Floors out of level

Floors out of level - do your sloped floors need attention - Where to begin - Bedroom with hardwood flooringMost homes eventually will have floors out of level with the passage of time, but they shouldn’t feel like The Mystery Spot. How much sloping or crowning is too much? What should be done about it? And most importantly, what is the cause of it?

In Belwood, Belgatos, Surmont, and nearby, having issues with unwanted slopes is not unheard of, unfortunately. Most of Los Gatos close to the hills can experience foundation and drainage issues that result in floors that aren’t flat. But those aren’t always the causes.

What causes uneven floors?

A number of causes can make floors out of level. Often it’s related to water, weight, and soil.

  • Water Leaks: Tub or shower water that gets under bathroom flooring can cause the particle board or plywood underneath it to swell, making the floors squishy feeling or unlevel. That shouldn’t be ignored, as water damage can lead to things like mold, fungus, and dry rot.
  • Rain or Ground Water: Sometimes hardwood floors get cupped and unlevel when there’s moisture in the crawl space below. A couple of our clients saw buckling floors begin to flatten out on their own after they sealed their crawlspace against groundwater intrusion. (The moisture could have several possible sources, or a combination of them. All sources will need to be addressed.)
  • Excessive Weight: Excessive weight can wreck havoc, too. A home’s components are designed for a particular load, but if that area is overweight, there can be bowing beneath it.
    • For example, a client who is also a contractor pointed out cracked tiles in a bathroom floor and remarked that the room was probably designed with a lightweight vinyl floor and when home owners upgraded, they installed tile without additional support in the crawl space for the extra weight.
    • A similar result could happen if a house was designed for a lightweight roof and later on a heavier one, such as concrete tile, was added without structural reinforcements.
    • You might see this in other parts of the structure as well. We frequently see framing around garage doors sag across the top when occupants store heavy items in the garage attic area, which is not built for it – the span from one side of the garage to the other makes it prone to sagging if weighty things are stored in the middle.  Drive down almost any residential street and you are likely to see at least one or two droopy garage door frames across the top.
  •  Foundation Movement: Foundation issues can be especially costly to rectify.
    • Foundation problems often are related to water mixing with expansive clay soils (this type of soil expands when wet and shrinks when dry) , so foundation and drainage work often go together hand in hand. (See this helpful video from Bear Engineering for more info.)
    • Tree roots and erosion can also cause problems with foundations, and those may result in uneven floors, too. (This is not an exhaustive list.)
    • Flooring can also go out of level due to additions to the home and uneven settling between the new and old footprint of the home. Clients of ours in this situation chose to replace the flooring (which was worn anyways from active use and settling) and have the installer use a leveler before installing the new material.

 

Isn’t settling normal?  When should we be concerned about floors out of level?

Homes do settle, particularly when they are first built. Ideally, that settlement would be even, and the entire structure may sink into the soil by the same amount. If your floors are out of level enough to be bothering you, pay attention. Is it just one spot? Is it somewhat even, is there a pattern to it?

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Surmont

The Surmont subdivision is a highly desirable, scenic, low turnover area situated close to the coastal foothills with large trees, gently winding roads, and tidy homes in Los Gatos, California, 95032.

 

Westhill Drive in the Surmont subdivision in east Los Gatos

 

What are homes and lots like in Surmont?

 

Old Orchard at Westhill Drive in Surmont subdivision

 

There are 72 houses in Surmont. I pulled the data shared below from Realist, a program offered to members of the MLS which provides information from the Santa Clara County tax records as well as MLS data.

Typical:

  • 4 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms
  • 2496 SF
  • 1 story
  • 2 car garage
  • built in 1965
  • 10,000 SF lot
  • ranch style (or modified ranch)
  • slight hillside grade

Most houses are single story, but a few are split level or two story houses. (Average is 1.33 floors.)

These are good sized single family homes with the average house providing about 2500 square feet with 4 bedrooms and 2.5 or 3 bathrooms. The smallest houses are a little more than 1650 SF and the three largest boast more than 4,000 SF.

This is generally an older area, with most houses first built in the early 1960s. The earliest properties were constructed in 1952 and 1955. Four houses were built after 1970, with the newest constructed in 1980. The average year built is 1965.

