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very uneven floor

Posted by hjihji (My Page) on
Tue, Mar 28, 06 at 20:16

We live in an 1840 farmhouse. The main house was totally renovated about 10 years ago (by previous owners), but the hundred year old "addition" (its an old attached barn) to the house where the kitchen is located has not been touched in at least 30 years. The floor in the kitchen is not level- in fact there might be a 4-5" height difference from the high to low points, including a few sags here and there. The addition is on a crawl space foundation. Even though theres a definite non-parallelness to the room, it seems like its been that way for a while: the windows are level to the ground, but not to the ceiling. There isnt cracked plaster on the walls. So if the house was built level and then it settled, it hasnt moved much in at least 30 years.

We have spoken to a couple of different people about fixing the problem for us. The first guy offered to level the whole addition for us, leaving us with cracked walls and ceiling plaster, windows and doors that wont opeerate any more. The second and third guys said the best thing to do is tear the whole structure down and put a new one in its place that looks like the old structure (but not crooked). The first bebuild quote came in and it shocked us- its two times what we paid for the house a couple of years ago, and way above our budget.

Today a friend at work made a suggestion for fixing the kitchen floor, without really touching the rest of the structure. This idea really intrigues me and I want peoples opinions on it. He said that after verifying that the sills are not in bad shape and arent so wide that they project into the room (under the floor), we would remove the flooring and floor boards to expose the joists. Then, using a laser level, we would raise by shimming or lower by notching the joists as needed to make the floor more level, sistering new wood to the joists if needed. Then I would put the floor boards back down with screws to make things much more stiff than they are with 100+ year old nails.

Im a fairly handy person, this idea really intrigues me without scaring me. I would get to level the floor without moving any other part of the structure. Can people give me pros and cons of this approach?

One more piece of information is that with the floor boards removed, the joists would be at about waist level when standing on the ground. So working on them should be easier than if I had to work on a ladder.

Thanks for your help and thoughts.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: very uneven floor

Sounds like a good plan to me!
I don't know where you live, but if tornados are possible in your area you might think about a small steel shelter under the floor while you're at it.

RE: very uneven floor

Well, that could be an awful lot of work. How big is the space? If you had a 5" dip in the middle of the room, and it was a gradual dip, you'd have to be sistering or notching most of your joists, I think your idea has alot of merit, but I wouldbe leaning towards a major "sistering" project, I think. Knowing alot about an 1840s floor and very little about sistering, I think that once you had ripped off the floor, you could do your laser level idea with all new joists sistered to the old ones. More money for the joists, but still a DIY kind of project.

RE: very uneven floor

We leveled the floor in our kitchen which is in the addition, on logs, over not even a crawl space. We just worked over top of the previous floor by building shims as needed to raise the whole thing to level and then adding 3/4 inch plywood on top. It has worked out well for us.

RE: very uneven floor

"do your laser level idea with all new joists sistered to the old ones."

This is the way to go. Use your laser level now, however, to see how much the floor will be raised around the room. If one lower corner of a wall is going to wind up several inches higher than the other lower corner, the wall may look distinctly odd / unsquare. The appearance of the ceiling may be an issue as well, if it is not level now. If so, you will have to decide if it is something you can live with. Better to know ahead of time.

RE: very uneven floor

If 5" out of whack and you are determined to do this, then why bother removing the floor? Just lay a new floor over the one you have with sleepers cut for the correction and nailed over the joists in the crawl space?

I would also be careful when cutting the last joist bay out (the side running with the joist, not across) as you do not want that wall to "bulge" and collapse. The floor boards help keep that wall straight (I won't say square...)

Check your ceiling too, If it is out of square with the floor and you correct the floor, it might look really silly.

RE: very uneven floor

We had a similar problem in the upstairs bathroom (5'x16') of our 1906 farmhouse-- the space had originally been an outside deck/porch, and the owners decided to close it in to make a bathroom... however, the floor was (wisely) sloped away from the house and dropped almost 4" across the 5' width of the room, and when they converted it into a half-bath, they never bothered levelling the floor. (They DID, however, carpet the heck out of it, many times over-- but that's another story!)

Needless to say, a toilet on an unlevel floor is a stupid idea... within months of us moving in, the toilet developed a leak at the floor, so we were basically forced into remodelling the whole room, which we did entirely DIY.

When we pulled up the floorboards, we discovered that the floor joists were spaced really wide apart, like 3'... so we created "ladder" inserts for each of the sections, using 2x6's-- basically sistered to each of the existing joists, plus with cross-"joists" for additonal support.

We considered the "shim" idea, too, but we decided that it would be way too difficult to get the floor uniformly level all the way across if we did that-- plus, we had to come up with a solution for the wide space between the existing joists.

It took a while, but the floor is super-solid and is now probably the most level floor in the whole house.

RE: very uneven floor

your idea is basically the same as i did . used the shims and a four ffot level when thru and before putting down floor covering i used liquid leveler to even up -- just mix it up puor it out levels itself.. drill nail sand whatever ..

RE: very uneven floor

This is Jeff, the person who started the thread.

We measured the waviness of the floor and two opposite corners have a height difference of 8.5". The floor to ceiling height is more or less the same in the two parts of the room, so I think that leveling the floor will make the whole room look worse, rather than better. Right now the windows and doors look horizontal with respect to the floor, but if I were to relevel the floor there would be a huge angle between the bottom of the windows and the floor.

So I think that either the house settled at some point (a while ago), or it was just built unlevel. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks again.

RE: very uneven floor

So the room is so far out of plumb/level/square, that fixing any one part of it just makes the defects of the rest glaringly obvious.

Sounds like the guys who saw it and suggested demolition and start over knew what they were talking about.

Best idea I have short of that solution is:

1. Level floor using your choice of methods suggested.

2. Reframe door and window openings level and plumb. [This is going to be one of those "Where does the demolition stop?" deals.]

3. Reinstall windows and door units, or new ones if necessary.

4. Install a (level) suspended ceiling.

I suspect that when you get estimates for this work, you will find they are not much less than the ones for the "demo and start over" approach.

After all this, it might wind up looking OK inside, but the exterior will still look funky. For this much work, I would probably just ante up however much more a complete rebuild would cost, and get a kitchen that looked decent inside and out.

RE: very uneven floor

All great suggestions with one flaw. You may NOT want the floor level (to the bubble). But, rather level to the room. It sounds like your upset with current condition is the inconsistent sag across the floor.

#1. Leveling the floor may leave you with little if any base board on one or more sides/corners of the room. Or depending on how you start project, you could end up needing +5" on top of the existing baseboard on one or more sides of the room.

#2. I believe the floor you are looking for is flat. One that you can place tile or some other substrate to and not get cracks or pull up. To accomplish this flat floor your co-workers and others ideas of taking up the floor will work although put away the level. Use a snap - string and measure from corner to opposite corner. Leave your string in place and tie off the other remaining corners. This will give you an idea of what your floor is doing and where shims/hewning may need to occur.

#3. Be very very cautious of anyone who wants to jack up your house. Unless the house is settling and continuing to do so at a pace faster than your going to live, my experience will advise that your looking for 20 - 40 year enjoyment. Who cares what happens after that and if you do build the house on pylons to insure the will be no settling ~ luck will have it that a tornado or some other unfortunate event will occur.

Remember ~ 'The enemy of good is better'. Get it good and enjoy!

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