Home built in 1860 - Foundation?

I’m not really sure how to report on this foundation and I’m looking for some help. The home was built in 1860.

Some areas were less then 1’ from ground and definitely not you typical pier and beam foundation. There were round tree like beams at the perimeter of parts of the foundation with notched joists setting on them and then at others there were square beams pillard up with stone??

Looks more like a pile of rock and beam foundation. I would definitely ask for a structural engineer to evaluate this foundation.

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The original construction was build on a history of construction techniques that worked over time, but unfortunately knowledge on how to maintain these old homes was lost several generations ago. When this home was built the homeowner cut the wood for the framing and heat, planted an harvested food for his family and invented ways to fix things using scrap metal and bailer twine. The last several owners of this home probably didn’t even own a hammer. The most significant issues I find in these old houses is settlement, wood rot, termites, powder post beetles, damage done during the installation of plumbing & ductwork, installing plywood and three layers of shingles on rafters designed for cedar shakes and finally buyers expecting the house to be perfect. IMO the buyers of these old homes fall in two categories, Type 1- they have allot of experience in remodeling older homes and willing to put in the sweat equity, ie labor of love. Type 2 - they have no clue how to maintain and old house and buy it because it looks cool or it reminds them of their grandparents old home.


First: Report components. A: Crawlspace B:Structure.
Note all deficiencies you can observe.

Crawl space.
Uneven soil.
Missing vapour barrier.

Ansecrial foundation.
Prior repairs.
A: Round Log beams.
B: Piers/columns: Continuous CMU with Softwood lumber shims.
C: Various Floor joists supported on/by what appears to be concrete pads with softwood lumber shims.
Missing bridging, strapping or blocking to prevent rotation.
D: Subflooring, Planks, Missing WRB on the crawlspace side. Various locations. Image #3.

Recommend: Further review, and required repairs, by a licensed general contractor with inhouse structural engineer.

Limitation: Limited space prevented the required visual assessment.

Hope that helps.


Thanks for your help!

Agree. Randy is extremely helpful with quality information!

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Not to disagree with you, Randy. Ancestral foundations consist of random rubble stone in lime based mortar seal with lime wash to prevent water infiltration, graystone ashlars, split stone with random rubble backing, etc.
Lime mortar was used to bond the masonry up until portland mortar was developed in the late 1950’s. How to Choose the Right Mortar Mix Type: N, O, S, or M

Montreal and surrounding municipalities are full of historical buildings dating date centuries. Oldest building I have inspected was 1880’s. Beams were hand hued flat logs on 2 side. Some with bark remaining. I inspected many Churches and homes dating back through the centuries. Guess I am fortunate enough to live in an old Canadian city with standing historical structural. Full Revocations include the facade must remain if the building is deemed historical.
Best regards.

Hi Robert, not sure we are talking about the same thing. My intent was to convey to newer home inspectors just because century old homes, especially visible roof and floor structures, look nothing like modern framing don’t panic and call it out as deficient. Just focus on the condition of individual members and point out visible sagging, rot, physical damage, etc. As a structural engineer I can’t say 20’ rough sawn 4x12 oak floor joists spaced at 36” centers on 12” diameter pine log beams supported on stacked stone is acceptable without allot of measurements and calculations.

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Hello Paul - Mention the type of structure - mention supporting material (with picture) is stacked stone and wood shim. Vapor barrier? That was an unknown concept. Looks like the workmanship and material was “typical of the era of construction”. The dirt floor IS NOT a structural element. Yes, do call out members that have been compromised by the installation of electro-mechanicals. Based on your second pic, do note that some foundation wall had been repaired/ replaced, updated. Take a picture of the manufactures instructions on the insulation because it is incorrectly installed per those directions. I suggest getting supplemental training on “Old”, “Historic”, or whatever you want to call them, homes. 1860 is not, in my opinion, an “Old Home”. It is a “mature home”. Of course, my judgement on the age of homes is tempered by their being common in our area. My “oldest” home inspection was a home that pre-dated our disagreement with the Crown by some 70 years.
For Ben G. - how about a training presentation on homes of this, and older, vintage? I am quite sure you ran into them back in Pennsylvania.


I concur. Be happy to help. Inspect many historic buildings and ancestral foundations.
Several contractors with inhouse engineers restore these unique foundtons in my neck of the woods. I was asked oversee a historical restoration from the foundation up. Many old masonry buildings can not be torn down once deemed historic.

That looks like what I see all the time here in Montana. Rubble and log. But we have very dry conditions and great drainage.

Morning, Randy.
Hope this post finds you and your loved ones well and in good spirits.

Typically/Usually/Normally buildings of this cercia are structural masonry.
Stone or masonry columns with large stone footings.
Floor joists are hung in the structural masonry walls. No veneer in structural masonry.
Flooring levels are at time cantilevered above Bearing walls. Stairway openings are the weak link.

This is not Typically/Usually/Normally modern timber framed construction. I do not post spans in my reports.

As for the OP’s post. ‘Home built in 1860 - Foundation?’ random rubble stone was used during this 1860 cercia. Here’s an engineering link, civilengineeringbible [Everything about Stone Masonry] Rubble masonry: It is further sub-divided in the following categories:

  • Uncoursed rubble masonry
  • Random Rubble masonry
  • Coursed rubble masonry
  • Dry rubble masonry

The log with CMU and softwood lumber shim in the middle image is likely a stem wall for a bearing wall above. As posted. *Flooring levels are at time cantilevered. Stairway openings are the weak link.

Keep well.
Best regard.