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Structural Engineer With Expertise In Pier And Beam Home Foundations

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Wanted to know if anyone could recommend a structural engineer that could give us recommendations on how to approach our foundation problems.

As of right now, we have major cracks on the drywall on all the exterior load-bearing walls and baseboards separating from both the walls and the floors. I thought I wanted pilings that would go deep enough to minimize movement and not have to patch and paint drywall every 3 to 5 years. However, I got an outrageous quote from a foundation company, and someone else told me it was a waste of money and not even effective because of the geology of the area.

So, I DO NOT WANTS RECS FOR A FOUNDATION COMPANY selling their product, but simply an INDEPENDENT CONSULTANT who can guide us on the most effective approach (stabilizing verses leveling)

to meet our goal---------------------->avoiding onging drywall repairs.

Thanks in advance!

Edited by roamworld
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We live in a bungalow in the Heights

Leveled and added beams, additional concrete blocks in 2003 - done by a reputable foundation company that has a months long waiting list. From the get go, I was not very pleased with their work, and by 2008 we had cracks leading from all the windows to ceilings, we could see the light of day through the cracks between the floor and the baseboard (along with all the spiders that would crawl through them!), and our doors would stick throughout the house.

Got some new quotes from foundation companies in 2009 - 2 who went under the house and recommended pilings on all interior walls to stabilize the house against the effects of ground shrinkage and swelling, 1 (also reputable) recommended we don't do anything since we had already done significant drainage work with french drains along the perimeter leading away from the house and catch drains where all the gutters come down around the house. He didn't look under the house but from what he saw walking through the house and the exterior he didn't see much of a problem.

However much I want to believe the latter guy, our cracks have worsened along all the exterior walls. We had one of the original quotes for pilings come out and now they are recommending additional pilings on all load bearing walls, interior and exterior walls alike. He promises that the pilings will be deep enough to stabilize but someone else (not a foundation guy) gave us feedback that it is impossible to go deep enough in the Heights so that the pilings reach ground that does not move. He says that the best bet would be to shim every couple of years. We asked this most recent foundation company about that approach, and they said that the cost would be the same over time b/c of the labor to go under the house.

Basically, 8k for pilings that may or may not work or 2k every couple of years to shim and maintain level.

We don't have a showcase house or a lot of money, I just don't want to have to relocate my kids and their furniture every couple of years to avoid exposing them to sanding dust, drywall and paint fumes. I don't mind hairline cracks, but I don't want to deal with the ugly scars that line the walls in every room in my house currently. If there was a guarantee the 8k would work, I would find a way, but someone who spent equal that amount last year, already has cracks again.

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My Dad grew up in a pier and beam bungalow in Baytown. In 1947 or so, he and his younger brother spent the Summer under the house placing a 3 foot square 4 inch thick concrete pad under each of the piers. That house is still level today. That might be worth looking into as an alternative, as it would give the house a larger footprint on the dirt.

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Without looking at your house, its hard to diagnose, but...here's a situation I faced once upon a time:

I had purchased a delapidated house in Eastwood. The first order of business was geting the pier and beam foundation leveled. I used a reputable company, and they leveled it up to the point that I told them to stop. The bricks would've been more expensive to repair than to place shims beneath the subfloor. After that, on the opposite side of the house, a mature oak tree with a skewed center of gravity began to lift one of the corners, and after two hard freezes that caused movement of the tree itself, if acted as a lever and resulted in a two-inch gap between the baseboards and the floor covering. Meanwhile, the repair work had become slightly out of alignment...although miraculously, it did not result in any tearing of the sheet rock.

My understanding from having talked with a structural engineer (informally) is that five years is about that point when an adjustment to your pier-and-beam house is necessary. On corner lots (like mine), adjustments may need to be more frequent due to the increased potential for differential settlement along multiple axes.

There's a reason that older houses used to have wall paper atop a burlap backing. Newer construction techniques are often incompatible with reality. (And I might add, people used to think of kids as being fairly adaptable.) You can't buy an old house and expect that it'll perform like a new house. That's just not realistic.

EDIT: And for what its worth, when I was a kid, I really liked the smell of fresh paint. The cancer be damned. I liked the smell.

