Blog :: 03-2010

Brick Foundations- the stuff of nightmares

I work with a lot of first time home buyers and it's hard for them to resist the appeal of a Victorian home.  I mean who wouldn't love this?

It's like living in the doll house you had as a kid!

Besides the ghost that you may inherit from a 115 year old house, there's likely a bigger fright lurking in the basement-a brick foundation. Victorians were most often built with below-grade brick foundations.

A brick foundation consists of a brick wall, built with mortar and clay fired bricks, against the dirt underneath a house. Bricks themselves are actually made out of dirt-clay to be exact-and fired at high temperatures to make them strong. Burying a brick wall and exposing it to the constant moisture contained in our Pacific NW soil slowly degrades the brick. Brick and mortar cannot withstand high levels of moisture for over a hundred years.

And so the foundation of nearly all Victorians need to be re-built. Jacking up the house and re-pouring an entire foundation is not the typical weekend warrior project.

So, buyers, watch out for this frightful sight!

Basic Math

There are many reasons for you to buy property. Two very big ones are passive income and leveraged money. Let me explain:

Have you noticed that how much you earn relates to every hour you spend working? Every minute of your work life measured out in pennies? How can you get a head if you have to spend more of your precious time to make more money? You can't. That's why you must invest-so you can enjoy your weekend, and your investments can continue working. Real estate is one of those important investments.

Here's my example...I'm going to give you $10,000. What are you going to do with it? (OK, in this scenario humor me. You're going to buy a house.)

In the alternative example, you're going to go buy $10,000 worth of stock. Something moderately safe. When you go buy that stock (for the sake of simplicity) you get $10,000 worth of stock. That's it. When the stock goes up, you make 3% on your $10,000 ($300). Not bad-better than investing in your friends' bar tab.

If you go buy a house (with a mortgage), you get $200,000 worth of stock for $10,000. Did you get that? You get $190,000 more "stock" when you buy real estate. So when housing prices go up (let's say 3%, to make it comparable to the stocks) you make 3% on $200,000. That's $6000 in gain!

All that, before you even got dressed for work.

Chimney Dust

You may have noticed I find chemical reactions (especially in the systems of a house) fascinating. And so, here's another... Have you gone into the basement and noticed the bottom of the furnace chimney has a circle around it of red dust? Ever wondered what that was? (I did-so you don't have to...) Most of the furnaces in Portland use the original brick chimneys to vent toxic gases outside. When a lot of these chimneys were built, they didn't have chimney caps. (Picture a little umbrella over your chimney. Or look at this image.)

One of the by products of burning fuel (especially coal, oil or wood) is creosote. Creosote contains sulfur. Creosote's the fancy name for the black ash that remains when you make a fire in your fireplace.

Without a chimney cap, rain water drops into the bottom of the chimney, and gets the creosote wet. Water and creosote interact chemically (in the bottom of your furnace's chimney) and produce sulfuric acid. Yes, sulfuric acid. That's the stuff that will eat a hole in just about anything-including brick. So, the sulfuric acid degrades the brick and creates that halo of dust around your chimney.

So the chimney sweep contractor's not just trying to sell you a chimney cap to make money-it'll lengthen the life of your furnace's chimney.