Call an Engineer for a Bowing Basement Wall
LESLIE: We’ve got Nancy in Iowa who’s got a bowing basement wall. Tell us about what’s going on in your basement?
TOM: What’s going on?
NANCY: Well, I have a basement wall that’s been bowing and outside behind my house is – about five feet is a retainer wall. So they couldn’t use anchor walls because it’s all cement. And then I was just wondering how I can solve the solution or …
TOM: OK, let me play this back so I understand it. So the basement wall is bowing and then outside the basement wall, about five feet away, you have a retaining wall?
NANCY: Correct. And it’s all cement.
TOM: And it’s all cement in between. OK. So, the reason that this basement wall is bowing is probably because there’s been water sitting outside in that five-foot area between the retaining wall and the basement exterior wall itself. That water gets in there and then it freezes and over the course of the years it moves the wall a little bit, a little bit, a little bit and causes this bow. Can you give me some indication, Nancy, as to how much bow you have? Are you able to put like a straight-edge on it and tell me how far out of plumb it is?
NANCY: No, maybe about six inches.
TOM: No way. Really?
NANCY: But the trouble is …
TOM: Six inches.
LESLIE: So it’s bowing out that much, like a mountain, from the wall?
NANCY: Not – well not quite a mountain. (chuckling)
TOM: (chuckling) More like a molehill.
NANCY: Right. (chuckling) The trouble is that basement wall in that area is a living area because it is a duplex.
TOM: OK. Well, let me just tell you, this is a serious problem. If your basement wall is bowing out so far that you perceive it to be six inches – it’s probably not or I think it would have been collapsed by now but it sounds like it could be pretty serious – this is going to have to be repaired. There’s a couple of ways to repair it. It generally will involve some sort of reinforcement or it could involve rebuilding the wall. One of the ways that this is done is by adding columns between the floor and the floor joists above – the floor below and the floor joist above – that basically add some reinforcement to that wall so it can’t bow in as much.
But the first step here is for you, Nancy, to contact a licensed, structural engineer. Because the engineer is going to have to assess the situation and design a repair. It’s very important that you do this properly because that engineer’s report is going to essentially be the pedigree on this repair. Once the engineer designs it then you need to hire a contractor to follow the design and make the repair. You don’t want to just go to the contractor because contractors are not going to have the professional qualifications in and of themselves to design a repair. They may have some ideas …
TOM: … but you need to have it done by an engineer or an architect. And then after the contractor makes the repair, do yourself a favor. Have the architect or engineer come back and do an inspection and write a follow-up report. The reason I’m telling you to do this this way is because if you ever want to sell that house, this is something that could become a major problem for you. And if I was the home inspector on that house and I saw that and you had had it fixed and followed our advice and had the report, I would tell the buyers, “No issue. It’s been done correctly.” But if you didn’t have such a report and I just saw some reinforcement up there one way or the other, it would be a big, red flag and that house would not sell. So it’s got to be done correctly. Do you follow me, Nancy?
NANCY: Correct. Yes.
TOM: Alright. I know it’s not what you want to hear but it’s a potentially serious problem if it’s bowing in that much. It’s got to be – it’s got to be dealt with.
NANCY: OK. So I have to take – I have to take all the drywall and everything out to really see the wall. I can’t (INAUDIBLE) …
TOM: Well, you know, an engineer, if they came in to do an inspection, there’s a couple of tools that you can actually sort of poke through there and see behind. One’s called a borescope. So it may not be that they have to rip it off to do the inspection. They may be able to take off a section of it. But clearly if it’s bowing out that much somebody’s got to look at it. You can’t just close your eyes to this, Nancy, because …
LESLIE: Yeah, you’d rather open it up in a controlled environment rather than have it cave in on you …
LESLIE: … and be potentially hazardous to yourself, your home and your belongings.
TOM: Yeah. Act on it now while you’ve got the benefit of time to do an analysis and make sure it’s repaired correctly.
Nancy, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.