Tuesday, August 3, 2010

5 Drainage Issues that Lead to Foundation Problems

1. Missing gutters to catch and carry away water from entering the basement or crawlspace.

Gutters are an important first line of defense to carry rain and melt waters from the peak of the roof past the perimeter of the home.  Sheets of water falling directly from the roof to the foundation can activate surrounding expansive soil and place your home under tremendous forces that will gradually crush the concrete foundation walls.  If your home is surrounded by hydrocompactable soil, sheets of water will cause the soil to subside toward the home.  This means that the entire slope of the land is affected.

2.  Missing downspouts leading to pooling near foundation walls.

Downspouts are essential to directing water far enough away from the home to keep the soil from activating.  Any time that you notice pooling or puddling of rainwater near the foundation, it is important to return the soil to level condition and prevent water from resting in a pool.  If the cause is a missing downspout, then the problem will continue until you replace that downspout.  Each day that you wait will allow further moisture penetration into soil and increase the amount of pressure on your foundation walls.

3. Concrete walkways or patiors that have settled and are sloping towards the foundation.

Patios and walkways become fast flowing streams in rainy conditions.  These slabs should direct water away from your foundation walls through subtle grade alterations.  Unfortunately, concrete is heavy and the soil underneath it can subside over time, especially where a slab meets concrete steps.  This area has more weight pressing on the soil, so it subsides first.  When you notice that your patios and sidewalks are directly water toward your home, it is a good idea to have the concrete releveled and/or replaced.  This is generally done through mudjacking.

4. Landscaping that is planted within 3 feet of foundation walls.

Planting bushes and flowers around the foundation generally seems harmless, but it can actually contribute to bowing or bending foundation walls.  Plant roots are tenacious and will grow down toward cool, moist soil.  This soil exists closest to your concrete foundation walls.  As you water your landscaping, the roots grow larger and add to the forces pressing against your foundation walls.

5.   Downspouts that are not extended far enough from your foundation walls.

Downspouts should extend 6' from your foundation to prevent backflow during Colorado's heavy afternoon rains.  If the downspouts are less than 6', you will experience backflow that can quickly cause clay soils to expand.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How Do I Calculate Slope in My Yard?

by Cassi Henes

The importance of creating and maintaining a positive downhill slope condition away from your foundation is paramount, and happily, is one of the most relatively inexpensive and easily achieved preventative measures available. Our focus in this article will be on the practical how's and why's of good positive drainage.

This is usually defined in most soils reports as a condition where at least 6"-10" of drop occurs in the first 10' of run out from the foundation. Another way of expressing the same thing is to express the angle of the slope by means of a percentage; 6%-10% positive slope for mulched or rock bed areas, and 2%-3% positive slope for hard paved areas, such as sidewalks, driveways, or parking lots. (A lesser slope is usually acceptable for paved areas because hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt naturally conduct water away from the foundation much more efficiently than a porous surface like a mulch bed).

With a few basic tools and a bit of patience, these slope percentages may be determined by the average property owner wishing to prevent needless structural and/or water damage to the foundation of his/her property. The process of doing so is as follows:
  • First, choose a point along the foundation wall and place one end of a 10' long straightedge (such as a 2 x 4) at the same point while extending it out perpendicularly from the foundation.
  • Next, place a carpenter's level on top of the 2 x 4 while you gradually raise the far end of the 2 x 4 until the bubble indicates a level condition has been achieved.
  • Finally, simply measure down from the elevated end of the 2 x 4 to the ground directly beneath is and make note of that dimension. For this example, let's suppose that our vertical measurement is 10".
Now, you have all the raw data you need to calculate your slope percentage.

The math is simple: divide the vertical dimension, known as the "rise" by the horizontal dimension, which is known as the "run". Don't forget to convert your units of measure as needed so that they are consistent. In our example, we would have 10" (our rise) divided by 120" (our run), equaling .083, which we could round to 8%. As a rule of thumb, an 8% positive slope downward would be considered to be a safe and effective amount of slope to quickly move water away from the foundation before it can penetrate to deeper layers of soil and cause problems. Sometimes, calculating slope or determining what a safe and effective grade may be difficult, so it is possible to have a geotechnical engineering firm or other foundation related company come out and do the calculations.

