Question about settling

Joker_GirlMarch 31, 2014

So, we bought our dream house, and I am quite in love with it.

Prior to purchasing it, we had a home inspection. I thought he did not really do that great of a job, but whatever. Most of the mechanicals were not checked because it had been "winterized" (very poorly I might add...we have replaced most of the plumbing because it was not done right and we had tons of cracked water lines), but whatever, it wasn't that big of a deal I guess.

We KNOW we have to replace the porch, we had that looked at before we even bought it. Well, not replace, but repair, by a professional. They didn't clean the gutters and there is rot at the bottom of two pillars. It has to be jacked up, new footings poured, and set back down on them. We were quoted $3500, but I expect it will be more and am okay with that.

Otherwise, no issues, except he noted there are some small plaster cracks here and there, things that are just slightly "off" here and there, though nothing major, and that it shows "minor settlement typical for a house of this age". It's 140 years old.

I immediately called him wanting to know what this meant, were further problems likely, etc. He got extremely defensive with me, and said, "if you want something perfect, why don't you build a brand new house?" I was baffled and confused. I didn't say it had to be perfect, I just wanted to know if it was a big deal. I mean, I paid him $500 to go and look at it, I just kind of wondered. A little bit later, the realtor called me, and said he called her. I'm thinking, why would he do this? Evidently because I was "hard to deal with", something I've never been accused of before in my entire life. But, it's whatever, I guess. He has told her there is nothing wrong with the house, and is worried I'm trying to want to sue him. What?!?!? I just wanted to know how to fix this....if it's a big deal. I stop even attempting to deal with him. We love the house, and decide to go ahead with it.

The cracks are very small, don't appear to affect anything, and there are a total of probably 6 cracks in the plaster in various places throughout the 3200 square foot house, between just a hairline crack to the worst one being maybe 1/8" wide. They are on walls, but none on ceilings that I can see. They are all easy enough to patch, because of the size. But, I decided I would have a foundation specialist come in and look at it, to see if we put some of those jacks in the basement if it would prevent it ever happening again.

He came and looked at the house, and used a laser level thing by running it along a mortar line (it's brick) to see if it was even. They are close, but there is a variation around the entire perimeter of the house of approximately 1 1/4". To the naked eye, this is not visible. Like I said, I'd have never noticed it if not for the few little cracks. I spoke with a structural engineer about these before buying it, and he said, well they are not new, and that's what you really have to worry about is new damage...this is a very large and heavy building with brick walls from basement to likely settled a little when newly built, and that was that. Make sure you divert rainwater away from it, I think it will be just fine. It probably won't settle any more in your lifetime.

The foundation guy (who obviously wants to sell us repair work) said it is not fine. It has settled anywhere from 3/4-1 1/4", and if we patch the plaster or resheetrock, it may crack again. The only way to permanently secure the foundation is to drive helical steel piers 50 feet down into bedrock, which will take 3 days and cost $20,000 or more. Because of the age of my house, they cannot guarantee it unless I have them spray this concrete all over the basement walls to secure the piers into it (because it's possible the bricks could not take the strain and might crack or something). This will cost an additional $29,000.

I cannot afford such a hit until we sell our other house, which we own both houses free and clear. However, $50,000 is more than I had planned for pretty much everything. They said they will finance us, can do it immediately, and will give us a 5% discount if we do it immediately. They said they can try to just do the piers but if they get in there and the bricks are not good enough, they will have to do the other. I said, seriously?!? It's that bad? I mean, I would have never known if the people who had it before had fixed these cracks.....probably a one day (or one afternoon, even) job, not including painting. And he said, yes, but that would only have disguised the underlying problem....which is that my house is askew, albeit only very slightly.

Would you spend $50,000 to do foundation work that you don't even know is causing a problem? I mean, it's not like I have basement walls caving in or anything. The worst of it is these little cracks, doors that aren't perfect, etc. These are mainly on the second floor...the main floor has been remodeled somewhat in approximately 1996, so there is sheetrock in these areas that is less than 20 years old, therefore, no cracks in it. It's not even all the doors, just some of them, you have to push kind of hard.

I guess they jack the whole entire house up and put these things fifty feet in the ground. Unfortunately, if there were no problems before, this could start some....and it definitely will crack all my plaster and sheetrock.

I am very tempted to just leave it alone, but I guess that guy is going to be calling me back, and idk what to even say. He said, you better do this before you worry about that porch or doing landscaping, because then you will just have to redo all of that when you have problems and we have to come in. Plus, if there is an actual problem it will cost more.'s possible (IMO) that this is jumping the gun.

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I am no expert but have to interject a big, fat O.M.G.


2) The house has stood up for 140 years. It's likely not that fragile.

