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Unlevel floor - is there much I can do?

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  1. #1
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    Default Unlevel floor - is there much I can do?

    We bought a property in Sydney and moved in about a month ago. The core of the house is built on brick piers.

    We had 9.5mm laminate floors (Quicksteps) installed by a builder before we moved in. The laminate was installed on top of existing timber floors and minimal leveling was done prior to installation and so the floor is uneven and bouncy. The original timber wasn't level to begin with, and there were sections (probably above the brick piers) that were more elevated than others, but the laminate makes it worse as parts of the floor are bouncy.

    The house is situated on sloping land, and the floor seems to slightly slope with the direction of the land. Should the unevenness be rectified to prevent further damage? There are cracks on the external rendered walls that seems to indicate that the lower section of the house might be moving a little. I am typically the type that wants fix a small problem to prevent it from becoming a bigger issue that costs more, but I'm not sure this is the right approach with unlevel floors.

    The other question is whether there are things I might be able to do to level the (laminate) floor, or whether that would be best done with the laminate and timber removed to expose the joists.

  2. #2
    Seasoned DIY droog's Avatar
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    The best approach is to have a good solid base on which to start any renovations.
    I have seen so many cases of people renovating and redecorating before fixing the base structure of the house. When the repair work is finally performed most of the renovations need to be repaired as fixing what is underneath always impacts what is built on top.

    If the floors are uneven start with restumping or levelling of the sub floor.

  3. #3
    Community Moderator phild01's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by droog View Post

    If the floors are uneven start with restumping
    Typically Sydney construction differs to what you have there and houses here use brick piers, not stumps. The soil conditions must be different where you are as many threads on this forum point to poor soil types around Melbourne. Our soils are clay or sand and I imagine what the OP has is clay. With the brick piers the foundation pads don't go to any great depth and the settlement is usually tolerated and stabilises.

    The OP has said the core area, is the structure brick veneer that has been rendered. Strip footings will also move with the clay. A closer analysis of the movement should be made to assess the cause of the rendering cracks and if the piers are being undermined. Otherwise gentle systematic packing of the piers might be all that is needed.

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    Seasoned DIY droog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phild01 View Post
    Typically Sydney construction differs to what you have there and houses here use brick piers, not stumps. The soil conditions must be different where you are as many threads on this forum point to poor soil types around Melbourne. Our soils are clay or sand and I imagine what the OP has is clay. With the brick piers the foundation pads don't go to any great depth and the settlement is usually tolerated and stabilises.

    The OP has said the core area, is the structure brick veneer that has been rendered. Strip footings will also move with the clay. A closer analysis of the movement should be made to assess the cause of the rendering cracks and if the piers are being undermined. Otherwise gentle systematic packing of the piers might be all that is needed.

    I grew up in a house with brick piers in Victoria, construction is not that different. While there are areas of poor soil there are also many areas that do not suffer from this, we have both sand belt areas as well as clay.
    You will also notice that I specified “restumping or levelling” this was directly in relationship to the construction stated in the OP. Brick piers can also be affected by moisture and depending on brick quality result in brick spalling requiring replacement of the piers.
    Both restumping and levelling is normally performed by the same professionals, that is why I suggested starting there.

    Maybe I should also mention underpinning for the strip footing ?

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    Community Moderator phild01's Avatar
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    Hi Droog, I guess my perception of Melbourne soil types came about from what I continually read here about timber stumps needing replacement which I never really hear about in Sydney. Here I only am aware of limited settlement usually due to clay conditions or houses built on fill, Sylvania Waters was once a bad example.
    Maybe the OP can provide more detail or better still, uploaded pics.

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    Thanks for the responses. Below are some pictures of the brick piers under the house. You can see there is a walkway that's been dug out by the previous owners. I'm not sure why but I've heard that it might be to direct water under the house. However, that walkway that was dug out seems to be close to footing of the brick piers and it looks like the soil is starting to give way. Does this look like it should be rectified soon?

