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Second-floor room has that sinking feeling

Your Home Improvements

Posted: March 7, 2009 12:10 a.m.
Updated: March 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Hi Robert,
My home is more than 2,500 sq. feet with 4 bedrooms upstairs. The back corner bedroom has had a floor which has noticeably slanted downwards for several years. (I used a level to determine where the dip started and ended and it appears to be just in the middle of the room.) Below it is the family room which when I used a level, the floor appears to be O.K.  Do you think it’s the joists in the upstairs bedroom? How do I determine this and what’s the best way to fix the problem? Thank you so much,
Carolyn J.

Hi Carolyn,

Generally, if there is that much settling you’re going to see tell-tale signs like separation between the floor and the baseboards and cracked drywall. The floor can’t move without something else around it being affected. It’s like a domino effect — if you push one domino it’s going to impact the next one. If you have bad joists, then these would also probably cause damage to your downstairs ceiling. You would see bowing or cracking in the drywall.

If you don’t see any of these other signs which would indicate movement, then it’s probably due to poor, original construction. It could be that this was just the way your house was built and this problem has been there all along.  

You didn’t mention how large of an area was effected. It might be that you have a section of subfloor that has cracked between the joists. This would give the floor a small slope, but only in a limited section of the bedroom.

The only way for repair is to first remove the finished flooring for an examination. If the room is carpeted, all of the carpeting and padding would first be removed. If you have hardwood flooring, you’ll want to start in the corner nearest the slope and start pulling it up until you get that spot exposed.   

Next, you’d remove the subfloor to inspect the joists. I would strongly suggest calling a qualified general contractor to make the inspection and make the recommendations for repair. It may only be that the subfloor has sank between the joists which would be an easy fix. If you have joist problems though, either with settling, rot or termites, this is a much more serious condition and should absolutely only be repaired by a licensed general contactor.

Hello Robert,
We had a leak in our subterranean garage this weekend. The plumber repaired the leak but said that the type of black pipe we had was illegal and that we had to replace it all with cast iron. Do you know if this is true? The bid he submitted to replace all of the piping was close to $2,000. Thank you,
Doris P.

Hi Doris,
I can’t comment on his bid of $2,000 because I don’t know how much cast he will be installing, but his assessment is correct. What you have is a thermoplastic resin pipe called ABS — Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene.

Unless it is covered by drywall, ABS is illegal to use in garages because if there is a fire and that plastic burns, it emits toxic fumes that can be deadly. Cast iron is more expensive to buy and to install. It’s much heaver so you need at least two men for the installation. With two men you double the labor costs. Also, cast iron must be used in all commercial applications for all horizontal mains.

This is because of the continuous clean-outs and cables that are placed in the pipes. Cast is much stronger than ABS and has a longer life.

Thanks for all the great articles in the newspaper. We just purchased a house. It was built four years ago. Everything is fine, except for the water heater. When we use hot water (e.g. washing clothes), we notice that the water heater “bangs.” It sounds like someone beating on a metal drum. The water heater is located in the garage and we can hear the drum beating in the nearby kitchen. Any ideas on what is wrong? How serious? Any fixes?  Thanks,
John G

Hi John,

This could be caused by the air volume that is in your tank. The expansion and contraction is causing the bang. It could be a bad heater wall or a bad heater wall. You may need to put in an expansion tank if not there already, or replace. In any event, although it is usually what I’ve just discussed, this could be a very serious situation. I would call a plumber immediately for an inspection.

What you are describing could be very dangerous and it is possible that heaters can explode. I remember in Van Nuys about 15 years ago there was a water heater that the owner said was hammering. He ignored the problem and the heater later exploded — destroying about 90 percent of the building.   

Hello Robert,
I am interested in replacing the vanity in our master bathroom. Originally I wanted to come in with a pedestal sink, but have decided to keep the cabinetry. So, although I enjoy doing things myself, I have never done this type of work before. I know that I first have to get the old one out of there and then bring the new one in, right? To be on the safe side, is there anything I should know before getting started?    
Dale H.

Hi Dale,

Just be sure and shut off the angle stops before you get started so you’ve valved the water down. Does your new vanity have a backing on it?  If so, you’re going to have to make holes on to accommodate the angle stops, or cut the angle stops and reset them inside the vanity.

These angle stops might be compression fittings or they could be sweated on. You’ll want to use decking screws to hold the vanity to the wall studs.  Some people make the mistake of using drywall screws, but they don’t have the strength of deck screws.  
Run a bead of caulk between the vanity and the wall to close the gap. Caulk comes in many different colors so if you like you can get the caulk to match the color of the vanity or to match the color of the wall.
Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to


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