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Foundation Concerns in Vacant Homes

2195 Views 10 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  Iowa_Mike
I live in northeast Iowa, and am considering bringing back to life long vacant homes in a poor section of town. It's a rough neighborhood, but I'd like to take on these troubled properties with a dual purpose -- first, to get rid of the eye sores from the neighborhood, and second to establish a rent-to-own program for lower income residents. I've done quite a bit of remodeling previous, so am fully expecting to have to replace sill plates, rim joists, regular joists, sole plates, wall studs, etc. etc. on some of the houses, as well as complete gut and rehab of interior and exterior.

The one thing I've not dealt with is foundation problems, especially with properties that may have been vacant for years, may have had inadequate drainage for years, etc. Having toured a number of these homes with real estate agents (houses are ~$5-10K purchase price), I can certainly say most have quite sloping/uneven floors which I'm attributing partly to water/insect damage to joists and sill plate. All have had cement block or limestone block basement walls with no visual damage, but of course there's no way to inspect the foundation footings.

So my questions about the footings -- what were footings made of in 1895-1905 period houses in northeast Iowa, what damage would be reasonable to expect of houses this age with perhaps years of indequate drainage, how much uneven settling is too much when considering rehabbing an old house, etc. During the gut and full rehab, I can make everything in the house plumb and level, but I'd hate to do the work if foundation problems would negate the work.

Any advice is appreciated. :)
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Wow. I don't see how anyone will be able to say much over the Net; you need boots on the ground for this one, IMO. Anything goes for foundations, or anything else, prior to codes and enforcement. Is it feasible to jack the houses up, install a proper foundation, and go in peace? It may even be advisable to install conditioned crawl spaces. What is the land worth, btw? Maybe you can look at it as buying land and putting up simple, new, and lasting houses. ??? Good luck, either way.
Raze vs. Rehab

Thanks jklingel. You're probably right, need a structural engineer to inspect before I decide to the rehab the houses vs. raze them and build new ones. I'm guessing the cost to jack up the foundations, install piers, etc. would far exceed the cost of simply razing the houses and starting over. Was trying to get some general info on foundations/footings of 1895-1905 houses in NE Iowa, and how much uneven settling is too much when considering buying an older home. Will update once I've had a structural engineer inspect. This is new territory for me.
I have spent a fair amount of time inspecting old and new houses, but I have no specific knowledge of foundation practices in Northeast Iowa more than 100 years ago. The best way to understand the practices would be to find a local historian in the area who might be some miracle have access to documentation about local construction practices. The building department may have information on foundation types in the area.

I used to live in Wisconsin, and I lived in a few old houses (not late 1800, but a couple of early 1900's). Both of my really old houses were built from cut stone block, as I recall they were both limestone. I have no idea if either house had a footing, or if the blocks were simply installed on crushed stone or earth. No idea if Iowa had similar practices.

The best way to tell if the foundation is OK is to hire an experienced engineer or builder to perform a whole house level survey. I always did mine with a fluid level, but it can certainly be done using a laser level or similar instrument. The idea is to determine how much settlement has occurred, accurate to the nearest 1/4 inch, everywhere in the house. By drawing a contour map of the house, it is usually possible to evaluate whether the cause is normal settlement of beams and joists, or the more serious problem of actual foundation settlement.
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I would be more worried about the trouble in the neighborhood first, than the home. As for the foundation, it is only as sound as the ground it is sitting on. The structure is what the biggest concern is. If the place has not been maintained for years, you are better to tear it down and in those neighborhoods that have high crime rate, high Section 8 rentals, you are not going to recoup the costs to rebuild a replacement structure.
May want to read this over.

This type loan was used in a bad area of Richmond VA to do what they called "seeding".
Nothing more then fixing up homes hoping more would follow to end up with a whole area being up lifted.
It work out pretty good.
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I don't know if you are in Waterloo or not, but that is the city that comes to mind.

First choice would be to just burn the house and let it drop into the basement, then start over.

Second choice would be to lift the house and put a new basement under it.

I did this in 2005 on a 24x46 house and I paid $7000 for the lift and drop. I think the basement was about $12,000.

So I guess if you think the structure is worth $7000, then you can lift it and work with it.

I would go with a new basement if at all possible, because those limestone foundations and basements are certainly not selling points.

Put in egress windows, an exterior access staircase, new water in and sewer out. Of course it will be insulated nicely and this may well be the nicest part of the new home.

Regarding the foundation, I think they just started stacking rock. How would you even get gravel back then? The disadvantages today are numerous. The walls are very uneven and difficult to finish. They sweat like crazy. There is no way to seal them up against insects and vermin. And they are usually short by today's standards. A poor floor goes along with it.
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limestone block basement walls with no visual damage, but of course there's no way to inspect the foundation footings.

I doubt very much you will find a footing under those walls.
Mike, I wish you would listen to me. RUN. Time and time again I have been called in to secure job sites like this. Mike, I am sure your heart is in the right place but you are in way over your head here. You will be robbed so may times you will lose track, your windows will be broken out, your wiring will be stripped out. You may even be kidnapped. There is a huge shadow inventory of homes on the market. Stay out of real estate unless your a real shark. They do that seeding program in Pittsburgh. They did it in Cleveland. Cleveland went back to Ghetto. Pittsburgh is on its way up. First things first is see if you can hire about a dozen off duty cops to act as a private security force. Or returning Iraqi war veterans. Good luck
had some experience w/this work however only bought worst places in good n-hoods,,, rehabbing's easy but operating rent-to-own ( lease purchase, deed-in-trust, land contract ) requires good biz acumen,,, jmho - do this to make $$$ - if you can't/won't, write donation checks instead :thumbsup: either run w/big dogs or stay on the porch :yes:
Thanks everyone for the info. I've contacted three structural engineers in the area to come out and give me quotes and advice on these old limestone foundations. Also contacted a local building inspector and said he'd meet with me over lunch to share what he knows about the houses in the area of town I'm considering rehabbing. I'll update once they've given me their two cents.

Also appreciate the advice on HUD programs, security issues, business concerns, etc.... should be an interesting road ahead.
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