PLEASE HELP! swaying house, hollow floors, gravity heat

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

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krazykitten38
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Joined: Mon May 08, 2006 10:42 am

PLEASE HELP! swaying house, hollow floors, gravity heat

Post by krazykitten38 »

I am looking to buy an old farmhouse built somewhere between 1860-1900. It is beautiful, with original wood flooring, and a few updates. However, when I go upstairs, the big bedroom up there with the original 8" plank flooring feels, well, precarious. Not the floor itself, but kinda like the house is swaying, like you might want to hang on to something. There is gravity heat up there (ie a big hole in the ceiling on the lower level to the floor upstairs with vent) and it feels to me like the space between the lower level ceiling and this upper level plank flooring is essentially 12" of hollow space. So I can't tell if it is the hollow floor in this huge empty room that makes it feel so precarious, or if it is something else. My three year old was running all about up there and the floor doesn't seem to creak or sag, its just the whole upper level.

So, my questions are:
Is it common in older houses such as this to have 12" of hollow space between the lower ceiling and upper floor (I'm assuming so more heat gets up there?)?
How unsafe is a swaying upper level, if it is indeed swaying, and what could it be caused by? Sinking foundation or something? (Although the original fieldstone basement under that part of the house looks ok to me, no huge sagging in the middle or cracks, although over the years they have added new support beams. There is a concrete slab floor in the basement now too. . .)
Or is this a common occurrence in older houses, especially when they are totally empty?

PLEASE HELP! Any tips or advice would be so helpful! Thanks!

MattStiltner
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Post by MattStiltner »

The distance between the ceiling and the upper floor is not uncommon, don't be too concerned about that. It gives you the great opportunity to remove the floor, and place some insulation in it, providing a much more comfortable living environment for your family.
My Home's Website - Finally back up and displaying pictures. Hooray for time to do something with it

krazykitten38
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Joined: Mon May 08, 2006 10:42 am

but swaying?

Post by krazykitten38 »

But do you think that the precarious feeling I get when I'm up there is due to the hollow floor or to real swaying? I have read on this site about structural engineers? Is there something they may be able to do for a swaying upper level (if it is indeed swaying?) The lower level floor seems strong and stable, its just that upper level. ..

airgrabber
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Re: but swaying?

Post by airgrabber »

krazykitten38 wrote:But do you think that the precarious feeling I get when I'm up there is due to the hollow floor or to real swaying? I have read on this site about structural engineers? Is there something they may be able to do for a swaying upper level (if it is indeed swaying?) The lower level floor seems strong and stable, its just that upper level. ..
Maybe the "swaying" you are feeling is actually the floors bouncing from the weight of walking people. If the floors span too great a distance without being supported from underneath, they will seem to give a little when you walk on them. I would think this is rather normal in old houses. I'm sure you would see a lot of cracked plaster and doors and windows that won't close if the structure was actually swaying in the breeze. I believe if the house was actually and noticeably swaying, it may be close to falling down... :shock:
Last edited by airgrabber on Mon May 08, 2006 2:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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al_roethlisberger
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Post by al_roethlisberger »

It is hard for anyone here to exactly know the "feeling" you are having with the 2nd floor.... they say "a picture is worth a thousand words", and so is first hand experience I would wager :wink:

If you really feel like something may be amiss, I would get an inspector/engineer over to check it out.

It could indeed be a very bad thing if the 2nd floor is unstable, or it could be an illusion caused by an old bouncy floor. Who knows, but I'd check it out if it is bothering you.

Al
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Abuela
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Post by Abuela »

Here's an easy test you can do to perform a very easy test to see what is reality and what is your perception with regards to the "swaying" you sense: Go there with a large clear soda bottle filled maybe 2/3 with water, with maybe a bit of food coloring added to the water to make it more visible from a distance. At home, set the bottle on a surface that you have verified is level, then carefully draw a very even line at the water line.

Take it with you and set it down various places, and walk around. It would probably be better to have someone watching it while another person walks around, but if you've set it up to be visible enough, you can do it without a helper.

Seeing the water vibrate is normal. But if you see it visibly slosh side to side, going above then below the marked line, it may actually BE swaying just from your walking (in which case I'd get the heck outta there!!).

Honestly, my guess is that it's not actuallly swaying, but you certainly don't want to buy the house without getting it carefully checked out.
"Finished" is all a state of mind. ~Angolito

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

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Tujo
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Post by Tujo »

I know that I get a swaying feeling from my steep, now where close to level stairs. I think the swaying is an illusion, it's actually caused by the unlevelness in the floor. I like the idea of bringing some liquid to check for swaying - I would also suggest a level.

Abuela
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Post by Abuela »

Actually, I just realized: Since the floors are probably not level (which in and of itself is more "normal" than not for a house that age), it would be best to draw that line on the bottle while you're there. I just experimented, and a dry-erase marker will work just fine on a plastic bottle, if you wanted to check from several spots.
"Finished" is all a state of mind. ~Angolito

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

My house journal: http://retrovation.blogspot.com/

krazykitten38
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Re: but swaying?

Post by krazykitten38 »

>airgrabber wrote:

>Maybe the "swaying" you are feeling is actually the floors bouncing from >the weight of walking people. If the floors span too great a distance >without being supported from underneath, they will seem to give a little >when you walk on them. I would think this is rather normal in old >houses.

If this is the case, and the floors are hollow, and the bouncy feeling bothers me, is it possible to create some new supports in there, maybe even add insulation?

ABUELA:

With the water technique, to draw a line on the bottle while I am there in each place I set it down? Or floors are usually evenly unlevel? And the water shoud vibrate but stay level to the line, correct?

Abuela
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Re: but swaying?

Post by Abuela »

krazykitten38 wrote:ABUELA:
With the water technique, to draw a line on the bottle while I am there in each place I set it down? Or floors are usually evenly unlevel? And the water shoud vibrate but stay level to the line, correct?
I'd draw a line each place you set it down - easy to do with a dry-erase marker. Old houses are never evenly anything!! :wink: The water will likely vibrate as you take steps around. To see how it may look, put it on a table then pound on the table. But if it were actually SWAYING it will perceptibly, though perhaps only to a very small degree, slosh/sway from side to side. To see how that may look, set a plate on top of a thick folded towel, then put the bottle on top of the plate and press on each side of the plate to tilt it back and forth.

Actually, I just realized that if you could reach the ceiling or find anything on which to hang some kind of makeshift pendulum, it would actually be a lot easier to figure this out. Make sure the pendulum is steady, then walk around in the room until you have a sense that the room is swaying. If the pendulum starts swinging, you've got problems. If the pendulum is steady, then it's just your perception. Even if you could hang the pendulum from a hook on the wall or from the top of a window frame, it would still allow you to see if the building is really moving, and wouldn't requre you to sort out normal vibration from swaying the way you would with my original water-bottle suggestion.
"Finished" is all a state of mind. ~Angolito

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

My house journal: http://retrovation.blogspot.com/

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