Dear PoPville – Should We Call a Structural Engineer? Any Recommendations for One?

Photo by PoPville flickr user ep_jhu

Dear PoPville,

A few years ago we bought a hundred year old house in Petworth. We did a bunch of renovations and have noticed that the floor in the upstairs hallway slopes a noticeable amount.

Also, we refinished the subfloor in our living room thinking it would be awesome (it aesthetically pleasing, but is not awesome tactilely) and noticed that there is almost a bubble or raised mound in one area of the floor. It is pretty significant and is close in proximity to the slope in the floor above it.

We are going to put in a new floor on the main level because we need to cover the subfloor up and are concerned that we might have some structural issues.

We want to get these checked out and taken care of, if necessary, before we put in the new floor.

There are also some cracks in the plaster walls that have been plastered over many times. Our home inspector and contractor were both unconcerned, but we want to make sure that it isn’t an issue.

Any suggestions on structural engineers or other professionals we can call? Or how much that might cost?

19 Comment

  • I have a house in Petworth that I recently renovated. When I took down old walls inside during demolition, I noticed that in a few key areas bricks were completely loose due to the last area earthquake we encountered (and probably due to several others over the years). Settlement of the house foundation over time has also lead to slightly crooked walls as well. The house dimensions will never be perfect, citing that the house has been in place for over 100 years, but I found it important to look behind cracking walls to get peace of mind. Brick pointing, roof bracing, and proper structural evaluations are essential to preventing problems in the future.

  • Could be the ground settling below the house… Call an engineer and an architect before putting in your floors

  • pablo .raw

    If you are concerned you should definitely look for an engineer, remember that new cracks have sharp edges and older cracks have rounded edges and your main concern should be that rain water should be draining away from the house. Any downspout dumping water on the ground next to the house could be a cause for settling.

  • have you done renovations on the sleeping porch? (I assume you have one.) I don’t think there is much that holds those up structurally, so I might be concerned.

    • OP here-

      Yes, we fully rebuilt the sleeping porch because it had not been enclosed properly and was not structurally sound.

      • Can we borrow your architectural drawings? Whom did you hire? What did you spend?

        • OP here-We didn’t do architectural drawings because our contractor didn’t think that we needed to. The cost to rebuild the 3 levels was 20-30K.

      • I’m curious who you used for your sleeping porch renovation. We are in the process of having our drawings done, with the next step of seeking contractors. Also with a cost of 20-30k for three levels, that seems reasonable as we’re looking to complete only one level. Thanks in advanced!

  • If you end up needing to repoint some brick walls, which is sounds like you may, I had great luck recently with Precision Construction (Stanley is the owner/operator). They did one of my exterior walls. It was about half the price I was quoted by one of the fancy pants brick companies of the area.

  • We used Kamran Ohi to evaluate a sagging area of our floor (the tile was cracking in the middle of the tiles, the floor bounced, and it appeared to be getting worse–so we knew there was a structural problem, but really just wanted professional advice for the solution). We had a good experience and I would use him again. He explained why the problem was occurring and told us how to get it fixed (even gave us hand drawings–but it wasn’t super complicated). I think he charges $125 per hour. His number is 703.401.5682.

    • I have to disagree with the rec for Kamran. Suffice it to say I was unimpressed when I had him come out after the earthquake to inspect some cracks in my house.

      It felt like he was extremely burdened to be there doing the work, and it was also very expensive for what we got. I’m not going to get into why I thought he was like this but it was hard to work with him. He also wasn’t clear in what he was describing.

      I wasn’t impressed at all, and I am pretty easygoing with the folks I have come out to work on my place. Just my two cents.

      • We are considering hiring Kamran for our project. If you wouldn’t mind calling me to tell me what you weren’t happy with?

