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.