Sloping floors... and how we fixed them.

June 4, 2017

 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, by far the biggest concern with the house was the aging, sloping floors. We knew it was bad, we just didn't know exactly how bad. 

 

 

And I get it, part of the charm of a 100+ year old farmhouse is the character. And I love character!!

But too much character and you end up with a circus fun house. And vertigo. And possible nausea. So leveling the floors had to be done. 

 

Since we knew the floors sloped from our first walk through, we had a structural engineer assess the house, foundation, and cellar before we bought the house. This is my biggest advice for anyone in a similar situation!  The standard inspector didn't know much other than "well, the floor slopes".... but the engineer was actually impressed with the quality of the foundation and structure.  Huge relief! So we bought the house. 

 

Once it became ours though, we had to find out what was going on underneath. Up came everything... carpets, padding, linoleum, 50's tile that was ... break my heart.... glued to the original hardwood floor, and then even the original hardwood floor... It all got hauled out. 

 

 

 

Two very interesting discoveries were unearthed in this process:

 

1.  A "trap door" of sorts opening to the cellar was found. See the first signs of it in the top left of above photo.  The fully 'excavated' piece is shown below. This appears to be the original access to the cellar in 1889. The only problem with this access is that it was raised at least above the subfloor and then was simply tiled over. With no transitions! This created one of the crazy rollercoaster peaks that were in the kitchen.

 

2.  Next up was the threshold between kitchen and future entry way.

The arrow in the doorway shows the carpet meeting up with the linoleum.  Here's what it looked like after demo:

 It's hard to tell exactly (and the camera is from different angles), but there is a drop from the kitchen to the future entryway.  And the carpet installers simply overlooked it and carpeted right over it!  This was my area of greatest concern in the house prior to buying.   What a relief that this problem was from the "top" of the subfloor, and not from underneath!

 

While these two "up-down" Roller Coaster areas were a relief, the overall slope still remained. Husband and I measured every floor with a control point (which just so happens to be the above threshold, the highest point of the house) and found what we did not expect.  Yes, we knew it would not be level.  But we did not know that there would be a 4 inch slope in the kitchen!  And yet another 4 inch slope into the dining room!

 

From highest to lowest point of the house, there was 8 inches of settling that had occurred in 125 years.  I'm still trying to figure out if that's impressive or depressing... I went with both. 

 

You would not believe how many un-helpful articles there are on the Internet about sloped floors and how to fix them. Or in one particularly unhelpful article: you don't fix them.  **See end of post for a list of helpful articles and tools. So, the internet offers no help (something about how they don't want to be held liable if I take their advice and my house collapses???) so I called some contractors and ended with bids in the $20,000 range.  That was just enough of an insult to fuel my husband into doing the floors himself!  My husband is a gifted carpenter, mason, engineer, fabricator but he chooses to ignore the first two in that list and only focus on the last two.  Fair enough, we're all good at things we may not enjoy.... but to the tune of $20k I could be persuaded to do some of those things, and so was he.

 

In went subflooring in various heights, self leveler, and jacks and support braces in the cellar and here's what we end up with:

 

Beginning: Subflooring and round 1 of self leveler.

Today:

 Up next:

Need to pour the final "skim" coat over the whole floor to provide one final, even surface before wood floor is installed.  Did you hear that?? WOOD FLOORS!

 

 

In case you are considering leveling your uneven floors, here's some websites I found helpful:

 

Interesting subfloor leveler here.  We did not use them since our floor variance was so drastic but the concept applies.

 

And this one was one of the only forums that gave answers and how-to advice instead of just opinions.

 

But then I somehow found hammerzone.com archives that specifically address joists, sistering, floor raising, floor leveling... I mean, JACKPOT.  See them here and here:

 

While we were unable to do exactly as we had planned with sistering joists (thank you to whoever installed our plumbing, electric and hvac ACROSS the joists instead of between them...), hammerzone.com allowed little me to see what we were in for and understand *some of the physics involved. And their slogan? "Better living through handy-manly-ness".  Love it.

 

Lastly, when I get unnecessarily insecure about our handy-manly-ness, I assure myself and rest easy knowing that these jacks are reinforcing all the work we did.  Affordable, easy to use, they're amazing! Thank you, Ellis Manufacturing!

 

Best part: the final cost was a fraction of the quotes, at about $6000 or $1200 per room.

 

Worst part: this is alot of work and is best with a team of friends willing to help you put a giant subfloor puzzle together and then spread buckets of leveler.  Provide ample beer and pizza.

 

Disclaimer: If the above testimony sounds like I did the work of fixing the floors, it should be understood:  I am a simple scribe, recording the work of my husband!  Give me no credit.  He insists. :)

 

 

 

 

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