But wait for more informed thoughts. Except #1. Definitely do that.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 4:16PM
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Sounds like he wants you to buy him a new shiney Corvette/bass boat/RV. It seems very fishy - as least the way you wrote it up, does. Surely you need a second or even third opinion before deciding what to do.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 4:24PM
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That's what I'm thinking, too.

Because, think how much Bradbury and Bradbury wallpaper you can buy for $50,000.

Sometimes, I think I am "easy prey", because I'm initially quite anxious when I get hit with something new. To be honest, I was expecting them to want to go in and put a few floor jacks when they said this, I probably was just sitting there in stunned silence gawking. I just kept being like, are you sure?!?! Really?!?!?

Despite this occurrence, I'm still quite madly in love with my house. I can't wait to get rid of all, or most, of the updates. Except central heat and air. We'll keep that. Lol. I've got a closed off Butler's pantry I want inside of badly. In fact, I want to move the washer and dryer hookups inside it. Right now, they are in the master bath. This was closed off during an unfortunate kitchen remodel, which took place in 2006. I found the receipts. $20,000 they spent on custom maple cabinets, which belong in a McMansion. I hope they did not take a sledgehammer to the originals, like they do on remodeling shows. The thought of it brings me to the verge of tears. Unfortunately, I have not found them in the garage, carriage house (which is awesome btw....why did we stop making carriage houses), or basement (my basement has a round room in it lol I love it), and I'm afraid to go into the attic, because the access is at the top of the back stairs, and I can envision the bone crushing pain of falling down those. However, hubby is a brave soul and has found little of interest up there.

I have found bottles and tins that are a hundred years old, maybe more. A book from 1884 and another from 1900. The post at the bottom of my stairs, you can unscrew the top and there is a hiding place there. It's very small, maybe it was for drugs.

There are so many interesting things, and so much I dislike, someone painted the glass in one of the transom windows, and I saw in the garage, when a little square of glass was broke, there is a piece of ornate, etched glass which has been cut to replace it. I don't know where it is from, but it looks like the same pattern as the window above the double doors in the front. I try to not look at it too much, because it upsets me that someone cut up a window to patch it.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 4:44PM
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Our house is the same age as yours. We hired a structural engineer to inspect our foundation. Since neither he nor his firm do foundation work, he gave us what we felt was an unbiased opinion.

Obviously I don't know whether your house's foundation needs repair, and I'm not suggesting you should not be concerned. But I would be very, very wary of the proposal this first guy is giving you. I hope others with more experience weigh in here because I would be interested in learning more about this.

I'll also add that a number of potential contractors wanted to jack up our house, level and plumb all the walls and floors, replace the foundation, etc. They all made it seem as though the house was going to fall down any minute. Don't be rushed into doing anything this drastic.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 4:47PM
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I am a licensed building contractor in two states. I haven't visited your property and I've seen no pictures, but I can assure you your foundation is fine.

Keep a roof on it and that house will stand another 140 years without helical piers.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 4:52PM
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It's got a brand new roof! :-)

I was actually shocked it was only off by around an inch in 140 years. I expected it to be more....and I didn't think more was that big of a deal. The only thing visibly crooked is the front porch, and that's because it IS screwed up, I knew it was when we bought the house, and I was okay with it. The porch used to be where you could go out on the top of it, but the railing is gone, and even if it was there, I don't really want anyone out on it. There is a door out to it, and it is visibly "off" at the top, but they have put weatherstripping around it, and you can't get it open, because they carpeted up to it. I mean, you can, but it would tear the carpet if you forced it.

Yes, I HATE it when people are like "you gotta fix this right now! This is horrible and it's going to explode at any minute or something!"

I am afraid messing with it could create a problem where none really existed. He already pretty much said it's going to ruin all the sheetrock and plaster. I don't want someone picking up my very big, old, but reasonably structurally sound house, and knocking down a wall or something.

There are things that hubby and I won't touch with a ten foot pole. One of them is the porch. Other things include obviously foundations, roofs, and major wiring. Painting, sheet rocking (except maybe ceilings ugh), sanding,, minor wiring (we have a chandelier we are working on) etc....these things fall under the "minor things we can do" category, and don't bother us.

I just think sometimes people do not like the same things we do. The realtor thought the cabinets and pergo were selling us, they were horrible. They work, and I will live with and use them for now, and maybe for the next ten years. But I will be on the search for big, tall, soaring cabinets that match the Butler's pantry....I will have all the architectural salvage places in a 400 mile radius keeping an eye out....and if something comes up that will work, or even almost work....I will be all over it....even if they have to sit under a blanket in the garage for three years until I can collect a whole set of them and install them.

