An old house, an elderly occupant and a cracked beam


Q. I’m 89, and I recently lost my wife. My home was flooded, and the main beam is cracked. My son told me I should just repair the beam and stick 2x4s under it, but I’m very nervous about this. My house has all of our belongings from the last 60 years, and there’s a lot of weight on that beam. I want to sell the house, but all I see are sharks buying houses cheap and knocking them down on my block. My wife would be so upset. I got an estimate of $18,000 to replace the beam with a steel one. I haven’t gotten any money from the insurance company. Do I replace the beam, or stick 2x4s under it? Is the price fair?

A. I called you because I was concerned about the safety of the beam condition. It’s old wood made worse by the flood. I’m sure, based on what I’ve been seeing in many homes damaged by flooding, that the insurance company is going to depreciate the value of the repair, based on the pre-existing condition. I sincerely doubt you’ll get the amount of money necessary to replace the beam.

Fortunately, you listened to me, and we got someone to place temporary supports, just like your son said. You have so many accumulated belongings on the floor above the beam that the beam was sagging by about 4 inches and was very unsafe. I understand why you’re so concerned, and I don’t recommend that you spend $18,000 to replace the beam, which should cost about $8,000, at most, for the 40 feet of new beam sections, labor and materials to put in new footings and columns. Two walls would need to be removed, but they’ve already been stripped and should not be replaced.

At 89, you should consider your remaining years and how you want to spend them. You could spend them sorting through the old clothes, newspapers, damaged ladies’ shoes nobody else will ever wear, and porcelain knickknacks you still have wrapped in tissue paper in their original boxes. My mom did the same thing. She also couldn’t part with her stuff. I wish she had. She never got to drive the car she insisted be parked outside her nursing home window, and all those belongings ended up in a garage sale. Learn from my mom. You are spry, able and energetic. Give away, throw away and sell what you can. You can probably get enough money to replace that one damaged section of beam for about $3,000. The house is badly damaged. Leave major repairs or replacement to a buyer. Make yourself comfortable, then get out and do things.

©2013 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.