Tell me about foundation repair

I’m in the housing market now, and I’m currently looking at a nice little house with a few ‘improvement opportunities’. Most of it is stuff I’d do over time while living there: paint, maybe drywall, new flooring, kitchen stuff, bathroom stuff, maybe finish the basement. Lots of minor and medium projects; nothing too scary. I took another look at it today, though, and one corner of the house seems to be settling a bit. Long cracks have formed between the bricks, and one basement stained glass window is bulging, though I’m not sure what the window means.

So, what kind of experience has anyone had with foundation repair? No repair companies were open today, being Saturday, and I’d like to let the owner know my intentions by Wednesday, or he’ll start all the improvements himself (minus the foundation), and the price will go up. From what I understand, there are two main techniques of shoring up a home foundation: slabjacking and piering. Slabjacking seems to be more common, so, is it less expensive, yet sufficient in most cases? Hopefully (depending on your perspective), some Dopers have had to have their foundation fixed, and can tell me what to expect, especially regarding cost and effectiveness.

My parents just had this done to their house. The foundation was 7" low on one corner. It’s an unbelievable mess, but it has to be done eventually if the foundation is cracking.

Don’t just slab-jack. Get the house put on piers. If you’re going to go through all the hassle and expense of fixing the foundation, actually fix it. Just jacking the slab back into level won’t last.

If you’re going to have it put on piers, they’re going to have to saw out 3’ x 3’ concrete patches every 6 feet or so and do a lot of digging in the interior of the house. Take my advice - rent one of those storage pod things, put it in the backyard, move everything out of the house and into the pod and go rent an apartment for a month while they do it. Your sanity will thank you later. Cleaning up after foundation work is really bad when you have to vacuum off the interior and exterior of every item you own. Concrete dust will be everywhere.

  1. If the house isn’t worth fixing properly, it isn’t worth buying–run away.

  2. You won’t ever be able to sell it if you just jack up one corner and stick a bunch of dirt under it. Future buyers wil ask about the foundation.

  3. Ask the owner about previous foundation work. Ask him three or four times.

  4. The most important things in a repair company are longitivity and how they are about living up to their warrenties. Find someone who had their foundation fixed 15 years ago, and then two years ago called in because the house had shifted off the piers and the company came out and fixed it with no hassle or trying to weasle out of it. That’s what a lifetime warrenty on a foundation should get you, and don’t settle for anything less. Then, when you sell the house in 5 to 10 or 20 years you can tell prospective buyers exactly that.

Thanks for the responses. Here are the questions I have now:

  1. How much does any of this cost?

  2. CADOp, do your parents have a basement? I can imagine a little dust coming up from the basement, but I’m surprised to hear it would cover everything in the house, especially if the basement door stays closed and the furnace/AC stays off.

  3. Why is slabjacking (or mudjacking, apparently) not considered a real fix? Despite how the term sounds, it doesn’t mean “you just jack up one corner and stick a bunch of dirt under it.” As I understand it, it’s also done from the inside of the house. A hole is drilled in the foundation, and a mixture of concrete and other materials, not dirt, is pumped through the hole, underneath the foundation. It’s the pressure of this mixture that raises the slab. It fills any holes underneath, and hardens to stablize the foundation. I’m not saying it does work or doesn’t work; I want to make sure you know what procedure I’m talking about.

I am in the middle of a foundation repair on my father’s house so we can sell it.
Right now the bid is $23,000 to replace/reinforce about 41’ of the foundation. Now the city inspector wants a soils test. A soils test takes another 6 weeks I am told and cost $3,500. At the end of the test, we may have to replace more of the foundation at additional cost. A complete replacement is about $75,000.
You did not say where the house is located, my father’s house is in LA where they are a little gun shy over earthquakes. If you live somewhere else YMMV.
You also did not say if the house was slab on grade (concrete floors) or raised over concrete foundation (has a crawl space/ basement) Different procedures would be used for each type of house. (at a different cost. Also if the house has a mud sill foundation RUN! Do not buy this this house.

Well, I am near the New Madrid fault. If that baby ever snaps, I’m pretty screwed.
The OP does mention the basement. Concrete slab and cinderblock walls down there.


A friend of mine here in suburban St. Louis recently did a bunch of foundation repair on a 1960s construction 1-story ranch-style house built over a typical midwest full-depth full-floorplan basement with a poured concrete floor and walls.

Half the house had settled about 6 inches. They knew it had some settling before they bought it. They bought the house & land for about $250K in 2001, thinking they’d paid a bit below market for it

The repairs ran $75K and their good deal is now a very bad deal.

Although the house is supposedly as good or better than new foundation-wise, I bet they’ll have a very hard time selling it. With so many similar houses on the market at any given time, the foundation’s history will be a red flag to most buyers.

So I see them having paid $325K for something they’ll have to sell for less than $250K to entice a buyer.

My advice: GO BAAACK! IT’S A TRAP!!!

Hi, West County. U City here.
For $75K, what did they have done, exactly?

From what you’ve explained, I wouldn’t touch the project without the input of a PE. Local building codes play a large part in what you are allowed to do regarding remediation of a problem such as this. Way too many variables are involved to make an intelligent comment regarding cost of repair. If the seller won’t wait for you to consult with qualified professionals, then it is time to move on, IMHO.

What’s a PE? If it’s a repair company, I’ll be contacting several today. I just started this thread in hopes of getting a rough estimate over the weekend, but I see what you mean about that being difficult. As for the owner, I haven’t spoken with him about this yet, since I just found out Saturday. I guess it’s possible he’ll hold off on repairs if I can’t get an immediate response from the repair companies.

