| What I look for in the structure of an old building: |
When I look over an old building during an initial visit, I like to start outside and take a walk around the building, I like to be sure that water is properly draining away from the foundation. I like to see a foundation that is not bulging or coming apart. If there is simply loose or missing mortar, I see no need for worry as this is merely a cosmetic problem. I also look at the roof line to see if the building has settled and if so, how much? I look for signs of water damage along the walls and I check the condition of the roof, this helps me look for possible problems inside if I happen to spot a potential problem outside. I look for water seepage anywhere on the building as water is a major enemy of a building and should always be sealed out of a building's exterior to ensure it's stability. When someone is considering an old home to restore, the first thing I recommend is stabilizing the building by sealing the exterior from wind, water, animals/insects.
Once inside a building, starting in the cellar/basement/crawlspace, I look for water seepage, settling & rot. Many people are alarmed when they notice small pin-holes in floor joists and flooring when in any basement or cellar, these holes are present in the wood of every old house I've ever been in and they pose no threat to the structure and are caused by powder post beetles. Termite damage is the thing to look for and cause for concern.
In many brick and stone homes, the ends of the floor joists deteriorate where they contact the masonry wall. This is due mainly to the constant level of moisture inside the masonry walls and thus the moisture is an enemy of the wood joist. I rectify the problem with rotted joist ends by either building a pressure treated frame wall along the edge of the foundation thus supporting the ends of the joists, or I place pressure treated wood posts under any deteriorated joist.
I look very carefully at the building's framework, I look at the support posts, girders, joists within the cellar/basement and then once I make my way to the attic, I take a good look at the rafters. I like to see sound material that isn't broken or rotted. Depending on the degree of deterioration and the position of the framing/structural member, I'll either repair, add additional support or simply replace the deteriorated member.
Within the living area of the house, I look at the cracks in the plaster walls to see if there is any noticeable and/or predictable movement within the building. Some old houses have settled tremendously, yet retain their structural integrity while others do not. Some buildings can be lifted/jacked back into position, this should only be performed by a professional who can tell where and what point to do this.
Sagging floors are quite common in old homes and pose no threat to the structural integrity of the building. Many times we've added structural support to floor framing systems to add load bearing capacity to a floor even though the floor may still be sagging, there's more strength added to it (bring in the piano).
Sometimes people are frightened by what they see in older homes simply because they are not aware of how these homes were built. By shedding some light on what the typical problems are and how to rectify them, I hope this will dispel their fear and create a better understanding and respect for the older homes in this area.
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