Most parcels enjoy between 9,000  SF and 11,000 SF of space, but a few are larger: 4 are about a half acre and 1 is 1.5 acres.

This region is gently hilly overall. A few homes on Surmont Drive, Surmont Court, and Westhill Drive have more of a slope than other parts of the neighborhood. Some of those properties have amazing views, too – though most houses in this community do not. Most of the two story houses are hillside homes.
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Mirassou site construction update

The Preserve Belwood Neighborhood Association has been working to get the Union School District to reconsider the land use at the Mirassou site, and they are making progress. The new proposal is for just 12 homes, and the lot sizes are more in keeping with the neighborhood, 11,000 to 13,000 SF. Robson Homes is the selected contractor. Want to provide your input? Please attend the meeting – details below.

 

Mirassou site new plan for homes - Robson

Preserve Belwood Neighborhood Association’s Mirassou site: USD Feb 12th at 6 pm

Mirassou Site Update sign in field of flowersWe are on the email list for this group. There is a new Request for Proposals by the Union School District. The Preserve Belwood Neighborhood Association sent a reminder note out about the meeting, which will be held on Monday February 12 at 6PM at the Union School District Office (5175 Union Ave, San Jose, CA 95124).

“The next Union School District Board of Trustees meeting will be held on Monday February 12 at 6PM at the Union School District Office (5175 Union Ave, San Jose, CA 95124).  The USD board has received their responses to the RFP for the development of the Mirassou property.  There will be a presentation by the potential developer at this board meeting.  We would like to have a great presence of Belwood neighbors at this board meeting to show our interest in the Mirassou property development.

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All information for USD board meetings can be found at https://www.unionsd.org/about/board-of-trustees.  The final agenda for this meeting will be posted on Friday February 9 at 5PM.”

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Sent out this afternoon regarding tonight’s meeting:

 

1.  Tonight’s USD board meeting will be the standard formal board meeting where the attached slides will be presented.  There is a  public comments part of the agenda, but there will not be an opportunity to interact and get questions answered.
2.  There will be a community meeting on February 22 at 7PM at the Belwood Cabana where Robson will be in attendance to present the plans and interact with the community.
3.  As requested by homeowners, Robson will also meet individually with homeowners who are directly impacted by the development plans to try to work out any concerns.
All information for USD board meetings can be found at https://www.unionsd.org/about/board-of-trustees

Earlier info:
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Power Outage Readiness

Power Outage Readiness - candle in the darkLast March, during Atmospheric River Storm #11, we had a 70 hour power outage at my house, and we weren’t alone. Our neighborhood largely went black at night except for solar landscape lights in some front yards and a very few houses that had either a gas generator or solar with a battery backup.

When our lights flickered again during storm #12, I had that “never again” resolve. Of course, for any emergency we know it’s imperative to have safety items such as flashlights, batteries, candles and a way to light them, emergency food, water, and first aid kit. What else? A hand crank radio is wise to have, too, not just for a power loss but for a severe emergency, such as after an earthquake.

