What Makes Foundation Reports Different

When you recommend a structural engineer, your reputation is on the line

I often ask my clients where they got my name. The most common response is: they got my name from their agent, but then they googled my name and was so impressed that they stopped looking. Some people have actually told me they printed out every page of my website www.houstonslabfoundations.com

So what do you look for in a website that will impress your buyers and sellers? 

Are the website and report easy to read?

I make it a habit to visit competitors websites. I want to see how easy it is to read the text on the site. I also look for a sample report and, if so, how easy is it to read the report text on the computer screen.

What studies tell us about the readability of computer screen text.

The importance of subheads and paragraphs

Far and away the most common error I see is large blocks of text that fill up the screen. I see screens full of text with no breaks. s seem to go on forever. We know from extensive studies that computer screen readers scan the pages: they do not read them as you would a printed book. They scan each page to see if there is something worth their time.

Paragraphs should be short, say no more than three or four sentences. 

Subheads is another way to break up text and make web pages more inviting.          

Are key terms defined or discussed?

The Texas Board of Professional Engineer has repeatedly made it clear that key terms must be defined. Undefined terms often found in foundation investigative reports on The is has been a source of contention for many years. Specifically, with regard to foundation performance reports the Texas Board of Professional Engineers has stated:

Terms such as “failure” “distress” “damage”, etc. must be clearly defined.        

Is a performance opinion rendered?

I’m a firm believer that engineering foundation performance reports must comply with both the Texas Board of Professional Engineers rules and the Standards of Practice For TREC Inspectors. The key provision in the TREC SOP that some (many) engineers miss is the requirement that an opinion on how well or poorly the foundation is performing be rendered.

Virtually all engineers provide an opinion as to the need to underpin a foundation, but they sometimes do it in a very confusing way. More importantly, they do not provide a performance opinion. Let me give you an example:

In my opinion, the foundation should be underpinned.

This is an opinion as to whether the foundation should be underpinned.  

Is the report an inspection report or an investigative report?

TREC inspectors issue inspection reports. Engineers issue investigative reports. What is the difference? The short answer is that engineers are expected to diagnosis the cause of distress. Specifically, TREC inspectors are not required to identify the cause of a condition nor are they required to determine the cause or effect of deficiencies.

Take the practice of medicine. From Wikipedia, the practice is the science and practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease.

The practice of engineering is defined as: 

The creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property              

Does the report include an estimate of bending with calculations?

An engineering report should include an estimate of how much the foundation has bent or deflected. A TREC report shouldn’t. 

Overall deflection, local deflection, tilt, floor slope, and levelness.

Overall deflection is bending across a profile. The profile should be from front to rear or from side to side. 

Local deflection is the bending from one interior point to another point. Local deflection is very difficult to assess as it is likely to be heavily influenced by the way the slab surface was finished. 

Floor slope a ratio of the difference in elevation divided by the horizontal distance between the two points. Floor slope is rarely structurally significant.  

Does the report take construction tolerances into account? 

When floor slopes are measured and commented on, America Concrete Institute construction tolerances for slab levelness should be a factor being considered. The two construction tolerances that are most important are:

Overall levelness:  1.5 inches meaning that no two points should be more than 1.5 inches difference in elevation       

Local worst case:  1.25 inches difference in elevation between two points 10-feet apart                                                        

Is the age of the foundation taken into account?

The definition of performance in the TREC SOP says that age must be taken into account.

There is nothing unreasonable about this. No one should expect a slab built in the 1950s when our understanding of how to design a slab-on-ground was primitive, to say the least, to perform as well as a slab being designed and built today. 

Older slab foundations typically exhibit more deflection, but much of that defection is probably creep deflection which is relatively benign.     

Are all possible options for improving slab performance spelled out? 

The Texas Board of Professional Engineers encourages Professional Engineers to provide clients with applicable options for improving foundation performance. These can include drainage improvements, tree removal, alterations to the house to make it more tolerate of foundation distortion and others including foundation repair.

Does the report state that, absent any structural safety issues or structural integrity issues, the house could be lived in as is or that cosmetic repairs and other minor repairs could be done without underpinning the slab

This comes from the first and second versions of the Texas Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. This should be in every foundation performance evaluation.

Does the report recommend or not recommend repair?

Be aware that only Texas Professional Engineers can legally address the repair issue. Unfortunately, some engineers leave the repair decision to the client.

Here is one example: Our experience has shown us that if there is a slope in excess of one inch over ten feet, foundation repair should be done.

Here is another: We have discovered that when there is a slope of 1 inch over 15 feet or .5 inches over 7.5 feet, foundation repair should be done.



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