    I'd imagine not, but are you able to determine what kind of soil it is by looking at the photos? I'm seeing the soil start to "crack", and it's starting to fall away and come off. It looks like it's not going to take too much before it gives way. Should this be restumped/re-piered sooner than later?

    (I've linked some images from my S3 bucket cause I found the upload mechanism a bit clunky for the forum. If I'm violating any rules let me know and I'll take the links down).

    https://531-images.s3.ap-southeast-2...001_090457.jpg
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    Default



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    4K Club Member Marc's Avatar
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    Hard to say from photos, but from what I can see, all that digging around the footings of the piers is not a good idea. Not sure what they wanted to achieve. It seems they tried to build storage of some description and needed more headroom to walk to it. The piers appear healthy from a superficial and remote observation, but they are of the skinny variety, one brick instead of one and a half.
    Best thing to do, is to engage a professional to make a general assessment no one here can do over a few photos as much as we would like to.
    I think that the trenches will need to be filled back, perhaps with blue metal or crushed sandstone and compacted, but that is just my idea. Need to consult a specialist.
    The idea that this are ditches to allow water to flow away seems far fetched. If true you are in a world of pain, but like I said, seems ballooney.

    Having said that in relation to the stability of the piers, without photos of the bearers and joists, and the way they engage the piers, it is not possible to understand what happened. I don't like what they did to the ground under the house, but joists sagging can have other origins, not the least, simply being undersized, poor quality construction methods, materials, or even termite damage.

    There was a member of this forum who dug out a large workshop under his house that had brick piers, and he dug over a meter down in parts, without affecting the building. He even removed some of the piers and replaced the bearers with I beams. Not suggesting you do that, just that, may be, the threnches are OK and can stay.

    Take some pictures of the bearers and joist where they meet the pier and look for evidence of movement.
    Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance
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    Community Moderator phild01's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by n00b View Post
    If I'm violating any rules let me know and I'll take the links down).
    Noob, please use the site's image uploader. Possibly you need to resize the images to a smaller file size. This can be managed in mspaint.

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    4K Club Member Marc's Avatar
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    Hi Phil, see if you can join this two threads.
    Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance
    Confucius

  11. #11
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    I'm not sure what the original owner's intentions were digging the trenches. I did get a structural engineer when I first moved in and he said have dug so close to the footing of the piers would make them structurally unsound.

    We've had a lot of rain in Sydney for the past few weeks. I just went underneath the house and noticed water pooling in a small area in the trenches. The soil above and around it doesn't seem to be wet so I'm not exactly sure how the water is coming through. There is a tree root nearby. Could this be the source of the water or is it just coming through from underneath?

    How worried should I be about this? Looking at the soil, it does look like water might be slowly eroding away at it from the base so I'm starting to think this is pretty serious and I should get it looked at soon? If so what kind of profession should I be calling out for this?

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  12. #12
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    Default Unlevel floor - is there much I can do?

    I reckon those footing have been compromised by removing their embedment. There are shrinkage cracks around them too so they are becoming even less confined.

    Get yourself a good geotech / structural engineer to assess. I suspect you need to underpin the footings or backfill the trench after removing all the timber and loose soil. Ever little bit. Iíd backfill with pumped concrete. Include a drain line to pipe out that water from the source.
    (Compacting soil in small spaces doesnít work well / is really really hard. )

    Once thatís done you can pack and level the floors by hand.

    Itís a very expensive job.

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    Quote Originally Posted by elver View Post
    I reckon those footing have been compromised by removing their embedment. There are shrinkage cracks around them too so they are becoming even less confined.

    Get yourself a good geotech / structural engineer to assess. I suspect you need to underpin the footings or backfill the trench after removing all the timber and loose soil. Ever little bit. I’d backfill with pumped concrete. Include a drain line to pipe out that water from the source.
    (Compacting soil in small spaces doesn’t work well / is really really hard. )

    Once that’s done you can pack and level the floors by hand.

