Homefix: Common sense a key tool in repairing older homes

Dwight Barnett

Q: The home I'm trying to sell was built around 1913 and has the usual amenities associated with an older home. The buyers' home inspector discovered problems I already knew existed. In fact, most of the problems were in the disclosure I gave to my agent. The home inspector's report included mention of a single floor joist that had been cut for a plumbing pipe under the bathroom. To repair the joist, some of the ductwork and wiring will have to be removed and will cost more than $700. This home is close to 100 years old and I have never had a problem with the floors in the bathroom. What are my options?

A: I have often inspected older homes with a cut or notched floor joist either under the bathtub drain or the larger drain for the toilet. My recommendation to the client will depend on the size of the joist that has been cut, how big a notch was made and the location of the notch.

If the notch is close to a support beam or wall of the foundation, it is unlikely there will be any movement of the floor above. If the joist is notched away from a supporting wall or beam, then there could be some deflection of the floor above. In a home close to 100 years old that has yet to have a problem, I see little need to address a problem that does not exist.

Before making expensive repairs, contact an experienced carpenter to inspect the joist. Rather than replacing or sintering an individual joist, there are other solutions to add support for the floor system:

1. A steel angle iron can be installed to the side of the joist higher up against the bottom of the floor and away from wiring and ducts.

2. Solid wood bridging can be installed on either side of the notch and away from any electrical wiring running through the existing floor joist. If there are heat ducts between the joists, bridging cannot be used, but you could secure a brace across the bottom of the notched joist and attach it to two other joists, one on either side, to share some of the load. An example of a brace would be a 6-foot-long 2- by 6-inch board fastened to a 6-foot-long 2- by 8-inch board, creating an "L"-shaped brace. You then secure the L-brace, with the 2- by 8-inch side vertical to the floor joists, using glue and wood screws.

3. Jack posts are cheap and easy to install. The steel telescoping posts are set to the proper height so that they support the joists on either side of the notch. The top of the jack post is a plate and threaded screw that allows you to snug the post tightly against the joist.

4. Do nothing if there is no visible damage after 100 years of use.

I am perplexed by the fact that some home inspectors cannot offer simple solutions to problems they perceive to be "major." The inspector should have discussed ideas for making the repairs to the client and, if allowed, to you and the agent. At the least, he should know why it is a "defect."

A lot of home inspectors have served in a trade or a union specific to one field of construction or they may be an engineer or an architect, but, in my opinion, field experience in all the trades is the most important factor in selecting a home inspector.

Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home-improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702 or email him at barnett@barnettassociatesinc.com.