Author Topic: Buying a house with sloping floors  (Read 68461 times)

PloddingInsight

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Buying a house with sloping floors
« on: September 10, 2014, 11:08:32 AM »
I'll try to keep this short.  I have a contract to buy a house that has a bit of sloping in the second floor.  It's a colonial style house that is 80-100 years old.  The home inspector said it's probably due to inadequate girders beneath the joists in the basement, which is straightforward to mitigate.  But he (and the carpenter, and the father-in-law, and google) say get a structural engineer to determine the cause of the sloping, just to be sure.  The structural engineer says he would have to open the ceiling up to do his analysis.  The homeowner is not going to go for that.

I have a LOT of reasons why I would want to just drop this and pick it up again after we close.  Am I being foolish?  Arguments in favor of letting it drop include:

  • It's normal for an old house to have some sloping and the sloping isn't drastic.  No cracked walls or other signs of ongoing settling.
  • I'm getting a great deal on this house after a long home search, and I can afford a moderate repair.  Even a major repair wouldn't bankrupt us.
  • We'll be spending money on a hotel room until we close (or give up and get a rental house.)
  • This house is more valuable to us than other people because it's the architectural style we want, in the exact location we want, and most houses in that area are not that style.


I just can't stop worrying about the "Winner's Curse".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winner's_curse

Full disclosure:  I'm the kind of person that would be worrying about the Winner's Curse no matter what house I am buying.

Primm

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2014, 11:39:24 AM »
So the ground floor is level but the next floor up isn't, is that right?

Nope, still wouldn't buy it. Good luck!

PloddingInsight

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2014, 01:22:37 PM »
So the ground floor is level but the next floor up isn't, is that right?

Nope, still wouldn't buy it. Good luck!

The first floor has a very slight slope that you wouldn't notice unless you are looking for it.  I have heard from several sources that inadequate support in the basement can result in increasing slopes as you go up, but of course there's always the possibility of a problem between the 1st and 2nd floor.

unpolloloco

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2014, 02:22:04 PM »
Can you quantify the amount of sloping you're looking at?  ALL homes have sloping floors (just most aren't noticeable).  Some are due to structural issues.  Some are due to foundations that settled at some point and are finished settling (or not!). Some are just due to bad leveling when the home was constructed!

Gone Fishing

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2014, 03:11:43 PM »
Try to get a feel for the cost of a worst case senario and see if it is something you can stomach.  Also find out if the repairs will open you up lead paint and/or asbestos remediation if any is found.  If so, get a top end estimate on this work as well. 

Are you buying in an area where the lots are worth more than the houses, and people are tearing down and rebuilding?  If so, this may help justify the risk, as it would give you somewhat of an out if things are that bad.

I'm almost inclined to say that if it has stood for 100 years, and there is no water or termite damage, then it is probably okay.  But I am not buying it...

NinetyFour

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2014, 04:06:29 PM »

I'm almost inclined to say ...


Hahahaha!

jawisco

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2014, 06:39:25 PM »
Can you live with the floors as they are?  If you can, I wouldn't worry about it too much given what you said about style of house, location, etc. 

You can usually stabilize a structure fairly easily - it can get harder and more expensive to reverse the slope if that is your intention.

PloddingInsight

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #7 on: September 11, 2014, 04:58:54 AM »
Thanks everyone for their input.

Quote
Can you quantify the amount of sloping you're looking at?

It's probably an inch or 3/4 inch drop over a couple of feet, and then it levels out after that.  It's highest near the chimney, slopes down from there, and then is level near the outside walls of the house.  One support girder in the basement goes into the chimney.  Where it enters, it has been raised up with a shim (some thin wood inserted under the girder.)  I'm developing an opinion that it was too low in that area, so someone corrected the problem, but they over-corrected.

Quote
Try to get a feel for the cost of a worst case senario and see if it is something you can stomach.

I could come up with the cash, but I'd be very, very unhappy about it.

Quote
I'm almost inclined to say that if it has stood for 100 years, and there is no water or termite damage, then it is probably okay.

