Need suggestions repairing a floor joist


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Sep 10, 2012 - 11:20pm PT
Grew up in a house built in 1820. Hand hewn beams with lathe and plaster. No insulation at all.

21" thick laid stone fascia is burly. They probably did not insulate at all figuring the stone was both insulation and air conditioning. If there are no cracks in the fascia their footing must be a whole lot better than the offset under the joist. Those look almost dry laid sand with a little lime. If you put a sister on that joist but leave it, the whole house studding and all, will be cantilevered on your floor boards. Their integrity has to be as questionable as that of your joist.

You say there is a bigger problem in the next room. I am assuming your joists are supported on beam and pillar or more stone walls. I would first get some room to work down there. Vactor makes super vacuum systems that can suck loosened dirt all the way out of the house. First discover how deep your offset goes down. Don't want to undermine that, crummy as it appears.

Lag bolt 4x6's six feet long with six foot gaps onto the bottom of the joist and drill a 1.5" hole through it so that a pipe put into the hole will bear on the 4x6 and on the next joist over. Do this all the way on that joist and jack it tight so the room floor is where you want it. Then cut out alternate 6' foot sections of your joist and back fill with a replacement. You might consider liquid nails on the top surface and then just shim it tight. After all the replacement sections are in, lag stud a sister onto it and pour a decent wall to support it. Easy concrete pumper job now that you have some room down there. Don't undermine the awful looking stone under the replacement joist. You can even leave a little dirt between the old and new footings. It will just be leaning into the footings for the 21" thick fascia. Observe the 45 rule for the new footing. Your's has to be the only house in Philly able to withstand a nuclear blast.

For the radiator replace the line with threaded pipe so that you can easily pull it out of the notch in the sister. Spring for a couple unions and you are good to go. Simple repair job.

You'd be surprised how fast a super shop vac will get that dirt moving. You could even route it through your wife's kitchen. She won't see any dust. Noise, yes. Dust, I doubt it. I have tunneled using Makita's largest electric hammer. Wonderful tool.

That's what I would do. Neat problem!

Until he lost the house by divorce a friend was remodeling an ancient stone house in Croatia. To put in the lintel for a new door he drilled holes through the stone, jacked, and cut away below. Another neat problem.

philadelphia, pa
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2012 - 11:53am PT
Again, thanks for the help Guys.

Update for this morning:
Cleared out the rest of the loose dirt and rubble to get some room, grabbed the rusty piece of 4" steel channel I had lying in the scrap pile, then made a new temporary brace with a pair of small bottle jacks (had been looking for an excuse to get them... My 20 ton's way too bulky for this). Much better bracing, and gives me more room to work. Oh, and the furnace has been running a couple hours and so far no leaks. Thankfully our heat wave finally ended, otherwise working down there would be miserable.

Going to go have some lunch, then start cutting out the bad stuff left to right. Once I find solid wood I'll figure out how to scab and support the replacements.

Oh, couple other thoughts.... Looks like this crawl space area below the joist is the offset. Down the other end of the basement there isn't block and water has washed the dirt away, revealing stone down to the floor (5' or so below grade). There's been a long term water issue in this basement (often standing water and mosquitos *in* the basement) since the buried oil tank is next to the house and the driveway slopes towards the pit. Perhaps those courses of block hiding the joist was enough to trap enough moisture over the years to rot the joist without a leak? Also the heat is single pipe hot water, so no return line. Took me ages to get my head around how it works, as the feed and return for each radiator are in the same pipe, inches from one another.


Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Sep 11, 2012 - 12:47pm PT
That house has been there 160+ years... the amount of rot/damage/hassle you show seems minimal considering.

While I would vote for re-routing the pipe I can understand that may open up a huge boil with plenty of resulting pis.

So, leave it alone. You will go from a manageable job to a major job in minutes.

Even your existing temp fix would probably last another 50+ years!

How about this...

1. With your temp support in place, cut away any serious existing rot back a foot or three to "better" wood.

2. Dig down to solid ground and prepare a foundation that will run alongside the existing beam.

3. Sister the existing beam with one or two treated 2x12s. HArd to explain, but create a slot for the existing pipe (presuming it looks like it has life left. Lag bolt these 2x12s in place

4. One or two 4x4 treated posts into the concrete foundation you will pour. "lift" the corner just a tad prior to pouring so the foundation really is offering support.

