The Cross House

Have You Ever Jacked Up A House? SCARY!

I have an deeply-held belief system with regards to old houses:

1) One needs to expect structural issues. 

2) As long as you discover SIX or less structural issues, you are lucky. All is well. The Gods have blessed you.

3) If however you find SEVEN, give the house back to the previous owner. And RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.

After buying the Cross House in 2014 I soon, not surprisingly, started to discover structural issues. One. Then two. Hey, I was calm as this is to be expected. Then three. I started getting nervous. Then four. OK, I am kinda freakin’ out, man. Then five. Panic is now setting in.

But no more. To date, I have not reached nor gone past the vital SIX mark.

Whew. Praise the Lord. Hallelujah.

 

STRUCTURAL ISSUE #1:

Standing in the Octagon Bedroom (so named because it has a octagon-shaped tower in the south-west corner) I wondered why there were so many cracks in the plaster walls.

This is an important consideration because if you repair cracks without understanding the underlying cause as to WHY the plaster cracked over time you will, without question, have the cracks reopen.

One thought led to another and with the help of a laser level (a way way way cool & necessary device regarding old houses) it was soon discovered that the bedroom…sagged. An inch-and-a-half in the middle.

An inch-and-a-half may not sound like much but it is. Such a sag is readily obvious, can be discerned walking across the floor, and causes windows to not close properly (or at all).

But why an inch-and-a-half sag?

After some deep thought, and many runs up and down the main stair, the answer was discovered. It made me gasp.

 

Blueprint-First Floor
You are looking at the parlor of the Cross House, directly below the Octagon Bedroom. Of note is the bay to the left (west). This bay cantilevers off the foundation by about 30-inches. Or, put another way, the bay shoots past the foundation and floats in space. This is actually just fine from an engineering standpoint. The bay is supported by 2×12 floor joists 16-inches on center and all resting on a wonderfully beefy foundation. So what is the problem?

 

Scan 1
Although your attention is diverted to the pink-circled EEK will you please join me for some background data?

 

You see the foundation? Then the bay cantilever?

All is structurally good. Had the bay been capped only by a roof all would have been well.

But (scary theme music now) the architect or builder of the Cross House loaded the weight of the second-floor octagon bedroom (very very bad), AND loaded the weight of the massive roof (spectacularly bad) onto the bay cantilever.

As soon as my brain grasped the enormity of what had been wrought in 1894 I grew alarmed. Geez. Wow. And, please excuse my language, but WHAT THE FUCK WERE THEY THINKING?????????????

OK. Now back to the pink EEK. This points to where TWO FLOORS of load were sitting on top of 2×12 floor joists with NO SUPPORT UNDER. This is bad. SO very bad.

And the joists were sitting on top of a cantilever. Oh dear, my heart and mind and nerves just ached.

 

Scan 2
The solution was steel. S T E E L. What was needed was a big steel beam under the so-not-supported floor joists to hold up all the weight above. The steel beam would rest on new supports at each end, and these vertical supports would sit directly on the beefy foundation.

 

Hey! What a great idea!

Of course, having a solution is quite a different thing than manifesting the solution, you know, as reality.

We had to:

1) Cut through the floor joists. This of course would make the house collapse…

2) …so we had to temporarily support the upper levels.

3) Then we could cut the joists, insert the steel beam, jack up the sag, install vertical supports to keep the beam in place, remove temporary supports, and with the assistance of divine intervention the house would not collapse and crush us.

 

1x
You are looking west. We had to remove all the glass windows because they might well have shattered when jacking up everything. Then we had to build a temporary wall outside the bay to keep out cats, squirrels, burglars, and aliens.

 

In the above image there are three sets of supports. In the foreground there is a temporary beam holding up the floor joists. Behind that is the new steel beam, being supported by really impressive jacks. Then behind that is another temporary beam holding up the rest of the floor joists. Why a triple set of beams? Because we brazenly cut right THROUGH the joists to install the steel beam.

Sensible people would have simply installed the steel under the joists (my initial, sensible plan) but this would have created a beam where none was intended, and would have impacted the nice visual of the ceiling plane continuing uninterrupted into the bay. And I do love a smooth plane.

 

cercer
Jacking up a house makes for a few rather unsettling moments. The house will make loud POPS and GROANS and eerie CREEKS. You also cannot just simply lift a house all at once but rather a bit at a time spaced over weeks or months. You lift a bit, let the house adjust, then lift a bit more, and so on.

 

x
Ta-da!!!!!!!!! Steel in place, temporary supports gone, and the house did not —whoee! —collapse. Once the ceiling is put back, no one will even know there is a steel beam holding up the upper floors. The beam also removed the weight of the upper floors from the cantilever. Oh, and we jacked up the bay, too (a project into itself), and installed new STRAIGHT joists under.

 

gba
Final ta-da! It is like we did nothing!

 

All this effort corrected an issue which has been there from Day 1. Now, windows close, floors do not sag, and cracked plaster can be repaired and will stay repaired.

At least it is hoped.

9 Responses to Have You Ever Jacked Up A House? SCARY!

  1. Hi Ross:
    Did you use an I-beam or just a long piece of steel? In the drawing, it looks like you were going to use an I-beam, but in the photo, it looks like you just used a long piece of steel.

    Thanks!
    Traci

  2. Well well well…..haven’t you had some fun. Great job on getting this new steel I-beam in place. I, too, wouldn’t have wanted a disruption of the original ceiling plane. SO glad to hear that installing it the way you did, & jacking it up slowly and surely resulted in the hoped for result – wonderful!! Well done! Whew! And yes, WTF were the original builders thinking? Yikes.

    And yes, I have jacked up the main floor of my last house in Winnipeg, after putting in a new beam in the basement – it was scary, but also worked like a charm – no more floor slope or dips. That house was/is a much beloved 3 story Victorian with a turret (this is the house that I hung out of the smallish third story dormer windows, in a rope climbing harness that a rock climbing friend rigged up for me, to scrape, prime and stain the third story – I am too small to move that large of a ladder to get up that high. I was told after I got it all completed that my bopping around the house by hanging out the windows was quite entertaining for my neighbours. Of course, that was 20 or so years ago – I don’t think I’m up for a repeat of that adventure.)

  3. It’s a little shocking that this was actually built this way, considering the size, complexity and cost of the structure.

  4. I can’t believe that it did not sag more! You literally saved this house. How many more years would it have been standing if you didn’t correct that problem?

  5. I’m a master carpenter, specializing in renovation and restoration of old houses. I probably ask myself “WHAT THE FUCK WERE THEY THINKING?” three times a day. I’m enjoying your journey through the Cross house immensely.

  6. I am rereading your posts from the beginning and this time I am wondering if you needed to jack up or put support under the cantilever before putting in the temporary support wall in the bay, or was it close enough to the foundation? Was the bay floor sagging too, and did this solve that? I now want to run out and get a new laser level. I had one that disappeared in one of my moves and had forgotten about them. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Hi Stewart!

      We did have to support the cantilever. We also had to jack it back up, and install new joists. We then removed the supports.

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