Now that you have a slope calculation, it’s easy to find problem spots on your property and change the grade to protect your home. You should check the slope of your property, especially when your home is a new construction, after spring melt. Settling and changes in the grade are often caused by changes in moisture and run off. Preventative maintenance like this can save from a flooded basement, a muddy crawlspace, or even cracked and settling foundations.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thinking Like a Home Inspector Part 2

C. Sherman Henes and Cassi Henes

Check out a reprint of Jeff Kortan, P.E.'s article on Identifying Conditions for Structural Concerns, which is currently in circulation on the NAHI website and in their quarterly publication.

Identifying Conditions for Structural Concerns: Part Two of a Four Part Series

By Jeff Kortan, P.E.

Foundation Supportworks, Inc., Omaha, NE 800-281-8545

Cracked, bowed and leaning foundation walls, along with associated exterior and interior damage, may be signs of a serious structural problem. These conditions are not only worrisome to look at, but without appropriate action could lead to a much bigger problem, such as a total collapse of the walls. The good news is that restoring the integrity of failing foundation walls can be quick and cost-effective, while also giving both the home seller and buyer confidence that a home’s value is not compromised.


While there are a number of causes for cracked, bowed and leaning foundation walls, the most common is excessive pressure from the soil outside the wall. When expansive clay soil absorbs moisture, it swells and applies pressure that often exceeds the wall’s design capacity. In addition to expansive clay soil, excessive pressure is often the result of a failed or compromised foundation drain system and a buildup of moisture behind the wall. Again, this additional hydrostatic (water) pressure often exceeds the wall’s design capacity, leading to wall deflection. Poor surface grading and drainage is another factor that leads to the buildup of hydrostatic pressure.

Excessive wall deflection, evidenced by wide cracks, bowing and leaning, can reduce the structural integrity of the wall. When the wet cycles are repeated, as in the above two scenarios, this causes further weakening and inward wall movement. Other common causes of wall failure include soil expansion due to frost, large tree root systems and surcharge loads from the foundations of adjacent structures or additions. Heavy equipment and heavy storage items placed immediately adjacent to basement walls can also cause wall deflection.


Symptoms of failing foundation walls in a home look different depending whether they are constructed of concrete block or poured concrete.

Concrete block walls typically display horizontal cracking across the center length as it begins to bow inward near mid-height. As the problem worsens, stair-step cracking at the corners can be observed. Continued inward pressure exerted on the concrete block wall can also result in horizontal shearing at a mortar joint, where the bottom row of block is held in place by the concrete floor slab as the next course of block and wall above slides in.

Vertical shearing may also be observed when the end of a wall is supported or held in place by an adjoining perpendicular wall. The end of the wall remains stable as the rest of the wall cracks and moves inward. Poured concrete walls will typically display single, diagonal cracks extending upward from the bottom corners of the wall toward the top center. Further, unlike a block wall that bows in near mid-height, the top of a poured wall tends to lean in. In finished basements, where foundation walls may not be exposed, other signs may alert you to a structural problem. As failing basement walls move inward, ceiling panels and ceiling drywall may begin to buckle.

Drywall on finished, abutting walls can also buckle between the wall studs. In extreme cases, horizontal cracking may even be seen in the home’s exterior brick veneer.


There are several options available for repairing failing foundation walls, some more desirable than others. One option is the total removal and replacement of the foundation walls. With this solution, landscaping, decks, and exterior concrete slabs are removed and all the soil surrounding the foundation is excavated. The home is then jacked up and alternatively supported while the foundation walls are removed and then replaced. Not only is this solution disruptive and expensive, but the problem is likely to occur again if the original cause(s) are not addressed.

A second option for repair is the installation of steel columns (although acting as beams in this application). The steel beams are typically bolted to the concrete floor at the bottom and bolted, screwed or nailed to the wood floor joist system at the top. Forces pushing on the wall are therefore transferred through the steel beam and to the floor joists. Due to the high degree of variability with home design and construction, designers of these systems should have a thorough knowledge and understanding of each and every site-specific application, most importantly the connection details with the wood framing and the additional, required joist blocking and reinforcing. Without a proper design, the steel beam may bend, the floor joists and first floor may buckle, and the walls may continue to deflect. This option also cannot straighten the foundation wall back to its original position.

