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Should You Settle for Uneven Floors?

September 30 2010

You’ve fallen in love with an older home, but you’ve noticed a problem.  The floors are not level. 
While you expect some character in an older home, you should be concerned when you see uneven or sloping floors. 

Sloping floors

If you can roll a marble down one side of the room, you probably have a floor that has settled through age, crumbled piers, excess moisture, or termites, which result in the failure of the floor joists to support the floor. 

Get a reliable inspection of your foundation, preferably by a structural engineer or a certified remodeling contractor who can determine the cause of the sloping. 

Potential fixes can included replacement piers or adding additional piers, floor joist or support replacements or repairs, and sill or stone foundation repairs, and termite treatment. 

Some contractors recommend just living with an older floor if the slope is not any worse than 1 inch per 10 feet, as repairing a slight slope can lead to other expensive fixes, such as plaster wall repair.

Wavy floors

Moisture under a wood floor will cause the boards to bow or buckle, creating a wave pattern.  Moisture is never good for a wood floor.  You’ll have to get a determination if the damage is old or new and if the underlying problem has been fixed.  Also, you will want to determine if there are mold or mildew issues with the floor. 

Frequently, when wood flooring has buckled, there was a flood problem, and the best course will be to inspect pipes under the floor for leaks and to replace the planks.  Mild water damage can sometimes be repaired through sanding, but only a refinishing professional can tell for certain.  

Round stains on wood floors usually indicate a previous pet urine stain, and they never buff out.  New pets can detect those areas and mark their territory in the same spot.  Definitely, such flooring should be replaced. 

Concrete floors

Older homes may have been built with basements, where the concrete floors may absorb moisture or condensation.  Mid-century homes are more likely to have poured foundations which may crack over time.  Severe settlement cracks may indicate that the site was not properly prepared. Compacting the fill soil before pouring concrete is essential. 

Shrinkage cracks may mean your foundation is getting too much or not enough water. Sometimes, simply moving landscaping away from the house can help, or you can water the the foundation periodically.  Again, a foundation expert or structural engineer can determine the cause of the cracks and propose a solution.

Foundation and floor problems are among the most serious and expensive repairs you may have in maintaining a home. Be sure to get expert opinions before you buy a home with uneven floors, or
begin a remodeling project like installing tile or repairing cracks in the walls, or before you spend the money to have your floors leveled.

If you haven’t bought the home yet, make sure your contract allows you time to get an opinion from a structural home inspector, preferably one who does not do foundation repair. You can think take the report to a foundation repair company or general contractor for bids, and then you can decide whether or not to buy the home based on the repair estimates.

If you already own the home, you can also hire a structural home inspector, and act accordingly on the results of the inspection.