174 year old house joist question

Just inspected an 1834 home, the joists are 2x8 with a 3" notch, as you can see by the pictures, there is a lot of space between the notch and the wall.
They fitted drywall between the joists, and the walls are also now drywall. The one area that wasn’t finished had a small area that I could barely see a joist fitted tight to the beam, but couldn’t see anything else.

What do you think? How should I write this up?

Thanks, Steve

One more thing, there are bedrooms above with wood planking floors.

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Ive been framing for a long time…just got certified…just getting to old (haha) to frame etc…anyway this is just an opinion…if it were gonna go some where it would have a century ago…its been there though God only knows what and if there is no significant deflection Id say its good for a nuther 100 years.

right on, Dana.

Is it safe?
Is it functioning as intended?
Is it correct?

On the one hand, I tend to agree with Dana, that it’s been there this long, it should be OK. However, SINCE it’s been there 174 yrs, is the wood deteriorating? Drying out? Getting more brittle? Subject to more load than originally intended? Has it been altered since it was built? Age does things to all building materials. Question is, what’s changing about these joists?
So you have to decide: Is it safe?
Is it functioning as intended?
It it functioning correctly? If you get three yes answers, ignore it. If not, I’d make recommendations about beefing things up- joist hangers, perhaps?
Sister joists?

Framing does not meet current specifications for size and notching. Additional framing may be necessary. Consult with qualified framing contractor.

Notching of floor and ceiling joists is typical and was required in balloon framing.

My concerns are when this was originally built the notches would have been tight/flush with their corresponding members, ledgers or beams.

This house appears to have had some considerable movement at some point in it’s history.

Was there any bowing of the exterior walls?

Unless you are willing to take on full responsibility. I’d consult a structural engineer to sign off on this one.

One water bed would be all it would take to possibly bring this one down upon you.

I agree totaly with the above, many of these older Ballooned framed homes have needed to be retro-fitted with additional ties to hold them together (ever seen a big metal cross with a large nut on the side of an older building) they are there to prevent the side wall framing from moving and allowing the joist tennons to seperate from the beams.



Yep, its been there for 174 years, and it will continue to stand right up until the day that crappy looking framing fails and it falls down. Defer it to an engineer, and don’t feel guilty about it.

That kind of framing is typical in 80+ y.o. homes in Chicago they notch both the joist and the beams to interlock with each other almost like lincoln logs. Even though I agree with the others that if it has stood for this long it should continue to stand up the inspector in me says refer it to a structural engineer NOT A FRAMING CONTRACTOR since there are so many variables in modern living compared to how the structure was originally designed (for instance the 2x8 is structurely only a 2x5). Even though it is not a correct practice these days with all the notches cut into both the beams and joists it is quite interesting that the concept of both pieces in the notched areas where designed to push against one another when they began to deflect.

The first house I owned is now 200-210 years old- a post and beam Cape Cod style that I drove by 2 weeks ago- it got a new roof and paint job and looks fine. I could not build that house today without a structural engineer’s stamped drawings as the hand hewn roof rafters are 48 inches on center and the main floor joists are simply 8-9" logs adzed to provide a flat surface on 1 side only to accept the 2 inch floor boards.

My point is: in older homes that do not meet today’s codes, do we call for an engineer’s review when there may really not be any problems except the previously stated. I have called that issue and then told clients in the report “No heavy items such a water bed should be placed upstairs”

If the vendors or buyers get a report, how long is it going to be valid for. Should it be re-done each time the home re-sells as it is now that much older?

Or…Have we opened up a situation where we know the engineer will most likely cover his behind and state the repair work needs to be done (in which case he oversees it and makes more $$$) …this is the easiest, safest thing for them but the house may have stood for another 100 years with no further problems.