        Greg (415-317-3272)

  • I strongly recommend you hire an engineer. A few years ago I bought a house built in 1907 that had a sloping/dipping second floor. I later learned when renovating that the sloping floor was related to renovations that were done in the 1970s, when the width of the stairs was increased and, when they widened the opening between the first and second floors, they poorly re-attached the floor joists and those joists were barely hanging on by the time I pulled down my sheetrock ceiling on the first floor. The fix was pretty easy–jacking up the joists, doubling them up (sistering) and then properly attaching them with joist hangers to the header along the stairway opening. At any rate, you should definitely get more information regarding why the floor is sloping, to determine whether there are any safety issues that need to be addressed before you invest in new materials.

    • This is a knowledgable post. It’s worth getting checked out, if only for your peace of mind.

      If it’s any help, most of these types of issues are due to broken joists that can be fixed with sistering. It’s rare that something would be so severe as to truly jeopardize the structural integrity of the house, especially if it has its original floorplan. If there have been significant renovations to the house, shoddy work (as encountered by purplepalace) might be a greater concern.

    • Agree. I just had some joists rebuilt/sistered on my second floor. The bad joists were causing the floor and stairs to slope. It wasnt that big of a deal to fix, and I feel so much better about the hardwood flooring I laid on top of the new subfloor.

  • It depends on how familiar you are with the renovations, if there are any.

    When looking for a house a few years back, I toured many where the foundation had “settled”. Fortunately, i’m thorough when I go look at a house and in one instance I found a house where renovators had just cut, without supporting, 2 floor joists.

    However, settling is a real thing and its relatively harmless. Sometimes its not even related to the foundation settling, but instead the wood and stuff moving over time.

    One thing I wouldnt worry about are plaster cracks that keep coming back. Odds are very good that whoever did the plasterwork just sucks at it. You have to tape the cracks or they’ll come back in a very short period of time.

    My house is solid, but my floors are far from flat. Some areas are crowned, others are slanted. I would be more concerned about concave areas in the middle of the house. That kind of sag would indicate compromised structural pieces, but not necessarily foundation problems. Slight slants and crowns arent as big of a problem. Dips in the middle could be an issue…

    Can you see anything useful in the basement?

    Are you aware of any moisture problems or termites? How extensively was it renovated? Are you well aware of the details of that renovation?

    • OP here-

      -When we bought the house it had been illegally divided into 3 apartments. In the main part of the house, we only took down the nonstructural walls that they had put up to create a bedroom and living room. We also did a little bit of that upstairs to, but only to make a closet bigger.

      -We did take down the walls between the sleeping porches on both the first and second floor to expand the kitchen and a bedroom. When we did this, we found that the sleeping porch had been enclosed poorly and was separating from the house. We chose to knock the whole thing down and rebuild it. The cracks in the plaster predate that work, and were taped over when they were repaired.

      -Our neighbor’s house caught on fire a few years back and damaged the house on the other side of them. To our knowledge, it did no damage to our house.

      -The basement used to flood because our neighbor’s (same people own houses on both sides of us-yay!) storm water poured directly into our front yard. They were not fully cooperative, so we got a sump pump and we have not had a problem in the past 3 years. In addition we regraded the front yard. The floor issues are near the middle and the back of the house.

      -Our basement is fully finished so we can see nothing useful there.

      -It is more of a convex area in the first floor as opposed to a concave area, and it is not in the middle of the room. However, there is a sag in the ceiling of the first floor, but on the other side of the house from the floor issues.

      I hope this information helps!

      And thanks to everyone!

  • My house has similar issues. They were apparent when we bought the house so we had them checked out by a structural engineer (we used a local firm called geofreeze). The report indicated settling along the front of the house and remediation would include supporting the original piers with some additional support. This would involve substantial digging (from the inside of the house). Bottom line was that structurally the building was sound and not likely to continue sinking or cause any issues that were dangerous. He said if we were fine with sloping floors on the second floor and some cracking in the plaster (and slight cracking in the mortar between the bricks on the exterior – visible from the street if you know where to look) then we didn’t need to do anything. We haven’t had any work done, but at some point I want to rebuild the subfloors to level out of floor and ensure that the issue is solved and won’t come back undoing an expensive rebuilt of the floors. I’d love to hear what you come up with, as it sounds like we’re dealing with similar issues.

  • Call FMC Associates:
    Fadil Adelfatah is a great engineer, very experienced.

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