Author Topic: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair  (Read 3809 times)

El_Viajero

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Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« on: February 22, 2016, 02:01:49 PM »
So I own and live in an end unit townhouse on a row of 6 townhouses. I have a few larger-than-hairline foundation cracks, some minor cracks in the drywall above some doors, and a door that sticks. The floor in the kitchen slopes a little, too.

Anyway, I called a structural engineer. After doing an all-out evaluation with laser readings and such, he provided a report indicating that yes, I indeed have "significant" structural movement. The whole 6-unit structure is shifting in one direction w/ the "break" right underneath my unit.

The proposed solution is to first try a french drain around the perimeter and see if it stops the problem over a period of years. This seems reasonable to me, especially since we've already got a pesky crawlspace water problem that needs to be solved. If the drain doesn't help, they said to add helical piers around the entire unit... so $50K+. Fun times, right?

I asked the engineer what the consequences would be if I did absolutely nothing. His response was that granite countertops might crack (mine are laminate), tiles might crack (I don't have any tile), drywall might crack (already has; no biggie), doors might stick from time to time (again, easy to solve).

Can anyone think of any really compelling reason to spend thousands on repairs? It just doesn't seem like the consequences of this will affect my life in any significant way.

Bicycle_B

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Re: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2016, 12:13:59 PM »
I think I have heard that there are cases where a cracking foundation will cause a break/leak in plumbing if the pipes in the slab. Fixing that can be expensive.  But since the engineer didn't mention it... maybe verify with the engineer whether there is a risk of that?

I had questions about the foundation in my house.  Didn't hire an engineer - used the free method of having two foundation companies analyze the possible job.  My plan was to see what they said, then decide whether to get engineering advice.  House has a couple of drywall cracks and some sticky doors, depending on the season.  Both companies concluded the symptoms are cosmetic and repair not needed - "I'll give a bid if you want, but I wouldn't do it."  Since they were turning down business, I trusted their response.  Best free consultation in years.
But if I'd paid an engineer, I'd ask them the pipes question before deciding. 


Fishindude

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Re: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2016, 12:38:56 PM »
Biggest things I see with shifting foundations or structures are; unsightly cracks in exterior masonry, doors and windows not operating properly due to settlement, dips in floors and cracked drywall.  I don't see what your location is, but check out the website of a company called Acculevel.   This is what they do, and I have used them numerous times on projects.   If they are not in your area, there is likely someone similar.

You can often straighten up or at least stop further settlement of foundations with things like "mud jacking" where they pump grout in to fill voids and / or raise things up.   They also utilize "helical piles" which are screw earth augers installed alongside a foundation to hold it or lift it up and straighten it out.

The drain will only prevent further water erosion, if that is what is causing your problem.

This is kind of "anybody's guess".   It might not get any worse for a long time, or it could move considerably causing significant damage.

El_Viajero

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Re: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2016, 08:54:53 AM »
But if I'd paid an engineer, I'd ask them the pipes question before deciding.

Incidentally, I did ask this question. The engineer said that it's highly unlikely that my pipes would be in any danger. The movement would have to be extremely severe well beyond what I'm seeing.

Regarding estimates from the foundation repair company: I actually did this before hiring the engineer. They told me that there was movement and that the north side of my house was sliding away from the rest and that I should prop it up with helical piers. The engineers, however, provided a different assessment. The north side of my house wasn't slipping away; rather, the north side is fully in place. The south end is actually slipping away fro the north end the opposite of what the foundation repair company told me and what they proposed should be fixed!

That's actually why I called in the engineers to use their lasers and their education. I didn't trust the foundation repair company's "free" assessment.

You can often straighten up or at least stop further settlement of foundations with things like "mud jacking" where they pump grout in to fill voids and / or raise things up.   They also utilize "helical piles" which are screw earth augers installed alongside a foundation to hold it or lift it up and straighten it out.

The drain will only prevent further water erosion, if that is what is causing your problem.

