Question: I have read your articles in the Free Press about telepost adjustments and was wondering if the prime directive in this process is to keep the beams straight/level? I live in River Park South in a 1,500 square-foot bungalow with a partially developed basement, that was done using a floating wall system. It was built in 1990 and I am the original owner. I have noticed, over the years, that the perimeter foundation seems to have settled as the beams are arched and higher in the center of the basement. We have some doors that are jamming upstairs and minor cracking. I have made some very small adjustments to lower the posts, but it doesn’t seem to have made much if any difference! Any thoughts on this? Thanks, Grant S.
Answer: Straightening, rather than levelling the main beam in a home, by carefully adjusting teleposts, should be the focus of proper remediation. Minimizing the unevenness or bumps in the beam over the individual columns will help prevent sticking doors and wall and ceiling cracks above.
Because of the recent, persistent dry weather we are experiencing in our area, inquiries like yours have been constant. Some reprieve came after a couple of rainy spells in the late summer and early fall. But, seeing the expanding visibility of our river banks in the last couple of weeks reminds me that the severe lack of precipitation is continuing. While the limited rainfall has restored the colour to the parched lawns, it appears that the moisture has not penetrated deep enough into our expansive clay soil to stop settlement of many homes. Due to this, adjustments of teleposts is a very common recommendation of mine to help prevent the escalation of wall and ceiling cracking, and other movement-related issues in our homes.
Because most homes that are not built on deep concrete piers, commonly known as piles, will settle at various times, the columns supporting the main beams in the floor structure are adjustable. Due to the extra dry soil, which has shrunk visibly, even older homes that have been stable for decades are once again sinking. You are correct that most of this movement will be around the perimeter of the home, due to the weight of the foundation, exterior walls, and roof. That area is quite reliant on environmental factors for its stability, while the footings under the middle of the house remain largely unaffected by the weather. So, the downward movement of the perimeter foundation is often in contrast with the lack of movement under the main beam in the middle of the home. This will often create bumps in the beam, directly over the footings and teleposts, and warp the beam, itself. The manifestation of this in the home is normally cracking in the walls and ceilings and/or floor and interior door movement.
You appear to have hit the nail right on the head with your description of the main objective for the type of maintenance required to partially correct this situation. Because the house has settled, often in one direction, the perimeter of the floor will no longer be level. One side of your home is likely higher than the others, and often will slope to one corner. To try and level a main beam which is no longer the same height at both ends is not practical. So, the "prime directive", as you eloquently describe it, is to attempt to straighten the beam. This may be possible by simply lowering the individual teleposts by varying amounts, depending on the severity of the settlement. As you have observed, the most visible movement is often seen near the centre of the floor, which will require the most telepost adjustments.
The adjustments are typically done with a large wrench slid over the flattened portion of the threaded rod on top of the metal post. This may have to be hit with a large hammer for the initial couple of rotations, but then become easier as the initial stress is relieved. As you have observed, small adjustments will have little visible effects, and multiple adjustments may be required. You should continue to do these slowly, no more than a half-rotation at a time and no less than a week or two apart. Adjusting the posts more quickly may cause more dramatic floor and wall movement, and can lead to larger and more severe cracking. Gradually lowering the posts will slowly allow the beam and floor joists to return closer to their original position, while taking the stress off the walls and doorways above.
Measuring the current position of the floor perimeter, and the main beam, is the most critical and often difficult part of the process. Unless you have a single main beam, visible in its entirety and at both ends, this may require specialized equipment and professional assessment. If you can see the majority of the underside of the beam, and it is visibly unobstructed, a simple laser level may be used for this purpose. It can be installed at one end, slightly below the beam, and used as a straight line to determine the amount of upward movement currently seen at each telepost. These measurements can be used to guide the amount of adjustment needed at each interval, which can be further evaluated as the beam is slowly straightened over the following weeks or months.
Attempting to return the main beam, or beams, in your home to its original position, by adjusting your teleposts, should only focus on its straightness. Significant lowering of the high areas above these metal columns may require multiple adjustments, but will help minimize future cracking and floor movement in the house, above.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and a Registered Home Inspector (RHI)(cahpi.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.