PE = Professional Engineer - i.e. someone licensed with the state. My father actually is a P.E. (civil engineer), so he was able to assess what really needed to be done himself. You should talk to at least a civil engineer and maybe a structural engineer about it. That said:

  1. Cost - this will depend greatly on what you have done, and on the size of the foundation. My parents have a large house (2-story, ~2,700 sf of foundation). The house was on a tensioned slab foundation (i.e. no piers). Not that this is a plug or anything, but they used a Ram Jack affiliate that had done foundation work for several of our friends - they dug 3’x3’x5’ pits every 6 feet or so around the exterior and placed hydraulic jacks around the edges. In the interior, they sawed out 3’x3’ patches in the slab every 6’ or so along the beams, dug pits and placed hydraulic jacks under the beams in the interior. All of that took around 2-3 weeks. Finally, they had all the jacks in place - they lifted and leveld the whole foundation using all of the jacks simultaneously. With the jacks holding everything up, they installed steel piers, removed the jacks, encased the steel beam in concrete, and pathced the floor. They bored smaller holes (maybe 2" diameter) in 5 or 6 locations in the house and filled the empty space with an aggregate mix of concrete, backfill, etc. I believe there were 48 piers installed between the interior and exterior. Total cost was somewhere between $40,000-$50,000. This was an extensive lift and repair job - it’s unlikely that the cost would be that high for most repair jobs. Again - not recommending any particular company for the job, but it was pretty spiffy seeing the cracks in the brick and the drywall just close up to an invisible line.

  2. No basement. If you can keep it all contained behind closed doors, it might not be too bad, but an unbelievable amount of dust worked it’s way to the upstairs. That was with an entry hall that was open to both floors, though. Either way, I’d advise moving out (or in your case - not moving yet) while they’re doing the repair. The noise is unbelivable, and they’ll be running a lot of gasoline powered engines to saw out and drill holes, and that means a lot of carbon monoxide.

  3. The problem with slab-jacking isn’t that it doesn’t work - it will. But only in the short term. Unless you address the problem that actually caused the foundation to sink and crack in the first place, you’ll just wind up back where you are now given enough time. 10-15 years later, you’ll have to do it again, but it gets worse each time. If you’re only planning on living there a few years, maybe you can get away with that, but it wouldn’t be very nice to whoever buys it after you. In short, I’d only recommend jacking and backfilling if the house was already on pier and beam, because then it’s about the only thing you can do. I suppose there might be some exceptions depending on soil type, but they’d be few and far between. There has to be some reason why the foundation failed - that’s ultimately what you need to fix rather than just re-leveling and hoping that it doesn’t happen again.

But, for the IMHO part, I’ve got to echo what other people have said - don’t buy a home that already has foundation problems, especially to the point of visible cracks in the brick. Just don’t. Unless you really know what you’re getting into and have considerable exprience in the business of buying, fixing, and selling realestate. And even then, there have to be better deals out there. Foundation repair can really put you in the hole in a hurry.

When I bought my first house it was in the beginning phases of construction. I didn’t negotiate on the price, instead I requested various additions and upgrades. One of the items was adding a 10’x10’ breakfast area with bay windows. The builder apparently didn’t set the foundation for the addition as deep as for the rest of the house because within a few years the foundation had settled enough to separate completely from the breakfast area. The only thing supporting the addition was a poured concrete patio. Wall paper began to tear inside. By this time the builder was out of business (actually, he was killed by a family member - but that’s another story). We did have insurance against major building defects (thrown in as a closing enticement, thank heavens) and, after much red tape, it covered the repairs. We ended up having the old foundation completely removed, the soil dug out to the bedrock, a new slab poured and the foundation completely rebuilt. The total tab was somewhere between $10k and $15k. I only paid $75,000 for the whole house!

1960s, “L” shaped, 1 level ranch, Montgomery. Each leg of the “L” is moving in a different direction. They want $25k to pier up one leg and attach it to the other. And that doesn’t include any other the interior repair that will need to be done.

Run, don’t walk. Bad foundation is a horrible thing to fix.

Thanks everyone for the replies. CADOp, especially answered, most everything I was wondering. Though, I was still fuzzy on why piering is so great until I did some more surfing and learned just how deep the piers go. It all makes sense now.

I haven’t been able to get ahold of anyone to come and look at the house, but after looking at it again, it appears that 2, maybe 3 corners of the house have stair-step cracking going on. Plus, when I mentioned it, the owner showed no concern (he buys 'em as-is, fixes up the inside, and sells for a nice profit). To top it off, I really didn’t want to jump on anything this early in my search anyway, so I’m taking a pass.

That said, I left a detail out of the OP that may change things a little. I’m looking pretty exclusively at older houses, like 70+ years. So, given that, is a little settling such a big deal? How common is foundation irregularity in older houses? Do most people who buy older houses expect the foundation to be in perfect condition? Anyone here live(d) in an old house?

I may not be the best person to answer this, even though I live in an old house (circa 1890s or so) it’s in New Orleans, which is a funky market due to our soil here. When it gets wet it swells up and when it dries out it shrinks (the soil, that is). This leads to a lot of settling.

Our next door neighbor makes his living buying, fixing, and reselling houses. He claims that the average amount of floor deflection in old houses in New Orleans is four inches. Given the floors in our house, I believe him. Doors, door jambs, windows, floors, etc., etc., all are off kilter. A marble placed in a room is guaranteed to roll. In short: nothing’s level since the house has shifted so much over the years. Every house I’ve been in in this area is like this.

Personally, if you like the house and there’s no water in the basement, I don’t think a little settling is that big a deal. If, however, you live in a housing market that places a premium on perfection, and you plan to sell the house within the next 10 years or so, I’d consult with some realtors, architechts, and contractors and get ther opinions.