Like this guy, who came and looked....I said, will doing this screw up my windows, and he said, it might....but you probably should replace them with energy efficient ones, anyway....and I was like, no....these are the original windows....I don't WANT new ones.

That kind of defeats the purpose of having an old house. Our house we ate moving out of is a 1973 ranch style. It's the only house I've ever owned, and I've never lived in anything but a ranch. It's okay, and I have loved my house deeply, it is where we have raised a family, the first place we lived as a married couple. I have cried about leaving my house, and it is sad, but when I see my new house, it makes the hurt better. I knew as soon as I walked into it that if there was nothing bad wrong, I was going to buy it. The day I paid for my house and got the keys, I went inside and literally hugged the banister and cried. I know everyone who lived in my house, I know the people who built it, and I've visited their grave.

Things that aren't major, we WANT to do, because it is fun, relaxing, and rewarding. It is rewarding to restore our house to its glory. My house is so warm and welcoming and friendly. I don't ever want to leave it. I can't wait til I can decorate it for Christmas. I can't wait to have holiday dinners there. I can't wait to plant the garden full of old fashioned hollyhocks and bleeding hearts and four o clocks. We do not have many Italianate style houses around here, mostly Queen Anne Victorians, four squares, bungalows, and ranch styles. An Italianate, like a Second Empire, is less often seen, and is special.

Several of my friends are like, is it haunted? I said, no, or maybe they like me because I visited their graves. Maybe, we have the same taste. We do in houses.

What does loving my house hurt? It doesn't judge me. If I wanted a McMansion and a huge mortgage, that's what I would have. I have never, ever loved a house like I do this one. It took us a long time and a lot of looking, to be able to buy a pretty house without borrowing money. I want to use the money from when we sell our other house to fix the porch and do the other minor things. Yes, there are some things I want to do that aren't historically perfect. I want carpet in the living room, which is already scheduled. I want a jetted tub in the master bath, and a walk in shower to replace the $100 Home Depot special plastic corner one that's in there now. That can be where the washer and dryer was at. But most of it, I just want it to be like it was back in the day. It doesn't have to be fancy and perfect, but it has to be okay, and things that are wrong I want to fix. That's why I was so horrified about this guy looking at it, I mean don't get me wrong, I'm sure they do a good job, and he was nice and all, but his job is to sell us repair work. And I just was thinking, my GOD, we had this inspection done, and talked to an engineer....I thought we were being safe....and to hear this quote that's at least 5 times what I expected....and maybe 10 times....I have been nervous ever since. And I told hubby, maybe we should just wait, and watch a few years.....if we patch where we need to, and it never cracks again, and we go around it carefully filling in any little places where there is missing or cracked mortar....and nothing changes, we are good. And he was like, I think so, too, but we should maybe not fix the porch, then? If it would have to be torn out in the future. And I am like idk....I am the queen of screw ups believe me.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 5:58PM
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Pictures, please. :o) Does it look like this?

This post was edited by morningstarlet on Sun, Apr 6, 14 at 8:56

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 8:45AM
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Kind of yes and no. Mine is only a 2 story, but is brick. It's not as big as that house, it's about 3200 sq feet plus the basement. It's not as small as it looks in my picture, though...i think the gigantic trees make it look smaller.

Is your house an italianate or second empire? To me, they are similar styles.

Here is a link that might be useful: my house

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 1:02PM
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Joker_Girl, that link doesn't lead anywhere in my browser. Is this it? Does this work?

Click here.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 8:11PM
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Yep, that's it. I have a picture on my phone of it that's pretty good, but i can't seem to upload it....God only knows why lol.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 8:16PM
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The cracks are very small, don't appear to affect anything, and there are a total of probably 6 cracks in the plaster in various places throughout the 3200 square foot house, between just a hairline crack to the worst one being maybe 1/8" wide.


Who ya gonna believe? Your own eyes or someone with $60,000 dancing in his eyes?

Still concerned? Have a structural engineer take a look.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 12:25PM
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I never, ever trust what my own eyes and brain tell me, because im always wrong about everything. No matter what, if something that has to do with me could go wrong, it will, and it will always go wrong as spectacularly as possible.
Im not going to have anything done at present, waiting to see if there is any change, which i don't anticipate, but this is me we are talking about. I am notsuprised if the ddamn thing would suddenly explode for no reason,just because it's me.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 1:21PM
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You can draw a chalk line across the cracks and then monitor to see if the halves of the lines fail to line up in the future. That would show you if the wall is shifting. If your chalk lines continue to line up, then you have your answer.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 6:33PM
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I know this thread is a couple of months old - and I hope you don't mind my hijacking (!) - but I have a similar problem (sloping floors and some cracks in walls). Our house was built on clay, in 1913. I was told by a structural engineer that the sinking/unevenness probably happened way back in the beginning and not to be concerned. But my husband's father was a mechanical engineer and knowledgable about many things and he says he thinks we should put a jack under certain areas where the floor is too high now, compared to where it sunk (I might be forgetting details here - it's been several years since he suggested this). He says that we should then very slowly - over time - cut down the beams little by little that support the house where the floor is too high (if that makes sense!) in order to level things out. I don't know how long "very slowly over time" means. Plus I don't know if a jack/s would have to be bought or rented or what the cost of that would be. Does his idea seem reasonable? His carpenter nephew thought it might cost us around $600 though my memory's bad (could he have said $6,000?!). I know there was a six in there! We don't really talk to that nephew often and I don't want to bother him about it.

The bigger question though, is this: I'd like to finish our unfinished basement and make it a family room with extra bedroom and bathroom. My husband was concerned that if we did the basement without fixing the settled floors/walls issue - and if the house were to continue to settle - that all the basement work could have issues (walls, beams, floors, I don't know...). Do you think his concern is warranted (granted you don't know our house or its actual history, I know)?

Thank you!

Joker Girl - what did you decide to do??

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 9:52PM
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We bought's solid as a rock...and I'm still completely in love with it. The best purchase I've ever made. This ol girl will still be here long after I'm dead and gone. We are having the porch fixed, by a contractor, who is also going to repair a small amount of old termite damage, and fix where the banister is kind of loose from kids sliding on it im sure.
The walls...even most of the interior ones...are solid brick...three layers thick.
It's unbelievable.
Im quite sure I will live here the rest of my life.
And we'll enjoy restoring it one room at a time, though it's quite livable as is. Although the previous owner painted the master bedroom bright dark teal green, and that is actually starting to grow on me, and I'm doing our bedroom and master bath in kind of a wild, bright colored, gypsy-boho- Moroccan kind of theme.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 11:39PM
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" He says that we should then very slowly - over time - cut down the beams little by little that support the house where the floor is too high (if that makes sense!) in order to level things out."

Not five minutes ago in the Remodeling section I thought I'd heard the dumbest thing I'd ever heard on this forum. I was mistaken. This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard on this forum.

You do not lessen structural members, especially 140-year-old structural members that probably do not meet modern building codes in their existing condition. Low areas are jacked into place and supported, high areas are not chiseled down.

Philosophically, if you don't like some funk in your floor, you're not an old house person. Build new with TGI's made of bushes. They're stronger and stiffer than sawn lumber and on a modern foundation the house will stay level for hundreds of years.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 12:00AM
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6 plaster cracks!!! SIX!!!! CALL IN THE BATTALIONS.

Just kidding. Unless it is on a nasty hillside known for landslides, some guy's $50k "problem" is the last thing i'd be worrying about.

One time I had these guys out to clear the toilet and they told me I needed a $15k sewer line replacement. That was four years ago. What a joke.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 11:35AM
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I'm not too worried about it anymore. We bought it, and there have been no changes.

I was kind of worried about it because I have a tendency that whatever I do, it almost always screws up in the most magnificent way possible. Common sense told me it was fine, so it's not perfect, well heck, it's biggie. And to be honest a little bit of lean here and there, a crack I can patch, a creaky floorboard or loose railing....I don't care. Peeling wallpaper....I don't care. It's "character".

It kind of sits up on a hill, and we took out some bushes, and now where we did this (not close to the house, but still) is eroded a little because we need to get it rocked and plant grass in the other areas. But my guess is, as long as we keep the gutters clear, and divert water away from the foundation, it's fine. This house is a monster. The brick walls are three layers thick. walls are over a foot thick. How could it even be able to settle anymore? The dirt under it has had three layers of brick forty feet high on top of it for 150 years. And it's only off by 3/4"? That's unbelievable, IMO.

But, you know how these people are, they come look at something, and act horrified, like it's AWFUL and NOT SAFE and OH. MY. GOD. You have to fix this NOW, it's TERRIBLE...and I start thinking....well, maybe it's a big deal...I mean, that guy was measuring my kitchen floor, saying, "Oh, this is NOT's not straight..." and I'm thinking, yes, I know, that's why my freezer door always goes open so far it will hit the cupboard door if it's open and I don't hold it....but, so? My other house was over 100 years newer, and I figured out it wasn't square when I put up wainscoting and crown molding. It didn't bother me.

If it's not so you can just look at it and tell it's" off", or if things don't go sliding across the floor, it's not going to bother me. If there is a little crack I will either ignore it or patch it. In the upstairs bathroom there is more significant cracking and peeling on one wall, and rather than re-sheetrocking it, I'm thinking about taking the plaster down and treating the exposed brick, and just leaving it that way. Exposed brick is lovely.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 6:23PM
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