Thanks I'm also sloping in this direction.  I'm going to talk it over with my wife's Godfather tonight.  He's a real estate developer and has some experience with older homes as well.

Quote
Can you live with the floors as they are?

Absolutely.  My only concern is that it may be evidence of a worsening problem.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2014, 05:54:18 AM by PloddingInsight »

Jack

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #8 on: September 11, 2014, 10:08:44 AM »
When you say the floors are sloping, do you mean they're sagging in the middle of the span (between supporting walls), or do you mean that their elevation is different at one wall than at the opposite wall?

In other words, the difference between this:

             sag here
                v
-----------------------------------
^                                 ^


and this:


                          sag here
                                  v
-----------------------------------
^                                 ^


The former tends to be caused by inadequate joists or girders. The latter tends to be caused by other things, such as foundation issues. I'd be much more worried about the latter.

(Note: I am an engineer, but I am not your engineer and this is not engineering advice.)

former player

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #9 on: September 11, 2014, 11:38:58 AM »
In 1997 I bought a Victorian terraced house which has a sloping first floor in the return at the back (ie the extra bit where the kitchen and bathroom live).  All the houses in a row of 4 have the same problem: I suspect a faulty sewer at some point, but they are also on London clay, so who knows.  Haven't had any problems with it, and there has been no new movement.  On the other hand, because there is old subsidence I am paying more in insurance (which is tax deductible because it is rented out), and I would expect any prospective purchaser to take a good hard look at it and get it fully surveyed.

It was a good place to live while I was there, rents out instantly now I am not, and according to a neighbour's recent sale could now be worth 5 times what I paid for it.  No regrets.

usmarine1975

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #10 on: September 11, 2014, 12:24:05 PM »
Your question can have a multitude of answers.

I have an older home built in the 1910 time frame, and it has sloping floors as well.  I will live with it. 

Your foundation should be your main concern. 
Adequate joist should be the next concern. 
And did someone cut something they shouldn't have should be the next.

For me I have 3 pillars in the basement that for whatever reason do not seem to have stayed with the rest of the foundation.  Those 3 pillars actually keep the floor above them higher then the rest of the floor.

They used Balloon framing techniques back then.  We now use platform framing.  They also used rough cut lumber.  And by rough cut I mean none of it is nominal like today.  Even today's framing members can vary by a 1/4 inch give or take.  But rough lumber was not near as accurate as today. 

The reality is most likely fixing the slope is going to cost more than you want to spend, so if you can't live with it I don't know that I would move forward.  If your one joist was an over correction it might actually be cheaper but I wouldn't count on it.

Older homes have a charm that goes with them and sloping floors is one of them.  I once had to hang a door out of plumb because the framers framed the walls 2 inches out of plumb.  I was a carpenter for 15 years.

I am not an engineer so my comments should not be taken as structural engineering advice.  I have not seen your building and can only go off of the 6 buildings that I own all of which are more then 50 years old.

hoodedfalcon

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #11 on: September 11, 2014, 12:44:16 PM »
I have a 100+ year old house with some slope. At it's worst point there is a 1 inch change over a few feet (in the bathroom). The cause is old water and termite damage to a large joist under the house right under the bathroom. No active termite or water damage, so I live with it, though it does get old at times be feel like you are being catapulted into the shower. :)

Hell, the back of my house has multiple roof lines, none which go straight across anymore. It doesn't bother me. I have a saltbox style house and there is a granite quarry that actively uses dynamite to blast into the earth less than a mile from my house 5 days a week. It feels like an earthquake. If the house can handle that without falling down, I think I am okay. These old houses are tough.

