What Engineers Bring To The Table

Credibility

Engineers are generally considered more credible relative to technical issues than home inspectors and foundation repair contractors. To be a Licensed or Professional Engineer, the first step is to graduate from an approved College of Engineering. Once graduated, the engineer is required to work under a Professional Engineer for four years. He or she must also pass two intensive exams that test their competency. The final step is to apply to the licensing board to be granted a license.

Only about 20% of all engineering graduates are licensed. 

In Texas, there is no licensing required to be a foundation repair contractor. Home inspectors are required to be licensed, but they are generalists. Licensed TREC home inspectors are required to look for specific irregularities that could indicate foundation distortion and then render an independent opinion of how well or poorly the foundation is performing. They are not required to diagnose the cause of the irregularities. The result is that many TREC inspectors render an opinion, not as to the performance, but as to the need to retain an engineer or a “foundation specialist”, which most people interpret as meaning a foundation repair contractor.      

Independence

Most licensed engineers are independent both in reality and in appearance. The same is true of home inspectors. It is not true of foundation repair contractors. They have an undeniable financial incentive to submit a repair plan.  

The Ability To Diagnose The Cause Or Causes Of Distress & Damage

It is one thing to look for and see a drywall crack, a brick veneer crack, a sticking door or any other common sign of distress and another to reliably diagnose the cause of the distress. This is the most difficult part of making a slab foundation performance assessment. The question to be answered for each sign of distress: is it plausible or reasonable to believe that the distress is due to foundation distress. 

A simple example: a sticking upstairs door. This might be due to foundation distortion, it could be a problem with the way the door assembly was installed. A floor frame missing blocking underneath one side of the door frame is a common cause. Without opening up the floor frame and with no repair history it is hard to be definitive, but foundation distortion can usually be eliminated if there is no foundation related distress downstairs below the sticking door.

Only Texas Professional Engineers are legally permitted by law to diagnose the cause of distress in expansive soil areas

TREC licensed real estate inspectors are legally permitted to render an opinion as to the performance of a foundation based on visible indicators such as brick veneer cracks. An example:

Based on my observations and experience, it is my opinion that the foundation performance is average taking into the age, location and repair history. Bear in mind that other professionals may have different opinions.

Here is an example of what not to do:

I recommend that you have a foundation expert look at the foundation.

You ask: what’s wrong with that? Nothing except this:

  1. It is not an opinion of how well or poorly the foundation is performing; it is an opinion as to whether a foundation expert is needed. 
  2. Legally there is no such thing as a foundation expert. Anyone can call himself or herself a foundation expert.
  3. Assuming that the standard contract is used, the buyer cannot retain anyone to make an inspection or investigation of the foundation performance. Whoever the buyer retains has to be permitted by law to make such an inspection/investigation. TREC licensed inspectors are licensed as are licensed architects and licensed Professional Engineers. There is no licensing requirement for foundation repair contractors.
  4. I know from experience that sellers can get extremely angry when the buyer shows up with a foundation repair contractor in tow. They rarely make a connection with the restriction on who the buyer can retain, but it does strike them as fundamentally unfair since it is clearly the case that a foundation repair contractor cannot be unbiased.

    The way to avoid these problems is to follow the contract.

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