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First some background:

Our home is a 2 story detached. On the main floor it is entirely open concept, with a ~14' drywalled horizontal support beam separating the kitchen from the living room area. This "beam" (i call it that because i don't know exactly what is behind the drywall yet) comes down from the ceiling about 1.5 feet and has trim on it etc... The home is about 7 years old. We were the 2nd owners of the home (it's a builder home). We have 9' tall ceilings on the main floor. Our master bedroom & bathroom are directly above this area. The bathroom has a soaker tub and a separate tile shower. We have had no issues with windows or doors not opening/closing properly.

What's happening

When we purchased the house, we noticed in the upstairs master bedroom (which is directly above the kitchen) that the floor was pretty squeaky when walking on it. We had the seller 'fix' it but whatever they did, didn't last very long as the squeaking returned shortly after we moved in. That was about 5 years ago.

Over the years we had noticed a couple straight almost hairline vertical cracks in the drywall surrounding the support beam on the main floor. Definitely seemed like tearing of the drywall tape. Last month we had our basement finished and one of the contractors pointed out that there is a bit of a sag in support beam that we never noticed until now. They got out a laser level & confirmed the beam is sagging about 5/8" in the middle of the 14 foot span it is supporting and there is some slight bowing in the ceiling near the beam. There are no cracks in the actual ceiling yet, just the beam. We have not noticed any water damage in the ceiling.

We just patched the cracks around the beam and have started measuring the distance from the middle of the beam to the floor on a monthly basis and are watching to see if the cracks come back.

Part of me wants to open the ceiling and get a home inspector in here to evaluate the cause but i don't want to open the drywall unnecessarily either.

We are kind of freaking out about it, now every little crack we find in the house makes us wonder if it's related...

We are not particularly handy people and are unsure how to approach this problem, so any advice would be most appreciated.

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    Do you have pictures? Please don't let the 5/8" sag freak you out. My 1880's philadelphia rowhome had floor joists that bowed 1.5 - 2 inches over 14 feet when I bought it. I since sistered the joists, but at no time was the floor going to collapse or anything. This problem is not an emergency at this point! – Edwin Jul 31 '14 at 22:18
  • Making a beam deeper is significantly more efficient than making it wider. – ben rudgers Aug 1 '14 at 2:14
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    Have you checked the deflection of the beam under load? When the tub is full of water, is it significantly more than 5/8-in? Can you see the beam move if people jump up and down on it? – Paul Aug 1 '14 at 5:31
  • @Paul no it doesn't visibly move under load – drschultz Aug 1 '14 at 12:19
  • @Edwin i could take pictures but honestly it's really hard to see except in person. I guess that's a good thing? – drschultz Aug 1 '14 at 13:01
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I want to add on to ben's answer. You will always have sag with a 14 foot header. If it is a metal i-beam maybe 1/100th of an inch... Your wood/LVL will sag much more.

What you are describing is ultra typical when there is a point load above and they used LVL. I don't know why cities keep allowing the use of LVL for anything more than 10 feet. It will look great and then year 2-3 it starts sagging... year 4-5 you get cracks and notice it... It is not unsafe because the LVLs will have to be seriously sagging before anything would happen. 5/8" is just enough to disturb the finish and annoy you. You can either install a beam in the middle of the room or put in a better header.

I can tell you I bought quite a few houses with sagging rooms for a huge discount. It is really an easy fix. You support each side of the room with a temp frame job, cut out LVL, and install metal i-beam. This is a one day job if you have a couple helpers. The main thing is to jack the metal beam slightly higher than level and support that level during install.

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    Note that I do not know that exact situation so installing a beam may need to be followed with putting a footer below. This is not typical if they added the header after the house was built - because it should have had a loadbearing point under wall taken out. Also the one day job is just install... obviously you would have a little drywall work too. Just FYI- I just had a similar situation and paid my crew 2K for their work. – DMoore Aug 1 '14 at 20:48
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Without destructive removal of finishes, it is impossible to know if it is a problem because the deflection of 0.625" (5/8") on a span of 14'-0" is less than the maximum allowable deflection (length/240) that has been typical in most US building codes for many years.

The reality is that describing construction as 'meeting the code' sets the bar at the worst building the law will allow. As a practical matter, this means that floors in residences often 'bounce' and that deflection becomes visible as spans increase. However, so long as the construction meets code minimums, it does not mean that the building is unsafe.

I am:

  • not saying the building is safe.

  • not saying the building is unsafe.

The proper way to determine the safety is to have a Professional Engineer investigate actual conditions on the site. This is really beyond the skill of a home inspector - their job is to say "the beam is sagging".

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