Mike Shadid Foundation Consulting Inc. Newsletter

Winter 2015







Value Proposition

Are we being too cautious about basement problems?  It is well known that lenders are wary of homes that may have unknown defects that could reduce the value of the asset.  Basement problems are legendary in our business but are we putting our clients through too much effort just to be on the safe side? 

In home construction nothing is completely straight, true, or square.  Everything comes with an acceptable tolerance of error.  Foundation walls are no exception.  Frequently a home inspector may find a wall to be off plumb.  If it is out of plumb by 5/8 of an inch a foundation inspection should be considered.

There are two reasons to do this.  1.  To determine whether or not the wall is stable.  2.  To document the condition so that when the home is resold there is evidence that the condition was present and it has not changed.

Your clients may feel like they are being inspected to death but there is real value in having an accurate appraisal of the condition of the home.





Case Study

Case Study 1

I received a call from a home inspector recently.  During a home inspection he encountered a foundation repair contractor beaming a basement wall.  The crew was installing steel braces on approximately one-half of the wall.  A horizontal crack was present in the visible area.  The crack continued behind the paneling.  The contractor’s plan was to brace the visible area.  No reinforcement or further investigation was planned for the area behind the paneling. 

The inspector’s question to me was why would a contractor beam one-half of a wall and ignore probable movement on the area behind the paneling when cracks continued into the covered area. 

I explained that it should be normal procedure to require that wall coverings be opened when the suspicion is that cracking and displacement are present behind them. 

With the contractor on-site the home inspector and homeowners asked if I would give them my opinion of the situation.

After reviewing the details I asked the contractor why he had not inspected the covered area when evidence indicated the crack continued behind the paneling.

His response was that he did not want to have the homeowner go through the trouble of removing the coverings. 

He was not aware that the home inspector would be more particular than he was. 

After our conversation the homeowner agreed to open some paneled areas so the remainder of the wall could be inspected.  The crack, did in fact, continue the length of the wall.  This required the entire length of the wall to be braced. 

Usually if a wall is being pushed inward a horizontal crack will develop with step or vertical cracks near the corners.

The homeowner was upset that the contractor was either unaware or deceptive of the scope of the problem when the initial price was established. 

I wondered to myself how a “professional” could overlook something so obvious.  I suspect the quality of his work could be similarly compromised.


Case Study 2

A homeowner contacted me after a home inspector measured a foundation wall and found it to be 5/8” off plumb. The inspectors concern was that the wall was off plumb and therefore unstable.  The owner was given the name of a foundation contractor to determine whether repairs were necessary. 
During the contractor’s inspection he measured the wall with a level.  He found the wall to be ¾” off plumb.  His recommendation based on the bow in the wall was to install 16 braces to stabilize it.  The cost of the project was $4,800. 

This surprised the homeowner, as the wall had not changed in the 20 years in which he lived in the home.

When I was called, the homeowner questioned me about the contractor’s analysis and the need for repairs.  I explained to him that many walls are off plumb.  More often than not the walls push inward from soil pressure during backfilling. 
If horizontal cracks are not present and the wall is off plumb the wall is likely stable and the defect was a result of the construction process. 

The homeowner told me that cracks were not present in the wall and we scheduled an appointment for an inspection. 
The inspection revealed that the wall moved inward during backfilling.  There were no cracks because the mason tuck-pointed the mortar joints and the wall had been stable since. 

My report documented the condition and was important because future buyers could use it as a tool to monitor changes in condition. 

The sale fell apart because the buyer was not comfortable with the conflicting opinions.  The home was put back on the market and sold without foundation repairs. 









Conclusion - Why Do Foundation Walls Move?

The most common reason for a foundation inspection is that a home inspector measures a wall significantly off plumb.  The concern is that the wall changed position after it was constructed and is not stable.  THE QUESTION TO BE ANSWERED:  WHY IS THE WALL IN THIS CONDITION? 

The function of a foundation wall is to hold up the house and to keep water and soil out of the basement.  If inward movement occurred from soil pressure the wall is considered unstable and at times requires repairs.  The amount the wall is off plumb and the amount and location of cracks determines whether repairs are necessary and informs what repairs are appropriate. 

There are generally three reasons a wall is off plumb.

  1. Wall was built off plumb by the masons constructing the basement.  This can be determined by measuring the corners as well as the center of the wall.  If the corners are off plumb and the center is off plumb by the same amount the wall was probably built that way and can be considered stable provided horizontal cracks and step cracks are not present near the corners.
  2. Inward movement of walls during backfilling is common during construction.  Foundation walls should be braced so that they do not move when soil is backfilled in the basement excavation.  If this is not done properly the wall may slide inward as heavy soil is dumped into the trench along the exterior of the wall. 

Evidence of this type of movement is; green mortar cracks, which are defined by short, intermittent horizontal cracks on alternate sides of the motor joint.  These cracks are usually hairline width and may contain old paint.  Cracks generally are not present across the mortar joint.  Step or vertical cracks are normally not present near the corners.  Blocks may appear irregularly placed in the wall and mortar joints may be thinner than normal (typical is 3/8 of an inch).
It is my professional opinion that if a wall is out of plumb because it was built that way or moved during backfilling it can be considered stable as long as it did not move from that position after backfilling.

  1. Movement due to lateral earth pressure.  Frost and water in soil exert pressure on foundation walls, which if the pressure is great enough, walls will break and move inward.  Characteristics are horizontal cracks in the mortar joints that extend to wide step or vertical cracks near the wall corners.  Wall sections above and below the horizontal cracks are off plumb.  Cracks through the pilasters are normally wider that those of the face of the wall.  It is typical for window frames to twist.  Cracks are usually present on the top exterior course at the I-beam and corners. 



Mike Shadid, January, 2015

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.