What’s Wrong With This Picture?




Roof gutters can be a good idea. Dumping roof runoff right at the foot of the foundation is never a good idea. It creates uneven moisture content one place to another. Even if you underpin a foundation, the failure to correct downspouts will prevent the foundation from performing as well as it should.       

The code and common sense dictate that openings in brick veneer be supported by a noncombustible lintel. Expansive soil movement can easily create cracks in arches. If they are left unrepaired, the arches can become und=safe.      

When the soil or mulch is piled so high that there is no visible slab clearance, it is an open invitation to termites entering the house unseen. Visible slab clearance makes it harder to gain unseen entry. In most cases, they will build a tunnel that can be seen. 

This arch is properly supported by a steel lintel. Even if cracks develop in the arch, the lintel prevents the arch from becoming a safety hazard. Builders habitually claim that arches are self-supporting. This is true for arches that are designed to be self-supporting, but very few residential arches are buttressed well enough to be self-supporting.        

Wing-walls were popular in the 1959s and 1960s. They make the house look bigger from the street. When new, they look nice, but over time expansive soil movement makes them not worth the trouble. underpinning can help marginally, but the cost-effective solution is to get rid of them.

Note the wide (1/2 inch) crack in the mortar. Not that the bricks stand on the end instead of flat on a side. This brick arrangement is called “soldier course” because they look like soldiers standing up in a row. The crack in the mortar between the two bricks at the end of a course is common in a soldier course. This is not a reliable indicator of foundation distortion.       

A simple way to divert water from a roof gutter downspout onto concrete flatwork where it can flow away from the foundation.

Notice the dark line in the mortar in line with the top of the window. I call this a lintel crack or separation. It is not caused by foundation distoration. Moisture can penetrate to the steel lintel making the steel rust. When steel rusts it expands in volume, at least initially. This results in the mortar being pushed off and away which allows even more rust. This process will continue until the steel lintel deteriorates and eventually will need to be replaced. Typically lintel replacement does not need to be done until the house is 50-years or more old.

The dark horizontal line in the slab is rebar that is exposed. Note that it was placed very close to the edge of the concrete. The rebar should be placed so there more concrete between the rebar and the outside edge of the grade beam. Had proper concrete cover been provided, less moisture would have penetrated to the rebar. Instead, the swelling of the steel has pushed what little cover was provided off of the grade beam. 

This is where a corner or wedge crack got bad enough that the corner/wedge fell off. This can be repaired, but the repair may have to be repeated. Corner/wedge cracks are common. They are not a sign of poor performance. They are caused by the brick veneer expanding as it absorbs moisture out of the air. The bricks grow as they absorb moisture because clay is one of their ingredients.    

Note the visible verbiage in the blue box: improve structural stability of your home up to 87%.  As a Texas Professional Engineer, I can honestly say I have no idea what this means.

Another corner that has fallen off leaving brick at the left virtually hanging in the air.

Notice the water puddles scattered around the slab surface. The puddles are in low spots. You will see this on every new slab exposed to rain.  

I call this a stress mark. Foundation distortion is not a likely cause. It is more likely caused by poor nailing of the drywall or shrinkage of the wood frame. 

Diagonal cracks/stress marks are normally caused by foundation distortion, especially if they are downstairs. Upstairs such cracks may be due to framing issues and not due to foundation distortion. 

The door frame has pulled apart. If this is downstairs, the cause is almost certainly foundation distortion.    

This is a Myerland house that has been lifted several feet to make future flooding less likely. This is a very expensive project. Lifting a house sitting on a concrete foundation can run between $250,000 to $350,000. Notice how shallow the grade beam appears to be.  

The forms and corners have been set and the red select fill has been delivered. The red soil is a select fill. Builders use this to raise the elevation of the slab. Every area has rules concerning the height of building foundations. The idea is that the surface of the slab must be a certain height above a specified flood plain so as to minimize the chances that the house will flood. Fill material is used for the simple reason that soil is cheaper than concrete.

In some cases, the geotechnical engineer may specify in the soil report that if the fill material meets certain specifications, the design parameters can be used that allow for a less expensive design. 

Observe how the floor tile has lifted off the floor. Homeowners usually consider this a sign of foundation failure. In actuality, it is caused by the way the tile was installed. 


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