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Ask the Architect

‘The price makes it hard to pass on’


Q. We have been pondering a house nobody else seems to want, and need to understand what we may be getting into. We often laugh at TV shows on which the couple won’t buy because the dining room is red or a countertop isn’t granite. What we’re looking at needs a lot of work. We just want to know if we’re in over our heads with possible expenses. The foundation is cracked on the surface inside the crawl space but not outside, there is a serious pet odor, and some concrete floors are very uneven. The house is just outside a flood zone and doesn’t require flood insurance, but how can we verify this is true and it wasn’t flooded? Can you recommend a game plan? The price makes it hard to pass on.

A.    Whoever said the first three factors in why to buy are location, location and location should have continued with price and satisfaction of your needs. Obviously, cost is a driving force here. You’re right to be concerned about what Mother Nature may have done, and whether the house is more susceptible to the next storm occurrence. Search MSC.Fema.GOV to check the flood zone.

    Your budget must be charted based on the list you make of all known problems, plus the contingency of what you may uncover. The best inspectors are going to give you a disclaimer that they can only report on what they see, but you need an opinion from more than one licensed professional engineer and architect. When you start an investigation with a company that repairs or replaces, remember that they sell a service, so get both, but sort the partial from the impartial opinions.

    There are many reasons for why concrete foundation walls crack or move, as I recently explained in another column. You may have something as simple as misdirected rainwater, poor soil, a bad batch of concrete or a combination of all of the above with a temperature change reaction. It doesn’t mean the house is falling down. The same can be said for sloping or uneven floors. If the floors aren’t connected to the surrounding foundation with reinforcing rods, they may have settled separately and produced the problem. That kind of condition isn’t as easy to determine, because you’d need a soil test to determine firmness to support the slabs, and it would need to be sampled nearby or through the slab. If the soil is poor, it may be necessary to replace the floor, this time with engineered reinforcement and connection to the adjoining foundation.

    As for pet smells, start with the flooring and determine if there is penetration into wood. That’s one of the hardest things to remove. Cleaning all surfaces, painting walls and airing out the house can help, but you may actually have to remove or redo floors, depending on how deeply the fluids have seeped in. Add your time to the budget list. Good luck.

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question”  in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper,  architect.