What the mason and the engineer said......

Questions and answers relating to houses built in the 1800s and before.

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meandmsjones
Posts: 28
Joined: Thu Jul 14, 2005 3:54 pm
Location: Milwaukee, WI

What the mason and the engineer said......

Post by meandmsjones »

So.... (sorry this is a long one)

This old "est. 1895 home" has a basement that has always given me a little bit of concern. Maybe because I'm not used to owning antiquities.

The backstory: bought this old house in 2002. The basement, IMO, was in better condition than most of the basements I had seen in my house hunt in our area. Then again, I know nothing about basements. The inspection report at that time said to have the joints tuckpointed where step cracks had formed.

So I did. At that time, the tuckpointer was very concerned about my south wall. She stated that as she was grinding out the old mortar, some of the bottom layers of stone were simply crumbling away; very brittle and some covered with effluorescence (or whatever that word is). She advised me to call a basement specialist/mason.

So I called the mason. He told me the walls were fine and not to worry - but advised me to disconnect the downspouts
(they connect to the sewer systems here), as they might be leaking and the drain tiles could be in bad shape (do homes this old have train tiles?), fix the grading/add soil against the foundation, and have my sidewalk mudjacked, and add a dehumidifier. So I did.

To clarify, I have never had running or standing water in my basement, and we've had some torrential downpours in Wisconsin the past couple of years. What I have is one wall that gets a bit saturated, and you'll see a dark circle on the ground where the masonry and floor start to get damp from outside water. After following the first mason's advise, things really dried up.

It's now almost eleven years later. The block walls (I believe they call it tiger block? It's not brick and not cinder), have some blocks that IMO really seem to be deteriorating, inside and out, but only in the trouble spot. Which now is more troubled as I am in need of fixing the flow of water outside that wall again (and I have a roof that drips right down against the foundation at that spot).

Also, my basement "vertical supports" if that's what you want to call, it are oddly placed full logs (yes logs, or tree trunks), random old 2 x 4s, etc. "creative carpentry", that are wedged and shimmed just so in lots of different places. My thought was to have them removed and replaced with vertical steel poles, or jacks.

SO.....

Last week I had a structural engineer come look at my basement, and he brought along a mason. The mason was probably in his late 60s or even early 70s, so to me that meant this guy has been doing this a long time and knows what works! After inspecting and measuring to see if the walls were plump and looking at the vertical supports and asking me questions about rain and water flow, their advise was:

1. Don't touch the walls. The walls are plumb, the walls are straight, there is no bowing, the basement is in great shape for its age. The basement and walls are in great structural shape. They advised me that with a basement, you don't want to fix what isn't "broken"; call when a problem begins is what they said. I asked the mason about backhoe-ing and replacing block, and he said he hasn't back-hoed since the 70s. He said when you do that, the first thing that happens is more water gets into the mess. Same thing with mudjacking - more water. He actually works from the inside. We did talk about what I can do on the outside to fix the water from getting in.

The other advice was to move absolutely everything away from the walls, and keep storage in the middle of the basement rather than against the walls. They said the key, even more than a dehumidifier, was air flow. They advised me to put a fan downstairs and get the air moving to keep the walls dry.

2. Don't touch the support poles. They said if I start moving the existing poles, the home is going to start "rockin' and rollin"; walls would crack, floors might start sagging, etc. They said the home has settled around all of these poles over the years, and it would be near impossible to put in steel poles that fit in the same way.

Sigh. So while I was happy to hear that I won't have a $15,000 bill to fix my basement, I guess I'm a little unsettled as to this advice, even thought the engineer was highly recommended by a friend who deals with old homes, and both the engineer and mason seemed extremely knowledgeable.

Or they just didn't want to deal with my old house mess.

So experts, any thoughts on this advice? Does it sound about right? Does it sound crazy? Should I seek a second opinion?

The other thing is that the first mason from 2002 told me basically the same thing as this mason.

Neighmond
Posts: 509
Joined: Sat Dec 20, 2003 11:23 am
Location: NW Iowa

Re: What the mason and the engineer said......

Post by Neighmond »

If it ain't broke.......
Every man must have a purpose to strive for
A cause to fight for
A dream to live for
Because
A Man without a Dream is Dead

http://fromthedoolhousetothedoghouse.blogspot.com/

triguy128
Posts: 708
Joined: Mon Sep 12, 2011 9:41 pm
Location: Keokuk, Iowa

Re: What the mason and the engineer said......

Post by triguy128 »

Wow... you foudn a structural engineer with old home expereince and common sense. 1/2 the ones I met would freak out at seeing your hosue and want ot repalce hte whole foundation and put in steel posts. The plaster would cracks everywhere and the water issues would get worse.


