Dr-Fix-It! Notebook Archive:
Sinking in Wisconsin . . .
A Reader Writes;
Do I have one for you! I have two rooms falling in. The front part of the house is a slab on grade. The middle of the house was a porch in 1959. Years later, they built walls and made two rooms, a living room and a bedroom. Many years later, I bought the house. We added a living room, a partial basement and a bedroom.
About 18 months ago, I was going to paint the back bedroom. When I pulled up the carpet, I found an 8 to 10 inch drop in the floor. I had a friend come over and cut a hole in the floor. What a shock! We found cinder blocks, rotted 2x4's and mud. The foundation split. After that, we noticed that the living room is falling in also.
I called at least 10 building contractors. Only 4 came and looked at it. They all said they would do up an estimate. We received two estimates at about $40,000 to $45,000 to fix it. The other two have never given me an estimate. Both contractors want to tear the middle of my house out and rebuild it.
I was hoping for a cheaper and easier way to fix my house. I hope you can help me.
(Signed) Sinking in Wisconsin"
Several different owners have made many additions to the original house. But, the words that are most alarming to me are 'cinder blocks' and 'mud'. There should not be any 'mud' under a house. A properly prepared foundation would have compacted sand / gravel base. A sand / gravel base. would not get 'muddy'. The presence of mud in an area that is surrounded by concrete slab - 'the middle of the house' - strongly suggests that previous builders did not take the time to remove the topsoil and lay a good base. That is also probably the case where you say "the living room is falling in".
So, it seems that somebody a long time ago just placed some cinderblocks down on the back lawn and started to build a porch on it. That was probably adequate for the original purpose. But, things got out of hand when they walled in the porch and made it part of the house. Back then, remodeling the porch into a rooms-addition was the "cheaper and easier way to fix" the house. And now you are stuck with the end result.
To answer your question directly: No, I cannot recommend any cheaper and easier way to fix your house than what the two contractors have already told you.
First off is the demolition phase. It is important to remove all the rotted wood. Certainly that floor has to go and very probably a good deal of the wall framing will also be rotted. To be sure, you are going to need to remove some paneling or drywall so that you can accurately assess the condition of the wall studs. Excavate the mud in the middle of the house until you get down to good old Wisconsin sand.
It sounds like the 'sinking living room' is on a slab. So, at this point, it would be a good time to tunnel under the living room slab, jack the slab back level and pour concrete support piers.
Then, you can start to put it all back together. Lay a good compacted base in the middle of the house and pour a new slab. Jack the roof back up, replace the wood that was removed during demolition. Finish out with drywall, paneling , doors, windows, trim.
Whew! That is a lot of hard work!
Your story fortifies my belief that getting at least one thorough home inspection is money well spent before anyone buys a house. But that doesn't help you now. You are smart to talk to a contractor. This job would exceed the scope of almost all do-it-yourselfers and there is a real need to obtain the services of an architect and an engineer. I assume the bidding contractors have already done that. And, be aware that a building codes require a remodeler to bring the affected structure up to current code. So the 1959 porch will have to be built to comply with modern building code. All of this costs a lot of money
Like most states, Wisconsin real estate laws mandate full disclosure. You might have some recourse from the previous owners if they knowingly concealed the house's defects from you. But, all things considered from my office chair some three thousand miles away, those estimates of $40,000 to $45,000 don't seem to be outrageous. To me, anyway.
I know it isn't the answer you wanted but I hope it helps.