5. Go upstairs and spend the afternoon reading trip reports on SuperTopo.

Without being there and seeing it first hand that is my suggestion. I may not be licensed but I have lived in/remodeled more than my share of old houses including a 400 year old, horse-hair insulated, mega-house in England. Talk about a nightmare...


Social climber
The internet
Sep 11, 2012 - 12:51pm PT
Add some forms around the effected area and fill the whole thing with concrete!

philadelphia, pa
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2012 - 02:27pm PT
Well, crap.

Looks like the rot goes past the feed pipe, so all of the pipes need to come out to provide access to the right side of the joist. Crap, crap, crap. Really hoped to avoid breaking into another mess, but looks like there's no choice.

Also looks like something *should* be done with the 'subfloor', but I'm half tempted to cover and shim. Access is a major PITA there.

Thoughts on the subfloor? I'd really rather not tear up a couple feet of floor to fix it, as I'm already months behind schedule and it's no longer looking like we'll be moving here in a couple years (plan was to rent out the main house and put my mom in the cottage, but the cottage isn't looking salvageable and brother is making noises about wanting her down by him, so we's no longer need the property).

philadelphia, pa
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2012 - 02:37pm PT
May as well post a couple more pics while waiting for the heater to drain...

Here's the other end of the basement. The amount of water that comes in is evident by the amount of erosion... What a mess. Looks like it actually had a block wall at one time... Never noticed that.

Here's a section under the livingroom. Looks like someone crawled under there at some point, as there's a cinder block under the one joist. As for the plants, I have no idea. Good news is that the joists are up off the dirt, so hopefully little repair needed here.

The section under the dining room is a disaster, and adjoins the section under the kitchen. Water comes in from the left side of the photo, joists are touching the dirt, joists installed the wrong way.... Ugh.

Clearly I have a lot of digging to do, and thankfully there's a cellar entrance. Looking over CraigsList last night it turns out there's a couple farmers in the area looking to get rid of old, conveyor-based grain elevators for under $500, and I'm giving serious thought to getting one and dropping the end in the basement and parking the truck at the other end. Dumping buckets into the machine would be much nicer than carrying them up the steep and narrow stairs, especially since my head doesn't clear the floor joists by a good margin.

Ugh. What a mess.

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Sep 11, 2012 - 02:42pm PT
Just a thought (not a pleasant one) how about coming at this from INSIDE the house? remove some floor boards, replace/repair joists and subfloor. Pour concrete from above... might be the "more pleasant" fix...

The Granite State.
Sep 11, 2012 - 02:55pm PT
Is pex rated for heating pipes?

If so, that may be an easy DIY solution.

As far as the subfloor goes, I'd consider adding a wood hardener to the subfloor. From there, scab a piece of PT ply underneath and continue with the sistering of the rim joist and post on concrete as suggested before.

The big question is what are you going to do to address water issues once you've put the bandaid on the floor system?

Many ways to skin this cat...

Social climber
Sep 11, 2012 - 03:37pm PT
Looks familiar. I'll bet the subfloor, where it butts into the wall, has no solid attachment and kinda floats, cantilevered out from the remaining joists. if so, you need to not only support the floor but hold it solid, too. here's a solution:

1. Hack away at the rotten joist until you get back to solid wood.

2. That end of the joist is now in space. What you want to to do is support it. But you also want to try to attach the joist solidly to the new support, so the joist and the floor cannot move either up or down.

3. Form and pour a concrete pad, (6-8-inches thick, and whatever you can get out of one 80-pound bag). This will be a pain. Probably requiring small buckets, much swearing. A child's sled and rope works great to drag batches of concrete across a tight crawlspace. Use the 5000 psi stuff, much better product and fast set time. Install a couple J-bolts in the concrete, with a view to bolting down a short piece of treated 2x4 lumber on top of the concrete pad. Use a plumb bob to mark the wet concrete to line up where the post needs to be, then install the bolts an inch or two to either side of this.