I 110% agree. The foundation has survived over 100 years. It's no broken or showing signs of failign. Rock will crumble over time at the surface, but consider the thickness of the wall. Digging will just cause shifting.

For example the ONLY 2 cracks i have in my 87 year old poured concrete foundation is where an oil tank once was or possibly still is and in the garage near where an exterior retaining wall has shifted. The wall shifted because a tree was planted too close. :roll:

I agree with the downspouts. Thsoe old cast iron pipes will eventually fail and you'll run the risk of creating voids underground (ie possible small sinkholes) or saturating the soil unevenly below the surface. Plus, they probably tie into the sanitary sewer, which is not legal anymore in most municipalities.
1925 Neo-Classical

Previous home - 1968 single story Ranch/Colonial, 1200sqft - 11 windows
Current home - 1925 2 story Beaux Arts Neo-classical overlooking the Mississippi River, 3200sqft - 48 Windows

Sombreuil_Mongrel
Posts: 2189
Joined: Sat Sep 30, 2006 10:12 am
Location: WV

Re: What the mason and the engineer said......

Post by Sombreuil_Mongrel »

If you go looking for problems on an old house, you're sure to find it.
I'd take their advice to heart. I do believe that you could get steel put in place of the wood posts, but it would be costly, and it's apparently not a pressing issue. The best thing would be putting some heat source in the spaces with the damp wall, the warmer air can help dry them out. And introduce fresh outside air any time it is less humid outdoors than indoors. But try the fans first, because it's a tiny investment.
You could dig the entire foundation, and add new footer drains, and apply a "system" drainage product to the walls, but if your local conditions recommend against that, as the mason seemed to indicate, then listen to the guys that have seen it in person and have given you their best advice because they have no financial motive to speak anything other than the truth.
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McCall
Posts: 521
Joined: Sat Nov 27, 2010 11:16 am
Location: Cape Cod MA and Weirton WV

Re: What the mason and the engineer said......

Post by McCall »

I agree, leave well enough alone!
The Opposite of Love is not Hate, But Indifference!
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James
Posts: 1640
Joined: Thu Jun 23, 2005 8:36 pm
Location: Rural Eastern North Carolina

Re: What the mason and the engineer said......

Post by James »

Amen, sounds like you have gotten good advice. I would try and follow it.
Locust Quarter, circa 1770 Georgian Gambrel roofed cottage.

James
Posts: 1640
Joined: Thu Jun 23, 2005 8:36 pm
Location: Rural Eastern North Carolina

Re: What the mason and the engineer said......

Post by James »

Amen, sounds like you have gotten good advice. I would try and follow it.
Locust Quarter, circa 1770 Georgian Gambrel roofed cottage.

James
Posts: 1640
Joined: Thu Jun 23, 2005 8:36 pm
Location: Rural Eastern North Carolina

Re: What the mason and the engineer said......

Post by James »

Amen, sounds like you have gotten good advice. I would try and follow it.
Locust Quarter, circa 1770 Georgian Gambrel roofed cottage.

James
Posts: 1640
Joined: Thu Jun 23, 2005 8:36 pm
Location: Rural Eastern North Carolina

Re: What the mason and the engineer said......

Post by James »

Amen, sounds like you have gotten good advice. I would try and follow it.
Locust Quarter, circa 1770 Georgian Gambrel roofed cottage.

triguy128
Posts: 708
Joined: Mon Sep 12, 2011 9:41 pm
Location: Keokuk, Iowa

Re: What the mason and the engineer said......

Post by triguy128 »

Look at it this way. Its' a damp basement, do you want steel or wood in a damp location. AS long as wood isn't exposed ot direct water it will last hundreds of years in humid locations. Steel in humid location will need to be repainted 30 years to prevent it from rusting.

Where I work we have some corrosive air conditions. The wood structures hold up far, far better than steel or concrete. The later both require expensive coating that will eventually fail. I actually have ot pull down a roof decfk this spring with 60+ year old wood joists. The trouble is that they are single joists on narrow 16" centers (not compound) on a 40' clear span. They are sagging about 6" in the center. Of course the atmosphere is heavy in Sulfur Dioxide (makes supheric acid when mixed with condensation) so I doubt the beams would be worth reclaiming too bad. That's a ton of old growth lumber.
1925 Neo-Classical

Previous home - 1968 single story Ranch/Colonial, 1200sqft - 11 windows
Current home - 1925 2 story Beaux Arts Neo-classical overlooking the Mississippi River, 3200sqft - 48 Windows

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