SAVE YOURSELF THOUSANDS: READ “Choosing a Contractor“
You are a north Texas native who has slowly watched your house develop more and more cracks over the last few years. Now your doors aren’t closing, the floors are noticeably unlevel, the cracks are getting bigger and bigger, and you are just waiting to see how big of a headache this whole thing is going to cause.
Take that ice pack off your head because we are about to tell you everything you need to get it fixed without using all of your savings, fighting with difficult contractors, or tearing up your investment.
Index: Click on any of the links below to jump ahead to a section
- Types of Foundation
- Signs Of Damage
- Common Causes + Prevention
- Foundation Repair Options
- BUYER BEWARE: Choosing a Contractor
- Foundation Repair Costs
Types of Foundation
Before we can get into the details of how to choose the best foundation repair contractor for your house, we need to briefly talk about the different types of foundation.
There are two primary types of home foundations, slab foundation, and pier and beam foundation. While there are many more types, you will rarely ever run into them and thus don’t need to let them take up your mental space. Explore the world of foundations with over 5 different types to choose from. Discover the best fit for your project today!
As the name suggests, slab foundations are simply a concrete slab poured on leveled and compacted dirt. The concrete slab is all poured at the same time and is typically 4”-6” thick. To support the structure, a 24” beam is poured around the perimeter. Depending on the size of the structure, another 24” beam may be poured every ten feet.
Once the slab has cured and the forms have been removed, the building is constructed directly on top of the slab.
Because of their direct contact with the earth slab foundations experience much more weather damage, especially from water. When water seeps into the soil surrounding the perimeter it expands causing the foundation to rise. Eventually, the soil dries and contracts, shifting the foundation again. With enough movement the slab cracks or lowers further into the ground, creating an unlevel foundation and causing stress throughout the structure.
Pier and Beam Foundations
There are multiple different variations of pier and beam foundations. These can be used for mobile homes, container homes, barns, or in the suburbs. In its simplest form, concrete or wooden piers are pressed into the ground and leveled. Then, wooden beams are placed horizontally or vertically atop the piers in order to create a foundation for the home to be built on. Heavier structures commonly feature a concrete footing or grade beam, similar to a slab, surrounding the perimeter of the home.
Due to uneven soil, water access, drainage, and more, these piers can become unlevel at different rates and result in sticking doors, cracks in the sheetrock, gaps in floors, and more.
Because of the possible level variation from location to location within the structure, identifying the true cause and solution of a pier and beam foundation may be difficult. But if properly assessed can cost less to fix than a slab foundation repair.
Signs Of Foundation Damage
Most signs of a foundation problem can lie hidden just out of sight. Though, there are many telltale signs that can let you know that it may be time for an inspection. Some may not be what you think…
Many interior signs can hide just out of view due to carpet, siding, wallpaper, or fresh paint. By knowing what to look for, you can identify whether or not a problem exists in any foundation.
To make things simple, here is a list of things to look for that could suggest foundation issues.
- Cracks above top corners of door frames
- Cracks above top corners of window frames
- Sagging doors
- Gaps between door and frame
- Doors sticking or not closing
- Noticeable drops or slants
- Gaps in floors
- Cracks in sheetrock
- Cracks in the garage floor
- Recent leaks
By observing the outside of your home and surrounding areas you can gain lots of significant information about what may be causing your foundation to shift. Notice: Cracks in any form of concrete are to be expected and not an issue, once a crack is large enough to fit a quarter into, a problem is at hand.
Here is a list of the most common indicators of foundation damage.
- Separation in caulking between window and frame
- A disjointed Firezeboard
- Gutters draining directly into the foundation
- Cracks in the brick
- A sagging garage door frame
- A leaning mailbox
- Sunk or cracked driveway
- Cracked Porch or patio
- Holes along the foundation
- Water pooling against the foundation
- Unlevel brick line
Causes of Foundation Damage and How To Prevent Them
Damage to your foundation can be caused by any number of things, although these are the most common:
- Water Damage
- Poor Construction
- Age of Structure
By far the most common culprit of foundation damage is water. It will not only erode a foundation over time but will also wreak havoc on the soil supporting it. Even if you repair a foundation, no problems will always arise unless drainage issues are corrected.
