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Block & Beam


Kirzania

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So now it's my turn for all this home-buying fun. I've gotten away from the Perrys, the Juliets, and the rest of the cookie-cutter town and patio homes. That leaves: The Heights and surrounding areas.

My biggest concern, however, is this discovery of "block & beam" foundations. In a city that often floods, it's obviously better to be off the ground. We're also in a city of termites, mold, and small, furry woodland creatures that will take up residence anywhere. As much as I would love to fufill my lifelong dream of raising a family of possums, I have no idea how much more work these foundation-type homes do or do not require.

Is it just as much upkeep for a slab foundation with plank siding?

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Acutally I would say it is less . . . especially when slab foundations need to be leveled. A block and beam foundation can just be shimmed from below when it gets out of level. You can check tsarp.com to find out whether an address is in the 100-year flood plain. And remember, if a property previously flooded, it must be disclosed by the seller.

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not if you catch is soon enough. It's much easier (cheaper) to level a house with that kind of foundation then your typical one.

I used to live one for years, and my only complaint is that they get COLD during the winter time. But in fairness, I was living in an older home with no updates, so take that with a major grain of salt.

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I'm not as worried about flood damage. "Shim the foundation"? Will that compromise the frame of the house at all?

It shouldn't compromise the frame....frames flex a good bit...and you're putting it back to level, the way it was built in the first place.

I currently have a slab...my next house will probably block and beam or pier and beam. Raised houses make it is so much easier to locate and control termites (they can't crawl up through a crack in the slab and go undetected for years...they have to climb up somewhere, and unless that somewhere is the middle of a hollow pier, it will be easily spotted), it is also much easier and cheaper do plumbing repair/replacement/alteration.

The only thing I can think of to watch out for is water standing under the house...but that is pretty easy to correct as well...all you have to do is put some fill dirt in where the water is standing.

Also, make sure both your general inspector and termite inspector spend a fair bit of time under the house checking things out.

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Well, termites use "tubes" when they invade a home, I saw one and was stunned. I don't know how long it takes, but basically if you see a pillar of "dirt" under your home, that's a major warning sign of termites.

My neighbor spotted one as he was looking for his dog, spotted the tube and he DIVED under the house (mud and all) and reached for the tube and snatched it, looked inside and spotted the termites.

in under a week he had people there taking care of it and thankfully they were only there a short time (a couple of months) and the repair wasn't as much as it could have been if he didn't spot it.

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Guest danax

I love my pier and beam house. I hear they are better on your joints as you get older as there's a lot of give to the floors, unlike living on concrete.

I've had major termites and have self-treated most of the exposed wood with a non-toxic substance that penetrates the wood and lasts supposedly for 40 years. There are some spots that I couldn't squeeze under because the house sits, on the average, only about 10 inches off of the ground. I really need to have it lifted but that's not cheap. Less fear in a flood too, since you're up .

And as mentioned, leveling is cheaper and simpler as is any kind of plumbing repairs. The only downside is that these foundations tend to "dance" a lot and never seem to stay put. Cracked drywall etc. Slabs, on the other hand, are so stiff that they don't dance, just crack from the strain after awhile. Very expensive to fix.

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How long have you lived in your's, danax? Have you had any major drywall repairs or the like since you've lived there? As far as the termites go, how is your prevention holding up?

This thing is a whole new world to me, since I've had basements and slabs my whole life. I really appreciate all of your info.

Edited by Kirzania
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No...more like this, little thin lines of mud going from the ground up the side of an inedible surface, such as the piers of the house.

You can put special metal plates between the pier and the wood which are supposed to prevent termites...good if you have hollow piers and are jacking the house up to level it anyway.

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I likewise live in an almost 80 year old home that is on block and beam foundation. Quite frankly with the type of soil here in Houston if I were to build a new home for myself I would build it on Pier/Beam or Block/Beam. It makes leveling the home and plumbing repairs significantly easier then with a slab.

Wife and I have our eyes on one home that is on slab which actually scares me a little bit but if we are able to get an accepted offer on it I will have the sewer/plumbing lines scoped to find out the condition of them.

