Ask the builder: what you learn from snooping around an old house

How could the underside of this old house’s original subfloor be stained with concrete?

A few days ago I was in the basement of an old house with my son. We were looking at the boiler, the structure and the foundation walls. He is about to become an owner for the first time. For the past four years, he’s rented a loft, saving up so he can put down a large down payment.

I have three children, and unfortunately only one of them is old enough to remember that I went to construction sites every day. In fact, many Saturdays I would take my oldest daughter with me to construction sites to help me with small chores and give my wife some well-deserved rest. My son and youngest daughter only have memories of me sitting at a computer all day writing my syndicated column.

Because I couldn’t immerse my son and youngest daughter in the site experience, they missed a lot. I clearly remember explaining some very interesting things to my eldest daughter, and she always had fantastic questions about things she saw on a construction site.

While we were in the basement of the old house, my son asked me, “Dad, what are those diagonal pieces of wood between the joists that form the letter X?” I was impressed that he spotted them. I explained that these are diagonal braces and their purpose is to make the floor above much stiffer. Believe it or not, these small pieces of 1×3 lumber transfer a concentrated load resting on the floor above to adjacent floor joists. It is simple but effective structural engineering.

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