- Water Saturated Soil – If water begins to pool against your structure, the soil becomes compromised and the foundation shift under its own weight and sink further into the ground. This can be prevented by filling in any holes you find against your foundation. Then add and compact 4″-6″ of soil against your slab foundation and grade it away from your structure.
- Structural Cracks – Without proper drainage, silent water intrusion may remove soil supporting the beams or footing of your foundation causing it to settle. This ununified settling may cause cracks in brick, drywall, or concrete. Defend your property by adding gutters, and extending the downspouts a minimum of 6′ away from the structure. There are many drainage solutions available, the best solution for one person may be different for you. For an in-depth look at drainage solutions click here.
- Soil Expansion and Contraction – Drastic shifts in soil moisture over short periods of time can cause the soil to quickly expand and contract. Raising and lowering the foundation and causing it to settle unevenly. This is most often caused by periods of intermittent rain or poorly configured sprinklers in addition to poor drainage. By installing a drip line or soaker hose you can keep your soil at a consistent level of moisture. This will promote healthy moisture levels and minimize future damage.
- Moist foundations damage Wood Components – Due to their crawl space, a pier and beam foundation can find itself very susceptible to water damage. Poor drainage, leaks, or heavy rain can allow water to find its way under the house. This added moisture compromises the integrity of the wood and the soil below the piers. Ensure that your pier and beam house has proper ventilation. This can be achieved in many ways but is usually as simple as having vents installed for air access.
Due to lobbyists, cheap investors, and incompetent contractors many homes are built with below-grade materials. It is sad to say but in order to promote the real estate market some cities lower standards and avert their eyes.
The best way to save yourself from the pain of foundation damage due to poor construction is to have it inspected before your purchase. If you have never had your home inspected, it would be very wise to do so. Your home is one of the largest purchases you will ever make, the foundation is the only thing supporting it.
See to it that you at least gain some basic information about the stability of your home.
Age of Structure
It is very common for a house over 10 years old to need foundation repair if the soil conditions are poor.
Just like people, after you’ve been around awhile, things start to become damaged. Your knees start to ache, you start wearing glasses, you can’t lift as much. Houses are the same way, over 10, 20, 50, and even 100 years, the house will start to wear out and needs some upgrading.
Even in the most stable of homes, foundation repair will be required during its first 30 years. Otherwise, the damage will increase exponentially and one falling corner may drag down the rest of the structure.
Foundation Repair Options
Nearly every foundation repair company offers a free inspection of your home. They will commonly use what is called a “Compu-level” also known as a “Zip-Level”. This device is used by engineers and foundation inspectors alike in order to measure the levels of your home. Based on their findings they will make a few recommendations depending on the type of foundation, levels, causes, and soil. It is important to note: levels within 3/4″ up or down from the reference point are considered within acceptance. All readings greater than 3/4″ will require attention. Depending on the frequency and degree of variation, different suggestions will be made.
Pier and Beam Repair Options
Many pier and beam houses level unevenly in the exterior and interior. A specialist may suggest releveling existing piers if they are up to industry standards. Based on the levels they find, they may also suggest new piers in critical areas to reinforce and stabilize the home. It is common to find water damage as the primary source of damage. A drainage solution may be recommended as well.
If it is discovered that the concrete footing around the structure has been compromised, a new one will need to be installed. Otherwise, more damage will soon follow as the foundation does not have the ability to support the structure.
Slab Repair Options
Slab Repair can either be a homeowner’s greatest dream or worst nightmare. They defend well against the elements, are simple to maintain, and last for decades. If poor levels are only found on the exterior, adding new piers to raise them is a simple task. However, if the foundation has dropped in the interior, due to water and age, you may not be happy.
To fix the interior of a slab, piers must be added. This would involve breaking out the concrete, covering your home in plastic, and adding as many piers as necessary.
Your carpet, tile, or wooden floors may be compromised in the process. A professional crew will ensure that nobody would ever be aware of the work done.
