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do we need a structural engineer?

Posted by homebody_2007 (My Page) on
Thu, Jul 17, 08 at 12:28

Hi all,

We bought a 100 yr old craftsman style house. The floors are sloping & some of the wood floor is crowning, as well as some plaster cracks.

We are first time homeowners, & while we know we need to address the structural issues with the house, we are looking for advice from someone locally to best decide how to deal with this issue (on a tight budget).

I had thought of hiring a structural engineer to assess what needs to be done (jacks in basement etc) and how to approach it, and whether the value of the house warrants it. The only residential engineer I could find charges $500--are there other ways to make this decision? Or other people -- like experienced handymen, or inspectors--that might give us advice less expensively?

Thanks for any ideas!

Homebody2007


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: do we need a structural engineer?

An inspector certainly should have been called in before you put your money down. I can't imagine buying a house that old without using one (providing of course that they come with lots of great references :-). You may not need an engineer if you can find the right inspector, but I certainly wouldn't use a private contractor (or one from a big co.) because they have personal agendas to say the least.


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RE: do we need a structural engineer?

I don't think you necessarily need a structural engineer. However, you DO need someone who is very very familiar with old house...ie an inspector who specializes in old homes. Your house has settled. It's probably nothing more than that. You can jack it up, but the jacking has to be done very slowly and specifically. I'd post this question on the general forums at oldhouseweb.com. You'll find lots of house jacking folks out there.

In the meantime, what part of the US are you in?


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RE: do we need a structural engineer?

Should have been more clear before - I meant don't use contractors to diagnose the house (as they will find all kinds of things that 'need' fixing), but of course you'll need to to use them to DO any fixes that someone impartial does suggest.


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RE: do we need a structural engineer?

Thanks for the responses! I'll look for an inspector that specializes in old homes, great idea! My area-Lebanon, Ohio--is an historic town & may have inspectors like that.

We did have the house inspected before we bought it--the inspector thought everything was either okay or could be fixed (we got the house for under $100,000, so we knew it had some issues & the price reflected that). Of course, we overestimated our ability & energy & time to do all the work ourselves, and reality has set in ;-)

I guess home inspectors in general is another whole topic--I've spoken to some people around here that think many or most of them aren't terribly good or have ethical problems. To be fair, our guy did point out some things needing work, but missed some things as well.

That being said, we bought this place very inexpensively, it's in a nice location and we really enjoy it, so we're happy even with the problems we have--it'll take a long while to really work on the house, but I do want to address the critical issues like sagging so no further damage occurs.

thanks again!


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RE: do we need a structural engineer?

I know Lebanon, my step-son used to live there and he had an old house too. It's a lovely community, proud of their old homes, and if you got one at that price, you did well.

This isn't a terribly cosmopolitan community and I'm not saying that in a disparaging way. It's a farming community, and the quintessential All American 'small town'. Sagging floors and cracking plaster are very typical problems with old homes in Ohio because of our geology.

Just keep in mind that renovating an old home doesn't have to be an overnight project. It usually isn't. One lives with some of the renovation for years/decades. All the time, you find yourself learning as you go along.

Our floor joist situation took us twenty some years to address, and that was as we were able to afford to address it, as we pay cash as we go along and danged glad to do it that way. I would not be afraid at all to call in various GCs to give estimates on the floor situation. Most of the time it's done for nothing. The replies and suggested fixes will go all the way from obvious patch up jobs to total tear up and replacements. But, you will get year's of experience somewhere hidden in all the info they throw at you. We were able to do some floor jacking at first and eventually ended up with joist replacement. Buying the time to do that allowed us to get all the work we needed done on a room renovation at the same time, and that translates into less disruption and a lower dollar figure.

Hang in there and ask lots of questions and ask around your community for recommendations for any work you need done. You'll find in an area like that reputations get around.


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RE: do we need a structural engineer?

Homebody, I wouldn't call sagging "critical". Remember, your house is 100 yrs old and the floors have been crowned for some time...and the house hasn't fallen over yet! Chances are, in it's current condition (if you take care of all general maintenance), the house will outlast us all!

I agree with everything calliope said!


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RE: do we need a structural engineer?

That is truly some great information, and a load off my mind, thanks!

This house has been lived in by various owners & let go pretty badly--some termite damage, for instance (we had a treament done)--and some pretty bad butchering in the joist arena--someone renovated the bathroom upstairs & nearly cut some joists in half, with large jagged holes for the plumbing, and one of our first jobs was to scab the joists so the upstairs stayed upstairs;-)

I've always been a renter, and it's pretty daunting to try to figure out what is critical, and what can wait until the money is saved for work--I'm with you on that, Calliope, we're weaning off the credit cards.

So I'll breathe a bit easier, and head over to the general forums and learn about house jacking.

That's interesting that you're familiar with Lebanon--it really is a great place to live.

I'm going to hang around the gardenweb a lot more, I'm learning some great things here!


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RE: do we need a structural engineer?

Homebody....do you have a basement or crawl space. I'm assuming you have a basement, as most houses that age do. When you said you had a termite treatment, that sent up some red flags. Believe it or not, we never had a termite problem until we put in central heat and my dh decided that the cellar should be heated as well to guard against freezing pipes in winter. As soon as we did, termite activity started, and we got powder post beetles.

Because he didn't address it as soon as it started (I tried to tell him! LOL) we had to replace the joists under three rooms. Before that, it was merely sinking from age, I'd suspect. So, inspect any joists and beams where you have had that damage. There is a big difference between age and ground shifting floor sinkage and termite damage. I honestly believe that we may have taken a sudden trip to the cellar in two of those areas. The beams had no integrity at all. Those cannot be jacked!


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RE: do we need a structural engineer?

Yes, we do have a full basement. The termite damage all appeared to be old, with no new activity. It's all on the side of the house that is "moister". (More shade & also near sump pump in basement.)

They destroyed some joists on one corner that resulted in a hole in the pantry floor, which we repaired (joists & all) before buying the house (had to because of the appraisal for the bank loan)--it was a small area there, and they got into the floor boards (old yellow pine) in another area.

I'll keep a close eye out for new damage, though the Termidor treatment is supposed to excellent--but there are carpenter ants & powder post beetles to think about.

It appears someone added an "extension" on to the kitchen a long while ago (must've been a very small house to start with!), and that floor slopes quite a bit over the old coal bin. I'm not sure if the slope is due to the construction or what, but it bears a closer look, thanks for the suggestions.

I've got a dehumidifier in the basement now, lowering the humidity has got to help with the insect activity!


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RE: do we need a structural engineer?

I'm grinning here because I have lived in many old houses. In each case where the kitchen had a lot of slope, it was found out that the kitchen had been at one time a back porch. The slope was purposeful to allow rainwater to drain and not rot the boards.

Yes, the houses had kitchens before the back porch was enclosed, but it allowed a house expansion without the expense of putting up a new room. The roof line was usually at a different level, sort of like a tilt out in a mobile home.


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