How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes
Should I buy a house with sloping floors?
Monday, September 2, 2019
The realtors call it “character,” but how much character are you willing to endure? And, if you find it annoying, is it fixable and how much will that cost? First, we suggest you read our two blog posts Why do the floors slope in this old house? and How can I tell if my floors are sloping?
The built-in slope of an enclosed porch or remodeled garage is something to just live with, as noted in the “why do the floors slope” blog. But sloping floors in other rooms require determining the cause and possible cure for the problem:
1) If the floor is a concrete slab on the ground, then a floor that slopes enough to be noticeable as you walk across is indicative of a structural problem that likely goes beyond the minor inconvenience of being out-of-level. There are probably settlement or heaving cracks lurking under the carpet. Sometimes a seller will camouflage a fractured slab with new tile floor over the area. Be wary of brand-new tile floors in an old house.
2) A house that has elevated wood floors over a crawl space will be supported a perimeter stem wall of concrete block and perhaps a few interior piers down the center, or piers all around. Examination of the crawl space will tell the tale. Tilted or deteriorated piers, along with additional temporary supports here and there around the crawl space, all indicate a problem that will continue to progress until repaired. How much it will cost to repair depends partially on the height of the crawl space. In some cases, the repair crew will have to dig a trench to get enough room to work in the repair areas.
3) Floors that are out-of-level at the second floor may be telegraphing a foundation problem below or, if the first floor is level, then there is a framing problem. Removal of any interior bearing walls at the first floor could also cause this.
4) Although a noticeable bounce in the second floor as you walk across it may be a separate issue, it could also be related to the removed first floor walls or columns in a remodel to “open up the interior spaces.” Sagging floor joists also make a floor slope towards the middle of the room, and both bounce and sag are usually the result of undersized floor joists, termite damage, or joists that have been cut too deeply—especially in the center third of the span—by plumbers or electricians during a remodeling.
If the slope is more than about a half-inch in fifteen to twenty feet of floor, it should probably be evaluated by a professional to determine what’s causing it, because the defect could be gradually getting worse.
Which professional to call? Although you could go directly to a building contractor, it is usually best to start with an engineer that can diagnose the problem and prescribe a specific remedy for a contractor to follow. Because you don’t own the house yet, and probably won’t get permission from the seller to open up concealed areas, only an approximate estimate may be possible, and the estimate may make you decide to move on and look at other properties.
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