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mgbinspect

English Village (1927 Townhomes in Richmond, VA)

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Thought some might enjoy the architectural features of this inspection I performed yesterday. It's on the National Historic Registry - built in 1927.

(Notice the massive solid wood window lintel.)

Unfortunately, the home is solid masonry, and the joist ends all rotted away years ago, so most of the floor system is on added beams and screw jacks. (I've done four in here and they're all in pretty much the same condition.) Also, this one had a major repair to the rear wall, because the foundation had settled and rotated outward, taking the floor system with it.

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Cool!

Is the fireplace soap stone?

Is there always a relationship between solid masonry and "rotted" joist?

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Cool!

Is the fireplace soap stone?

You know, I hadn't really given it much thought, but it definitely wasn't marble, so I bet you're on target, Les.

[is there always a relationship between solid masonry and "rotted" joist?

It sure is prevalent here, Les - especially because so many flat roofs displace all the water from the entire roofing system at the rear foundation wall. So, the front joist ends usually fare well, but the back ones are typically a mess - slowly rotting away at the bottom bearing end.

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Is there always a relationship between solid masonry and "rotted" joist?

As the oak floor joists/beams in many, much, much older homes throughout Europe seem to still be doing fine, I would suspect the wood species has a lot to do with it. What did they use?

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Is there always a relationship between solid masonry and "rotted" joist?

As the oak floor joists/beams in many, much, much older homes throughout Europe seem to still be doing fine, I would suspect the wood species has a lot to do with it. What did they use?

Good question. When I get home I'll dig up a photo, by which one of you wood sages can identify the species. This crawlspace had a 14" x 18" access and about 12"- 14" joists to earth clearance, so I was restricted to one ditch that offered about 14", and I had to excavate with my long screw driver to wiggle under a gas line. (It was one of those exhale to get through spots.) That ditch got me about half way to the front. Beyond that, only those skinny as a rail can go.

Needless to say, photos are limited.

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In Richmond my guess would be Southern Yellow Pine. Nowhere near as naturally rot resistant as your English White Oak.

You're probably correct. I've heard that species mentioned often. The older woods must indeed be rot resistant, because the deterioration is typically so isolated that the joist appears notched. Only the crush of the remaining wood, evidenced in the grain of the wood, and the appearance of the other unaffected joists tip you off that it's deterioration.

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OK, here are photos from the crawlspace, which was a real challenge to navigate. I could only truly inspect about 15% of the floor framing. And, it was so tight that it was impossible to turn around, at the end of the ditch. I simply had to back out the way I came in. At any rate:

Below is one of the beams on screw jacks which lift the floor joists off of the settled foundation bearing pockets. The screw jacks, thankfully, are on poured concrete footings. (As you can see, the clearance, based upon the brick coursing, is about 10" (except in the ditch).

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Below is a good shot of a notched joist end lifted up off the settled foundation. The wood grain does suggest a species of pine, I guess. But I'll let you wood gurus make that call. (The decayed joist ends were visible, but not photographable. They were too far down the small space between foundation and the added beam to successfully photograph.)

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Below is the best shot I have to identify the wood species.

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Below is the ditch, with the dead end ahead. (love the wiring fastened to the temporary shoring... Yes!... [:-propell

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Most of the shoring is decent - a good attempt, but then there's support like this. Oh well, I suppose it's been like this for easily twenty years or so, but I am going to offer a budget for the perfectionist.

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All things considered, I told the folks that the overall condition of the place is great! Regarding the first floor framing, I said, "I guess the big question is what will happen if I don't do anything to the first floor framing? And, I think that nothing will happen - what you see is what you get. But, if you want someone to go down there and make every support perfect, budget between $5000 - $7000 which represents a lot of labor and cussing. One of the other homes here had major floor problems and it was easiest to simply pull up the flooring and plank sub-flooring to make the repairs.")

The attic did have knob and tube wiring and plaster over wood lath ceiling, so no insulation to date. I made that priority number one.

All of this is pretty normal for really old homes around here. The good news: Typically the wood on these old homes is kinda petrified - it reaches a point that fungus and wood boring insects can't deal with it any longer. Also, for some reason, most of the crawlspaces under these old homes are as dry as dust.

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The fireplace surround is probably cast stone (like the exterior accents) and has been buffed and polished.

White oak has some rot resistance - red oak is awful.

I inspect a lot of 18th and early 19th century stone buildings. The timbers/lumber are almost always oak or chestnut. A large majority of the ends of the first-floor joists have deteriorated where they pocket into the stone walls.

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The fireplace surround is probably cast stone (like the exterior accents) and has been buffed and polished.

I suspect I've seen that a number of times and didn't have a clue that's what it was. Cool.

A large majority of the ends of the first-floor joists have deteriorated where they pocket into the stone walls.

Bill, I am interested to learn how you handle this situation.

There are a lot of inspectors here that will ride, in like a cowboy, and condemn the whole floor system - calling for major invasive repairs. I'm very much opposed to that. I always warn my clients that there's about a 50/50 chance they'll deal with a buyer listening to one of those cowboy inspectors, when they sell the place. So, they should be sure to disclose the condition of the floor system, and make it an "as is" situation - non-negotiable. If you don't like it, don't waste our time with an offer - period.

Most of the cowboys insist that all affected joists be sistered from bearing point to bearing point, which I understand is the latest requirement. But, I see it as absurd overkill - especially when it's just the bearing end of the joist that is in question. Fortunately, an engineer can supersede code around here, so I tell folks to avoid the unreasonable constraints of the code by getting an engineer instead. They'll probably save a ton of money that way.

I typically suggest lifting all the joists with a properly sized steel lintel (upside down) or a steel channel, and bolt it to the foundation. Of course, that won't work with stone. As a backup, I suggest beams on columns (or piers) on proper footings just inside the foundation.