If you are willing to spend slightly more, a foundation repair team will tunnel underneath the home and install piers from below.
BUYER BEWARE: Choosing a Contractor
This is without a doubt the most important part of any home improvement project.
BUT! when it comes to foundation repair it is one-hundred times more critical. You should know, no home repairs should take place until the foundation has improved.
As the foundation is re-leveled the interior will move. As a result, floors will shift, sheetrock will realign, and pipes will move. If you have recently painted or installed new tile, you may need to pray that your foundation isn’t bad.
When you choose a foundation specialist to move your home into place, you are putting the rest of your house in their hands as well.
Plumbers need certifications, electricians need certifications, foundation repair specialists DO NOT need certifications or licenses.
This means that anyone can put a sign on their truck, print out a couple of business cards, and claim to fix your house. The problem is all too real.
These fly-by-night companies charge next to nothing to fix a home, leaving almost no margin for profit. They start the project, run into a problem and leave the job unfinished because they can’t afford to continue.
Remember the importance of reference points? Many of these so-called professionals will intentionally choose a poor reference point. They typically choose their reference point from a high point so that every other reading looks low. Now they can scare the homeowner and charge more.
With a poor reference point, you will be charged more, and have piers installed that you don’t need, to raise your house to a level that isn’t correct.
This snowball effect will then destroy the inside of your home, walls, floors, plumbing, and tile. All because the structure is being twisted and turned to levels that are incorrect.
With that being said: NEVER choose the lowest bidder!
Many of these companies will offer warranties. Claiming to do just as good a job as anyone else.
Because of their low-profit margins, they often fall out of business very soon, or can’t afford to honor their warranty.
5 Things To Look For
Before you even get an estimate from a company, make sure they are honest and established. In order to make sure you get the best contractors bidding on your job and the best protection afterward, take not of these things.
- Transferable Warranty
These are all fairly basic things to look for in a contractor, however, this is a crucial step that is almost always missed.
Any company will try and sell you. They will say what needs to be said and put their best face forward.
By reading a companies reviews you can get an honest look into their true style of business. Are they honest? Do they honor their warranties? Do they take too long to complete a job?
In this day and age, a website is needed for any company to establish their brand and interact with clients. However, this is not an easy task to do. It takes time, money, and a significant effort to create an up to par website. If your ideal contractor does not have a website (or has one that looks as if it took 2 minutes) consider looking elsewhere for your foundation work.
This is where things get a little dicey. Nearly every company will offer a warranty on their job. Sadly, many small companies that don’t charge you enough won’t honor it. Because they keep their profit margin so low they can’t afford to go back and repair your job.
Any established foundation company will gladly honor their warranty for a lifetime.
If you ever wanted to sell your home, the new owner and inspector will monitor the foundation for problems. If found, they will need to be addressed immediately. With a Transferable warranty in hand, you AND the new homeowner can rest easy knowing you’ve saved thousands.
Pictures say a thousand words. Find pictures of your contractor’s work. Is the crew in uniform, were the pictures shot on a flip phone, do they seem professional?
While the foundation inspector is in your this is your chance to gauge the company. Is he in uniform? Is there a company vehicle? Do they have professional business cards? Does he speak with respect? If you can answer these questions with “yes”, and they have matched the above criteria, your home is in good hands.
Foundation Repair Costs
This is the part you have been waiting for and probably your determining factor.
It is important to note that foundation repair is expensive, but it is not a problem that will go away. Like cheese in the sun, the longer you let it sit there, the worse it will get.
Prices will vary from company to company, but you typically don’t want to pay less than $300 or more than $450 per concrete pier. This can change from property to property based on external factors such as soil or the current state of the home.
With those prices, you can expect some kind of warranty (a lifetime if you are spending close to $400), a trusted contractor, and excellent communication for years to come.
For an extensive look at Foundation Repair costs, check out this guide by HomeGuide. Click here
Choosing the right contractor isn’t hard, it may take a little bit of time but it is the most important factor. Too many contractors will cheat and lie, but by following the above checklist, you can easily avoid major problems.
Be sure to get a free inspection from a trusted company and they will give you all the information you need to keep you and your home safe.