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crawl space was dug out wrongly, is house doomed?

TomWS

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Jun 6, 2021
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3
Location
PA
The small-ish two-storey house is at least 100 yrs old, and has a cellar with 7' high stone walls. Some time after that, a one-storey addition was built at the back (a kitchen and bathroom), but with only a crawl space underneath. The cinder block walls of the crawl space are 4 courses high, with a concrete footer underneath. Around 70 yrs ago, the crawl space was dug deeper. The soil is clay. The dig-down goes to 3.5 feet below the top of the old footer. There is no new footer. However, the dig-down was done right on the same plane as the existing cinder block wall. There was no extra clay soil left in place as a sort of buffer. (A plumb bob can go along the block wall and continue straight down to the clay floor. There is the block wall, then the 1.5' concrete footer, then a bare 2' clay wall.)

This was done on a wall that is 6 feet long, then at a right angle along the other wall that is 7 feet long. This is where the bathroom's water supply pipes and the sewer pipes are at. (Then next there is a cellar door with a Bilco, then another section of dug-out area.)

In theory, rain water could wash away the clay wall and the bathroom would collapse. But in reality, it's been stable that way for ~70 years.


My question: Would a building inspector immediately condemn the house because of this? With only 24 hours given to vacate? Can I be made almost instantly homeless "for my safety"? I have nowhere else to go.

My sub-question: Can the house be saved? By perhaps building a cinder block retaining wall at a ft or two from the current clay wall -- then filling in clay or concrete up to the old top-of-footer? However, jacking up the area and bringing in heavy equipment to create a new wall underneath would be completely unaffordable.

Thanks.
 

cda

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Oct 19, 2009
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Basement
Unless you are doing some remodel work or the house begins to move,,, the city will not know about it…

Not my area,,,

Sounds like you should have 2-3 separate residential structural engineers look at it and give you a list of fixes.

Would talk to several!!!!!!
 

TomWS

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Jun 6, 2021
Messages
3
Location
PA
Unless you are doing some remodel work or the house begins to move,,, the city will not know about it…
Thanks, CDA, but unfortunately there is the impending possibility of needed plumbing work on 100 yr old water pipe.
 

cda

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Oct 19, 2009
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Basement
Well
Falling down houses is not my area

Seems like if the house looks sound should not be a problem, inspection wise…

Plus a matter of how in depth the inspection would be,,, May not see what you are seeing.

Still a good idea to get the engineers out sooner!!!!
 

Msradell

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Jul 23, 2011
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939
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Louisville Kentucky
If it's been like that for 70 years I wouldn't think failure was imminent unless something has changed recently. I do agree with cda however that you should have a structural engineer inspect what you have and give you recommendations.
 

Mark K

Platinum Member
Joined
May 12, 2010
Messages
1,856
One structural engineer should be enough. While it has apparently been like this for several years I would encourage that you take action sooner rather than later since unanticipated changes could create an unstable situation.

If the city were to find out about this issue and overreact you want a structural engineer on your side.
 

ICE

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Jun 23, 2011
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9,609
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California concrete jungle
It is residential and been that way for a long time. You might get a plumbing inspection and the odds of an inspector jumping on the issue of a compromised foundation during a plumbing inspection is slim. One structural engineer would be one too many. If you want to fix it...well then fix it.
 
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tbz

Silver Member
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Sep 10, 2010
Messages
722
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NJ/PA Borderlands
Working on one now myself,

1st off a structural engineer is always the best call and I suggest it highly, depending on were you are in PA getting one out might be an issue, yet alone 3 of them.

If the bottom of the current floor has poured concrete I would drill through it and see how deep it is and if at least 4" thick put in a 2x6 temp wall under flooring joist inside.

I had dirt, so put in some gravel and I poured and 8" floor with rebar sticking up at the edge on the outside walls, and then laid block up along the inside, keeping about not quite an inch away, I poured a mix of high yield water proof type mortar between the dirt wall and new 12" block, filled block solid as going along also with vert rebars, when I got to the height of the existing block wall I drilled a few holes and set rebar along to tie in and continued up tying in the 2 walls and set a new plate in place. I was longer and added some pilaster shear build outs inward and was 38" not 42" to dirt.

A Engineer will provide a basic plan or even a local architect could probably help you out since this is a small corner area only, and not a long straight wall.
 

ICE

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Joined
Jun 23, 2011
Messages
9,609
Location
California concrete jungle
Working on one now myself,

1st off a structural engineer is always the best call and I suggest it highly, depending on were you are in PA getting one out might be an issue, yet alone 3 of them.

If the bottom of the current floor has poured concrete I would drill through it and see how deep it is and if at least 4" thick put in a 2x6 temp wall under flooring joist inside.

I had dirt, so put in some gravel and I poured and 8" floor with rebar sticking up at the edge on the outside walls, and then laid block up along the inside, keeping about not quite an inch away, I poured a mix of high yield water proof type mortar between the dirt wall and new 12" block, filled block solid as going along also with vert rebars, when I got to the height of the existing block wall I drilled a few holes and set rebar along to tie in and continued up tying in the 2 walls and set a new plate in place. I was longer and added some pilaster shear build outs inward and was 38" not 42" to dirt.

