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Pier and Post Foundation


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Inspected a 120-year-old house and found the first pier-and-post foundation I've ever inspected and feel like I'm out of my element in describing it. The work seemed far more recent than the house, and included a vapor barrier and insulation. Skirting was some type of fiberboard.

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This photo shows typical pier and shimming.

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This shows more, including more piers way in the background.

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More.

I know that I am not giving you much to go on, but I am hoping some of you will give this relative newly some guidance on what you would say about this system, and what else I might look at in inspecting it, as the house is walking distance from my own and I know the owner, so I could go back.

As always, thanks for any help you can offer.

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I see you need a camera with a flash or at least something better than what you got there, a tablet?

I see the main sewer stack has a handy cleanout. Just follow your nose to the open Y connector.

Did you crawl to all four corners? I would be checking for termite tubes way in the back and all the piers.

I don't see anything to be alarmed about.

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I have no idea what your question is.

Marc

I guess that is the crux of the matter: my unfamiliarity leaves me with so many questions I do not know where to begin.

Maybe this: "What do you look at most closely on such a foundation?"

I feel like I need to go back and examine it again, and I am hoping for some guidance on what others look for and recommend when they inspect a foundation of this type.

Thanks for your forbearance.

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I see you need a camera with a flash or at least something better than what you got there, a tablet?

I see the main sewer stack has a handy cleanout. Just follow your nose to the open Y connector.

Did you crawl to all four corners? I would be checking for termite tubes way in the back and all the piers.

I don't see anything to be alarmed about.

It has a flash, but it is very dark under there, and very tight.

I was unable to get to all four corners, due to very tight spacing under many of the pipes and beams.

I'll be going back in tomorrow and will try harder to get to all four. Any other tips on what to look for?

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Look to see if the floors are level; whether any beam spans seem excessive; whether the beams have good bearing and are plumb at the piers; look to see if the piers are sitting on dirt or footings; look for cracks or decay or termite damage at the beams.

I don't see this type of construction much, but like most things, try to figure out how it should work and then look closely to see whether it works and if not why.

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Maybe it's me. Let's start with definitions: What is a 'pier-and-post' foundation?

Marc

Or maybe it's me?

There are pier blocks supporting beams, but no foundation walls or footings (at least that I could find). Nailed-on skirting encloses the crawlspace.

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Look to see if the floors are level; whether any beam spans seem excessive; whether the beams have good bearing and are plumb at the piers; look to see if the piers are sitting on dirt or footings; look for cracks or decay or termite damage at the beams.

I don't see this type of construction much, but like most things, try to figure out how it should work and then look closely to see whether it works and if not why.

Thank-you. I will check all of those things on my second visit tomorrow.

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Here are the bullet points that I always try to hit:

* Describe what it is and make sure that they understand that there's no perimeter concrete footing or foundation.

* It's an obsolete foundation system that was, generally, abandoned 100 years ago.

* It's going to perform poorly during an earthquake, even when compared to other homes of the same age that have perimeter foundations.

* Many lenders won't lone on a house with this kind of foundation.

If there's not physically enough room for me to get everywhere, I recommend excavating the crawlspace to make enough room, and calling for a re-inspection. These things *always* have damage in the areas that I can't get to.

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It was cobbled together at its inception and during any and all subsequent repairs or alterations. Trying to sound professionally technical about it would almost make one sound like a boob.

There's no perimeter foundation. I would bet my teeth there's termite or pest damage in areas I can't see or get to. The entire structure has settled and will continue to do so. No effective repair can be made without lifting up the house to put a foundation under it whereupon you'll find a multitude of other problems. At that point, one must consider the entire package and decide if it's even worth it.

Lord knows what mess of problems are in the electro-mechanical systems.

If there's historical value in some form, conservation is noble and possibly warranted. If there's no historical or cultural value, it's a fool's dream house.

The most effective approach is probably living with it and understanding it's a marginally functional piece of crap. I look at a lot of 110+ year old pieces of crap that hold up fine. If someone doesn't care about mice, cold floors, all the other stuff one gets with a piece of crap, and the price is right, then maybe it's ok for the individual that wants it.

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Maybe it's me. Let's start with definitions: What is a 'pier-and-post' foundation?

Marc

Or maybe it's me?

There are pier blocks supporting beams, but no foundation walls or footings (at least that I could find). Nailed-on skirting encloses the crawlspace.

I see foundation walls on less than 1 pier home out of 20 here, though they usually always have a solid pad beneath every pier.

Check for differential settlement or listing of the piers, otherwise it's fine.

Marc

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Pier and beam is very common here on older houses.

Also short crawls.

If you can't physically get around the crawl, go to the middle of each room and jump up and down to check the sturdiness of the framing. Looks like a termite lunchbox to me, and somehow those piers do not look original to me.

Here piers that old would just be stacks of field stone with no mortar.

Further south where it never freezes piers were often made of cypress blocks cut in solid pentagon shapes with the fifth point straight up.

If the curtain walls at perimeter are made of wood they will serve as termite highways.

If you cannot crawl all the way through how did the guy who spread all that plastic do it?

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Here are the bullet points that I always try to hit:

* Describe what it is and make sure that they understand that there's no perimeter concrete footing or foundation.

* It's an obsolete foundation system that was, generally, abandoned 100 years ago.

