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House Foundation & Structural Issues

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By on Oct 21, 2013
House Foundation & Structural Issues

How can I determine if a wall is load bearing?

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A load bearing wall bears part of the structural load of the building. Exterior walls with rafter ends resting on them are load bearing. Depending on the type of construction, this could be only two walls, as with a gable roof, or all exterior walls, as with a hip roof. Interior walls may or may not be load bearing. You have to do a little searching. From an attic space, find where the ceiling joists overlap or are butted together. This shows that the weight of the joists is being borne by that wall. From a crawl space underneath, look for a double floor joist, which is required under load bearing walls. If in doubt, ask a contractor or structural engineer to check it for you.

My foundation has begun to cave in. What should I do?

If a foundation is sinking or caving in it is imperative to call a structural engineer to evaluate the situation. Once the cause is found the engineer can probably recommend a solution.

How deep should the footings be on an addition I am building on my house?

The depth of footings and design of a foundation depend on the size of the structure, frost levels in the ground, and soil composition. You must check with your building inspector's office for local requirements, but generally the footings must be below the frost level in the ground and must be constructed either on undisturbed soil or fill dirt that has been properly compacted. If you are going to build the addition yourself, you must submit plans to the building inspector for approval before you begin and complete all the required inspections as you build it.

Why is my house tipping to one side? Why is the concrete slab I had poured six months ago now cracking? 

The chief reason for a sinking foundation, cracked slab, or cracked foundation wall is soil movement. Earth can sink under a foundation for several reasons, including insufficient compacting and voids being created by underground water flows. Conversely, certain soils become so expansive when wet that they swell enough to lift and crack a foundation. Cracks can also be caused by incorrect cement mixture, lack of sufficient reinforcing wire or bars, or poor site preparation. If it's a new foundation, call the contractor and say you want it done right. Before it's over, you may end up calling a soil engineer and structural engineer.

Some floor joists under my house are rotted. What should I do?

If you can push a screwdriver tip half an inch or so into wood, that indicates it has some kind of rot problem. Moisture, dry rot, termites, powder post beetles, or just some bad wood could cause it. If there are signs of moisture, ranging from stains to dampness, find and resolve that problem first. The same goes if caused by pests. To replace a joist or rafter, cut out the bad section in the middle, then hammer a new equivalent sized board in beside it, with each end resting on a sill or a beam. Nail the remaining lengths of joist or rafter to the new one. If the rotted area has been treated and is not further damaging the joist, sandwich it between two lengths of half-inch plywood with bolts extending through the joist. Unless you are quite skilled at carpentry, call a contractor to handle all this.

What is the best material to wrap a house in, plastic or black felt roofing paper?

For many years 15-pound felt was the standard, but newer products such as Tyvek are now widely used. It is more expensive but is a better wind barrier and does not tear as easily. Its pores are small enough to keep out air, but large enough to allow moisture to pass through, thus preventing moisture buildup in the walls. As with all house wraps, the seal must be complete and tight, with no leakage.

How do you compare metal studs to wood for framing a house?

The chief problem with using steel for residential construction is that not enough people are skilled at cutting and erecting it. Additionally, it is more expensive than wood. And the labor to erect a steel-framed house will be more expensive, if you can find the workers. Steel has many advantages, though. Each stud is perfectly straight, which makes it easier to construct straight and smooth walls. It is stronger than wood, doesn't rot, and is fire resistant. But you can't pound nails into a wall over a steel stud to hang a picture; you have to drive a screw.

What size glue laminate beam should I use?

To know what size laminate beam (or steel beam) to use, the specifications need to be worked out by a structural engineer. If you are making a change to an existing home, this step is a must to satisfy building codes and to prevent liability when you sell the property. If you are building a new home, the size should be indicated in the plans and specifications.

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