If there is one cliché I hear over and over with regard to house is,
"They don't build 'em like they used to." or some variation.
The implication is that older houses are better built. As far as I am concerned that is not true. My reply is always the same,
All the crap has long fallen down, so only the cream is left.
Some how we believe people did a better job "back in the day". Forgetting that materials, techniques and knowledge are better today, the consensus seems to favor that craftsmanship was something that only happened in the past.
Let's be real, people are people. They did the same things way back when as they do today. Creatively shoddy work is nothing unique to the present day.
Case in point. On a recent home inspection of an older house built in the late 1920s, I discovered a significant structural error from the time of construction. If you're wondering, that's over 80 years ago. Going through the house it was apparent there has been some settling over the years. Nothing alarmingly unusual about some slope in the floors or a doorway out of level in an older house, still it is best to closely investigate the structure just the same.
The issue that did give me pause was an inordinate amount of settling at two adjacent doorways in the kitchen. One led to the basement stairway the other to the living room. These two doors were through the load bearing wall.
Looking at the main structural beam in the basement under this particular area in the kitchen, the first thing I saw was a newer screw jack column. These columns are used regularly as a repair for sagging floors and additional support like the one here. The issue is the majority of these columns are meant for temporary support. Further they are rarely installed properly, lacking fasteners and footings.
Looking over the beam I noticed why the column had been placed in this exact spot. This is where the builders had put a joint in the beam. Beams are usually made from multiple pieces of lumber laminated together. Commonly a beam is three boards wide with the seams staggered through out to lend strength and support. Seams are supported by the structural columns.
What is desirable in a board used for a structural beam is length. Obviously the longer the better, thus keeping joints to a minimum and increasing strength. This beam had three seams, three boards, on one side, two of which had never been supported by a column. The one seam that had been place on top of the column was misaligned. The wood at the joints over the two columns was very visibly compressed. Further the outer boards are separating from the center boards. In essence this beam is only two boards wide.
The beam is failing...slooooowly.
While this is a significant structural issue, repair is fairly straight forward. A new beam and columns should put the house right for another 80 years.