Little crooked house • Defining Homes

Don’t get tripped up on uneven floors before buying that new home

By M. ­­M. Adjarian

After a long stretch of searching, finding that perfect house is not only a relief, it’s a glimpse into a whole new future. When the pieces fall together, such as location, price and a great neighborhood, you might pinch yourself thinking “Is this too good to be true?” The idealism in it’s close proximity to work, school, shopping and the big yard for the dogs is shaded by beautiful trees might give the impression that this really is home sweet home.

But you keep hitting your foot on that little bump in the floor. Before you think it’s just the character of the house, give it another look and then have a professional take a gander. There could be more to that misstep than you think.

“If there is unevenness in the beginning,” Brian Mulvehill warns, “between heat and contraction and all other issues, it’s only going to get worse over time.”

As the Fort Worth-based owner of Carpet Direct, Mulvehill knows his floors, and uneven ones can slip through the buying process if one doesn’t take a close eye to the walk-throughs. For instance take a look at where the floor meets the baseboard and if you see gaps; those will indicate uneven floors.

Once a floor starts to warp, one of two things will eventually happen. The floor will either pull away from the house walls or start pushing against them. Neither scenario is especially desirable, but when the floor pushes against the walls, it’s also pushing against molding and drywall, which could get messy — and expensive.

“Once drywall starts to crack, or moisture gets into the drywall, then you’ve got big structural issues,” says Mulvehill.

Regardless of whether the flooring is wood, tile, laminate or carpet, warping problems usually have to do with the installation — something to which a potential homebuyer will not have been privy. Reputable installers should be licensed and come with a good reputation and references. That person should always check the slab or sub-floor before laying any material on top of it. A problem with either indicates a need for structural rebuilding, which could cost thousands of dollars. More typically, though, the problem will arise from the quality of the materials actually used.

“One of the big things a buyer should know is [to] ask the potential home seller what the floor is made of,” advises Mulvehill.

He notes that if the floor is made from cheaper imported wood, chances are that’s why it’s uneven. “You can take a plank out of a box coming in from China, and just twist it. It will actually warp in your hand.”

If faulty building materials are to blame for uneven floors, a potential homebuyer could have them repaired through a procedure called floating,which usually runs about $200 per 1,000 square feet floated. A contractor will pour concrete-like material under the affected areas to raise them up so they are level with the rest of the floor.

So exactly how can a homebuyer tell whether floors are level are to begin with?

“It might sound crazy,” says Mulvehill, “but just get down on one side of the floor and just look across.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of Defining Homes Magazine October 8, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens