Are the floors sinking in our house?

jeffanddoustrangeMay 5, 2008

Our circa 1890 house is completely updated. We've only been here a year, and I've noticed that some of the tiles are cracking in the living room. Also, a wooden beam set in the middle of the floor seems to have shifted up (or the tiles around it down) about 1/8." Is this normal seasonal shifting (contraction/expansion with weather changes) or should I call a contractor? Thanks in advance for any knowledge you can share! (Additionally, I recently purchased a front loading washer and dryer set. Could the vibration -it's on the same floor- be causing this?)

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Could be that the tile was set on an inadequate base and/or it could be that there is a structural issue. If you can see what the tile is laid upon, the people on the John Bridge Tile forum can tell you if it is adequate. Otherwise, I would call a structural engineer, not a contractor to check out your foundation.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 1:19PM
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Do you have a cellar under this part of your house? I'm all for using engineers (was married to one who did this kind of work), but it's a very simple matter to just go downstairs and look up and see if you have obvious issues with the support beams or joists holding the floor up.

I had grout cracking in our dining room flooring. It was a very expensive job and done by professionals. Not a quality issue with that. This area of the house did not have cellar underneath, but crawlspace. It was termites who weakened the supporting beams.

The thing with old houses is, you can save yourself some time and money, or get a better idea of whom to call for help if you learn how they are constructed to a certain extent and do a little research on your own.

Now, weight issues could be a factor on an old floor. It may not be vibration. A gallon of water weighs eight pounds. To fill it you have twenty five gallons of water......two hundred pounds of water, the weight of the clothes and the weight of the machine. That's a lot of weight.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 7:27PM
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Houses (especially old ones) do move and sometimes new renovations create problems and stresses when new service lines are run through structural members or the interior walls are moved. (The plumbing and electrical tradesmen are notorious for doing this, so one has to constantly watch them. I even have to keep a sharp eye on my husband, who certainly ought to know better, but in the heat of a project he can "forget".)

As suggested above you can take a look from below and see what's happening. It could simply be a tile installation problem, but if it's over important supporting members then it may be a structural shifting due to inadvertent changes made during renovations.

FLs (and I use them) have been reported to create vibration issues in buildings, but usually in newer houses with modern framing practices, not the typical over-building of the 19th c. It can't be ruled out without checking; and you may be able to improve the vibration issue by adjusting your machine. Just because it was installed by a trained service tech doesn't mean it was right that day, or more likely, is still in exactly the same postion as it was then. The key is equal weighting on each foot, not just simple plumb and leveling. You can ask over on the Laundry forum for help with assessing that.

One tactic is to mark and date any cracks or openings you encounter, then you can see if they are changing over time. Seasonal cracks come and go with predictability. Long-standing and unchanging cracks are also benign, but the only way to be sure is to have a mark to compare over weeks and months. I sometimes discover what I think is a a "new" crack and have a moment of panic, but when I examine it I find I marked it in exactly the same place at the same length five years ago. Panic over, it is just normal for my house.



    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 5:14PM
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OMGosh........another person who is a "marker"? I thought I was the only one to do that. LOL. We had a roof replaced because of deterioration and the day after, it rained and I found wet spots/stains on the ceiling of one of the upstairs bedrooms. Turns out the roofer had to come back and make a few adjustments to a roof vent he'd installed. I was just stuck with the stain, but immediately traced around it lightly with a pencil and watched those markings after rains for quite some time to see if they'd progressed, before redoing the paint.

I also eyeball all the typical stress points in old houses, like at the corners of doors and windows, and have noticed bare wood showing at the very bottom of painted baseboards in my hallway.

I did just what I suggested the poster to do, went downstairs to the cellar, and pulled back some bat insulation and bingo, found a small section of deteriorating wood. It's an area located immediately below the entrance of the front door, and there is a large gap between the bottom of the door, and the slab of stone of the door stoop. Likely rain over the years entering when the door was open, and just the storm/screen closed.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 6:21PM
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