11-09-2011 06:26 PM
Recently I toured a house and saw a big metal beam right under the wood ceiling/joist that runs across the whole length of the basement. It goes into the walls on both side, and is ~10" wide and 4-6" tall. It seems like some sort of support. Is this "normal", ie, part of regular construction? OR is it there because the foundation or house has some problem?
I have seen many houses, almost all of them are built in wood with no metal used. Once a while I would see a thin metal beam across the ceiling in the basement. But this one seems to be bigger than the ones that I have seen before.
Any thoughts on what it is will be appreciated.
11-10-2011 05:53 AM
My house has the same type of construction (large steel beam running the length of the house with floor joists above running perpendicular to the beam) and and doesn't have any significant structural problems to speak of. There is also a support post that is buried in a wall under the center of the steel beam. I'm not a construction expert, but I believe this was not uncommon in older homes (my house was built in 1978). Nowadays, the longer spans are supported with Mircollam/LVLs beams (which are wood-based) and easier/cheaper to build/install/manuever etc .... Those products were not available until the last decade or so, so older homes had no choice but to use steel for longer spans. I would think the size of the beam required would depend on the length of the span from wall-to-wall and whether or not there are supports under the beam along the way.
11-10-2011 11:44 AM
While I am also not an expert in construction steel beams are common in homes built in the late 1960s and early 1970s and we see them all the time in homes with unfinished basements. When a basement is finished the beams are almost always covered up by drywall since they are not very aesthetically pleasing. Did the other homes which you've looked at have finished or partially finished basements?
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11-10-2011 06:31 PM
Thanks for the reply. Most of the unfinished basements I saw used wood, sometimes used metal beam as vertical support but not horizontal. I found through google that the metal beam I was talking about could be what is so called "I-beam". I also saw similar beams from pictures of other houses's basement online. Do you think most of the inspectors would know what this beam is, or I need a structual engineer?
11-13-2011 06:19 AM
I had this I-beam in my basement. I would not look at this I-beam as being a detriment, but a benefit of buying an older home that was built to last. You'll see i-beams used in commercial buildings, with LVLs or even just 2x10s in residential mostly because of cost factors. If you see a smaller metal beam parallel to the joists in the house, that's probably underneath a bathroom in an older home that supported a concrete floor and also a cast iron tub.
11-14-2011 09:52 AM
Any competent inspector should be able to tell what the beam is and if it is in good condition but most inspectors will recommend a second opinion from an engineer if something looks amiss.
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11-16-2011 10:18 AM
From my readings and houses (mostly old) I have seen, an I beam is a sign of quality construction.
The floor joists usually cannot span from one wall to another (they would be too big), so an intermediate support is needed. Such a support is the I beam; the I shape is great because it does not need to be tall to yield great strength to both load and deformation. There are formulas to determine sizes and all, but the point is that the I beam is quality.
A central beam made of wood in general is not: it has to be bigger plus usually is a doubled 2x12 or so. In addition, there should be one piece spanning from a wall to another and this might be hard to find in wood. The other issue with wood is that one has to worry about water (leaks) or moisture, plus wood deforms with changes in humidity. A metal I beam does not have any of these issues, and, if painted to protect from corosion, it will outlast any of us.