A third option is carbon fiber strips or sheets. The application/installation includes an epoxy glue to adhere the carbon fiber to the wall. The carbon fiber then acts as tensile reinforcement to the interior surface of the wall to minimize any additional bowing. While these products can be used successfully to minimize additional bowing conditions, they cannot prevent a wall from tipping in at the top or to straighten a wall back to its original position.

The final option is a wall anchor system. With a wall anchor system, heavy-duty, galvanized steel earth anchors are embedded securely in the stable soil out away from the foundation wall. The earth anchors are connected to galvanized steel wall plates positioned on the foundation wall with long, threaded, galvanized steel rods. This system relies on the passive resistance of the soil at the earth anchors to resist the excessive pressures being applied to the wall. The wall anchor system does not rely on the home’s wood framing for support. Wall anchor systems are a proven method to stabilize foundation walls and offer the best opportunity to straighten the walls back toward their original position over time. Anchor systems have long been cited as an ideal solution for bowed and leaning foundation wall problems, even as the recommended option by the U.S. Department of Urban Housing and Development’s chief appraiser back in 1992.

Advantages of the wall anchor system include year-round installation, minimal disturbance to lawn and landscaping, no damage to interior floor joists, the ability to straightens walls, the prevention of further bowing/leaning, and most importantly to your clients, it restores property value. Although failing foundation walls can be scary and intimidating to home sellers and buyers, the solution of a wall anchor system can be installed quickly and often for less money than what would be deducted from the seller’s asking price to offset for the structural concern or perceived repair.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Real Estate and Foundation Underpinning

C. Sherman Henes and Cassi Henes

Homebuyers frequently call our office for advice or just to have a question answered. I answered a question today that I thought would make an excellent article, so here it goes.

The homeowner contacted us because she is purchasing a new home. She received an engineer's report calling for "foundation underpinning" and wanted to know if I had ever heard of it. As fate would have it, I happen to work for a company that specializes in foundation repair, which includes underpinning!

Foundation unpinning is a class of foundation repair that includes push piers, helical piers, deep foundation piers, caissons, and other support systems. The specific system that I discussed with this homeowner is the push pier system.

When a home is settling or cracking, it is caused by soil movement beneath the foundation. In order to combat this problem, engineers developed systems that move the weight of the home off the unstable soil onto a stable bedrock support. This is accomplished by hydraulically pushing galvanized steel piers down through the ground until they reach bedrock. The weight of the home is then transferred on to the piers by using rugged steel brackets attached to the footing of the home. Each individual pier bracket and pier combination can be adjusted to make the entire home level.

The foundation pier system is guaranteed against movement and fully restores the home to livable, secure condition.

The homeowner wanted to know if this was essential. This is how I put it, "how much risk are you willing to take with your investment?" An engineer has determined that the home has significant enough concerns to warrant recommending a full foundation underpinning project. This means that the engineer has seen indications that the entire foundation is moving, not just a portion of it. The home inspector has determined that levelling compound was utilized at least twice on the basement floor. He also stated that there have been a series of drywall patches and stucco repairs both on the interior and exterior of the residence.

In other words, you have physical evidence that the home has moved in the past and been repaired. You also have an expert telling you the home has moved, is moving, and will continue to move. Do you want to assume the risk to your family and your investment by purchasing the property as is?

This is not the end of the story; however, there is a happy ending to this unpinning question. I told this lovely homeowner that you also can know the exact cost to never worry about this problem again. You may be able to either get money off the home, or cut a deal with the sellers to cover a portion of the costs. Or you may discover that the cost is within your budget to repair the home.

I sent a Structural Specialist out to do a free estimate on the home and he came back to her that day with the repair outline. The home needs approximately 15 piers to go around the entire perimeter of the home and lift it back into stable condition. The sellers and buyer met together and decided to drop the price of the home by the amount of the repair and the transaction is back on track.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why is my foundation cracked now, after we've lived here for 20 years?

