove structure, then deem it acceptable since they do not detect any immediate reaction. It may be a day or a week or a decade, but anytime you remove support, gravity will begin to work and in the end it will win.

    I'm not sure you need to do a whole-house or whole floor de-skin and inspect, but at the very least you need to positively discover through one means or another what the original structure was built like, and whether replacing missing support will be enough to get you where you want to be with it. And that repair assessment needs to include determining what's going to hold up the replaced support, right down to the foundation.

    I'm not one to recommend running off to a lawyer over things, but there are times when it's the smart thing to do. And in this case I'd be seeing mine with a copy of any paperwork associated with the so-called inspector to see if I had any legal redress available to help compensate for his poor judgement. If your mortgage bank hired this guy, take that paperwork along too. Less of a chance there but it's worth a try.

    And you need to determine what building codes (if any) are going to be applicable during and after the remediation work. I would think that you might be allowed to replace walls and supports that were once there without much hassle (so long as it's not a big enough job to require a permit and inspection), then if desired add any plumbing and electrical you want after they are in place, but if you put it in during the process you will have to build to code, and that will likely require that anything which affects or abuts the new work also be brought up to code- and that could get very extensive.

    Now don't let my words deter you or cause you worry. Old houses (and new ones too) can bring along much of the unforeseen and many headaches, but it can all be overcome and the headaches kept to a minimum if you know what you're getting into ahead of time. Learn what you've got to work with, what to do to make it work with what you want from it, plan well based on that, then move forward. A good contractor (and maybe some advice from us here) is all you really need; a structural engineer is an expense you can likely avoid unless the contractor says you need them. Not just any contractor will do- you need one who knows old houses as new ones are a whole different ball game. Check with others in the area who have had extensive work done on old houses, check with the owner(s) of structures of a similar age in the public domain near you (parks, museums, etc) and find out who they used. Owners of other old homes understand what you're facing and most love to share their experience so you'll end up with some new friends along the way too.

    There's nothing like the satisfaction of seeing your dreams come true, and moreso when you're living in that dream calling it home!

    Phil

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Posts
    133

    Default Re: Do we need a structural engineer?

    Hire a Structural Engineer FIRST so they can determine what has to be done.

    They understand cause and effect better than the average General Contractor.

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