Hello. I am in the process of buying an older home. Its a LOVELY
house but the civil engineer turned home inspector showed me what is a
grave earthquake risk (I'm in earthquake country): to create the
(already low clearance) doorway from a finished basement room to the
remainder of the basement, the owners cut up into the frame and floor
joists (2 or 3 of them) to create more clearance.
He said this could be headered and the joists brothered/
sistered....but that this would lower the doorway by 12 inches......
Are there other options for reinforcing this ? What kind of
contractor am I looking at for doing this kind of work?
I would so love this house but if I have to crawl through the doorway
to do laundry, it's all over I'm afraid...
Thank you so much for your input. I am pretty handy but this is
Not being able to see exactly what is there, none of us can give a good
solution. The engineer may be overly cautious, but then he may not be.
Brother and sistering joists mean adding new ones along side and bolting
them all together for a strong unit. Rather than use wood, it may be
possible to use steel and get the same strength in a smaller package. There
are other engineered wood laminates that may be ideal also. Get a second
opinion or at least ask this guy what he thinks of using other material.
He said he tends to be quite cautious....but then again, so do I so I
took what he said to heart. Here is a photo of the spot:
I will do a bad job at describing this, but he did say it might be
possible to build some kind of framing around the doorway that would
run support horizontally out from the upper right and left corners of
that doorway, paralell to the floor and across the floor joists from
joist to joist (in essence creating a 'hallway' if it were extended to
Can you 'brother/sister' a framing portion of the house? (I can see
how that would work for the joists)...
Rather than use wood, it may be
I'll see if he's willing to let me peg him with questions! Thank you.
Where else could the laundry be placed? It must have been some place
before it was stuffed into the unfinished basement.
Your inspector (if he was / is civil engineer) should be able to give
you some suggestion as to a more suitable design (lowering the door
to less than 6' doesn't sounds like much of a fix)
When you say earthquake country..what part of CA? Bay Area? SoCal?
Hills? Flat land? Near fault?
You need a good local CE who can take a look the situation & give some
you options then based on your choices come up with a design.
IMO you should be able to install a reasonable fix for a few $1000's
My suggestion is: negotiate an allowance as part of the escrow to fix
How long as the property been on the market?
I'm unsure if where it could be placed.....Kitchen perhaps....? These
were the only hookups existing. Beyond the access issue is concern
about the weakness: My headboard will be on that wall and my son's
bedroom above. I guess all homes have some point of weakness....
Yes, especially since it is already lower than that. I am 5'4" and I
have to duck!
The house is on flat land in San Leandro, just west of the 580
It apparently went on with another agent in Feb but did not sell, was
farmed out to another agent and has been on the market 1 month with
her. What I love about it is that there is a flat yard great for our
3yo son, the rooms are all large, and in general, the house is in
decent shape (though this guys report is a bit hair raising to read!
All 64 pages of it!!). It's hard to find all of those things in a
house in this area, and having lived in the area before, I know I like
it....it has a lot going for it...
Thank you Bob :-)
You are within two miles of the Hayward fault. Quake experts rank this fault
among the top five most dangerous earthquake zones in the United States. The
fault is still highly active, with displays of creep and small tremors.
Beware! Do some research on faults before fooling around with the structural
integrity of your house!
Is there any way you could lower the *bottom* of the doorway to match?
You then wouldn't have to crawl. It would still be something odd--some
kind of dip or something like that, but might be acceptable, given how
much you seem to love the rest of the house.
I suppose that would be an option. At the doorway is some concrete
stairs (poured probably directly onto the slab foundation)....if we
'backed up' the steps into the room a bit and jackhammered them out,
that might help the clearance issue.....
I don't quite know what to make of a home inspector who is no longer
qualified to be an engineer but even so I think his point is valid. Find
another house. The obvious fix is to replace the cut floor joists and jack
the entire house up to give you more head room in the basement or to dig the
basement lower. That's really expensive. I really don't see any DIY
Interestingly, my husband I and I just were having this
conversation. He wants me to see how much it might cost to do
something like this: jack the house up, rebuild the basement/bottom
floor. We could repour the foundation at the same time. Though I
loathe the idea of being displaced while the work is done, he seems to
like the idea of knowing what it would take to do it. This would fix
both this door problem as well as a spot in the stairwell to the
downstairs bedroom/basement where my husband will always have to
Any clue what 'really expensive' means in this light? I realize an
'in person' estimate is the only way to really know, but if you'd have
a wild ballpark....like 75K, 125K, 200K? etc
Just a guess from far away in Western NY (coincidently, also near a
fault which has very, very lightly shook our house a few times in the
past 10 years)...
In many areas, if you upgrade something in a house, you often have to
bring a lot of other stuff up to code as part of the process.
I'm sure you'll find this out as you investigate the "jack the house
up" option (or any other option for that matter) but I wonder if you
would need to bring other portions of the house up to earthquake code
at the same time. In other words, let's say you get an estimate to
jack the house up and pour a new foundation. Then you go for the
permit and they say that if you build a new basement you must follow
all earthquake codes for anything that touches the new foundation,
which might add a considerable amount to the project.
Like I said, just a guess, but something certainly worth looking into
My younger brother did jack up a small house in New Hampshire and have a
new foundation put in several years ago. I think he spent about $25K. The
house was not habitable for around a month. I don't really see how knowing
this will help you though, call and get a few estimates from contractors in
your area. Be sure to get the joists replaced at the same time, have a new
set of stairs built et c. It won't be cheap.
