Buckled Foundation Wall: Assessing and Fixing
LESLIE: Now we’ve got Richard in Illinois on the line who’s dealing with a structural issue in the basement – and a bowing wall. Tell us what’s going on.
RICHARD: OK. My wife and I built our own house and it is a pretty good-size house. But anyhow, we just got the thing dry to the weather and got 14 inches of rain in 2 days. And anyhow, the front wall is buckling in a little bit. What do you know about these outfits that claim that they can jack walls out?
TOM: OK. So, is this a home that you’ve just completed, Richard? You say you just got it closed to the weather.
RICHARD: Well, about 40 years ago.
TOM: OK. Now that we have the timeline correctly – so you have a 40-year-old home and you’ve got a wall – a front wall – that’s buckling in due to heavy rain. Is this something that happened slowly over time or does it seem like it happened all at once?
RICHARD: Well, no, it happened – this happened 40 years when we built the thing. We just got the thing dry to the weather and got 14 inches of rain in 2 days.
TOM: I see. So it’s been sitting like that, in the buckled position, for 40 years?
RICHARD: Yeah. And it’s not going anyplace.
TOM: I think if the wall has stayed in that position for all of those years, then there’s not much for you to worry about, with the single exception of what are you going to do when it comes time to sell the house? It will no doubt come up as an issue in a home inspection report or an engineering report.
What you could do, just to kind of make sure that you have all bases covered – you asked me about contractors that claimed to push walls back. I would not – repeat not – hire a contractor as my first step. My first step would be to bring in a structural engineer. Contractors are not qualified to make those types of assessments.
If you have a structural engineer look at that wall and if it needs to be modified or reinforced in any way, you let the engineer design that. He or she will design that fix. And then you take that design to the contractor and say, “This is exactly what I want done.” You do not leave it up to the contractor because they’re not qualified to make that structural assessment.
And in doing it that way, when it comes time to sell the house, if you have the engineer come back and inspect the work when it’s complete and basically certify that he analyzed it, he designed the repair and the repair was properly constructed, that’s kind of like having a pedigree on the effectiveness of that repair. And if it turns out that it doesn’t need any work, well, he can put that in writing, as well.
But I would not hire a contractor that’s going to claim to do something to that wall. Because first of all, it stood like that for 40 years. It’s not getting any worse, so certainly it’s not an immediate problem. But just to protect yourself in the future – and especially if it comes time to sell the house, Richard – I would have it looked at by a structural engineer and then follow his or her advice.