A Engineer will provide a basic plan or even a local architect could probably help you out since this is a small corner area only, and not a long straight wall.
There ya go…..sounds like an engineered fix. Where should he send the check?
 

e hilton

Bronze Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2014
Messages
1,679
Location
Virginia
My question: Would a building inspector immediately condemn the house because of this? With only 24 hours given to vacate? Can I be made almost instantly homeless "for my safety"?
It sounds like someone has already told you it needs to be repaired immediately or vacated. Is that right? Who told you this news?
 

Mark K

Platinum Member
Joined
May 12, 2010
Messages
1,856
One of the roles of an Architect or Engineer is to help the homeowner understand what the building department is saying and to explain the options. The Architect or Engineer is an advocate for the building owner and is interested in finding the resolution that is best for the client.
 

Paul Sweet

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Oct 17, 2009
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1,646
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Richmond, VA
Since the space is so small, building a new wall inside the existing and filling the space with crushed stone should be adequate.

Clay can be almost as strong as concrete if it stays dry. The potential problem would arise if drainage patterns changed which could cause the clay to get soaked and lose most of its strength.
 

ADAguy

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Sep 11, 2013
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California
You haven't indicated whether the work is a repair to existing or installation of new plumbing at a different location?
 

TomWS

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Joined
Jun 6, 2021
Messages
3
Location
PA
Thanks kindly to everyone who replied. I've read each reply at least twice. I'll try to be brief.

"If it's been like that for 70 years I wouldn't think failure was imminent..."
Yep, I'm actually not much concerned about failure, only about being condemned.

"You might get a plumbing inspection and the odds of an inspector jumping on the issue of a compromised foundation during a plumbing inspection is slim."
Wow, that is reassuring. I'd been imagining the opposite: that once inside, an inspector will look relentlessly left and right while walking through, looking for anything and everything. I've been hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

"Working on one now myself... I had dirt, so put in some gravel and I poured and 8" floor with rebar sticking up at the edge on the outside walls, and then laid block up along the inside, keeping about not quite an inch away, I poured a mix of high yield water proof type mortar between the dirt wall and new 12" block, filled block solid as going along..."
Thanks for all the detail, tbz. That sounds perfectly reasonable and I'll use that as my pattern. I can build a block wall well enough. Maybe somewhat less elaborate/fortified though.

"It sounds like someone has already told you it needs to be repaired immediately or vacated. Is that right? Who told you this news?"
Nope, nobody. But there is a background. From ~5 years ago to now, there were three old houses on my street which were livable but have been demolished. It's not a blighted area, just has old houses. One had belonged to a guy who got bit by a spider, and his immune system reaction destroyed his health to where he couldn't earn money, or do any repairs himself anymore. Another was a very old gent that I'd often see snoozing on his front porch with his dog. When he died, instead of his daughter fixing up his livable home, it is now just an empty flat lot. One guy was before those others, he'd said to me, "I'll tell you something, don't ever let a code inspector in your house". That house is now gone. Oh, and then one more that had the red tape and the threatening notices, "Condemned as unsafe. Do not enter or you can be arrested for trespassing". I don't know the details of why. So if I sound paranoid, I'm actually glad to hear that I might be unreasonably worried - but those are the reasons.

"...filling the space with crushed stone should be adequate. Clay can be almost as strong as concrete if it stays dry. The potential problem would arise if drainage patterns changed which could cause the clay to get soaked and lose most of its strength."
Interesting observations about clay. Can I use that to fill in the core-holes in the blocks?

"You haven't indicated whether the work is a repair to existing or installation of new plumbing at a different location?"
Oh, I think I see what you're getting at. I'm thinking of getting replaced the pipe that is outside but customer owned, going from the tree lawn to just inside the cellar about 6-7 feet down. It's black pipe or galvanized, it's been painted and I haven't filed off a spot yet to see underneath. So even though it's merely a replacement of like-for-like, I *believe* I've read that in PA any underground plumbing is supposed to get inspected. "Universal Code" or something like that. Sorry, I didn't bookmark that cite.


Once again, my sincere thanks go out to everyone.
 

tbz

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Sep 10, 2010
Messages
722
Location
NJ/PA Borderlands
Most of the Inspectors in outlaying towns are pretty reasonable and as long as you are up front and open with them, I have found them to be great references and resources.

The one I am working on currently the power was turned off in MArch by the tenant leaving and I turned it back on April 27th, when we hit the breaker 2 outlets went up in smoke and smoke poured out from a switch in the one wall, old homes are fun. I also was trying to figure out how the water flowed as the 3rd picture the white pipe was from the sink and is the low point, the flex trap is from the tub and the grey pipe is the drain direction and is the high point, not to mention the backwards Tee. But the old timers will tell you it worked...

I spoke to the local building department and they provided me with a basic outlay of what they wanted permits for and what they didn't want them for.

Pretty much anything structural they wanted if you were doing changes, as for non-structural, basic plumbing and electrical repairs not needed.

20210506_130210.jpg 20210506_130232.jpg 20210506_130224.jpg
 

my250r11

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Feb 16, 2015
Messages
829
Location
Roswell, NM
An undermined footing is never a good thing. I would try to get a couple of opinion's to see which is more feasible for your budget.
 

e hilton

Bronze Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2014
Messages
1,679
Location
Virginia
It sounds like the houses that are gone were abandoned first. If you are upfront with your inspector, and are trying to improve the property, they will probably work with you. Vacant lots arent good for a neighborhood.
 
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