There has to be an inexpensive way to reinforce it with steel to make it as
strong as it was originally. Obviously you have to get someone in there who
is familiar with local code.
The two inspectors I had used checklists and couldn't have solved a problem
if their lives depended on it. Even with the checklist one missed several
serious electrical problems. I didn't bother using one on my third house.
(though admittedly, one found some serious problems on a house I didn't buy
because of them.)
I had a choice between a cheaper guy who did the checklist or this
guy- more than twice as much - but who wrote a book on this house.
The inspection report was 64 pages long! I'd really recommend him, he
was incredibly thorough.
I will use him next time I offer on a house. My husband and I decided
that the problems in this house simply add up to too much stress and
too many of them are structural and safety issues. Maybe if we lived
in the stable flatlands of....well, somewhere else. Too much work was
done improperly and without permits, and this 64 pages added up only
to what was visibly wrong.....we could put a ton of money into this
one-- or just buy a better built house. I dislike newer houses, they
don't tend to have much charm: but if I'm going to sink money into
something I think I want to have some evidence of it, not go broke
just keeping it standing up...
My wife & I have bought and sold several new ones & used homes in So
Cal. (orange county)
The home inspection thing is a good idea, I use them even though I've
got 30+ years experience as an engineer (nearly 20 years running a
unvisertiy structural research lab)
The fact is I could miss something, its always good to get another set
of eyes on the property.....but I can read through a report & easily
see what inspection "finds" are important & which ones are
not....which ones will cost a bundle & which ones are simple.
One our most recent sale, the buyer's "inspector" found several pages
of "issues"......my wife said "don't read them, it will just piss you
I did a lot of the work myself or worked with the contractor, I did
the design & specifications....the patio cover was redwood with all
stainless steel fasteners. The block wall had 2x code rebar. I
replaced all of the 40 year old breakers (the house was built in the
I knew all the important stuff was taken care of & done right......I
never read the report, we merely asked our realtor "how much do they
She said "I can make the list go away for a few 1000's"....we said
It was cheaper & less aggravating to give them some $'s rather than me
or someone else go through & "fix" them
The buyer really just wanted a little cash back, I'd bet he never
fixed the "issues".
The nit picking inspection report is often used as a negotiating tool
by the buyer to pry some $'s loose.
He's the deal...............the inspectors job is to find as many
"defects" / "issues" as possible, that's what he's payed to do..."find
He can't very well come back & pass judgment on his own
"finds"....like, "these aren't really important" then why did you
It's not his job to evaluate the finds...that's the job of an engineer
or other professional.
My suggestion is get an opinion on the "issues"; the structural hack
job needs an engineer.
The others? maybe a general contractor or friend who has some
extensive experience in home repair
I really doubt that many of his issues are really substantive but
they could be
Don't run away from the house get armed with more information about
the "real" condition of the house, the real needs of repair & the
Owning an old house is a tradeoff.....charm & uniqueness vs new /
We've owned old (1930), new (years old)) & medium (1965, 1972, 1987)
they each have their issues & tradeoffs
currently I Iive in old (1930)...it's really a cool place BUT there
If you really like the place & it suits your family don't be scared
off. Your photo is a little grainy & too close to get the perspective
of the whole situation but I'm sure that the hacked up joists can
returned to "good as new" by strengthening with timber or steel.
A walk through with an engineer & a GC (who have experience working
together) will give you the information you need to make an informed
Time is money- how rich do you feel? On this 1960 cookie cutter I bought 2
years ago, the house was basically sound, but had a lot of stupid stuff
previous owner did that needed to be undone, and some stuff he had neglected
to replace in a timely fashion needed to be replaced. (roof, furnace, etc.)
The inspection report helped me get the place for about 12k less than the
asking, but I have easily spent that much since then fixing it up. I don't
have as much ambition or interest in ongoing improvements as I thought I
would, and I kinda regret not going up 15 or 20 k in the food chain, and
finding a place that didn't need all the catch-up work. But I was fighting
the clock of interest rates going up from a 30-year low, so I settled. (I
doubt I'll see 5.37 again in my lifetime.)
BTW, the inspection report told me nothing I didn't already know (I grew up
in the business), but having an 'official' inspection report was worth the
300 bucks I paid, just for the negotiating value.
As the sellers were pressing for the contingency to be lifted-they
countered with a 10 day contingency instead of 17-and would not allow
us more time to get the estimates/consultations we really wanted to
get--we have backed out of the deal. We wanted to really know what we
were getting into before sinking every penny we had into a house (or
its repair!) and it was just not acceptable for us to not have the
time we needed to be comfortable. If its still on the market and we
dont find anything we might go back to them and ask for all the time
we need (they can keep it on) to do what we need to do and get
I really appreciate everyone's input. The house (back yard in
particular) was great in so many ways....I guess the situation and
timing were just not in our favor this time around!
I don't blame you. Ten days is not enough time. And 17 is not such
burden for most sellers, espcially when I'm pretty sure they can still
keep showing the house as long as they don't attempt to sign a
contract with anyone else why you are still in your contingency
Maybe if it didn't have this basement problem, you couldn't afford it.
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