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  1. #1
    Jenny Curren's Avatar
    Jenny Curren Guest

    Default Discoloration of basement floor joists

    Hi everyone. This is my first post. I'm a potential home buyer and I recently saw a house in which the basement floor joists in cellar are discolored with both black and white stains. I'm attaching a photo. Does anyone have any idea what the cause of these would be?

    The house was built in 1899, there's stone foundation and the basement did not seem overly damp, though there was some slight, slight moisture in the air and in patches of the corners of floors. The joists themselves seemed solid and not really damp to the touch. But there was a lot of this discoloration on many of the joists - it was not an isolated issue.

    Also the electrical wiring was running through metal tubing threaded through the joists - see attached photo. Is this a red flag?

    Thanks so much!

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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Chicago IL
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    1,984

    Default Re: Discoloration of basement floor joists

    The wood conditions are typical for an old building, especially with a stone foundation. It is important to remember that the discoloration is a 100+ years of exposure and probably not from a single event. There are also water marks at the 1x floor substrate. This could be from years of basement exposure but may not. 1x stains are probably more from water leaks of the years. Pipe leaks, sink and tub overflows etc.
    I inspect a fair amount of older buildings in that condition. Joists overall tend to be Ok structural. Problem areas, i.e. rot or structural deficiency tend to be at joist ends, top of joist and around plumbing stacks. If you look at the building again I would recommend taking a medium size screwdriver with and just poking at areas to assess conditions. Obviously you don't want to dig or cause damage. Use 'normal' pressure to see if the screwdriver sinks in or not.
    You can alleviate further deterioration and improve conditions through various ways. Operable windows, ventilation, tuck pointing and servicing the foundation walls, etc.
    I wouldn't call it a deal killer. But it also isn't a condition that you should leave as is. If you buy the building you should consider budgeting for improvement costs. If that isn't something you can afford with this purchase or in the near future, then it might not be the best purchase for you. That old of a building needs TLC.
    The electrical is a bit more of a concern. The size and amount of holes could be an issue overall. The apparent extensive use of bx may be a Code issue where you are. Maybe work like that is acceptable in your area, I don't know. Around here it would raise suspicions about quality and compliance.
    Hope that helps.

    www.aic-chicago.com
    773/844-4AIC
    "The Code is not a ceiling to reach but a floor to work up from"

  3. #3
    James Duffin's Avatar
    James Duffin Guest

    Default Re: Discoloration of basement floor joists

    Just curious as to what is the problem with using BX?


  4. #4
    Jenny Curren's Avatar
    Jenny Curren Guest

    Default Re: Discoloration of basement floor joists

    Thanks Markus! I live in NYC so everything is very regulated. Not sure about Bx being up to code but I will look into it. What I was concerned with was whether the holes going through the joists compromised their structural integrity - is that what you were implying?

    what about stone foundations causes this type of discoloration?

    As for creating better ventilation in the cellar - If I budget for this project what do I need to budget? Would I eventually (or fairly soon?) need to sister reinforcements to the joists, or full-on replace them? I don't know what's the typical way to approach this. The joists are basically sound, didn't see sagging from the floor above.

    Thanks - very very helpful by the way!


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
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    Chicago IL
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    Default Re: Discoloration of basement floor joists

    James we don't allow no stinkin' BX beyond a whip around here. No runnin' electric throughout the house like its a snake pit.
    You can use bx for a whip, length limit is 5' or 6'. One of those details I can never remember for some reason. Greenfield is much more allowed though but there are limitations. This is conduit land, pipe and wire.
    The discoloration comes from years of higher humidity levels, general contamination, wood and probable water penetration, etc. Depending on wall condition, stone type and set manner, joints tend to be much larger, dirt filled and allow more ground moisture transfer. It's not so much good or bad but how it is.
    You should be looking at the foundation wall to determine if joints are washed out or still filled. Are there small piles of dirt on the floor along the wall, can you stick your fingers in between stones? If so, better have $5K+ laying around for improvements.
    There are a number of ways to approach repairing/improving a stone foundation wall. Doing it right costs real money. If you hire the cheapest bidder who says he can do it in a day and 'no problem'; you will likely get screwed and deserve it. A good Mason who knows how to do such work charges. Doing it is no problem. Doing it right is a skill.
    The important thing is to assess what condition the wall is in now so that you have an understanding of what is to come.
    From 1 pic I have no idea if the joists have been structurally compromised. From what I do see it is possible in some areas. There are guidelines for hole sizing and spacing when drilling into joists.
    As far as ventilation, windows or mechanical. I don't know the house to say any better beyond that.
    Hire a good home inspector. Not some check box moron, not some guy who hands you a pre printed report at the end of the inspection, not some guy who says it will be 1-1.5 hrs., not the cheapest guy on the internet. Their inspections typically don't give you the information you need.

    www.aic-chicago.com
    773/844-4AIC
    "The Code is not a ceiling to reach but a floor to work up from"

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