4. Wait a week for the concrete to set real hard. Bolt down the short chunk of 2x4 on top. Install a post on top of this 2x4, tight under the joist. Shim if needed. Now, add a second 2x4 (or a small piece of 3/4 plywood), vertical, to span between the joist and the 2x4 attached to the concrete. Use gold deck screws, pre-drilled, to hold it all together. Maybe PL Premium, too. So, now you have solid support under the joist (and floor). Plus the weight of the lumber and concrete are holding the floor down so it won't creak or move at all.

5. The 2 or 3 feet where the rotten joist was removed should be no big deal, structurally. These old houses kinda stay up out of habit. if there's a saggy or creaky spot, the pipe is in the way for anything clever. Plus it would be nice to dismantle this easily to access said pipe if needed. Cobble some kind of lumber scraps to create a post deal much like what you already have in the pics.

EDIT: Looks like you added more pics of the rest of the basement/crawlspace. It appears water might be coming in from outside, bringing dirt and plant seeds. Removing some of the dirt is a good idea. A long term solution is to see that outside you have drainage away from the building. Install gutters, if the house does not have them.

Social climber
Sep 11, 2012 - 04:39pm PT
I would frame up critical sections for structural areas and pull one or two of the flooring boards or drill 3 hole into top corner flooring and secondary floor to expose area. Then place a flowable fill mix or add a polycarboxylate ether based superplasticizers (PCEs) [new generation]. With a relatively low dosage (0.150.3% by cement weight) they allow a water reduction up to 40%, due to their chemical structure which enables good particle dispersion. Depending on the amount of cement using the 0.15% with sand will give 2500 psi 3000 psi for structural.

Rent a mixer for the day, pour into the hole using a cup chute till the mix comes to the top of the drill hole or cut board. Make sure house is level or areas that need it. Just need to make sure furnace piping or others are replaced with new piping or jacketed so you can replace later or to access them

Gives you the idea but they use it to also for your application.

Grace is another company that has a good one.

Theirs is slow since they say they are using the water in the sand, you can make it so it looks like soup by adding water but adding too much will bring down your strengths. Just some mechanical adjustments.

Crane Flat guys used a fill [road] on their new pipe, I said as I drove by nice to see someone has their act together.

Better system or same idea

SCC is a highly flowable, non-segregating concrete that spreads into place, and fills formwork without any mechanical consolidation. SCC is specified for both horizontal and vertical applications. It can be used for slabs, elevated decks, ultrathin floors (typically used in condo projects), radiant flooring, and repair toppings/overlays. In vertical applications, SCC is used for walls, new columns and repairs to columns and bridge decks.

philadelphia, pa
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2012 - 05:09pm PT
Very good points, Bruce. I can say with 100% certainty that there is no issue with the wall studs in the exterior walls, as there quite simply aren't any. It's solid stone all the way up, with the exterior side stucco'd and the interior plaster direct on the stone. As I mentioned before, the floor joists were simply set into alcoves built into the stone, and the floors are essentially free floating. And from what I've seen of the construction of the interior walls, they're not load bearing, as the upper floor was done the same way. And if that sounds strange, the upper floor ceiling is actually a false ceiling 3 feet below the original ceiling, and the entire area there is open except for the chimney passing through. Really strange how they built this house... One theory I have is that they started construction in 1829 (the date we were originally given for the house), built the exterior and roof, and they didn't finish the interior until 1859 (which is the date on the capstone we found set into the front wall and hidden below the 1930's vintage porch roof). Sounds crazy it would happen like this, but possible given that it was intentionally built as the area's first public school and at the time the area was a couple hour horse ride from Philly (~25 miles or so) and pretty sparsely populated.

Got more to say, but gotta start closing up here and head home to make dinner. It was pickup day at the CSA, so i've got bags and bags of fresh organic veggies... :-)
the Fet

Sep 11, 2012 - 05:48pm PT
I grew up in a house from 1780s, my parents then "retired" to my grandparents house started in the 1760s. I recently bought a house built in 2002.

I'd say stick with the Bottle Jacks.

