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Old 07-15-2011, 08:50 PM   #1
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Foundation issues: Help!

New to the forum so I hope I can explain everything correctly. I just bought a house and the basement had more issues than were noted on the inspection. I knew there were issues but not this bad. Long story short...The house was built in 1950. There are several cracks and bowing of the basement walls. No water comes in which is good. But one wall has a 15 foot horizontal crack not along the mortar, but the actual blocks have cracked about 4 inches from the floor. The top row of cinder blocks that the sill plate rests on is also bowed out toward the outside leaving a 1/4 inch crack along the mortar line. I had a guy out today (structural engineer) who said I'd need supports put in. His company does not do the work so there is no conflict of interest. He said the cause of all of this is most likely not water, but trees/shrubs (roots) and possibly the weight of the stone front on the house. I have a HUGE oak tree in front about 10-15 feet from the house.

So a couple questions guys.....
1. I've heard of these vertical beams before. How much are they and are the distance between them pretty standard?
2. Do these beams actually work? Are there other methods?
3. I worry about being taken for a ride here. Any advice?


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Old 07-16-2011, 05:49 AM   #2
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I am assuming you hired the structural engineer, you paid the structural engineer for his services, and he really is a structural engineer, not just someone who pretends to be a structural engineer. This should be easy to check, all professional engineers in every state are licensed by the state, they have a professional license number, and that number is a matter of public record, so you can look them up through the state licensing board. In some states, the specialty of the engineer is listed.

As to your questions:

1. "I've heard of these vertical beams before." I assume the structural engineer produced a report for you. If not, you really should discuss getting a written report from him. In the report, he should discuss the damage, the cause of the damage, and the options for fixing the damage. When I do these types of reports, I include photographs within the report of alternative repair systems, so the owner understands exactly what the option is going to look like. The spacing required depends on the degree of bowing, the height of the basement, and the type of vertical support, but your engineer should discuss that in the report.

2. "Do these beams actually work?". Well, if they did not work, presumably your engineer would not have recommended them. Yes, they can be designed to work, however you have to be very careful to understand exactly what "work" means. If you want your walls returned to a plumb condition, that is going to require a different solution than if you simply want to stop further bowing of the wall. You need to discuss this with your engineer.

3. Why are you worried about being taken for a ride? You stated that the engineer's company does not perform the work, so there was no conflict of interest. So who is going to take you for the ride? Not the engineer. Possibly you are concerned that you will hire an unfit, overpriced contractor to do the work. This is a risk whether you hire a foundation contractor or a guy to paint your house. In this case, you may want the engineer to review the bids from the foundation companies, and to verify that the companies are competent. Expect to pay for that service if you elect to have the engineer perform it.

A few thoughts for you. Residential foundation repair work is typically done low bid, and the universe of repair companies includes a lot of incompetent, fly by night outfits who would never make it in the commercial/industrial world. The problem is that foundation work is often difficult and expensive, and in the residential world there are a lot of owners who lack the financial and technical resources to hire a competent contractor. Hence I see a lot of low ball contractors with poorly engineered solutions offering low prices to desperate homeowners, who take them and are sometimes disappointed in the results. My suggestion is to hire an engineer with foundation repair expertise to oversee the process, if you can afford it. The engineer should have no affiliation with the contractor who performs the work.

Last comment. Foundation repair work is generally well beyond DIY, as it involves heavy equipment, and can be very dangerous if performed incorrectly.


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Old 07-16-2011, 06:31 AM   #3
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the beams are usually set on new conc foundations OR bolted into the existing foundation/footer,,, the top of the beam is then bolted to the floor joists,,, because lateral pressure is not relieved or deleted, the force transmits thru the wall & acts as a lever against the beams thereby forcing the floor joints to move if possible.

a better solution is a grout filled steel reinforced wall as shown on our w/site - this was originally designed by a pe in illinois - best wishes !

ANY foundation repair work ( or anything in life, for that matter ) is typically done low bid incl licensed pe's & architects - they call the guy who graduated last in his medical school class 'Doctor', remember ?
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Old 07-28-2011, 11:31 AM   #4
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Daniel's response is great, and true. Foundation work can be expensive, but the sooner you fix the problem, the less expensive it will be for you to fix in the future when it leads to massive issues.

I know that in addition to steel beams, carbon fiber is used to stop bowing walls from moving. It won't put the wall back to its original position, but it will prevent further movement and cracking. If you haven't heard about carbon fiber, you can get some info on this site: It is another option, at least.

A structural engineer is the best person to have look at your issue, and if they are licensed, there should be no worries.

Good luck!
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Old 07-29-2011, 11:06 AM   #5
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You should plan to deal with the whole system here, if I might add that. You stated you have a large oak 10-15 feet from the house. I don't have an answer necessarily, but my house does not have a foundation. We are having one put in, and as part of that we are having to remove a silver maple that is about 5' from the house and about 75' tall. In the process of gathering quotes, I've been told that silver maples are a pretty strong species of wood (as opposed to the mulberry tree we're also going to have removed from next to the driveway) and tends to cause foundation problems.

I suspect that you run the risk of the problem returning if you don't explore a solution to the root cause of your basement walls bowing.

This might not necessarily involve removing the tree, it might involve drainage - for example - that might eliminate roots trying to grow in the direction of your house.
Please do NOT consider any "before" picture of my house as any kind of endorsement of any particular construction method. In fact, you should probably assume that if I post a "before" picture, I am posting it because I am soliciting advice on a proper replacement for one of MANY things done wrong by a previous owner.
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