C. Sherman Henes and Cassi Henes

Many foundation cracks occur due to changes within the soils supporting your home. Changes in the weather can lead to changes in the soil sourrounding your home's foundation. Sometimes the moisture content has risen with groundwater like they are currently experiencing in Estes Park or the areas bordering the Big Thompson River. Other times, the soil can be dry like what we are experiencing in Arvada. Periods of dramatic rain like we are forecasted for this weekend, can cause failing grades to pour water into the fill soil around your foundation, which can lead to cracking.

If water shortages, or fluxes, last for an extended amount of time, then load-bearing strata can be affected. Sometimes when the soil shrinks under the foundation for a long time, it can take a while for the foundation to crack and settle significantly. Either way, the problem will not generally reverse itself. The only way to know that it is stabilized is to transfer the weight of the structure deep beyond the active soil.

Peak Structural prides itself on getting regular updates on soil conditions in the Denver area, so we can help you determine what your home is experiencing. If your foundation is cracking, heaving, or settling, there can be many factors involved. Some of these factors can be relatively inexpensive and easy to remedy, while others require permitted foundation repair solutions. Would you like to know the options to repair your cracked foundation? Contact Peak Structural today or visit our website at www.peakstructural.com

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

If my house has settled 1 1/2 inches, why am I not seeing more interior damage?

C. Sherman Henes and Cassi Henes

If my house has settled 1 1/2 inches, why am I not seeing more interior damage?

There are a couple of possible reasons for this. The most common is that the wood framing and interior finishes are made of materials that are more flexible and forgiving than the rigid concrete foundation. Also, when a house settles the wood framed portion will often not settle as quickly as the foundation. In other words, the house hasn't caught up with the foundation yet and is slightly suspended above the foundation. The framing will eventually sag and catch up the foundation movement.

Peak Structural believes that understanding the fundementals of foundaion movement is an important step for every homeowner. Our creative director, Cassi Sherman Henes, has compiled a book called Foundation Technology, A Guide to What Goes on Under Your Feet. This Foundation Technology book has been available in ebook format for over 2 years. We're proud to announce that Peak Structural is releasing the third edition of the book in printed format! The Foundation Technology printed edition will be releasing on June 14th, 2010! We look forward to reaching even more homeowners with this valuable information. Check out www.foundationtechnologyebook.com or contact our office for your copy of the printed 3rd edition.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How will I know if a Home has a Structural Problem

by C. Sherman Henes and Cassi Henes

Throughout this summer, Peak Structural will be bringing you important information about the structural integrity of your home. In fact, we'll be featuring Jeff Kortan, P.E., the Director of Engineering with Foundation Supportworks. Mr. Kortan is a nationally recognized author, speaker, and geotechnical engineer, who has been an integral part of the team developing the latest in Foundation Repair technology.

Here's an excerpt from Jeff Kortan, P.E.'s four part article, featured in the NAHI (National Association of Home Inspectors) Forum Magazine:


A home with a settling foundation may display cracking of exterior cracking, in drywall, and at the corners of door or window framing). Doors and windows may be out of level and difficult to open and close. Floors may also be out of level and concrete floor slabs can display cracking. Evidence of past repairs, such as tuck-pointing brick or patching drywall, are also possible indicators of a settlement problem.

Symptoms of failing basement walls in a home will look different depending upon whether the walls are constructed of concrete block or poured concrete. Concrete block walls will typically bow in at the middle (rather than lean in at the top) and show stair-step cracking at the corners with a horizontal crack across the center. On the other hand, poured walls will typically display diagonal cracks extending upward from the bottom corners of the wall toward the top center. The top of the wall near the middle tends to lean in. Failing basement walls can cause ceiling panels and ceiling drywall to buckle, and cause the drywall on finished walls to crack.

Look closely within crawlspaces for structural problems. Sloping or sagging floors may indicate problems in the crawlspace area below. Sloping or sagging floors are often caused by weakened floor joists due to excess moisture and wood rot in the crawlspace, improper spacing of floor joist support beams or settling of existing interior columns.


The good news is that there are solutions for each of these types of structural problems, and the cost is not necessarily excessive. Depending on the problem, piering and/or anchoring systems offer quick and permanent solutions for foundation defects. Rather than dealing with the high cost and inconvenience of total foundation replacement or living with a significant reduction in property value, piering and anchoring systems can restore property value and give both home sellers and home buyers peace of mind.


