Sag­ging floors a warn­ing of big trou­ble

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - MIKE HOLMES

IRE­CEIVED an email from Jenna and Chris who are look­ing for their first home. They say they have looked at lots of houses, but none is as at­trac­tive as the very first one they saw and fell in love with. It’s per­fect for them — they think — but they sus­pect there’s a huge prob­lem.

OK, first of all, if you think for a sec­ond there might be a huge prob­lem with any house you are think­ing about buy­ing, that’s al­ready a prob­lem. Se­ri­ously. If you aren’t an ex­pe­ri­enced home­owner, or a pro­fes­sional in the build­ing trades, prob­lems — even small ones — can over­whelm you emo­tion­ally and fi­nan­cially.

In this case, they say that all floors from the out­side walls are slop­ing in to­wards the mid­dle of the house. It’s such a slope that they even feel queasy stand­ing on the floor. There’s one wall in the kitchen that isn’t flush with the counter top.

They want to make an of­fer on this house, but won­der if they should.

C’mon Jenna and Chris. If you feel nau­se­ated just stand­ing on the floor, I think you know the an­swer.

That house has a struc­tural prob­lem; I can tell that with­out even see­ing it, from the de­scrip­tion.

There are lots of clues that in­di­cate struc­tural prob­lems in a house: Floors out of level, win­dows and doors stick­ing or not clos­ing prop­erly, bouncy floors, or floors that sag in spots in a room. And not all struc­tural prob­lems are that big a deal. But if all the floors in the house slope to the mid­dle, that says some­thing more se­ri­ous to me. This is not a quick fix, and for a first­time home­owner with a limited bud­get and not much ex­pe­ri­ence with houses, I’d stay away.

There are lots of rea­sons that might cause slop­ing floors in a home.

There might be foun­da­tion is­sues or prob­lems with sink­ing or sub­si­dence. The sill beam or floor joists might be rot­ted out or have been eaten by ter­mites.

But one of the most com­mon is peo­ple cut­ting through struc­ture to run plumb- ing or wiring or duct work. Or, some­one has re­moved sup­port­ing struc­ture un­der­neath to cre­ate an open con­cept de­sign.

You’ve got to ask your­self, if you are look­ing at a re­sale home with slop­ing floors, was it ren­o­vated for sale? Did they open it up for a more spa­cious feel­ing?

Pro­fes­sion­als can cut joists to run pip­ing or wiring, but it’s got to be done prop­erly, with­out dam­ag­ing and weak­en­ing them. I sus­pect some­one might have re­moved crit­i­cal sup­port. But, with­out see­ing it and un­der­stand­ing how the house was de­signed, I can’t be sure. You need to bring in pro­fes­sion­als who can as­sess the house’s struc­ture.

Struc­tural prob­lems can be fixed. With houses, pretty much any­thing can be done; it’s just a mat­ter of skill, ex­pe­ri­ence, time and of course, money. Joists that have been cut and com­pro­mised can be re­placed or sis­tered. You can jack up the whole house to re­move and re­place a rot­ten sill beam. A crum­bling foun­da­tion can be ex­ca­vated and re­paired. But these are big, ex­pen­sive jobs. You’d bet­ter be sure the low price for your fixer-up­per makes up for the cost of the fix.

To me, the real prob­lem here is the fact that they fell in love with the first house they saw. Don’t fall in love with a house! Save your love for peo­ple and pets.

The hous­ing mar­ket is like a night­club. Ev­ery house is dressed up, look­ing its best, all flaws cov­ered up. You need to have a good wing­man be­fore you go out. The first thing Jenna and Chris need to do is have an in­spec­tion by a qual­i­fied, ex­pe­ri­ence home in­spec­tor — that’s your wing­man in the hous­ing mar­ket. I’d call a struc­tural en­gi­neer in as well.

For more in­for­ma­tion on home ren­o­va­tions, visit

Re­mov­ing sup­port­ing struc­tures un­der­neath to cre­ate an ‘open con­cept de­sign’ can lead to slop­ing floors. Be­low: The lines in

photo are a CG laser ef­fect.

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