Additional power outage tips

  1. Fridge and Freezer:  Ice in the fridge and freezer can help preserve the temperatures needed for food to stay safe. The FDA says that a fridge needs to be at 40f or lower for food safety. Freezers should be as close to 0f as possible. And, of course, we should limit how much we open the doors since each time it will warm the interior.
    • Ice in your ice maker may melt during a prolonged power outage. We hadn’t thought about it until a puddle appeared by the freezer door. If you can load that ice into large plastic bags and seal them, they may help to keep the freezer a little cooler and not ruin your floor in the process.
    • Dry ice keeps longer than regular ice. Some grocery stores do carry it and I wish we had thought to buy it on the first day of the outage.
  2. Camping tools: I confess that I’m not much of a camper, but I was grateful when my husband pulled out his old camping stove and used it to make me breakfast in our backyard.  These stoves and their fuel aren’t too expensive and might be a worthwhile emergency backup tool you’d want to consider having.
  3. Charging laptops, cell phones, tablets: even with our small backup batteries, most of us cannot go 3 days without charging our devices. Luckily the county was not all out of power at once and perhaps each of us had family or friends or an office where we could power up daily. What if it were more extensive? For about $200 a portable power station (electric) can be bought that will get through quite a number of charges for your devices. Here are two that I like (after way too much research – these are NOT affiliate links):
    • BLUETTI EB3A Portable Power Station | 600W 268Wh – on sale today on the Bluetti webbsite for $209, it is $299 on Amazon and in between on most sites. It can be recharged quickly in the loud “turbo mode” setting, or 2-2.5 hours in a quieter one. It can be used in conjunction with solar panels (which are not cheap!).
    • A close contender at $199 on Amazon is the EF ECOFLOW Portable Power Station RIVER 2, 256Wh LiFePO4 Battery, which also has a fast charge and can work with solar panels.  This one has only one 3 prong AC outlet, and the Bluetti had 2.
    • You could also consider buying just the solar panels. I opted not to do that since I didn’t think it would work well during a downpour – but it might during a PG&E summer PSP outage.
  4. Battery backups for sump pumps and garage door openers: we are fortunate and have a dry crawl space that does not need a sump pump, but that’s not too common in our neighborhood. Some sump pumps will only work with the electricity is on – and you might need it most precisely when it isn’t. If you have a sump pump, it might be wise when replacing it to upgrade to one with a battery backup. Same with the garage door opener. Some people are not able to open the garage door even with a release, and if that applies to you or anyone in your home, it might be worthwhile to upgrade it to one with the battery backup.
  5. Gas generators: I don’t have much info on gas generators but have several family members who swear by them. I will say that they are loud! Prices vary depending on whether or not you want to backup your entire home or just a few items, whether it’s portable or permanently installed. Please be aware that gas generators will be unavailable to buy in stores in California starting in 2028, though. The sales ban has to do with air quality.
  6. Portable solar landscape lights are a plus during a power outage. Last summer we purchased some “fairy lights” in mason jars with solar lids that can sit on tables, hang from the handle, or sit atop stakes in the ground. At the time I thought they could be useful during a power outage – and they were. The ones we bought aren’t good for reading, but we moved some from the backyard to the front and put others indoors for lighting in bathrooms, hallways, etc. They stayed bright all night long. This is a good alternative to candles, which should not stay lit when people are asleep in the home.
  7. Solar on the roof with a battery backup is a solid but expensive option. With the battery, your solar generation can actually power your house during the day even in a power outage, and that can be a lifesaver! Of course, if it’s cloudy and storming there may not be much electricity generated. A battery cannot go for days and days if there’s not enough sun coming through, so choices have to be made about how much to use and when. (See above: portable power station.) The batteries that I have checked out recently are pricey at $17,000 to about $22,000 each. This is a huge ticket in the “home improvement” department. That said, when we reroofed last summer, we added solar and a battery backup, and I don’t regret it.

I wish that we didn’t even need to share tips on power outage readiness, but let’s face it: our grid in California a mess. The PG&E employees who are out there restoring our power in horrible conditions (rain, wind, smoke) are our everyday heroes. But choices have been made for decades which were not good for us, the consumers. We need to put ourselves in the position of being ready to do without power at times, sadly.

Do you have any power outage tips that I’ve missed? Please send me an email at mary@popehandy.com and I’ll check out any helpful info to see if it should be added.

Is your sump pump ready for winter rains?

Graphic image: how's your sump pump?Many residents in Los Gatos and nearby communities such as the Los Gatos mountain communities, Almaden Valley, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, the Cupertino foothills, etc. have sump pumps in their crawl space to pull off water that can accumulate below the house.

Water can get there for a variety of reasons, such as reverse grading (the soil should slope gently away from the house, but in some cases the slope is unfortunately toward the house), downspouts not being extended to carry roof water away from the structure, or even underground water bubbling up from below (that’s a problem for a drainage expert, not a do-it-yourself job). These situations often happen during periods of heavy rain.

Sump Pump Options

Like any other appliance, sump pumps come in all ranges of quality and performance from bare bones and portable to full of bells and whistles. They also get old and need maintenance from time to time, and they can fail. Some will turn on automatically, some must be switched on manually (assuming you are home to do it). Some run only on electricity, and will be no good to you during a power outage. Others come equipped with a battery backup.

