Measuring With a Calendar

Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

Temporary, screw jack support column

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.

An unsupported seam in a main structural beam. 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.

Misaligned seam, visible compression in beam

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.

Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Re-Blogged 2 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Lenn Harley 11/04/2012 08:58 PM
  2. Ginger Harper 11/04/2012 09:17 PM
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Robert Butler
Aspect Inspection - Montreal West Island, QC
Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection

That's what non-inspectors and even some professionals don't realize: Structural collapse can be slow, incremental even.

Modern home are doing the same thing. Just measure some truss joists where squash blocks have not been installed. I've found a suprising amount of 'crush' for the time installed.

Nov 04, 2012 10:17 PM #11
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Jim, of course you know I totally agree with you about old houses.  If you looked for all the houses that were build 100 years ago you just would not find very many of them---a few a still standing.

Nov 04, 2012 10:57 PM #12
Kathryn Maguire (757) 560-0881 - Chesapeake, VA
Serving Chesapeake, Norfolk, VA Beach

Very interesting perspective.  People do think that things were always better in the past but this is a great example of why that is not the case.

Nov 04, 2012 10:58 PM #13
Dana Hollish Hill
Hollish Hill Group, KW Capital Properties - Bethesda, MD
Lead Associate Broker
Great post. I often feel that there are some skills that were better in the past, but I suppose that it is just the work that is still around today. It seems like the older tile work I see is solid and newer tile work is more than often failing.
Nov 04, 2012 11:01 PM #14
Team Honeycutt
Allen Tate - Concord, NC

Thanks for the informative post. I gathered some useful facts from it. I am sure you are a very competent inspector and people are lucky to have you work for them.


Nov 05, 2012 12:42 AM #15
Charlie Dresen
Steamboat Sotheby's International Realty - Steamboat Springs, CO
Steamboat Springs, CO e-Pro

Hi-  I agree with some of what you say, however I think the tendency to cut corners is greater these days. 

Nov 05, 2012 01:02 AM #16
Harry F. D'Elia
RentVest - Phoenix, AZ
Investor , Mentor, GRI, Radio, CIPS, REOs, ABR

I know for a fact that older homes were built better and still everlasting. The newer homes were not built to last

Nov 05, 2012 01:21 AM #17
Jon Karlen
Finish Line Realty - Shelbyville & Louisville Ky Real Estate - Shelbyville, KY
Louisville & Shelbyville Kentucky real estate

Yup, just because it was made in yesteryear doesn't mean it was done properly.  While old homes have nostalgia associated with them, they can also have a lot of headaches/issues.

Nov 05, 2012 04:38 AM #18
Chuck Mixon
The Keyes Company - Cutler Bay, FL
Cutler Bay Specialist, GRI, CDPE, BPOR

The older homes were build with heavier materials compared to today's standard. Today thing are engineered and floors are not 100% virgin wood. We not can get good quality floor that uses much less timber to produce that same square footage as before. It is done with post manufacturing products and fast growing products like bamboo.

The home of today is more comfortable and more energy efficient then in the past.

Nov 05, 2012 08:03 AM #19
Evelyn Kennedy
Alain Pinel Realtors - Alameda, CA
Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA


I guess my house of 100 years is part of the cream.  At least I hope so.  many of the beams were redwood beams.  Redwoods grew in profusion in the hills where I live and that was the material that used to build most homes in my city at that time.

Nov 05, 2012 08:03 AM #20
Karen Feltman
Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, IA KW Legacy Group - Cedar Rapids, IA
Relocation Specialist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

I think that buyers and sellers of these older homes have to understand what they are getting into when they take it on.  When a new owner decides to open up walls and move things around to make a more open kitchen, they usually find surprises along the way.  Great post!

Nov 05, 2012 09:00 AM #21
Steven Cook
No Longer Processing Mortgages. - Tacoma, WA

James -- what a good explanation of a particular portion of building that will cause problems, if placed in the wrong situation.

Nov 05, 2012 09:16 AM #22
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Great point(s) Jim!  There was just as much make shift stuff in times past as today.  But hey, at least they got that post under the seam in that built-up beam!

Nov 05, 2012 09:45 PM #23
Sonsie Conroy
I serve buyers and sellers everywhere in San Luis Obispo County - San Luis Obispo, CA
Energetic, Enthusiastic, Knowledgeable Realtor

I am of two minds on this issue. Seeing photos from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, I would much rather live in a modern home built under current building codes. No amount of craftsmanship can save a home from a serious earthquake if it is not built to stand up to one.

OTOH, I live in a Central CA town filled with homes built anywhere from 1850-1930 (many Victorians). The ones that have been properly maintainted and structurally modernized are glorious and beautiul masterpieces of vintage design...and retrofitted for earthquake protection. The ones that are barely hanging on to life are rented to students who can't afford better and don't care about repairs, etc. Some of these I am literally afraid to walk through.

Nov 06, 2012 05:19 AM #24
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Delivering the Unbiased Truth.

I completely agree.  Whenever I hear people say "they don't build em' like they used to", I think to myself "yeah, we know what we're doing now.  It used to just be educated guesswork."  

Nov 06, 2012 10:36 AM #25
Olga Simoncelli
Veritas Prime, LLC dba Veritas Prime Real Estate - New Fairfield, CT
CONSULTANT, Real Estate Services & Risk Management

Love your colorful expression "creatively shoddy work" - yes, afraid the practice is universal and scary if remans undetected. We need more good inspectors like you!

Nov 06, 2012 10:50 AM #26
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Dan, Absolutely! Technology and knowledge progresses with time, however the craftsmanship of the builders, I believe, hasn't evolved. 

Lisa, It's hard to change perceptions. they do not always match reality. 

Andrea, If that's what you like, that what you like. I just do not agree with, "the older is better" opinion.

Edward, Houses not built with wood? I have inspected houses that were constructed of concrete block. They were old too.

Michael, Like I say, those that are constructed well, certainly. Of course maintenance is a big factor to consider. 

Ron, That is another fact many people do not consider, codes were not used / enforced until rather recently.

Ginger, Thank you! That is so nice of you to say. 

Clint, Yep, older isn't always pretty :)

Nov 06, 2012 08:40 PM #27
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Paula, Those old "charmers" require unending care.

Fernando, I've seen a few tilted houses. I notice you said, possible :)

Robert, Yes, collapse can be very slow. 

Charlie, Exactly. People don't realize why there are not thousands and thousands of older houses still around. 

Kathryn, Progress means things get better with time. Things that don't work go the way of the dinosaur. Once in a while you find an old fossil :)

Dana, Work done well will hold up. 

Betty, Thanks!

Charlie, Not to be  rude, but how could you posibly know that. We go by our experiences, and you, I'm fairly certain, like me, see a lot of shoddy work. It can make your / my perspective a bit skewed. I think all the shoddy work from a 100 years ago is gone along with the house. 

Nov 06, 2012 08:58 PM #28
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Harry, For a fact?  Older windows better than new thermal panes. Balloon framing superior to platform? Stone foundations better than poured concrete. Sorry, can't see it. 

Jon, Yes they can.

Chuck, Yes I agree.

Evelyn, Hardwood was used here for the same reason, it was what was here and available. 

Karen, How very true.

Steven, Thanks.

Jay, Yep, people are basically the same today as in the past.

Nov 06, 2012 09:04 PM #29
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Sonsie, There are certainly well built houses from yester year. Those student house sound scary. 

Reuben, Yep, we can see that through the years / houses.

Olga, I do admire the creative employed by some people to come up with "solutions" to building issues. Yes some are very scary. 

Nov 06, 2012 09:37 PM #30
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