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House settling

QuestionWhat does "house settling" mean exactly? I ask because three housemates and I have moved into an older house in Somerville, MA. I am not sure of its exact age, but it has old gas light fixtures in the walls. I'm going to guess and say the house is 100 years old.

The place appears to be in relatively good condition, except that it appears . . . well . . . tilty. There are cracks in the corners of some of rooms, but they're not major. The floors are not completely level in any room I've been in. According to the landlord, the place is quite sturdy. He claims all of the tilting is due to the house settling, but even so, that makes me a bit nervous, especially since I'm living in a third floor gabled, dormer-style room and I've a bit of a fear of heights.

Is "house settling" dangerous? Should I worry? —Thank you!

AnswerHouse settling means simply that the home has conditioned itself to the environment. All the materials used in its construction have completely dried and stopped moving. However, the other side of the coin is ground settling, which deals with the earth around and beneath a home. If there's too much moisture or water, then the ground doesn't settle properly and some portion of the home may start to sink. If there's normal settling, then the house itself along with the drying materials will cause some movement in the home.

All this movement causes stress on both the materials and the overall structure of the building. Cracks—normally found in the walls, corners of walls, or up near the ceiling line—reveal this stress. It's time to worry when you find doors and windows out of square, sagging room floors, and beams in the crawl spaces or basement that are sinking or out of alignment with the beam/header. Also cause for worry are basement floors or foundations that show up-heaving and/or sinking, large cracks in the foundation, and water in the crawl space or basement. When you find these types of problems, contact an independent Home and Building Inspector to assess the problem—normally found in the Yellow Pages under "Inspection Service."

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Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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