You’ve fallen in love with the character of an older home, but you’ve noticed a problem. The floors are not level. While you expect some settling over time, how concerned should you be when you see sloping or otherwise trip-hazardous floors? That depends on what’s causing the unevenness.
Sloping floors If you can roll a marble down one side of the room and it turns instead of going straight, you probably have a floor that has some settling. Possible causes are age, crumbled piers, excess moisture, or termites, any of which can result in the failure of the floor joists to support the floor. Potential fixes include replacement piers; adding more piers; floor joist or support replacements or repairs; sill or stone foundation repairs, and termite remediation.
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, molding replacement, and repainting. 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 your home, get a reliable inspection of your foundation and floors, preferably by a structural engineer or a certified remodeling contractor who can determine the cause of the sloping as well as the solution.
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 affected wood 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. 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 building 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 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.