Mike Shadid Foundation Consulting Inc. Newsletter

Summer 2013







Value Proposition

I am struck by the way people think about their basements.  I know, only a foundation inspector would worry about something like that. 
If there is a foundation problem the seller has likely been living with it for years.  I hear things like “it’s just a little trickle of water – is it really such a big deal?” 

The buyers and lenders are obviously at the other ends of the spectrum.  They want guarantees that there never has been and never will be a foundation problem.  In the inspection business my job is to make sure that both parties have realistic expectations. 

The first step is to diagnose the problem.  Where is the water coming from?  What caused the wall to crack?  Why is there a space between the top row of block and the floor joists?  With that information I can explain what it will take to correct the problem. 

When people understand the cause and effect of a foundation problem the expectations of the buyer and seller become more aligned.

After having some of the driest weather in 20 years the past 2 months have been some of the wettest1.  Basements that were wet may have dried up during the drought.  Sellers may think that the water problems have fixed themselves.  I predict there will be a lot of denial as the snow melts and that “little trickle of water” reasserts itself.

My advice to you as real estate professionals is to be extra vigilant as listings develop.  Sellers may not intentionally lie but they may have forgotten that their basement smelled of mildew or there was a puddle in the middle of the floor after a heavy rain.  Catching problems early and properly dealing with them will make your closings go more smoothly. 


Case Study

I recently received a call from a realtor about the foundation of a home in Menomonee Falls.  The home had a long history of foundation issues.  I completed my initial inspection of the foundation in 2005 for the buyers who are now the sellers.  

My 2005 inspection report noted horizontal and step cracks on the south and east walls.  These had been patched around 1995.  My recommendation on these walls was continue to monitor conditions and to raise surface grades as no further cracks had developed after patching.  The east wall had been excavated, straightened “best as possible”, backfilled with stones and reinforced with steel rods and concrete in the block cores many years earlier.

The east wall was 1 5/8” off plumb at the time of my 2005 inspection.  I recommended that the east wall could be monitored, as it had not moved since repairs were made.  The inspection report included a diagram showing the wall measurements.

Another foundation inspector recently performed an inspection to address concerns expressed by the new buyers home inspector. 


The foundation inspector was concerned about the condition of the east wall because it was so far off plumb.  His report recommended that the wall be re-excavated, repaired, straightened, and reinforced with steel braces.  This type of repair typically costs $225 - $250 per lineal foot.  The owners and the realtor felt that the condition of the wall had not changed since the 2005 inspection. 

I performed a re-inspection to document the current condition relative to the 2005 inspection and found that the homeowners were correct.   There had been no movement since my original inspection.

I was able to come to this conclusion because the walls had not been recently painted or patched, no cracking had occurred since the wall was repaired and the wall still measured 1 5/8” off plumb. 

Since no new cracks had developed my report stated that the continued stability indicated that the wall could be monitored rather than repaired saving $11,000 - $12,000 of equity in the home.  My report was a critical element in allowing this transaction to close


Typical remediation solutions with cost estimates

There are two things that can go wrong with a foundation.  It can leak and become wet, and it can crack – sometimes both happen at once. 

Cracks happen for several reasons:

  • Improper drainage causes soil next to the block wall to exert pressure on the wall.  Enough pressure will cause the wall to crack.  Typically the wall will bow inward between the corners.  The cracks generally will occur over the bottom course of block and under the first or second course of block that is under grade level.  Cracks are usually wider near the center of the wall and through the pilasters.  Diverting surface water from the wall can at times stabilize the structure.  If repairs are necessary steel braces can sometimes be used to stabilize the area without exterior excavation.  If the wall has moved more than 1 inch from constructed position major excavation may be required. 
  • Footings can settle as soil compresses or dries out.  This usually occurs early in the life of the structure or during prolonged periods of draught.  Vertical or offset cracks occur at both ends of the settled areas.  Cracks occur around windows and doors.  Basement and upper floors can become unlevel.  Corrective action may include underpinning footings.  The cost can be up to $450 per foot.  Watering systems around the footings to rehydrate the soil may cost as much as $80 - $110 per foot.

Leaking allows excessive moisture in the foundation, which can cause mold to grow.

  • Wet spots or efflorescence (white powder) on walls above the 2nd or 3rd course of block typically result from improper drainage.  It may be severe enough to cause water to puddle on the floor at low points.  Re-grading and gutter repair / cleaning will help.  The typical cost of excavation is $200 - $225 per lineal foot. 
  • Water on the floor seeping from floor cracks or floor / wall joints is likely a result of clogged or broken drain tile.  It may also be caused by improper sump pump adjustment, power outage, or stuck Palmer valve. Corrective action includes breaking the floor; removing and replacing old drain tile, backfill with stone, and re-pouring the floor.  Typical cost for drain tile repair is $50 - $100 per lineal foot.

In theory, this seems pretty straightforward.  In practice it is more complicated:  There may be multiple factors in play – a missing Palmer valve may cause sewage to back up into drain tile rendering them ineffective.  Understanding the cost  /benefit of trying a simple repair before moving on to more expensive work.  Knowing exactly where to make a repair.  These are the things that minimize cost and enable reasonable repairs to be completed promptly. 




In Conclusion

When you are a hammer – everything looks like a nail.  Foundation repair contractors are in business to provide structural and water seepage repairs.  Very specific structural and seepage warrantees should accompany these repairs.  Contracts that state, “we agree to provide services and will not change work specifications without authorization” are common.  This is not a warranty, as it does not state the desired outcome. 

Many contractors have proprietary systems that they apply to all foundations.  These often have vague warranty that may not apply to the issues of a particular foundation. 

Frost line drain tile systems, power braces, Kevlar straps attached with epoxy, concrete and steel rods in block cores, and tie backs often do not provide desired stability and are most often not recommended.  It is better to design repairs that apply to the specific problem.

Exterior above grade water management measures such as French drains, swales or berms can divert water, making foundation repair contractors unnecessary

Mike Shadid, May, 2013

The facts, information and opinions contained in this newsletter should not be construed as a warrantee or guarantee of any type.  They are based upon observations and information obtained over 30 of doing basement inspections.  Equally qualified persons may come to different opinions based upon similar facts and observations.  Any person relying on opinions contained in this newsletter do so at their own risk.  Each basement is unique and general opinions contained in this newsletter may not apply to all basements.  If you have a problem with your basement you should have it inspected and not rely on general opinions in this newsletter.