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I am currently looking at a house in New England that dates back to the 1820's that has a sagging floor in the living room. The floor dips down about one inch near one of the walls and I was told by the owner that it has been and is structurally sound and that sagging floors are "normal" in older homes. Is this in fact true and if so what would the typical amount of sagging be?

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The 120+ year old house my mom lived in had a similar problem. The floor sagged and was also bouncy. The problem turned out to be a failed foundation along an outside wall that no longer supported the floor joists the cap joist across the ends. The foundation was one made of large rocks that were piled into a wall. The fix was to install posts in the dirt floor basement to raise and support the floor and then form up and pour a new reinforced concrete wall about 10 inches thick along the inside of the old rock foundation. Lots of work but it still stands today more than 15 years later. –  Michael Karas Jan 3 '13 at 14:18
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Could be cause by a foundation issue, could also be moisture or insect damage to structural members. An inspection would be the only way to determine the underlying cause. In any case, sagging floors are not "normal". –  Tester101 Jan 3 '13 at 15:10
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Assuming the sag is new/progressing.

There are countless hundred+ year old homes with proper structure that have floors that don't sag, bounce or shake.

Sagging is never good. Sagging is a sign of either poor engineering to begin with or structural damage done later.

bcworkz does raise a good point about older foundation methods and short term sags that stabilize. I still maintain that even in such cases, a sag isn't "good", but it may not be deal breaking.

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No - because sagging is never good. –  The Evil Greebo Jan 3 '13 at 13:59
    
Thanks, that's what I've been suspecting and I'm worried that they know what is wrong with the floor and haven't fixed it on purpose because the parquet floor above would have to be ripped out to do so. –  rob Jan 3 '13 at 14:02
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Usually fixes like this have to happen from underneath. Theoretically it could be fixed without damage to the floor above - but the ceiling below is an entirely different matter. Structure fixes are never simple. –  The Evil Greebo Jan 3 '13 at 14:24
    
It's on the first floor with a basement below so access shouldn't be an issue, does that help when it comes to fixing it any? –  rob Jan 3 '13 at 14:47
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If the basement is unfinished it means you won't destroy the existing finish while doing the repairs. The downside - since the sag is by the wall, it could likely mean problems with the foundation - very costly to fix. Sag in the middle of the floor would be easier, since that could be fixed with a support post. Foundation fixes are a lot more involved. –  The Evil Greebo Jan 3 '13 at 14:50
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Just to play devil's advocate, there are also many old homes that have suffered minor subsidence and now are completely stable. Modern homes with reinforced foundations should never suffer from differential settlement. Old homes using outdated foundation techniques could suffer from some differential settlement in their first few dozen years, then stabilize and stay that way the remainder of their lives. This sort of settlement, though not ideal, is not cause for alarm.

Other such homes are founded on unstable soils and continue to shift and settle for their entire lives. This cannot be good. As a casual visitor, it's difficult to tell what is not alarming and what is bad. It would take extremely accurate measuring equipment and a good long time period to determine whether the structure is still moving or not.

This house is actually pushing 200 years, if it's just an inch low in one spot, I'd say it's probably in good shape actually. It's still not normal, but it's not unusual either.

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So it sounds like it might not be such a bad thing, but I would have to get someone to take a look at the structure and make sure it's not really a problem? –  rob Jan 3 '13 at 20:48
    
I agree - if the sagging has halted, that's not terrible. My answer was more in the context that the sagging was new and progressing. –  The Evil Greebo Jan 3 '13 at 21:02
    
In the context of buying a home, no one can say for sure on the spot. But you'd want to get it inspected anyway, an expert opinion would help tremendously. If you like everything else about this house, I wouldn't let this settlement stop me from proceeding to the next step. –  bcworkz Jan 4 '13 at 21:16
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