I'd give serious consideration to the idea of coming at it from the top.

philadelphia, pa
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2012 - 08:04pm PT
Fet, if you only knew how much beer I've gone through working on this at least half time the past year or so... Staggering amounts. Even more so when I can rope friends into helping. Case in point- as bad as the basement looks now, it's not even in the same ballpark as it was when we got it. We literally had to shovel 16"+ of rotting wood, mold and lord knows what else out to even *see* there was a concrete floor to the basement. If I can find a pic I'll post it. Short version- the current hot water boiler went in ~1970's, judging by the servicing notes scrawled on the side. No idea if it was the first hot water oil burner in there, but the original hot air gravity octopus was still in place and hooked up (and was made in 1859, according to the date cast into it). Judging from the detritus we dug through, that 1850's octopus was used until at least the 1960's as all the much was simply firewood for it that was left to rot in the wet basement once the oil burner went in. There may even have been some overlap between the oil burner and octopus, as the cellar entrance was completely filled with rotting firewood.

As I said, I have a picture somewhere and it's unbelievable how much the previous owners left the place deteriorate. Fortunately the bones are still good, hence us being willing to attempt restoring it (admittedly we got it for a song and once fixed up a bit will sell for more than double we bought it for).


Social climber
The internet
Sep 11, 2012 - 09:06pm PT
Sell it and move, then go climbing.

Ice climber
hartford, ct
Sep 11, 2012 - 09:42pm PT
From my time rehabing old houses:

Unless rehabing old houses is what you like to spend your dollars and majority of time doing, don't get started. It never ends with old houses. Never.

A lot of people like dealing with that constant sh#t. Contractors love that sh#t. All of them.

The steel angle iron and some fixed screw/floor jacks (not bottle jacks) will do the trick here if safety is your concern.


philadelphia, pa
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2012 - 09:44pm PT
Hell yes, JLP. This is the second climbing season I've missed to my Great White Whale, and damned if I miss a third. Moving to somewhere with good local climbing isn't in the cards though, as I really dig this stay-at-home-dad thing and the only place my wife's job can go is DC. Ick.

philadelphia, pa
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2012 - 09:47pm PT
@Fear- If you have a newsletter, I'd love to subscribe. Preaching to the choir, and each time I get sucked back into the old house thing. Were money no object I'd love nothing more than a big old Queen Anne.... Sigh. If only.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Sep 11, 2012 - 09:54pm PT
Fear makes a good point but if you are going to go for the wood replacement avenue, do yourself a favour and get ALL the junk you are pussy footing around out of the way.

It's amazing how quickly and easily the plumbing, old rotted framing and whatever else can be reinstated compared to the frustration and problems that arise from trying not to disturb it.

PS. Insulate the heater pipe. TGT is correct but only if it's assumed there is or was always heated water in the pipe.


philadelphia, pa
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2012 - 11:08pm PT
Yup, going to cut the plumbing out of the way in the morning.

Did some digging, and found some pics to give perspective to the project (some might be in a thread about the house renovation I gave up on updating, as I didn't have a way to get pics posted from my phone at the time).

This is probably the best indication of the condition of the property when we bought it. How many abandoned boats to you see?

If your answer is "three", you're correct.

And the reason the interior repair has dragged on so long:

Figured first thing that needed to be done was stabilize the exterior, which hadn't been touched since 1960. Chipped off all the loose stuff, and then put up somewhere over 10,000 pounds of stucco. Sadly I only had the cherry picker for 2 weeks of the several months of working on it, as winter was setting in and I had a window of warm weather to finish what I could.

Some cool stuff was found though, like the panel between the front and back window weights in the one window box where the guy who made the windows signed it (I pulled all the weights when we replaced the *original* windows last fall. All told over 1,000 pounds of cast iron weights). Hard to see, but it says "Wm Kepfer July 1859". Actually found 2 signed panels, but this is the more legible one.

And of course, the basement... The black stuff is rotted wood, the white stuff mats of hairy mold. And the "dry" looking stuff on top wasn't, and was a good 16" above the cement floor. Everything squished when you stepped on it. Eww. Oh, and the weird thing on the left of the pic immediately below is the 1850's vintage octopus gravity heater. All told that heater was ~800 pounds of cast iron, and was hooked up to fairly modern ducting (1970's or so).

Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Sep 11, 2012 - 11:26pm PT

Still, there's nothing like a good project to keep a man busy !
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