Reader Question: 2-10 Warranty and Sinking Second Floor

From on June 03, 2010 in General Remodel

Q: I still have the 2/10- warranty on my home. The house is 5 yrs old and the upstairs is sinking. On the beginning of the upstairs catwalk, the floor feels like it is about to cave in. When you look underneath the catwalk from downstairs, you can see a depression that looks like we are going to fall thru. What would you say could be the problem or fix for this condition?repair subflooringBrian

A: Brian, without the ability to see the problem firsthand, it is difficult to diagnose. However, I can make a few speculations. First of all, something has got to be seriously out of order to see such a dramatic failure in only five years. To me, this speaks of two potential issues: either a major fault in the construction of your second-floor catwalk, or some serious infestation/water damage.

Infestation seems unlikely, as this typically starts near the exterior of the home and, while I’m no exterminator or pest expert, it seems unlikely that the issue would be isolated to a spot on your catwalk. That sounds more like water damage, or more specifically, standing water within the framing of the floor/ceiling. Even drywall can hold a good amount of water for a good amount of time if it’s finished and painted. Is the depression in the vicinity of a bathroom? Does it make any sense that water pipes would be traveling beneath that area of the upstairs floor? Does the depression have a spongy feel? Does the paint seem to be bubbling? These are questions to ask if you haven’t already.

Structurally, there could be a number of causes. Again I have to speculate based on the information. It could be anything from poor framing (installing a splintered, partially rotten or otherwise compromised floor joist, failure to fasten properly, etc.) to a problem with the foundation beneath the house.

You say that the depression starts at the beginning of the upstairs catwalk. I assume that you mean the top of the stairs, and the fact that you can look up at the depression from below tells me that there is almost certainly a support post running from below the landing at stair-top through the floor and down to a pony wall on a concrete footing in the crawl space beneath the first story…or at least it should be.

upstairs catwalkSomething, you don’t need me to tell you, is obviously amiss here. If it’s water damage, it’s certainly no drip-drip leak that caused so much damage so fast. It seems more likely that the problem is structural, which brings me to your 2-10 warranty.

It should include Ten-Year Structural Coverage, which in turn must cover floor framing as specified by federal regulations developed by the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). According to, a structural defect “means actual physical damage to one or more of the designated load bearing elements caused by a failure of such load bearing elements, making it unsafe, unsanitary or otherwise unlivable.”

Brian, a depression in a second-story catwalk is definitely structural damage and certainly unsafe. The house is only five years old and covered by a warranty. Therefore, the first person I would call is the builder, who probably offered you the warranty in the first place. They should come diagnose the problem and fix it as soon as possible. Mistakes happen when trying to put together a system as complicated as a home. A reputable builder will understand that and treat the problem accordingly.

Although, be sure to get a second opinion from an independent contractor if they somehow tell you it’s not their fault or otherwise try to shirk responsibility. This could be a very major problem, but one the original contractor MUST repair by law, so hold them to it.

Good luck and be safe in the meantime! A structural failure in the second floor should not be taken lightly.

Photo Credit: eHow & Coronado Quest