What's your typical recommendation?

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A large majority of the ends of the first-floor joists have deteriorated where they pocket into the stone walls.

Bill, I am interested to learn how you handle this situation.

There are a lot of inspectors here that will ride, in like a cowboy, and condemn the whole floor system - calling for major invasive repairs. I'm very much opposed to that. I always warn my clients that there's about a 50/50 chance they'll deal with a buyer listening to one of those cowboy inspectors, when they sell the place. So, they should be sure to disclose the condition of the floor system, and make it an "as is" situation - non-negotiable. If you don't like it, don't waste our time with an offer - period.

Most of the cowboys insist that all affected joists be sistered from bearing point to bearing point, which I understand is the latest requirement. But, I see it as absurd overkill - especially when it's just the bearing end of the joist that is in question. Fortunately, an engineer can supersede code around here, so I tell folks to avoid the unreasonable constraints of the code by getting an engineer instead. They'll probably save a ton of money that way.

I typically suggest lifting all the joists with a properly sized steel lintel (upside down) or a steel channel, and bolt it to the foundation. Of course, that won't work with stone. As a backup, I suggest beams on columns (or piers) on proper footings just inside the foundation.

What's your typical recommendation?

When I inspect the building it:

A) Needs to be repaired.

B) Has already been adequately repaired.

C) Has had a lame attempt at a repair.

In this area, almost every repair has been to simply add beams, supported by posts or columns. About 35-40% of these repairs are well executed and will support the affected joists for another century. The other 60-65% of the attempts at repairs are bits of lumber assembled to look like it might be doing something.

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A large majority of the ends of the first-floor joists have deteriorated where they pocket into the stone walls.

Bill, I am interested to learn how you handle this situation.

There are a lot of inspectors here that will ride, in like a cowboy, and condemn the whole floor system - calling for major invasive repairs. I'm very much opposed to that. I always warn my clients that there's about a 50/50 chance they'll deal with a buyer listening to one of those cowboy inspectors, when they sell the place. So, they should be sure to disclose the condition of the floor system, and make it an "as is" situation - non-negotiable. If you don't like it, don't waste our time with an offer - period.

Most of the cowboys insist that all affected joists be sistered from bearing point to bearing point, which I understand is the latest requirement. But, I see it as absurd overkill - especially when it's just the bearing end of the joist that is in question. Fortunately, an engineer can supersede code around here, so I tell folks to avoid the unreasonable constraints of the code by getting an engineer instead. They'll probably save a ton of money that way.

I typically suggest lifting all the joists with a properly sized steel lintel (upside down) or a steel channel, and bolt it to the foundation. Of course, that won't work with stone. As a backup, I suggest beams on columns (or piers) on proper footings just inside the foundation.

What's your typical recommendation?

When I inspect the building it:

A) Needs to be repaired.

B) Has already been adequately repaired.

C) Has had a lame attempt at a repair.

In this area, almost every repair has been to simply add beams, supported by posts or columns. About 35-40% of these repairs are well executed and will support the affected joists for another century. The other 60-65% of the attempts at repairs are bits of lumber assembled to look like it might be doing something.

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Do you ever make a general stab at what you feel is the best direction to go, regarding the method of repair or reinforcement? I am willing just from the standpoint of trying to preserve any historical features or appearance.

BTW, I just hung up from talking to my favorite structural engineer, who pretty much agreed with my attitude and position regarding the condition of this particular floor framing.

I'll refer them to him, if they wish an engineeer. He's a geological structural engineer - a soils guy. He explained that most of richmond is clay over what must have been swamp. The good news - settlement happens fast and when the water's squished out of the soil, it finds equalibrium.

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In Richmond my guess would be Southern Yellow Pine. Nowhere near as naturally rot resistant as your English White Oak.

You're probably correct. I've heard that species mentioned often. The older woods must indeed be rot resistant, because the deterioration is typically so isolated that the joist appears notched. Only the crush of the remaining wood, evidenced in the grain of the wood, and the appearance of the other unaffected joists tip you off that it's deterioration.

It could be Douglas Fir, from the appearance of those joists. Or Pine, certainly a softwood, of which Fir is best.

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In Richmond my guess would be Southern Yellow Pine. Nowhere near as naturally rot resistant as your English White Oak.

You're probably correct. I've heard that species mentioned often. The older woods must indeed be rot resistant, because the deterioration is typically so isolated that the joist appears notched. Only the crush of the remaining wood, evidenced in the grain of the wood, and the appearance of the other unaffected joists tip you off that it's deterioration.

It could be Douglas Fir, from the appearance of those joists. Or Pine, certainly a softwood, of which Fir is best.

That's what I think too, John. I can't identify the exact species, but that certainly appears to be a fairly clear grained softwood.

I have seen some oak joists and studs here, and it's pretty hard to miss (typically rough-cut).

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Do you ever make a general stab at what you feel is the best direction to go, regarding the method of repair or reinforcement?

I frequently tell folks exactly how I think something should be repaired. I also warn them of what others will try to sell them.

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Do you ever make a general stab at what you feel is the best direction to go, regarding the method of repair or reinforcement?

I frequently tell folks exactly how I think something should be repaired. I also warn them of what others will try to sell them.

Good. We're in the same camp. Sometimes leaving it to the alleged specialist is a death sentnce.

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Do you ever make a general stab at what you feel is the best direction to go, regarding the method of repair or reinforcement?

I frequently tell folks exactly how I think something should be repaired. I also warn them of what others will try to sell them.

That is very good procedure BK.. I too tell them 'what others might say'.. That goes for a lot of things like chimneys and so forth.. If you give them the heads-ups, you've provided them a major service..

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