As a home inspector, your credibility lies in your ability to accurately identify potential structural problems. Over the next three articles in this four-part series, we’ll take an in-depth look at how to identify foundation settlement problems, failing basement walls, and settling columns or sagging beams in a crawlspace. We will also examine different options for repair and the pros and cons of each solution. Your ability to diagnose structural problems will be highly beneficial to your clients.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dry Soil Characteristics

by C. Sherman Henes and Cassi Henes

Moisture is an essential element to soil—it’s a lubricant that traps air and allows soil particles to slide together. Too much moisture and the ground becomes muddy and unable to bear weight. Too little moisture and the soil breaks into its individual particles and blows away.

Dry soil also decreases the depth of plant roots because the plants spread out shallow roots in an attempt to absorb as much moisture as possible. This means that our yards are more delicate, our trees start to wither and provide less shade, and many of our plants produce less. All of these factors cause our yards and homes to feel hotter and our allergies to act up more frequently. We also start noticing burned patches in our grass and brittle leaves on our plants. In an effort to counteract these issues, we water more. For some reason, this doesn’t seem to help. That’s because most of us are also battling a layer of hardened clay underneath the grass, which is literally siphoning the water to the nearest permeable soil. Unfortunately, the end result can be that the water intended for your grass is being forced into the ground beneath your foundation—this is called the “clay bowl effect”.

If you’re noticing that your basement walls appear to be bowing or cracking, Peak Structural Specialists would be happy to sit down and go through your options with you. Many times, a solution can be as simple sprinkler positioning or grading. We’re here to help you resolve these problems, so please contact us today for a no obligation consultation and estimate.

How Soil Changes With the Weather

by C. Sherman Henes and Cassi Henes

Most soil in the Front Range can be classified as a swelling soil. This means that the soil contains a high percentage of certain types of clay that absorb vast quantities of water. This can cause the soil to expand 10% or more as moisture enters it, usually during winter snow melt and spring run off. The soil can then exert pressures of 20,000 psi or greater on foundations, slabs, and other structures. Now, this soil also contracts when the moisture evaporates during our hot summer months, causing extreme differences in the pressure being generated on your foundation, driveway, or patios.

The way that our soil dries also important to understand. In Colorado, we have 255 days of sun on average, which tends to dry out the top layers of soil. With clay, the top layers will become hard and impermeable and the bottom layers will remain moist. This can explain why you might have a moist, musty basement, but be having trouble keeping your lawn from burning. It’s also one of the reasons why we experience flash flooding in Jefferson County.

If you’re noticing that your basement walls appear to be bowing or cracking, Peak Structural Specialists would be happy to sit down and go through your options with you. Many times, a solution can be as simple sprinkler positioning or grading. We’re here to help you resolve these problems, so please contact us today for a no obligation consultation and estimate.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

How Does a Wall Anchor System Straighten a Wall

by C. Sherman Henes and Cassi Henes

Here's a great question from Adam in Littleton, CO:

How does the anchor system you talk about pull the whole wall and not just tear through the concrete into the backfill?

In the case of a typical job where Peak does not do a full excavation on the outside of the home's foundation wall, the soil remains in place. If we were to pull on the anchor as much as required to move the wall back to vertical, then the anchor would almost certainly pull through the wall. This is not; however, what we are doing. We are applying a known force to the wall which is mostly absorbed by the soils on the other side of the wall. It relieves the wall enough that it stops bowing. In many cases, the wall can be brought back to vertical over time. This is because during dry periods, the soilds can shrink away from the wall and relieve the pressure on both the wall and the anchors. If the anchors are tightened during these dry periods, it brings the load in the anchors back up to their installed load and removes the space created by the drying soils. Repeating this cycle can; therefore, straighten the wall over time. In more simple terms, we are not forcing the wall back to a straight position, we are applying gentle, but sustained, load and moving the wall only as much as the surrounding soils will allow.
--Aaron Henes, Systems Specialist

