Thursday, February 24, 2005

Levelling the Playing Field

As we've told you previously we have an unlevel house. This levelling happened from September to November. I don't know if it's much worse than most 80 year old houses, I think it's about an inch in 15' in some places. But how did one corner sink so much? Well, when you don't point the drain spout away from the house, the water from it tends to erode away at the dirt around the corner. And did I mention that the foundation is above ground level now in the back corner? It wasn't too much below ground level to begin with, and was poured without footings. Oh, and there's too much dirt on the other side eating away at our bottom plates! And for some strange reason the centre of the house sunk, too. O the woes of having an unlevel house!

A trip to Canada Scaffold to get some heavy duty jack posts (10), and a visit from my Dad was just the ticket. The jack posts are a lot more heavy duty than the ones they sell at Home Depot. My Dad and I set up a 6x6" post across the top and some salvaged 2x10's and 2x14's at the bottom. There aren't any bolts holding the foundation down on old houses, so we didn't have to worry about removing them. We may install them later, since we live in an earthquake zone!

Let the jacking begin!

Only problem is what that did to the basement floor...

I guess the slab wasn't too well supported, so instead of going up, the floor was going down. We used my grandfather's 10 tonne hydraulic jack. Since he used it to lift his farmhouse, we figured this 1.5 level house shouldn't be a problem. I think the almost 2" thick (in places) stucco on the outside added a lot of weight though. Eventually the floor stopped sinking, and the house was lifted marginally, not the level we were hoping for, but a large improvement. At least the kitchen is mostly level, around the cabinets. And the unlevel floor is part of the character of the house, or so most old homeowners say. I'd advise extreme caution levelling a house, if the jack isn't completely plumb, it can shoot out with a lot of force. Don't ask me how I know! Another problem was the top plate separating from the floor joists. We used some hurricane straps to hold it all together, after letting is all back down, so the gaps would close up again.

After getting it somewhat level, checking it with a 4' tevel on the joists, and a homemade water level, we filled the gap between the bottom plate and the foundation with non-shrink grout. The best way is to use a mortar bag, or a plastic garbage bag. Larger gaps were filled with 2x4's and 1x4's. Preferably pressure treated, the 1x4's weren't. After the mortar has cured a couple days, the jack posts can be removed. And voila, a semi-level house!

Check out this article, where we got a lot of the ideas for the house raising.

It's a lot of work, and the payoff wasn't great in our case. I probably spent 30 hours on it, and it's not too much of an improvement. Would I try it again? I probably would, hopefully it would be smoother the second time.


2 comments: said...

Hey! Cool! Canadians interested in the Arts and Crafts movement and restoring old houses. And lurking on American Bungalow! You’re part of a really small group!

I’m an ex-Vancouverite (8 years) and now live in Regina in a 1700 sq ft “pyramid roof bungalow” built in 1928. Oak floors, a kitchen last renovated in 1959 and cracking plaster. Couldn’t be happier!

If you want a look, see if this link works:

Thanks for the blog. Drop me a note if you want to swap stories!


Angry Republican Mom said...

Wow, you have quite a project! Thanks for the tip on leveling the posts, because we have minor leveling to do to our home, and I just slapped them up, lol.