Edited by TheNiche
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@ TheNiche, if adjustments need to be done every few years that's not a problem, if I could find someone reasonable to do it. I would chalk it up to maintenance costs if I could keep it close to or under 1k. If pilings work, then I would be willing to do that, even if it is more expensive.

@ Ross, we currently have pads under our piers, but not as deep and wide as you mentioned. I want to say they are 3 inches deep and 24 inch square.That was what the reputable foundation company did in 2003 and so far it has not been very effective.

@ The Niche, regarding the risks of cancer, it is a significant consideration in our household that I would always move my kids out when doing repair work. I accept that my house will require maintenance though I might argue that new houses are built so poorly that they would require maintenance as well. I just don't want to deal with the headache that comes with a drywall repair every few years. So, I want to approach the foundation via the method that would most likely help us maintain stability over the longest stretch.

Is there a reliable, trustworthy structural engineer that specializes in pier and beam that could draft a plan that we then give to the foundation company to follow?

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You might want to have a soil engineer look at your lot to identify why it moves so much, if your neighbors don't have the same issues. Are there sewer/water line issues that change the moisture content? Was your lot used as a dumping ground for excavated soil that's different from the rest of the block? Was there another structure with a basement that was demolished and not properly filled in? i'm just tossing out ideas here.

Edited by Ross
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I think many of the neighbors are in the same boat, but our lot is probably the lowest point in the block. Our house has been here since 1920 as a residential home (we did research on the house), so I do not think there was a basement. We used to have a lake under our house after rains which resolved when we installed the french drains, but nevertheless, the house still gets a lot of movement. I wonder sometimes if it now is too dry down there though!

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Roam you might want to wait another 6 months before doing anything more (assuming return of normal rainfall in 2012). We are in a historic drought and there has been unprecedented movement in soils and foundations all over town.

Also in adding yard drains and ending the ponding under the house you may have inadvertently affected the equilibrium moisture conditions there which resulted in soil movement. You may very well have to adjust components to the new normal.

As far as chemicals around the old house are concerned, you have your chlordane (probably injected around piers at some point), your pentachlorophenol and creosote (painted or sprayed on beams and floor joists by helpful termite companies), and various now-banned bug sprays and dusts. I remember when Southland hardware sold both penta and creosote, in the mid 80's. And you can still score the occasional box or bottle of DDT (see photo) at a yard sale where the ancient widow has been moved to the nursing home. I wonder if at some point an affordable parts-per-billion analyzer will become available to homeowners to see just what is floating around inside their historic swankiendas.

Not to mention the lead in your paint; and the asbestos in your window glazing compound, friable heat duct insulation, and drywall mud. Don't ever do major sanding of drywall compund that was installed before 1980 without taking precautions.

The solution of course is to move to a new high rise. Just don't lean on the glass railings.


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  • 2 years later...

I hate to revive an old thread, but this is the most relevant one I could find


We live in a ~1940 2 story pier and beam home.  We bought the house in late 2012, and in the inspection report there were some issues some piers that were corrected.  The soil itself under the house was not very level, so the previous owners had some guys come in (not sure how reputable, guessing not) and add quite a bit.  They actually added so much that the inspector said they had to take some back out as it was impossible to actually crawl under the house.  So yeah, hence the not sure how reputable part


Anyway, over the winter last year I noticed a new crack along the stairwell.  Thought I would just keep an eye on it....and while it hasn't seemed to grow any, today I finally got around to peeking under the house.  I thought maybe with the rain I would check and see if any water was pooling down there or anything, and apparently I have found the exact opposite.  The ground is so dry under an area of the house that there are some huge cracks in the soil.  Worse, there is a small bathroom under the stairs on slab and I could see void space underneath it from where the newer dirt has pulled away.  I was about to just push dirt back under it but from what I've read that could lead to future problems if/when moisture finds its way back down there


So long story, but does anyone have recommendations for even smaller jobs?  There's just the single crack in the drywall that would seem to be at least partially attributed to the area that has dried out and pulled away from the small slab.  If it seems reasonable to assume we are at close to normal moisture levels the solution would seem to be to just push dirt back under there....but I'd rather not pay huge $$ for that.  From what I could see the remaining piers looked fine

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  • The title was changed to Structural Engineer With Expertise In Pier And Beam Home Foundations

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