"Bowing walls that require a full excavation are straightened during installation because with the soils removed, there is far less lateral pressure to overcome and the wall has enough internal strength to carry the smaller forces required to straighten the wall".
--Michael Sullivan, P.E.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How Push Piers are Installed

by C. Sherman Henes and Cassi Henes

Peak Structural Washes Employee Cars

by C. Sherman Henes and Cassi Henes

Monday, March 1, 2010

Concrete and it's Spanning Capabilities

by C. Sherman Henes and Cassi Henes

Concrete as an Ideal Building Material
Did you know that concrete is an ideal building material? Okay, I didn’t, but it seems like everyone else does. Do you know why concrete is so great? It’s amazingly versatile, easy to repair, and can be reinforced, removed, or replaced with ease. Since I’ve begun learning about concrete, I’ve started to see it everywhere! Countertops, foundation walls, patios, tiling, and everything is dyed, stamped, and engraved. In fact, I’ve been learning a lot about the spanning capability of concrete foundations.

Concrete’s Strengths

Concrete foundations, or poured foundations, are relatively common along the Front Range, especially in homes built after the 1950’s. We transitioned to poured concrete because it’s overall strength in spanning is extremely high. Basically, concrete handles the compressive weight of the home well, while resisting cracking as it distributes the weight of the home onto the underlying soil.
Naturally, this strength can be compromised when the soil underneath the foundation swells and expands throughout the seasons. Putting that aside for a moment, we can truly begin to marvel at concrete’s spanning capability. It is so strong that piers can be placed at intervals underneath it, the home’s weight transferred onto the piers, and the entire foundation stabilized without losing it’s spanning ability. In fact, that’s the basis for the entire piering process—using the concrete's strength to span the distance between piers and then using the weight of the home as resistance to drive the piers to solid claystone, or other bedrock material.

Why Engineering is Important Around Concrete Foundations and Piering

The amount of engineering that goes into creating a poured concrete foundation is absolutely mind-blowing. Peak is asked quite often to double check the proposed pier spacing on various projects when other piering companies are involved.
I was looking over the equations and conditions on a recent project as our engineer, Mike Sullivan, was checking facts and figures. He came to an incredibly disturbing conclusion: the 15 foot spacing on a proposed piering project would destroy the foundation—the amount of pressure exerted by each pier at that spacing would literally tear the home apart!

Mike contacted the general contractor on the project and quickly reviewed the math—in order to lift the home without destroying it, the piers would need to be spaced at 6 foot intervals. The homeowner wasn’t thrilled to discover that their general contractor was putting their entire home at risk!

Is the Piering Company You’ve Selected Using a Load Calculator to Determine Pier Spacing?

Stories like this are exactly why we’ve been working with engineers to develop a simple way to calculate the spanning strength of each client’s foundation—whether it’s a poured foundation, or concrete block
design. The calculator allows us to plug in certain characteristics of a home, measurements, and conditions to determine exactly how far apart to place the piers. After that, we take the information back to real engineers to double check our calculations.

Are we the first piering company to use a load calculator? I’m not certain, but I have seen the math behind the calculator and I believe that using the load calculator will save our clients from nasty surprises and ruined homes!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Now Hiring a Systems Design Specialist (Sales Dept)

Come join our growing company and become a part of our sales team. We have established a firm base in the Pikes Peak Region and perform more specialized foundation repair work than any other company in the area, and we are committed to providing a “WOW!” customer service experience for each and every customer. We are now expanding up and down the Front Range. That’s why we are looking exclusively for people with a great attitude, who love to serve others and apply the Golden Rule in all they do. Check us out at PeakBasementSystems.com and PeakStructural.com.

We are looking for a person with a great attitude and a desire to grow with our company. The position is commission based with an average sale of a little over $12,000. An understanding of basic construction and how a home is structurally designed is expected and background in home improvement sales is helpful. We will be conducting a two day interview on March 4th and 5th with call back interviews on Saturday. You will learn a bit about our company, as we learn about you and how you may fit on our team.
Email your resume and cover letter to Info@peakbasementsystems.com, and tell us a bit about yourself and something you learned from our website. Questions are welcome and can be emailed to the same address.

Aaron Henes
General Manager
The Peak Companies