One factor that may often be overlooked is that the species of wood used for the framing may be a hardwood having significantly greater strength than the softwoods commonly used for modern framing. I once encountered a house where there were 2x6 floor joists 24" on centers spanning something like 21 feet. This ought to have been a collapse waiting to happen, but incredibly, there was only minimum deflection after many decades of use. The only explanation possible was that the wood was greater in strength than typical present-day framing lumber, and a check of the design values for various species showed that there were several woods which would have easily been sufficient for those conditions. Something similar may be the case in the pictured structure. In any case, old houses are not new houses, and shouldn’t be expected to be like new ones. Often the best policy is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, because “fixing it” can open up a case of canned worms, when there was nothing really wrong in the first place.

This is an Inspection from earlier this week. Portrion of the home on the left is reported to be circa 1720.

It had similar displacement with repairs being made 100+ years ago. There were steel forged hangers thru the stone walls supporting the joist ends.

This had four sets of 1 1/4" rod with crossed turnbuckles **X **from wall to wall at the interior and angle iron supports at exterior for the movement that occured at three arched windows.

Any photos of the hangers and installation method?

I did not take photos of the hangers as I have seen these before. They were flat iron thru the exterior walls with a bend supporting the interior joist at the exterior wall.

Iron was 2-3 inches wide and approximately 3/8 - 5/8 inches thick. The reported (earlier) owner of the home was a Blacksmith for the local Forge.

Being an engineer and a home inspector, here is where I draw the line and what I tell my client when I face a older home that is not constructed to today’s framing standards. As a home inspector, I can look at the home and determine whether or not the structure has performed ok for the last 174 years. If it is performing ok to date, my report will say so. But it will also say that if you want someone to tell you whether or not it will be ok in the future you’ll need to hire an engineer to evaluate the current framing and design any necessary repairs.

As a HI, I don’t want to take the liability for future performance on a home that is not framed to today’s code. I want to keep it on my client who may or may not follow my recommendation and hand it off to an engineer.

Regarding performance of this home for the last 174 years, as others have mentioned the gaps in those photos are indicating wall spread, which needs to be addressed, so as a HI I would already be calling for an engineer to come in and design necessary repairs on this home. BTW, I don’t call for the engineer to evaluate … he needs to do that in order to be able to “design necessary repairs”.



Back then was just like now. There were good and bad carpenters. It may not have been like that the whole time and I doubt it was cut that way originally because the gaps are uniform but the top sections are of adequate length. I’d guess it was notched later for some reason.

One thing about evaluating old homes… it’s impossible to tell a 174-year old notch from a 100-year old notch. All you can do is look for clues. Maybe for some reason (Because it was free? Because it was already hewn and laying around in the barn?) the original beam was replaced with a smaller one (the one in the photo) and the one in the photo is only 100 years old.

Maybe the wood flooring above spans the gap and it’s fine.

The narrative… mention the notching and if the area shows signs of failure, write that. If it shows no signs of failure, write that.

I think there may be some over-reacting here. For all we know, those joists may have been cut exactly as they are now, or shrinkage could have occurred to produce the gaps, which is less likely but possible. There do not appear to be cracks in the joists at the inside corner of the notches, and if that is universally the case, they are not failing. If the wall is relatively plumb, then there ihas likely been no wall movement…after all, what would have caused such movement? I don’t disagree that a report should suggest evaluation by an expert of some sort, because the inspector may or may not be qualified to make such an evaluation, but a report should not unnecessarily be written to scare a buyer or owner, either. It is very possible that there is exactly NOTHING worng with the pictured house. Construction was very different 174 years ago, and just because it doesn’t LOOK like “modern” construction, it does not mean that it is faulty.

It looks like the wall on the left in the photo is bowing out in the center, if it is the exterior wall it is definitely traveling. Just because it has stood for 174 years does not mean it will stand for another 174 years. Everything is O.K. until the point of failure, and it looks closer to the point of failure than stability. One good snow or wind load or a tree on the roof could change things very quickly. I would defer to an SE for the best way to repair this with a cost estimate. I remember the time my neighbor built a house next door to me, there was an big healthy Oak tree off to the side of the house, and he said he was thinking about cutting it down before it fell on his house. I told him that the tree had been there for over 50 years and would have already fell if it was going to, he agreed with my reasoning. Guess what happened 2 weeks later! CYA