If you’re a fan of classic architecture and the great homes of the past centuries, then you’ve probably also watched the PBS television classic, This Old House. Many of the homes featured on the long-running TV Series are located on the East Coast and typically have required construction repairs and updating with modern plumbing, electrical, HVAC.
On the West Coast, we have our share of classic homes too, dating back to the late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries. In Southern California, our classic Victorians, Craftsman, Adobes, Spanish Revival and Ranch homes are local architectural treasures and are of historic significance. For our clients, preserving them is often both a practical matter as their principal residence and a labor of love to ensure their survival continues for generations to come.
We were recently asked to visit a property in Riverside, CA, and to review a structural engineering report from August, 2020, of a multistory Vintage Craftsman-style home that was built in 1913. At this time, Riverside was already a growing city thanks to the move westward by many in the East who sought the warmer climate, were attracted to the palm trees, the emerging citrus industry and the city’s business-friendly entrepreneurial opportunities.
Initial Observations Up Top
We observed that this classic home is performing well for its age and appears to have been well-built, which has no doubt contributed to its survival for 107 years. We observed the quality of the craftsmanship in the attic’s wood framing and exterior wood siding. The aged patina of the redwood framing and siding and the lack of visible termite damage are good signs that this home was built to last by the original owners.
In the attic, we noted the spaced wood roof sheathing. The home also has been re-roofed, which was visible from inside the attic by the plywood placed over the rafters and the roofing materials were visible outside. Paying attention to the roof of a classic home is important to preserve its structural integrity from the rot that can occur if roof water leaks are ignored. Water damage also provides an entry point for pests and eventually rodents.
Trouble Down Below
The foundation system consisted of un-reinforced concrete and adobe basement walls and perimeter, below-grade walls. The house was not structurally attached to the foundation, and sections of the exterior wall foundation system consisted of un-braced cripple walls. This type of period construction is typical and occurred at a time when the dangers of earthquakes and unstable soil types were not well understood.
Interior floor framing was supported by 4-x-4 foot wood posts that are supported on concrete footings. Maximum spans of the floor joists (2-x-6 foot wood with 18-inch spacing) and 3-x-6 foot wood girders are about 8-feet apart. Foundation cracks in the concrete were observed in the basement, where some of the cracks have been patched and painted in the past. The unbraced cripple walls were in evidence here as well.
A prior structural report, prepared in August, 2020, stated that the home had experienced a maximum differential movement of 2.5 inches over 10 feet. This movement has occurred over the last 100 years. We determined that the following minimum items should be performed to address deficient (and potentially life-safety) conditions at this home:
- Install a new perimeter concrete foundation system inside the existing perimeter wall that is structurally connected to the house floor framing. Approximately 150-lineal-feet of new foundation is anticipated. This new foundation (and approximately 50-lineal-feet of 7-feet-tall retaining wall) can be installed on the interior side of the exterior wall.
- Install plywood on the interior of the unbraced cripple walls (approximately 400-square-feet) to provide lateral strength to resist earthquake and wind loads on the house.
- Install steel connectors between floor girders and support posts (approximately 11 locations) to support structural integrity and to prevent future movement of the home that could result in additional structural issues.
Before you fall in love with and purchase a classic home, be sure that it is a home that you’re willing to invest in over time and are willing to deal with the inevitable repairs. Never settle for a real estate purchase home inspection, which is typically performed by technicians who may not alert you to significant structural engineering issues that take years of education, certification and experience to spot and could cost you tens-of-thousands of dollars to repair later on.
In addition to a real estate home inspection, consider consulting with a professional structural engineering firm to make sure your classic home will stand the test of time. At Helfrich Associates, we know there are lots of classic homes in Southern California and we can help you find one that you’ll not only love, but one that won’t break the bank because breaking up is hard to do.