We Are Always On Duty

One of the “occupational hazards” of being a Home Inspector is that it is very hard to not be one. Case in point: on a recent afternoon we took a stroll around our town, enjoying the balmy weather and doing some window-shopping. Downtown Frederick, MD has many buildings dating back to the 19th and early 20th century, and we’re always checking out and admiring the architectural details. At one point in our walk, some cracks on a facade caught my eye. When I stopped to take a closer look, I spotted something.

Look down the alleyway. See the building at the end? See how the side wall of the building on the right is leaning to the left?

Here’s a view of the front corner of the building.

What’s Going On Here?

See those two square plates at the middle and the top of the corner? These are part of a lateral restraint system commonly seen on old houses. In fact, if you look a little further along the side wall, you can see the star-shaped metal plate. This is the tell-tale sign of a lateral restraint installation.

If you were to go inside a house with a lateral restraint, this is what you might see. This is a different house, one that we walked through during an estate sale (which is a great way to go poking around old houses!).

See the white rod running between the joists? They are connected by a turnbuckle, which allows you to change the pulling force on the restraints if necessary.

Back to the property in question. We walked down the alley next to the building to get a closer look. The whole side wall was leaning outwards significantly. There was snow melt dripping from the roof edge, which helped me see just how much displacement had occurred.

See the dark spot on the top of my shoe? That’s the spot where water from the roof edge dripped onto it, which shows that the roofline is sticking out about 18″ from the base of the wall. Now, this is a structural masonry wall so it’s pretty thick, but that’s still a lot of leaning. What could have caused this? Of course, we can’t be sure, since we don’t know when the building started to lean, but we can hazard a guess based on that alleyway.

Old Traffic vs. New Traffic

This paved alleyway is just wide enough for cars and other vehicles to get through. But it probably started out as a dirt or stone alley and only had horse-drawn carriage traffic. Now it is subject to much, much heavier vehicles, which can compress the soil under the alley and cause issues with the foundations of adjoining buildings. All that pressure has to go somewhere, and old stone foundations can be compromised if they are not properly reinforced.

What do you think? Why is the building leaning, and what (if anything) should be done about it?

If you’ve got an old house that hasn’t been inspected in a while, give us a call. We’ll help you find out what you need to do to ensure your house keeps standing a long, long time.