Good luck and may I recommend looking for a home on the East side of town? Such as Eastwood, Broadmoor, Idylwood, Houston Country Club. It's still a very undervalued area and you would have potentially a better investment, nicer house, bigger lot, all within minutes of Downtown, UH, and the Medical Center.

Scharpe St Guy

How long have you lived in your's, danax? Have you had any major drywall repairs or the like since you've lived there? As far as the termites go, how is your prevention holding up?

This thing is a whole new world to me, since I've had basements and slabs my whole life. I really appreciate all of your info.

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Guest danax
How long have you lived in your's, danax? Have you had any major drywall repairs or the like since you've lived there? As far as the termites go, how is your prevention holding up?

I've lived here 4 1/2 years and a lot of my drywall is cracked. That's ok because I'm slowly redoing the entire house and plan on putting wallpaper up in all of the rooms.....I think. It's 100 years old so wallpaper is appropriate and they used to hang it on a burlap-type backing that was designed to move a little with the walls, whereas drywall doesn't.

The previous owner had the house leveled maybe 10 years ago and it's way off now, almost 4 inches in one spot inside, but I've also got water pooling under it, due to no gutters and a neighbor who added a thick bed of rock to his backyard so as to accomodate the parking for the 2 garage apts he rents out, and so his back parking lot drains into my yard. Yeah I know, but he's a good guy and he didn't think about all of that when he did it before I moved in. I'm working on all of these issues but, in the meantime, all of my doors and windows work fine so it's no big deal.

The beauty of the pier and beam system is it's simplicity and accessability. I like to get my hands dirty with my house, it's my art project, and getting under there from time to time feels good, just to be able to check things out and see the huge, old joists and beams made of old-growth pine, spanning 30 feet or more in a single board. It's very "organic", so I get that sort of pleasure from it too. And yes, you'll get cats, dogs, rodents and roaches under there, so it's recommended to have the crawlspace covered and vented.

As for the termites, the standard treatment is a toxic soil poison that, due to recent environmental restrictions, only lasts around 5 years or so then it's time to call the exterminator again. Great for the exterminators but not for the homeowner. The stuff I found is called "Bora-Care" and I honestly haven't been under there since I applied it last year but I researched it and it has been extensively tested to completely deter even the heaviest of Formosan termite populations. Those are the little beasts that can bring down a house in a matter of months.

I also second Sharpe's post about the East End and the old, humble homes out here. You can get a plain-jane block and beamer "cheap" from the depression era with wood floors and, with some slow money and labor added, have a cool place. I've seen a few. Our very own Musicman has done just that to his. Although a project like that is messy and really almost never ends. Not everyone is up to that.

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I too would never own a slab house again after having a block/beam. Plumbing repairs and wiring are a cinch. As an example, a friend had a pipe leak under his 50's ranch house (on a slab). It cost him a whopping $14,000 to have a company TUNNEL under the house to replace the pipe and repair the damage.

I had a leaky pipe under my house, so I donned some coveralls, grabbed a pipe wrench, and 30 minutes later I was done.

My house (80 year old bungalow) is fairly stable, except for the back corner of one bedroom. When it rains, and the ground swells, one closet door will shut and the other won't...when it dries out, the one that wouldn't shut will and vice-versa. The big problem, as others have noted, is standing water under the house. However, with a little gutter work and sculpting the water flow around the house, it's an easy problem to fix.

There are actually two styles...block & beam is what most old houses are; that means the house beams rest on blocks that rest on the surface of the ground.

Pier and beam generally means that there are footings ("piers") sunk down into the ground. Most of the new Heights houses are like this, often with concrete piers extending 8 or 12 ft into the ground. Obviously, this method result in a much more stable house.