* It's going to perform poorly during an earthquake, even when compared to other homes of the same age that have perimeter foundations.

* Many lenders won't lone on a house with this kind of foundation.

If there's not physically enough room for me to get everywhere, I recommend excavating the crawlspace to make enough room, and calling for a re-inspection. These things *always* have damage in the areas that I can't get to.

Thanks. I will hit all those points in the report.

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It was cobbled together at its inception and during any and all subsequent repairs or alterations. Trying to sound professionally technical about it would almost make one sound like a boob.

There's no perimeter foundation. I would bet my teeth there's termite or pest damage in areas I can't see or get to. The entire structure has settled and will continue to do so. No effective repair can be made without lifting up the house to put a foundation under it whereupon you'll find a multitude of other problems. At that point, one must consider the entire package and decide if it's even worth it.

Lord knows what mess of problems are in the electro-mechanical systems.

If there's historical value in some form, conservation is noble and possibly warranted. If there's no historical or cultural value, it's a fool's dream house.

The most effective approach is probably living with it and understanding it's a marginally functional piece of crap. I look at a lot of 110+ year old pieces of crap that hold up fine. If someone doesn't care about mice, cold floors, all the other stuff one gets with a piece of crap, and the price is right, then maybe it's ok for the individual that wants it.

A little background that may help clarify my uncertainties, here:

The buyer has lived in the house for 2+ years already and is totally comfortable with any drafts it has.

Before she moved in as a renter, the house had been demoed to the studs and reworked, with new sheetrock, a 200-amp box and service, romex run, all outlets grounded, new water heater, new electric baseboard heat, insulation added throughout, windows replaced with dual-pane, crawlspace insulated and vapor barrier added, etc. All the work appears to have been quality work, with the possible exception of the insulation in the attic atop the semi-vaulted ceiling (there's another thread one that in the attics forum).

I would not judge that the home has historical value, but it is a cute place to live, and she has a strong affinity for it. Also, this is in a neighborhood of Seattle where the norm is someone buying the house, blowing it down, and replacing it with four town homes or zero-lotline units. Though not yet the owner, she has been approached by developers who want to do just that, but she loves the house "as-is" and plans to live in it indefinitely.

For the neighborhood, the price is very right, at $229k. She is only getting that price because she has lived there several years and is willing to take it without placing great demands for repairs by the current owner. It will need a roof. He knows that, and she knows that. She is handy with tools and fears almost nothing. I know her pretty well.

So, in the context of all that, I need to decide how to report these findings accurately (as I must by law) but in a way that, I hope, will not jeopardize her financing. There is no worry that she will lose money on the property. She could flip it today and make money on the dirt. I live a block down the same street and know the local values quite well.

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Maybe it's me. Let's start with definitions: What is a 'pier-and-post' foundation?

Marc

Or maybe it's me?

There are pier blocks supporting beams, but no foundation walls or footings (at least that I could find). Nailed-on skirting encloses the crawlspace.

I see foundation walls on less than 1 pier home out of 20 here, though they usually always have a solid pad beneath every pier.

Check for differential settlement or listing of the piers, otherwise it's fine.

Marc

Thank-you, sir. That is very helpful.

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BTW, a good upgrade is possible. Tear off the skirting, dig. Build forms, lay in the rebar, pour concrete, frame the gap or wood shims, siding.

I have pics of a house that had that done and have done it myself too. It takes less than a week and you add big value to the house.

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Pier and beam is very common here on older houses.

Also short crawls.

If you can't physically get around the crawl, go to the middle of each room and jump up and down to check the sturdiness of the framing. Looks like a termite lunchbox to me, and somehow those piers do not look original to me.

Here piers that old would just be stacks of field stone with no mortar.

Further south where it never freezes piers were often made of cypress blocks cut in solid pentagon shapes with the fifth point straight up.

If the curtain walls at perimeter are made of wood they will serve as termite highways.

If you cannot crawl all the way through how did the guy who spread all that plastic do it?

I believe you are right about the piers. Possibly they were upgraded recently. This place was torn down to the studs a few years ago, so maybe they pulled up the floors at that time also? Or they were far skinnier than I am. Thanks.

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BTW, a good upgrade is possible. Tear off the skirting, dig. Build forms, lay in the rebar, pour concrete, frame the gap or wood shims, siding.

I have pics of a house that had that done and have done it myself too. It takes less than a week and you add big value to the house.

It's all possible and most of us have done similar things. As far as adding value, let alone big value....maybe/probably not. It sounds like a dirt value deal and sticking a real foundation under a box on blox sounds like a waste of good concrete.

I wouldn't bother. I'd just jack it up and jam more supports in anywhere I deemed necessary.

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BTW, a good upgrade is possible. Tear off the skirting, dig. Build forms, lay in the rebar, pour concrete, frame the gap or wood shims, siding.

I have pics of a house that had that done and have done it myself too. It takes less than a week and you add big value to the house.

Great point. Thanks!

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It's all possible and most of us have done similar things. As far as adding value, let alone big value....maybe/probably not. It sounds like a dirt value deal and sticking a real foundation under a box on blox sounds like a waste of good concrete.

I wouldn't bother. I'd just jack it up and jam more supports in anywhere I deemed necessary.

The value is big if a concrete foundation around the perimeter allows a young couple to get a mortgage on a low priced house.

Around here those older money pits are usually close to downtown and to build new costs a small fortune.

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