By Alan J. Heavens

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Q: I have a 75-year-old, one-car, detached wooden garage that has started to lean. What do I need to do to straighten it up? I am really handy and would like to do it myself if I could, but I have nowhere to even start.

A: Your e-mail arrived as I was watching an episode of “Emergency,” in which Engine 51 rescued a man trapped by a beam that fell when he and a friend were attempting to do to his hillside house what you are asking about.

In his case, well, it’s Los Angeles, and that stuff happens all the time. In your case, there are several reasons the garage could be starting to lean, including rot, termite damage, shifting soil from heavy rains, or this winter’s freeze-thaw cycle.

There also is an element of danger involved in simply looking for the cause. You could be lying on the ground and start pulling at some wood and bring the whole thing down on you. Start with a structural engineer or a carpenter or a contractor with structural expertise.

I remember hiring a carpenter to replace some rotted fascia on our front porch. When his awl penetrated the fascia and the beam behind it, he found that the previous owner had mortised a pressure-treated beam and an original one, and the result was increasingly noticeable and dangerous sagging. He suggested that I hire a local firm that had the expertise to replace the beam without bringing the whole porch down.

The owner of that firm was no stranger to such issues, having replaced a lot of porch structures in my neighborhood.

Danger aside, do you have any carpentry skills? Would the repair work require a municipal permit and, therefore, an inspection after the job was done that would pass the municipality’s standards?

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