Options For Improving Foundation Performance

Make no repairs

This surprises most people. The large majority of houses that show distress are not good The candidates for foundation repair for the simple reason that the distress is cosmetic and/or are easily repaired. If there is a structural safety or integrity issue and it is reasonable to believe foundation repair will correct the problem, then foundation repair should be considered as an option.

Make cosmetic repairs and door issues only

Sticking doors and drywall cracking can be repaired without underpinning the foundation. It is true that the repairs may not be permanent. However, the same could be said of foundation repair. In fact, after underpinning there are likely to be more and (more severe) distress than before the foundation repair. 

Drainage improvements

Over 30-years of investigating slab-on-ground foundations has taught me that most homes have poor drainage. No matter how much you spend on foundation repair you are not going to get the potential benefits foundation repair can bring until drainage issues have been addressed.

In many cases correcting drainage issues alone can make the foundation performance acceptable.    

Tree and other vegetation issues

Trees and large shrubs can have severe adverse effects on foundation performance. Oak trees are especially hard on slab-on-ground foundations. The most popular trees in the Houston area seem to live oaks. Oak trees should be planted no closer to the foundation than 50 to 75-feet. Oak trees are almost always planted closer than 35 or 40-feet. In my experience, the majority of oaks are no more than 10 to 12-foot from the foundation.

Large shrubs can also create performance issues for slab-on-ground foundations. Small shallow-rooted shrubs create fewer foundation issues. Shrubs such azaleas are usually okay. The biggest mistake I see is shrubs that are too close to the foundations. I recommend planting shrubs such as azaleas three to five feet from the foundation. 

Automatic watering system

The problem with dry summers and droughts is that we repeatedly have both. 

 

Here is a video with a different take on building a foundation watering system. The speaker is one of the (family) who owns and operates DuWest Services: a large foundation repair contractor. 

Roof gutters

Roof gutters are generally a good idea. All roof eaves should be guttered. Many builders gutter the eaves in the front. That leaves the eaves in the rear and at both sides with no gutters.

Another common mistake is to install gutters so that they discharge water onto the ground adjacent to the foundation. This is counterproductive; doubly so if the ground is not properly                               

Building modifications

The most cost-efficient way to reduce cracks in the brick veneer is to add movement joints. If brick veneer cracking is a problem, you should consider creating movement joints in the brick veneer.        

Underpinning (foundation repair)

Underpinning will usually improve foundation performance. In my experience, the best you can hope for is that foundation repair cuts the distress by around 50%. In practical terms, the number of cracks in the brick veneer will stay the same, but they will close by around 50%. To take an example: a quarter-inch wide brick veneer crack will wind up being around 1/8-inch wide. Half of the drywall cracks may reappear after a couple of years.                            

Recommended options

When a Professional Engineer recommends one or more options, it is important that the recommended options be cost-effective, but foundation repair is rarely cost-effective. 

 

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