Renovation costs may be excessive for home with sloping floors Inman News

Renovation costs may be excessive for home with sloping floors Inman News

Renovation costs may be excessive for home with sloping floors

Feb 28, 2012

Q: I am a real estate agent involved in the sale of a two-story house that has sloping floors and ceilings on both the ground and upper levels. Theres a full basement with low ceilings (less than 6 feet). The house was built in 1901 and the foundation has apparently settled. New drywall and painting have been done, and, except for the sloping floors, the house shows pretty well.

My question is: How does one level the floors without cracking the walls?

A: You probably dont! Any way you slice it, leveling the house is a huge undertaking with multiple unintended consequences. If all the doors and windows work and the slope of the floors isnt too terrible, we advise you to leave well enough alone. But, if the house is unserviceable as it sits, its going to take a ton of money to make it right.

If youre representing the buyer, this is probably not the deal for them. If youre representing the seller, he has a problem.

Were at a loss to understand why anyone would go to the trouble and expense of new drywall and paint knowing full well that the foundation has settled over the last 111 years and should be fixed.

Heres whats involved in leveling the house: The first order of business is to determine why the foundation settled. And, more important, whether it will continue to settle. This means employing a soils engineer and a structural engineer.

We bet the 111-year-old foundation is brick or stone. If its concrete, there is certainly no reinforcing steel (rebar) in it. In any case, its probably inadequate by modern standards and needs to be replaced.

Once you find out whats going on, the next step is to level the house. Going from top to bottom, stout beams are placed perpendicular to the floor joists, which rest on house jacks supported by wide platforms on the ground. This system allows the house to be supported during the leveling process.

House jacks are essentially heavy-duty steel screws with a plate on the top contacting the beams and a plate on the bottom resting on the ground. Several jacks and several beams are required for support during the process. The jacks are slowly and separately raised and lowered until the ground floor is level.

Renovation costs may be excessive for home with sloping floors Inman News

Presuming the second-story floor is relatively parallel to the first, this should take care of the leveling problem. Its also pretty much guaranteed to decimate the new drywall, as well as change the ways the doors and windows work.

But thats not all. If the 1901 house has original plumbing, you stand a good chance of springing several leaks, probably behind finished walls. The pipes are probably galvanized steel and well past their useful life of about 50 years. The weak link is the screw fitting where the pipes are joined. Water and electricity are turned off during the leveling process, so when the systems are turned back on, look out for the flood.

Finally, with a renovation of this scope, its likely the house will have to be brought up to current code. This means upgraded wiring, plumbing, and possible asbestos and lead remediation.

If this sounds like a sequel to the movie The Money Pit, we mean it to. Thats not to say its impossible to do. But unless your client is ready, willing and able to take on a huge do-it-yourself project at significant costs, count on multiple tens of thousands of dollars in renovation costs.

To repeat, if the slope isnt so bad and the doors and windows work, let it be. We love older homes. Sometimes it just doesnt make sense to renovate.

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