But my concern is that mud jacking, helical piers, et al. are incredibly expensive and all I get out of it is the assurance that my doors won't stick and that my drywall won't crack. Since those two things don't affect my life in any significant way, I'm leaning toward just ignoring the problem and letting my house slide around a little bit.

Bicycle_B

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Re: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2016, 04:55:19 PM »
But if I'd paid an engineer, I'd ask them the pipes question before deciding.

Incidentally, I did ask this question. The engineer said that it's highly unlikely that my pipes would be in any danger. The movement would have to be extremely severe well beyond what I'm seeing.

Regarding estimates from the foundation repair company: I actually did this before hiring the engineer. They told me that there was movement and that the north side of my house was sliding away from the rest and that I should prop it up with helical piers. The engineers, however, provided a different assessment. The north side of my house wasn't slipping away; rather, the north side is fully in place. The south end is actually slipping away fro the north end the opposite of what the foundation repair company told me and what they proposed should be fixed!

That's actually why I called in the engineers to use their lasers and their education. I didn't trust the foundation repair company's "free" assessment.

Ah, I see.  Well, sounds like you're proceeding logically. Coming to the same conclusion as well.
« Last Edit: March 13, 2016, 04:58:05 PM by Bicycle_B »

greenlivin

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Re: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« Reply #5 on: March 13, 2016, 10:24:56 PM »
So what happens if you go to sell in ten years and the buyer sees those cracks? Are you going to fork over the money then to get it fixed-up to sell, or take a $50k reduction on the selling price? I can see the positive side of fixing it now, knowing that things hopefully won't get worse and when it's time to sell there is nothing (or less) to hide.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2016, 07:31:27 AM »

Can anyone think of any really compelling reason to spend thousands on repairs? It just doesn't seem like the consequences of this will affect my life in any significant way.

I have a similar issue and have not done anything. Have to shave a few doors.

How much would a structural engineer's analysis cost? Maybe I should get a structural engineer to check it out.

El_Viajero

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Re: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2016, 08:40:26 AM »
I have a similar issue and have not done anything. Have to shave a few doors.

How much would a structural engineer's analysis cost? Maybe I should get a structural engineer to check it out.

Good question. I paid $425, and the report was very thorough.

So what happens if you go to sell in ten years and the buyer sees those cracks? Are you going to fork over the money then to get it fixed-up to sell, or take a $50k reduction on the selling price? I can see the positive side of fixing it now, knowing that things hopefully won't get worse and when it's time to sell there is nothing (or less) to hide.

I'll worry about that when the time comes. I doubt I'll put it on the market with the need to sell in a hurry. Out of the 6 townhouses on our block, 4 are rentals. I'd probably sell it to someone who wanted to rent it out and wasn't particularly concerned about relatively superficial foundation movement.

Or I'd sell it to someone like me who realizes it's a non-issue in the scheme of things.

Or I'd accept a price reduction. By the time I'm ready to sell this place, I'm planning on having enough money not to really care what I do or don't get for it.

bwhite12603

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Re: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2016, 12:45:15 PM »
I have had the unfortunate circumstance of having a foundation problem under two duplexes I own.  I've had helical piers, punch piers, mudjacking and now some sort of poly compound pumped under the buildings.  Each time, the repairs are warranted, but each time the foundation is worse in a couple of years.  The only reason I've had to have this done is the city got involved due to the neighbor filing a lawsuit against the developer.  Because my buildings are rentals, the city has a lot more leeway with inspecting if they feel something "doesn't look right".  These have shifted quite a bit, but they don't appear to be done yet.  The piers were all 70 ft long, so deep in the ground.  Each time, I've had to go in and replace the flooring and quite a bit of drywall.  The pipes were all broken at the main the last time around.  The sewer pipes have broken at least twice.  The point is, it's not just $50K.  I'm in for over $500K on buildings worth about $350K (since it happened a bit at a time, each individual time appeared to be worthwhile)!

