Jay Markanich's Blog

Structural Stars

I LOVE doing inspections on old, historic homes in Alexandria, Virginia.

The city is so full of history, virtually everywhere you go.

Over the years I have done many inspections on many historic homes there.

Yesterday was no exception.

This is a carriage house to a mansion directly behind.  It was built in 1860.  While nobody could tell me who the owner(s) of the mansion were over the years, it was fun nonetheless to have a look at the place.

While a bit hard to see in this photo, there have been many repairs to the brick work over the decades.  There has been settling.

There were serious repairs evident in the crawl space below.  Everything appeared to have been done very well.

While there were a few things to bring up on the report, nothing too severe to be easily fixed.

The buyer wants to do remodeling too, so some of the things can be done when that is underway.

Next to this house there is one of the two original cobblestone streets preserved by the city.  It is fun to walk on them and know they have been there a long time.

Doing the inspection was a pleasure.

This is what you see looking out a rear bedroom window.

The house on the left is the historic mansion for which this is the carriage house.  It is located on a famous thoroughfare in Alexandria.

The house on the right, I was told, is Robert E. Lee's childhood home.  His front door faces the mansion. You can see that when his house was built, they had duplexes!

From this angle you cannot see how pretty the back yard is.  It is narrow and long and a little park. 

The walls surrounding it are eight feet high.

They have been there a while too.

This is the view of the side of the house.  It shows the pathway between the two houses, all the way to the mansion seen behind, about 50 yards away.


Look carefully and you can see four stars.


Home inspectors probably will know what they do.

Hint:  The stars are NOT decorative!

Hint:  There are four more stars on the other side directly opposite these.

Hint:  You will not find them on new structures.

The stars were literally a structural member. In older construction they were bolted onto the exterior of a brick wall, attached to a long toggle bolt, which passed all the way through the house and bolted similarly to another star on the opposite side wall. The toggle bolts were tightened until the tension kept the wall straight and secure. I've seen stars, acorns, pineapples, and even letters used. The structure of houses centuries ago was brick, and the interior structure wood. The toggle bolts and stars kept the brick walls from bulging.

My recommendation:  When you purchase an old, historic property, try to find out the history.  That will make the whole experience come alive.  Who knows - a Founding Father may have slept in your bedroom!

Jay performs inspections Monday through Saturday, throughout Northern Virginia, from his office in Bristow to Leesburg and Centreville, to Great Falls and Vienna and everywhere in between!

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