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As alot of people have stated, repairs are easier to do on the pier/beam houses because of accessibility.

my 80yo bungalow came with termites. before buying, our inspector found some. we had no idea how bad until we started doing some renovation projects and areas of drywall had to come off. The house had previous terrestrial termites (the ones that make mud tunnels up the foundation into the wood) that were gone and had left damage but we found that the house had extensive active drywood termites (that fly in and land-no mud tunnels) so they are sometimes harder to discover and they'd been hanging around for a while. Fact is, you need to inspect REGULARLY for termites..all kinds and if you don't know what you're looking for then you need someone to do it for you. The prior owners of our house had a regular termite contract and their guy never found the drywood termites that our inspector found.

but they don't make houses like they use to and even in spite of all the damage, the house is stronger than most new houses so it can take a beating..

and the drywall damage is really easy to repair. nearly every room in the house had cracks some where and we used a product by the 'goop off" people called "goodbye crack" which is a rubbery spray product that you paint over that flexes with the house. Two years later the cracks have not re-opened and can't even remember where they are now that we repaired them...

Edited by heightslurker
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Fixing cracked drywall is a lot easier than fixing cracked concrete, and nobody notices them except you if you fixate on them. After trying to fix every crack for two years in my house I finally gave up and came to appreciate the little buggers. In fact, they are pretty good at letting you know about things. One of my cracks is a perfect rain gauge. If there isn't enough moisture in my soil, the crack over the back bedroom window gets a little larger. It goes away a few hours after watering the lawn or if a rainstorm happens by.

A cracked slab goes on your HCAD appraisal and stays there forever, there is nothing on there regarding how many times you've had your house leveled.

Also, P&B houses allow you to more easily do your own termite control. Don't believe the hype or scare tactics by the termite killing industry, the stuff at Home Depot works just as well. You save hundreds by doing it yourself every year. Oh yeah, make sure the next time you get your house leveled to ask for termite shields.

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I also second Sharpe's post about the East End and the old, humble homes out here. You can get a plain-jane block and beamer "cheap" from the depression era with wood floors and, with some slow money and labor added, have a cool place. I've seen a few. Our very own Musicman has done just that to his. Although a project like that is messy and really almost never ends. Not everyone is up to that.

I'll also have to agree with Sharpe st. there are some good values out there for the person who is willing to do the work themself. I bought an old fixer upper in late 2001 near Danax. The floor plan was acceptable (i.e. hadn't been mutilated by a bad remodel) and surprisingly it had plenty of closet space.

I will add that I did end up upgrading way more than i anticipated initially. Didn't plan on insulating walls til the 3 ton unit wouldn't cool the first summer. Didn't plan on upgrading electrical until i discovered that the entire house was on two circuit breakers basically. Didn't plan on upgrading plumbing until my plumber friend showed me a cross section of the galvanized pipe and it was full of rust, plus the cast iron pipes had small pin holes.

After the fact, i'm glad i did the upgrades because the house is comfortable for me. I also had the luxury of having other places to stay, particularly for the few days i didn't have a toilet cause i was tiling the bathroom floor.

Also one other comment, if you have shiplap, the house is better but then it also makes some of the upgrades more difficult. I've seen some remodelers just ripout the shiplap completely cause they don't want to put it back up. If you're doing it yourself, don't destroy the extra strength the shiplap provides.

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I love pier and beam houses. They are so much easier to work on when it comes to anything.

The cost of leveling a foundation that is pier and beam is about 1/10th the amount it would take to level a concrete foundation. I have a 2 story 2000sq/ft pier and beam house that was built in 1938 that I just had leveled. The replaced all the beams with pressure treated wood, which prevents the termites from entering the house and they also put a termite and rat guard on all of the piers while shimming. All of that cost me about $2500. It it was concrete, it would have cost me over 10K to do the job. Actually concrete is worse in our weather, but pier and beam is so expensive to build from scratch because of labor cost.

The other reason that I love pier and beam is because you can move walls, plumbing, and electrical a lot easier in these houses because you have a crawl space that gives you an opportunity to get to the pipes and wires under the house.

Pier and Beam all the way for me.

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That was a very good price! In 2001, I had the following done for a cost of $5875 on the house I have for sale [posting # 205699 in East End].

"Installed 15 exterior & 4 interior bell bottom piers with 10" shafts & 24" bells under the foundation of the structure in places recommendede by the contractor." New dirt was hauled in for "fill back" & old dirt hauled away.

It is on P&B with concrete skirting, built 1940. The porch is seperate piece of concrete slab; no leveling done on it.

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