If it’s been a long time since you have checked in on your sump pump, now is a good time to do it (or pay someone else to inspect it). Also check to see if the soil under the houses is graded or has channels to bring water to the sump pump. Also double check the downspouts to insure that they are carrying water away from your home / foundation.  The best time to inspect all of this is before you need it. (Anyone with air conditioning knows how hard it is to get a service call on a malfunctioning AC unit during a heat wave!)

Time to upgrade? I would suggest looking into sump pumps with battery backups so that it works even if the power goes off – that may be when you need it most. It would also be good to have one that can register water accumulating and turn on automatically.

 

Related reading:

Cracked Foundations, Adobe Clay Soils and Water in Silicon Valley (on the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog)

What is a cripple wall? (on popehandy.com)

What To Consider When Buying a Hillside Home in Silicon Valley

Water Table (on this site)

2023 Closed Sales

In 2023 we had a mixed situation of high and low sales in the community. The low ones were usually on the market a long time or not listed on the MLS with full exposure. Some of the sales below show a DOM or Days on Market of 0. That means they were  under contract before the home was listed on the MLS.

We saw, showed, bid on, and sold within this list. Each sale has a story. Some homes got multiple offers, others had few. Usually there’s a good reason for every result.

Please note that one of the sales was not on the MLS at all. For that, we went to MLS Listings and accessed Realist, which provides sales found both on MLS and also on the county records.

The text is small in the image below, but if you click on it, it will open in a new window and will show the full size. (This is best seen on a tablet, laptop, or desktop rather than a cell phone.)

2023 closed sales in Belwood of Los Gatos, Belgatos, Surmont, and adjacent areas


Please CLICK the image below for a larger image in a new tab:

Belwood of Los Gatos home sales in 2023, also Belgatos, Surmont, and adjacent areas of East Los Gatos

 

Overall, single family home sales in Belwood of Los Gatos, Belgatos, Surmont, and attached areas did well overall in 2023, with am average sale to list price ratio of 103.3% and days on market of 31.

Also sold in 2023 was a nearly 11 acre parcel on Surmont Drive and additionally, two duplexes (4 housing units total).

Interested in selling or buying a home in or near Belwood? Please reach out to me! I’ve lived in the area since 1999, have sold several homes here over the years, and am an enthusiastic resident!

 

Belgatos

The Belgatos subdivision consists of 81 semi custom homes on tree lined streets close to Belgatos Park in east Los Gatos. It is a scenic area with the coastal foothills and a tremendous amount of open space close at hand.

The Belgatos subdivision, street view - Westhill at Belblossom

 

Where is Belgatos?

Heritage Grove Surmont Belgatos Belwood of Los Gatos mapped subdivisions

This area consists of just a few streets:

  • part of Westhill Drive (spans the three adjacent subdivisions)
  • part of Belvue Drive
  • part of Belblossom Way
  • the west side of Belgatos Road
  • some on Blossom Hill Road

This area is close to, but not part of, Belwood of Los Gatos. For home owners in Belgatos, is it possible to pay the Belwood dues and enjoy the pool, cabana, etc., as this is in a “Class D” optional membership area.

What are homes like in Belgatos?

Most houses are ranch style, one story houses, and they are very well kept.

I crunched the numbers, and here are the averages:

  • Bedrooms – 4 (3.925)
  • Total bathrooms (includes half) – 3 (2.925) – could be 2.5 bathrooms or could be 3 full baths
  • Average number of stories – 1.35 (55 of the homes are single story, 13 are 2 story, and 2 have 3 levels – either split level or 2 plus basement)
  • Home size – 2427 SF
  • Lot size – 10,476 SF
    • Most lots are fairly level except on or near Westhill. A number of the homes on Westhill are hillside properties with lovely valley views.
    • Some lots on the north side of Westhill or on nearby streets have a sloped lot but not enough elevation for a valley view
  • Year built – 1970 (ranges from 1964-1977 with one exception, which was constructed in 1935)
  • Most have an attached 2 car garage. There are a few with 3 or which have converted the garage to living space – but not many.

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