    It’s a very expensive job.
    Is it possible that the water is coming up through the soil? The house is on sloped land. When I go a bit further up the land, there a section under the house that has dry soil all round, but the floor is a bit moist/damp.

    How much would you estimate underpinning the footing etc. will cost? $10k?

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    Default Unlevel floor - is there much I can do?

    Water moves through soil all the time. Itís not something you can normally stop. Just design for the presence of water. It doesnít Ďruiní soil and is present under every house (at some depth down).

    Just keep it draining away when it pops out at the surface to avoid damp issues where ventilation is poor.

    Re cost- no idea. That part is not my experience.

    Get Engineering advice and plans first, then seek quotes to build to the plan.

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    Sorry to revive an old thread. Since posting I rang some brick pier repairers for quotes. 2 ended up coming: one gave me a quote to redo all the piers for 40k (which is probably unnecessary) and ripped out a vent duct while looking around, another said I should just wait and see.

    I am wondering if I need a structural engineer to take a look, or would a builder also be experienced enough to look at the brick pier and un-level floor issue. The leveling of the floor has gone a bit worse in the past year from what I can tell.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by n00b View Post
    Sorry to revive an old thread. Since posting I rang some brick pier repairers for quotes. 2 ended up coming: one gave me a quote to redo all the piers for 40k (which is probably unnecessary) and ripped out a vent duct while looking around, another said I should just wait and see.

    I am wondering if I need a structural engineer to take a look, or would a builder also be experienced enough to look at the brick pier and un-level floor issue. The leveling of the floor has gone a bit worse in the past year from what I can tell.
    Any good qualified person should be able to look and give advice, a good builder will give better advice that a bad engineer.
    If you have the skills to set up a water level and measure and record the relative levels of the underside of the floorboards at each stump and then recheck the levels some time in the future it will give you a good starting point to base any future works.
    ”a bit worse in the past year” is that additional sinking at one point ? Additional slope over the entire area? Maybe one stump has risen with moisture creating a greater overall difference in floor heights ? Until you have measurements on which to base “ from what I can tell” it won’t tell you how bad the situation is or is not.

  17. #17
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    Would a builder/structural engineer use a water level to help measure the level?

    The comment on being worse in the past year was an observation I'm making when walking along the laminate floorboards so it is subjective. I have had water issues underneath the house due to bad work by a plumber and so that would have contributed to the unevenness.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by n00b View Post
    Would a builder/structural engineer use a water level to help measure the level?

    The comment on being worse in the past year was an observation I'm making when walking along the laminate floorboards so it is subjective. I have had water issues underneath the house due to bad work by a plumber and so that would have contributed to the unevenness.
    The person performing remediation would use a water level, although modern technology makes them available in electronic versions.
    A structural engineer or builder would assess foundations / stumps / bearers / joists to determine where the issue presents from, a long straight edge and a pen or marble will determine how flat and how much slope there is even without a water level. If its out they will most likely recommend remediation work (see above).

    The suggestion of using the water level is so that you can assess where the problem is, how bad it is and how much it is changing over time. Otherwise see post #2

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    Cheers thanks Droog

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    Are there any builders / structural engineer / brick pier replacer in Sydney that people would recommend?

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    prior to getting engineer etc as you need to see if were that water is coming from. Yr very first pic shows effloescene (cld be from other pipes or tank) , i know it doesnt answer your original question,.If its rained heaps and water coming through,, first thing id do is arrange a plumber for pressure test to pipes to confirm no leak, and to also CCTV inspection of your stormwater pipes....you may have a slight leak which could be the cause but need to rule that out....an engineer will tell you this if they assess it..i do it every week as its my job

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    I did discover a leak in the sewerage pipe where the PVC connected to a clay pipe. This was fixed about a week ago. I'm hoping that addresses remaining leak/water issues under the house.

    Some of the photos I took above were around the time a plumber messed up the installation of an exterior drain/ag pipe which caused flooding... =( which has now been addressed

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