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Foundation and Helical Piers

Foundations are Scary

     One of the scariest phrases that a home owner can hear is “foundation problems.” Instantly images of entire homes being lifted and huge backhoes tearing up the yard. With these kinds of thoughts, it’s not hard to imagine running up bills in the 10’s of thousands of dollars. And while sometimes this is the case, often foundation problems are much less significant.

Most Foundation Problems are Repairable

While I am definitely not a foundation expert, I’ve dealt with my fair share of problems, so that I’m not quite so scared anymore. Sure I still get that nervous feeling inside whenever I see those big cracks and sagging walls, but at least now I know these issues can usually be fixed for a reasonable amount of money. Now “reasonable” might be different for everyone, but I’ve seen some pretty serious cases and have yet to pay more than $15,000 to shore up a foundation.

My Most Recent Foundation Problem

     What prompted me to write this article was my most recent foundation repair that involved raising and shoring up the corner of a house. Why this case may interest you is that this foundation repair not only could have been prevented, but when it was initially repaired it was done poorly, resulting in even more repairs later on. I’m sure you’re asking yourself “how you can prevent foundation problems?” Well I will get to that later on, but first let me finish the story about this house.

Excellent Foundation Repair Contractors

     If I’ve learned one thing in my house rehabbing career, it’s that good contractors make all the difference. With this house, my contractors not only did the best work, but were also the most honest and hard working as well. As I always like to give credit where it’s due, I have to say that Byron Johnson and his crew from Colorado Structural Repair did an excellent job and went above and beyond to make sure the job was done right and done fast. I don’t know how late they stayed one night, but it was well past when I left after seven.

Helical Piers

Foundation and Helical Piers

This particular property required five helical piers and three 18″ plates to shore up about a quarter of the 1,500 sqft house. It depends on the house, the access, and the soil, but each pier can cost between $1,500 and $2,000. With the plates costing around $200 to $300 a piece, depending on the thickness. This might sound like a lot just to put a steak in the ground with an auger on the end, but when you see how much effort goes into getting it in the ground and attaching it to the house, you start to wonder why it doesn’t cost more. With my property they had to go down 30 to 40 feet just to get the kind of soil required to provide enough resistance. It was pretty nerve racking for me watching them go deeper and deeper, not knowing if they’d ever hit something solid. Fortunately for me the engineer was onsite for the final digging, and the crew was able to back off slightly on the strength requirement to get the permit. The engineer said they build in extra tolerances into their requirements, so falling a little short of the max wasn’t a big deal. I’m just happy in the end I got a stable house and a closed permit.

Four Easy Steps to Prevent Foundation Problem

Foundation and Helical Piers

Now for the information you really wanted to hear. How to prevent foundation damage. If only the previous home owners of my house had read an article similar to this, they might not have let the small pond sit next to their house every time it rained. As you’ve probably inferred from the previous sentence, the number one factor in preventable foundation damage is water. Either there’s too much of it or not enough. Since the usual cause of damage is too much water, we’ll start with getting rid of that.

Proper drainage is essential to keeping water away from your foundation. You need to have the ground sloped away from your home out at least 10 feet. If that’s not possible due to the slope of your property, you need to grade the land so that it is channeled around and away from the house as soon as possible. For example, if your back yard is steeply sloped towards your house, you could grade the land away from your house for two or three feet, and at that point put in a french drain that channels the water around to the front of your house. This is definitely something you want to hire a professional for, as your property may require drainage that is much more significant that what I’ve described.
The second requirement for keeping water away from your house is extended downspouts. While proper grading should move water from the downspouts away from your house, it may not be enough to prevent the ground from being soaked and putting pressure on your foundation. There are several methods to channel downspout water away from your house. Choose any one you like, just as long as it keeps the water at least 10 feet from your foundation.
The third step to preventing foundation damage is not so obvious. Believe it or not, too little water can also put excess stress on your foundation. Very dry ground can shrink, which at first can remove any support it may have been providing your foundation, and then can rapidly expand when heavy rains return. This causes shifting pressures around your foundation, which of course can cause movement and cracking. To prevent this cause of foundation damage you’ll need to do the opposite of the first two steps. You have to put water around your foundation. If you’re somewhere where serious droughts are a common occurrence, you might want to invest the time and money into burying a soaker hose around your house a few inches away from your foundation. This will provide the best even water distribution in the event of a drought. If however droughts are rare in your area, just using a sprinkler or a spray nozzle to keep the ground moist should do the trick.
The last step to preventing foundation damage is much trickier to stay on top of. Tree roots can work their way into the smallest cracks, and will slowly make those cracks much bigger. There are many ways to stop or prevent root damage, and again a professional is your best bet to make the right decision. Most tree roots only grow at most two to three feet underground. What can cause them to grow deeper is either a severe drought, or the lose gravel next to a foundation. The most common way of dealing with this problem is to dig down about two feet down next to the foundation, in the area where a tree is close to the house. If you find any roots in this area, cut them off and seal off the end to prevent it from growing further. A more permanent and preventative measure is to have a root barrier installed further away from the house. A root barrier is just an impermeable sheet of material that is buried to a depth of 30 inches, in between the foundation and the tree. This is not normally done unless there is a significant risk of the roots damaging the foundation.

So Now You Know About Foundations

     I hope you’ve found my foundation problems and solutions useful. If you’re currently having foundation problems and would like some advice, please feel free to give me a call. I don’t fix any foundations myself, but I could definitely point you in the right directio. Or better yet I could buy your house and take all your problems off your hands. If you’d like to talk about any of the above, give me a ring, or submit your property at Sell My House to Smith and I’ll call you about buying your house. Thank you and have a great day.

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