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Renovation & Design

MIKE HOLMES: Sagging floors a warning of big trouble

CNS/Removing supporting structures underneath to create an "open concept design" can lead to sloping floors.
CNS

I received 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 first-time 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 plumbing 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 makeitright.ca.

-- Postmedia News

Catch Mike in his brand-new series, Holmes Inspection, airing Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV. For more information visit www.hgtv.ca.

Do you have a question about home renovations? Email mikemakeitright.ca.

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