Structural concern about a house I am buying.
February 23, 2010 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Structural concern about a house I am buying. Was a load bearing wall removed?

We recently had an offer accepted on a house, and are currently in our 15 day period for inspection. While showing the house, we noticed that some of the work that was done about two years ago is showing signs of having sagged.
There is a wall removed, which I worry may have been a load bearing wall. The owner says that a previous owner to her (she has owned it for ~2 years) removed the central chimney in the house, but only did so on the first floor, which led to some sagging due to the weight of the bricks on the second floor part of the chimney. The rest of the chimney has since been removed.
The reason I am still concerned is that work that she had done AFTER the chimney was out is showing signs that the beam is continuing to sag (ie, tile on the floor above is showing a gap, and the crown molding on the ceiling below is seperating along seams as it flexes)
I would say, judging by the gap in the tile, that the sag is about 1.5 inches over the course of the 2 years since the work was done.
She says that they installed a 2x8 laminate beam to support the span where the wall previously stood, so I am wondering if the beam was just "breaking in" or if this is a serious structural concern.
I am not a carpenter, and have never worked in the industry.
Should I be concerned about this? I don't mind spending a few grand down the road, but don't want my house to collapse or to spend 10 grand...What kind of costs am I looking at here?
My inspector has not seen it yet, so I will update with what he says, and I am having a carpenter friend look at it. Just wanted some preliminary opinions, as this is my first home purchase and I am very nervous.
posted by idyllhands to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Best answer: It sounds like you need a surveyor or even a structural engineer. This is from a UK perspective, but I've used both when buying or having major work done and one of the should be able to tell you.
posted by rhymer at 9:36 AM on February 23, 2010

Best answer: Without actually seeing the house, it's almost impossible to tell whether it's load bearing or not. It certainly sounds like it might be, but your inspector will be a better judge than anyone here will be. Sags may be evidence that a structural wall was removed, but it's not conclusive.

If your inspector does believe a structural wall was removed, have a structural engineer look at it and design whatever corrective actions you take. Don't let the seller just hire a carpenter to add another beam.
posted by electroboy at 9:40 AM on February 23, 2010

If they replaced the wall with a beam, then it is load bearing. It sounds like a problem to me and you need a professional to look diagnose exactly what the issue is. Be aware that home inspectors are very careful to limit their liability to what they can see with their own eyes, so you'd want to get a structural engineer. The engineer is going to tell you what you already suspect -there's a problem that's going to cost at least a few thousand to fix.

One thing to check is to figure if the beam itself is sagging or if one of the ends of the beam isn't properly supported. It could be that you'd need to build an additional support post with a large new footing in the floor of basement below.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:12 AM on February 23, 2010

(I'm not an engineer, but am trained as an architectural draftsman.)

My gut reaction would be 'Do not buy.'

Can you provide a sketch or picture or something of how this is laid out? I'm not totally clear on where the removed chimney was in relation to the removed wall and added beam(s).

The partial removal of the chimney was a really stupid thing to do and could easily have caused some structural damage. I'd be shocked if an engineer was consulted before they removed the bottom floor of the chimney - there are very specific building code requirements for supporting any sort of masonry.

The 2x8 beam is quite possibly inadequate for the task. It all depends how many floors it's supporting, what wood it's made of, how the floor joists are installed, how long the floor joists are, etc etc etc. If you're seeing noticeable gaps in tiles and moldings, something is wrong.

Your carpenter friend, no matter how experienced, is not an engineer or any sort of building designer. A carpenter's job is to build what's on the plans drawn up by the architects/drafters. If he's experienced, he probably knows what would need to be done, but you if you go ahead with this, you need to get an engineer.

Proceed with caution. Also talk to your agent about adjusting your offer to reflect the work that has to be done.
posted by jjb at 11:13 AM on February 23, 2010

What kind of costs am I looking at here?

If it involves ripping out the existing support beam and replacing it then you are looking somewhere between $5000 and $7000.

Definitely have a professional contractor look at it and give you an estimate. At least then you'll know what you're in for.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:28 PM on February 23, 2010

I would seriously consider walking away. If you buy this house knowing what you already know, you are buying all of the things that you don't know. If you live in it for any length of time and try to jury-rig repairs you are possibly assuming liabilities for when you sell to someone else. Not knowing is bad enough. Knowing and assuming the risk is worse.
posted by Old Geezer at 1:42 PM on February 23, 2010

Nthing you need a structural engineer to look at it, do not accept anything less.

"The partial removal of the chimney was a really stupid thing to do"
Yes - a thousand times yes - and if the previous owner did this, who knows what other idiocy they got up to?
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:58 PM on February 23, 2010

How is it even possible to remove the first story of a brick chimney and leave the second standing? Masonry chimneys are designed to bear their own load to ground, not to rest upon floors. This part of the story strikes me as a lie. If someone is lying to you, you need to look very closely at the deal.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:17 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The inspector didn't think it was a problem, but he isn't an engineer either.

I'm not sure how they did it, but it was reportedly done before the current owner bought the house. Maybe built a support beneath it, then removed the rest?

What would an engineering review cost/entail?
posted by idyllhands at 3:23 PM on February 27, 2010

Best answer: I'd guess $300-700 for the site visit and a report (basically a memo describing the problem and a general description of corrective action), but not including any remedial design. I'm a civil engineer, but not a structural engineer.
posted by electroboy at 7:59 PM on February 27, 2010

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