Owning a Historic home, especially one that is a cultural landmark, has many appeals for homeowners. Older homes are full of character, charm, and unique style. But there is a downside.

Unfortunately, older homes often require more repair work and restoration. However, repair work doesn’t have to deter you from owning a Historic home. Learn what you need to know about historic home foundation and foundation restoration to see if owning a Historic or historic property is the right choice for you.

Is it normal for older historic buildings to have foundation problems?

Smart homeowners should be on the lookout for signs of foundation damage since even new homes can suffer from foundation problems.

However, older homes and wood-framed homes especially run a higher risk of having foundation problems. Over time, settlement occurs in homes. It is a natural and mostly unavoidable process that is the reality of owning a home.

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Moisture fluctuations in the base soil put pressure on the foundation and can cause cracking over time. Soil is the most common cause of foundation issues, with some types of soil making damage more likely.

Additionally, natural weathering damage can occur due to decades of exposure to changing elements. Natural disasters such as large storms and earthquakes can comprise the home, as can construction work in the area, intrusive tree roots, and faults in the original building construction.

What foundation issues are most common in older buildings?

Due to advances in construction, older buildings tend to suffer from shortcomings in their original design. Older concrete contains lower-quality materials than current standards dictate. It contains more impurities and a lower percentage of Portland cement, which is the bonding agent in concrete when the method of building was using bricks.

Therefore, many historic homes have a weaker support system that leaves them more susceptible to wear. Older homes also have more shallow footings and soil movement. Soil is reactive to fluctuating moisture levels, especially clay soil. Since older homes have been around for decades, they have more vulnerability to settling and foundation damage over time or due to soil moisture content changes.

Another common problem in homes built before 1940 is moisture control. Rain gutters were not a traditional aspect of home drainage systems, and the drainage layout of older homes tends to be lacking. Improperly positioned downspouts, dated drainage systems, insufficient clearance between the sill plate and soil, and older plumbing systems can all contribute to drainage problems in older homes.

Drainage issues present both cosmetic and real threats. Pooling water can kill vegetation and damage the curbside appeal of the building while creating a prime environment for insects and other pests to breed. It can also lead to serious structural issues if the water enters the home and causes structural damage, as well as mold and other harmful growths that can threaten the safety and health of residents.

Older homes can also suffer from several other issues. Before 1940, it was uncommon to use foundation bolts, leaving older homes less structurally secured. Older homes also tend to lack shear paneling, which can lead to cases of wall collapse, especially during seismic activity. Since older homes were not poured with rebar often, they can have less reinforcement than newer homes. Another potential issue is insufficient access for ventilation and moisture removal due to a lack of codes in the past.

Additionally, piers and posts, especially ones made out of concrete can age and wear out, requiring replacement for structural security.

Overall, old homes can deal with a myriad of problems revolving around lack of construction knowledge at the time, codes not existing, subpar or dated building materials, and due to wear and tear caused over time.

Related: Foundation Repair Los Angeles

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What are signs my Historic home requires foundation work?

Fortunately, there are many visible signs of foundation repair that homeowners can spot and more than can be revealed by a professional inspection.

Natural settlement can make itself visible in a slanted appearance to the home, warped walls and ceilings, and windows and doors that have difficulty opening and closing.

Other signs such as a leaning chimney, cracked foundation, and large or unusual cracks around the home can indicate damage. Additionally, events such as water intrusion can manifest in damage that can cause structural problems.

Signs of water damage include damp crawl spaces, warped or rotting floorboards, and the presence of mold, mildew, fungi, and other harmful substances.

What can historic home foundation repair accomplish?

In addition to foundation damage, many Historic homes are in a state of less serious disrepair. While the foundation of the building might only require mild to moderate work, restoring weathered aspects of the home could improve its appeal massively. Concrete walls, retaining walls, balconies, facades, porches, window sills, and decorative elements can all take on an aged appearance over time.

Historic home foundation restoration can overall correct foundation issues to make the home safe, while also improving the damaged design to restore it to its original glory. However, it’s key to team up with a contractor who appreciates and understands the unique appeal of the building and is dedicated to preserving and restoring original design elements as often required by your local HPOZ (Historic Preservation Overlay Zone) department. The trifecta of historic home foundation repair is safety, appearance, and functionality.

Do historic buildings require special attention for repairs?

A team of experienced contractors is needed for historic home foundation restoration. Historic buildings come at a high value, and they need to be treated with care to preserve it. A successful renovation should restore the structural integrity of the building while preserving the original charm and design. Therefore, it is critical to choose contractors who have experience with historic home foundation work.

Is it mandatory to repair historic home foundations?

If the foundation of the home is showing signs of damage, which is common in older buildings, then historic home foundation restoration is most likely needed. Failing to secure an old building will make it an unsafe place to reside.

