How to level an old wood frame house


Old 03-31-11, 04:59 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: USA
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Question How to level an old wood frame house

I am trying to renovate an old farmhouse that has been left to sit for several years. Not sure when the farmhouse was built, but we know it originally had no running water (it was added later). It measures 27 feet wide by 42 feet long, has 6x6 beams sitting on brick columns, not alot of crawl space under house so not sure how they are spaced. There is a brick fireplace, that is crumbling, half way down one side. When looking at the outside of the house on both sides you can see it is sloping in the middle where the fireplace is. The slope goes all the way across the house to the other side. Inside the house there are several cracks in the walls at doorways and some windows. How do we level the house to be able to fix these things? We are doing a total renovation and figured this was the first thing that needed to be done before anything else, is this correct? Any help or advice is greatly appreciated.
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Old 03-31-11, 05:10 PM
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Welcome to the forums! You are right in tackling this project first. Due to it's age you must determine what is causing the sagging. Is it rotted sills, poorly installed pilings, no footings under the pilings, soft dirt, etc. So get ready, it calls for a "road trip" under the house. It must be inspected for the flaws. If it turns out to be more than you expected, then professional correction may be in order. Lifting a house is not for the diy nor the faint of heart.
Let us know what you find out.
Old 04-03-11, 04:55 AM
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: USA
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For at least three years that's all we did was restore 100 plus year old houses in one small area of town. We did one and so many people came to see it and liked what they saw that we ended up just going from house to house restoring them back to what they once were when new.
A few things we have found in almost every house we looked at.
The center of the house all most always is lower the the rest of the house.
The floor joist were almost always run with to long a span for there width.
The morter in the piers was always failing, and there was never wide enough footings under the piers.
Everyone of them had termite, fungus and or powder post bettle damage.
Most had a porch that was added on with no roof over it and it had been built by some DIY with no flashing and to close to the door openings, and also tight to the siding, so the siding and old 4 X 6 beam were rotted out or old flooring was shot.
Most were set to close to the ground, because there was no central heat, plumbing or electricity so why have it up in the air. Most often since the house was so low we ended up having to cut out the floor near the middle of the house to be able to get the materials under the house to lift and fix the floors.
All of them had standing water under them.
There's just no way I can tell you every little thing about how to fix all the things your going to find, or even who to call in your area to get it fixed, but I'll try to give you a few ideas on what to look for.
Most new home builders would not have a clue on how to go about fixing all the uneven floors, there used to having a perfect foundation and piers to work up from.
A real home restorer is what I'd be looking for that has done this job before.
A sagging house can not be lifted and fixed in a day. If someone was to just go under the house and start lifting it thinking there just going to stick something in to try and hold it in place like a lolly coloum the walls are all going to crack and the doorways will thrown all off, and there's going to be a big hump in the middle of the room. Every aspect of the house will have to be looked over to come up with a plan as to what order things need to be done so one thing will not effect the other.
You will soon see this job will become a Pandoras box of things that need to be fixed.
If the walls are all cracked that's the perfect time to remove the old plaster and see if the house was even insulated. If there is no insulation and the plasters off the wall you may as well get it all rewired to a min. of 100 amp service, 200 would be far better and only cost a few bucks more for the panel. Add a second panel on the second floor to make it far easer to run wiring, that way you do not have to run it allthe way back to the main panel on the first floor. Add more outlets, remove all the old wiring, To get it done the right way a new line will have to be done to the street by the power company.
Before insulating you need to add blocking at the top and bottoms of the walls to stop air flow and act as fire blocking.
Now the walls insulated you may as well install all new replacement windows.
If you just hire someone to come out and lift it enough to get the floors sort of level (most old houses will never be 100% level again) You have done nothing to make the home more livable, cheaper to heat and cool, and safer. You will just have an old drafty not up to code home that if some one wants to buy it will lower the price because it still needs a lot of work.
Old 04-10-11, 12:59 AM
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Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: USA
Posts: 2
Thank you

Thank you both for all the suggestions. So yes some of the pilings have concrete crumbing. But the only place it is sagging is where the fireplace is and it runs straight across the house to the other side. The fireplace will have to come down, the cement in it is really really bad. On the inside directly in front of the fireplace is a very thick piece of concrete and you can see it is pulling away from the house and settling down. So my question is what kind of jacks do I use to raise the house up? How do I make sure it is level? The floors are in perfect condition, the only wood that is rotting is where it is butting up to the fireplace so we know we have to replace that but will be adding on a room there so that is not a problem to replace. Also how high do you suggest I raise the house up? Thank you again for your help!
Old 04-11-11, 11:45 AM
Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Boulder, CO
Posts: 1,010
Mostly agree with Joecaption

I went thru this with my 1902 and in some areas raised it about 1-3/4". In some areas it seemed very light and easy to lift and other spot really heavy. I didn't challenge the heavy areas more than about an inch. Joe is right on that it is impossible to get it perfectly flat and level. Joists and beams have taken a set and will only lift so much before they stop bending. I had very little plaster or drywall cracking and no real problems with doors and windows. Boulder is dry so there were no water problems.

The jacks that I used were 6x6 screw jacks from Ellis Mfg. I have no interest in the company, but liked their website and everything was delivered promptly and worked very well. It was also very handy to have two 12 ton bottle jacks. I first lifted with the bottle jack next to the screw and then advanced the screw. I usually did not move anything more than about an eighth of a inch at a time and spent about 6 weeks from beginning to end.

All in all I was pretty scared at the start, but I was lucky and didn't have anything really go south. I was able to hire a retired PE before starting who gave me a lot of tips for $100. That was money well spent. Good luck.

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