Gone Fishing

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2014, 08:13:30 AM »
Doesn't help, but the thread reminded me of when I was a kid, my uncle bought a 90 year old house with floors so sloped, if you set a ball down, it would roll across the floor with quite a bit of speed.  He jacked up the foundation to level it out some, quarter turn of the screw jack per day if I remember correctly.  I wasn't there for it, but he said the house really did a lot of creaking and popping during the process, especially when my cousins ran through the house.  Some of the plaster popped off the walls with quite a bit of vigor.

usmarine1975

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #13 on: September 16, 2014, 08:26:34 AM »
Sounds like your Uncle tried to go to fast.  My understanding is that it takes quite a bit of time to do what he was trying to do.  You are essentially changing the structure back to what it was but have to force other parts of the home to comply to do so.  Before doing that I might consider looking at re framing the floors but again that is a process as well that has many other things that go with it.  In my own home it sits where it sits and has been doing so for 100+years and will do so as long as I own it and it's standing.

mooreprop

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #14 on: September 19, 2014, 12:41:00 PM »
I have owned 2 houses that were built during the mid- 1800's and both had similar floor sloping problems.  Husband installed jacks under the problem areas under the house to prevent any further movement, but left well enough alone and did not try to make things level as that would have caused more problems with plaster, etc. than we wanted to deal with.  My advice is to support what is there and then live with it the way it is.  You might as well build a new house as try to fix one that age.  It would be easier:)  Watch the movie "The Money Pit" before you remove the ceiling and try to fix the problem.

Spork

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #15 on: September 19, 2014, 12:48:41 PM »
Sounds like your Uncle tried to go to fast.  My understanding is that it takes quite a bit of time to do what he was trying to do.  You are essentially changing the structure back to what it was but have to force other parts of the home to comply to do so.  Before doing that I might consider looking at re framing the floors but again that is a process as well that has many other things that go with it.  In my own home it sits where it sits and has been doing so for 100+years and will do so as long as I own it and it's standing.

Maybe it's apples to oranges -- a slab vs a pier and beam --  but when they fix a slab they drive a number of piers in with a hydraulic driver.  It moves A LOT in seconds.   Once all the piers are in, they will do one pump on a bottle jack on each pier until it's where they want it.  Aside from the awful prep work of digging holes in your living room floors... the actual fix happens in minutes.

RunningWithScissors

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #16 on: September 25, 2014, 11:23:21 AM »
I think all the possible options and fixes have already been covered, but here's my $0.02 (insert disclaimer here regarding nor-professional advice):

If the slope is in the middle of the house, and not at the perimeter you likely have a good foundation but with issues with the intermediate supports for beams/joists.  The shim at the column in the basement sounds like the likely suspect - installing an adjustable height telepost might help, assuming it's supported by a concrete pad under it so it doesn't just drill down through the basement floor instead of cranking up the upper floor joist.

I've seen the aftermath of many DIY renovations where previous owners cut through joists to allow installation of bathtub or toilet drains in upper floor bathrooms, or cut out support headers around stairs to 'create more headroom'.  The engineer is correct in noting that this can't be determined unless the ceilings are opened up.  You might be able to figure it out with minor 'exploratory demolition', presumably once you're the owner. 

If the walls aren't showing extensive cracking and otherwise the house looks and feels sound, you might have a case where the central point load support settled soon after construction, but hasn't moved since.

Let us know what you decide to do!

jmoney

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Re: Buying a house with sloping floors
« Reply #17 on: September 25, 2014, 11:18:54 PM »
I have had very good luck with foundation and structural issues. The job itself is scary, but the raw materials are very cheap. The most common things you would need at 20 ton bottle jacks and 2x8 or 2x10 lumber depending on your joists. Maybe $15 a board for a half dozen boards? Lumber is cheap. Foundation walls cost more but you seem lucky in that its just the framing that needs work.

Without looking at it nobody can say whats wrong. Are there bathrooms nearby where joists could have been cut for plumbing? Are the gutters clogged and does water slope to the foundation?

Is this a personal residence or a rental? I have a couple rentals with some minor foundation issues. I've dealt with them by stabilization to prevent the issues from getting worse until its time to sell when I will fix them better. In one case it was a bowed in concrete block wall that I stabilized with a sump pump and two french drains on the outside. The second was termite damage where I replace and sistered joists and sill plates.

I've never had a structural engineer come out. I've just taken off the drywall and the problem was obvious. I'm also an engineer myself though and have some framing experience.