Spork

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Re: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2016, 01:01:30 PM »
Hi there...  I've been the "victim" of foundation damage.  ;)

In my case the problems I saw were:
* drywall cracks ... like you
* tile cracks
* doors sticking
* One door would move significantly between summer and winter... so significantly that I had to re-hang the pre-hung door twice a year or it would become absolutely unusable.  This was the door to the garage, so ... it sucked
* The clincher:  Our pipes didn't so much "break" as "bend".  The house flexed such that there was a low spot.  They were cast iron pipes.  The "upstream" was a dishwasher and a clothes washer.  Dishwasher detergent is really caustic... so when it would drain, you'd end up with a permanent puddle there eating the cast iron.  Eventually, the bottom rotted out.  We then noticed the problem because when the clothes washer would drain and send 25 gallons (or whatever it was) out the line really fast.... it would act as if it was clogged.  We had it scoped with a camera and low and behold ... we could see the pipe was bottomless.

Our foundation repair was about $12k.  Then we had to replace the drain pipe in the middle of the house.  That was another $8k.  There was a horrible, awful mess for days... and lots of fall out.  Pergo floors (glue up style) had to be cut out... so they were ruined.  Tile had to be replaced.  We had a nice stamped concrete patio that had to be patched.

Photo evidence: (This used to be on a web server that no longer exists... so it used to be nicely formatted in a table and you could see the same areas progress throughout the week.)

https://goo.gl/photos/ZgQ1hb4Lmi1T62Jd9

trollwithamustache

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Re: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2016, 02:11:45 PM »
Do you have to do this with an HOA? if so you have my deepest sympathies over the struggle to come to  reasonable and thought out solution to a long term but expensive problem that requires no immediate and obvious action.  Anyways, a couple thoughts in addition to what others have pointed out:

1. At some point the misalignment below grade will also manifest itself at the top of the structure, i.e. the roof.

2. The whole HOA factor, which could be good bad or indifferent. Regardless, stock up on Bourbon.

3. Helical Piers aren't necessarily that scary.  You definitely want multiple quotes from contractors and if you have some flexibility on when they do the work, you might be able to get a much better deal than 50K. A true micro pile can be expense, but the helical piers are typically drilled in with a little rig that fits on a pick up and the two man crew can move around.    Two guys should be able to do a couple piers a day.  50k in a competitive bid in my area (expensive California) will get you an awful lot of piers.

4. Piers need to go deep enough to work correctly and this varies in different areas. Ask how deep the contractor used in his estimate and about charges for additional depth if needed and how he determines if additional depth is needed.

4. Some of the piers need to be angled to address the sliding, so a third opinion from another contractor is a good idea. The disagreement on which way its sliding is concerning. 

5.  It sounds like you want to go the French drain route. That's likely very reasonable. Make sure there is enough space between the wall and the drain that you can later put in the helical piers if needed.

6. Geotechnical Engineers (different specialty of civil than the structural guys) should know more about what is going on underground. A phone call  or two for a quote for the evaluation may give you some good free info about your area's soils.  If you're lucky you can figure out from city filings who the geotech was for the original developer and schmooze some info out of him.

Good luck!

El_Viajero

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Re: Return on Happiness for Foundation Repair
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2017, 01:33:37 PM »
I just noticed that this one resurfaced a few weeks back. Thanks, everyone, for the comments.

Do you have to do this with an HOA? if so you have my deepest sympathies over the struggle to come to  reasonable and thought out solution to a long term but expensive problem that requires no immediate and obvious action.  Anyways, a couple thoughts in addition to what others have pointed out:

1. At some point the misalignment below grade will also manifest itself at the top of the structure, i.e. the roof.

2. The whole HOA factor, which could be good bad or indifferent. Regardless, stock up on Bourbon.

Yes, I've got an HOA. I've made certain owners aware of the issue (not everyone, for various reasons). We're going to wait and see.

Basically, I've lived in this place for a year now and nothing has happened. I filled in one of the bigger cracks with this stuff that looks like concrete but comes in a caulk tube, so you can't really tell it was there. It hasn't recracked yet. No more stuck doors yet... nothing, really. All is well.

I've decided not to ignore it unless I actually have a problem. Since the structural engineer told me that the absolute worst thing I could experience was cracked granite countertops, I see no reason to take action.

My countertops are laminate anyway.