Guide to DIY Home Repairs

A DIY guide to home repairs, including taking basic home repair notes, correcting crooked floors, cocked door jambs, creating right angles in a house, correcting foundations and foundation diagrams.

| July/August 1987

  • 106-066-01
    Begin your investigation outside. Look for cracks in foundation blocks and joints, misaligned ridge and eave lines and obvious things like out-of-whack siding, doorframes and window trim.
  • Diagram pier-and-girder method
    Diagram: Pier-and-girder method.
  • Diagram: Jacking below the beam.
    Diagram: Jacking below the beam.

  • 106-066-01
  • Diagram pier-and-girder method
  • Diagram: Jacking below the beam.

Setting things straight from the ground up, a DIY guide to home repairs. 

Guide to DIY Home Repairs

Don't get me wrong ... crooked floors and cocked door jambs can be charming as all get-out in a home that's seen enough seasons to settle down gracefully. But when you're remodeling a ranch house that's hardly 10 years old—as I'm doing right now—sagging sills and drooping floor joists lose their appeal the first time you try to find a square corner.

Human errors and a host of other unforeseen problems can take their toll on the integrity of any structure. If yours happens to be one of them, I'll share a few things I've learned about putting a house on the level without spending a fortune on home repairs. (See the home repair diagrams in the image gallery.)

Take Stock and Take Notes

The most important part of the repair job doesn't require that you fix anything; it does demand that you make an honest examination of the problem areas. I knew something was wrong because my floor dipped and the bathroom door wouldn't close correctly. In your case, it may be buckled baseboard trim, cracked wall joints or a cocked window casement that gives you the first clue.

In any event, begin your investigation outside. Look for cracks in foundation blocks and joints, misaligned ridge and eave lines and obvious things like out-of-whack siding, doorframes and window trim. Then go inside and, using a long framer's level, check the slant of the floors, doorframes and ceilings in the areas that concern you. Be sure to take notes you can refer to later.

Armed with the information you've gathered, you can proceed to the basement or crawlspace to get to the root of the problem. Understand that every part of the structure, including the second-story walls and the roof, is supported in some way by a foundation member and its footing. Hence, if part of the foundation fails, it will affect that portion of floor and wall resting directly upon it as well as the studs, plates and rafters that depend on the wall for support. First examine the perimeter foundation and the wooden sill plates. If you're working in a crawlspace, have plenty of light available and clear the area of any debris that's gathered there. Your goal is to find how level the sills are, and that can be determined inexpensively with a ball of nylon twine, a tape measure and a handful of 8-penny nails.

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