Even if the building is not residential, structural vulnerabilities can leave it susceptible to damage and even collapse. Overall, failing to restore and renovate a damaged foundation will cause safety concerns and likely property damage. Furthermore, soft-story buildings across Southern California, including over 20,000 in Los Angeles alone, have received mandatory soft story retrofitting orders.

Many older buildings and wood-framed buildings must secure their structures to avoid a collapse in the event of seismic activity. Because earthquakes are a looming threat in the greater Los Angeles area, it is necessary to repair the foundation in damaged structures.

Related: Sister Foundation Solution

Does my historic home need foundation repair or replacement?

The question of whether or not your historic home foundation requires repair or replacement depends on the extent of the damage. However, most cases of damage can be treated with a repair rather than requiring full foundation replacement.

Earthquake retrofitting is one foundation repair service that historic homes often need but due to the existing foundation being made of bricks, often a new sister foundation will need to be installed. 

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The foundation can be secured and retrofitted with bolts and braces that meet current codes to prevent the foundation from sliding during seismic activity. Another foundation restoration repair involves replacing posts and piers that are damaged, missing, or improperly installed. The new posts and piers are installed with spacing that meets current building codes. Floor leveling is another historic home foundation restoration project that some historic homes might need. The floors of the home can be lifted to correct any sagging and settlement that occurred over the years. New beams are installed to strengthen the leveling, as well as new posts and piers.

Additionally, more minor repairs can be made in historic home foundations. Crack repair work can rebind breaking structures and reinforce the building. However, it’s necessary to have a professional inspect the cracks to determine if they are surface or structural. Many older homes also benefit enormously from moisture protection services such as crawl space vapor barriers and yard drainage installation systems to prevent water intrusion and moisture damage. In some cases of foundation damage, only a partial repair is needed to secure the structure. Sometimes an adjacent sister foundation can be installed to offer added support.

What areas of historic homes can be restored?

In addition to the foundation, there are many aspects of historic homes that can be restored. They include woodwork, paint, windows, doors, stucco, masonry, porches, balconies, chimneys, roofs, gates, fences, landscaping, and hardscape.

Repairing any of these weathered, crumbling, damaged, or aging aspects of the home will overall raise the property value and aesthetic appeal of the building. When done correctly, repairs won’t compromise the original design of the structure.
Wood sliding is an important aspect of a cultural landmark because it comprises the character and finish of the building. Wood sliding restoration and replacement can elevate the overall appeal of the building, as can stucco, paint, and masonry depending on the original design of the building. These areas of repair will revive the original look of the structure, revealing a fresh face. Restoring the windows of a historic home is another step that, when done right, will reflect the original design and appeal of the building from the exterior.

Additionally, many historic homes have specific porch and balcony designs that reflect the style of the era. Skilled professionals will be able to restore or recreate these areas to reveal the architecture. Other areas of the exterior that can be repaired or restored to indicate the original design include the fence and landscaping. Partnering with the right restoration team is necessary because they will know which colors, shapes, designs, structures, and materials indicate the architecture of the time. The result will be a structurally secure home up to current building codes that reveals a revived vision of past architecture and character.

Is it worth the effort to restore an old home?

Given the extent of damage that some older homes are in, many wonder if restoring historical homes is worth the effort. While it isn’t for everyone, restoring an older home can secure you a historically rich, charming, and unique piece of architecture. The history, design, and charm of Historic homes and cultural landmarks make them unique pieces of architecture.

It’s important to keep in mind that many newer homes suffer from foundation problems, so choosing the new home route does not guarantee there won’t be issues. A degree of home settlement is to be expected over time, so if you own a home, then chances are you will have to deal with repair work at some point. Fortunately, you can minimize damage and cost by being a vigilant homeowner. When it comes to owning any home, Historic or new, the keyword is maintenance.

When it comes to home repair work, it’s all about teaming up with the right contractor. At California Foundation Works, we’re dedicated to making your historic home renovation as hassle-free as possible. We’ll be there every step of the way to communicate each aspect of the project, secure the best rates on the market, and make your Historic home dreams a reality.

Whether you plan to use your renovated space as a unique home, charming bed and breakfast, valuable investment, or anything you see fit, we’ll make sure you love the results of your historic home restoration.

Why Us?

Here at California Foundation Works, we have years of experience in historic home foundation renovation. Our team of contractors operates with care, precision, and experience to secure your historic home without diminishing the original design.

We will work with you every step of the way to restore your historic home and make it a safe and secure place to live for many happy decades to come. Our appreciation for cultural landmark restoration makes us a trusted choice for historic home renovations in the greater Los Angeles area.

Are you considering purchasing a historic home?

Interested in historic home renovation?

Let’s discuss the process together!

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