LESLIE: Britney in Michigan is on the line with a foundation question. What is going on at your money pit?
BRITNEY: We had bought an old farmhouse back in July of last year that is just over 2,100 square feet. It was actually two homes combined into one. The back half of the house was built in the 1800s and has a cobblestone foundation. The back half of the house does not have a basement. It’s just a crawlspace. The previous owner had remodeled the house but in doing so, there was no support under any of the beams and the cobblestone is now – has been crumbling. And I guess what I’m asking is: what would be, you know, some ideas or the best way to go about replacing or repairing a cobblestone foundation that is so old?
TOM: OK. So the way you would repair a load-bearing foundation like that is the same, regardless of whether it’s brick or cobblestone or clay tile. And essentially, what it requires you do is to build temporary supports to hold up the house while that work is being done. In most cases, it’s a technique called “needle beaming.”
It’s called “needle beaming” because, basically, what the contractor will do is poke a hole in the foundation and then run beams through at strategic areas to be able to support pieces of the – or sections, I should say, of the exterior wall. And so they would run – imagine the holes being sort of poked through that foundation wall where a beam goes in and then there’s jacks on either end of it that lift up that piece of the wall. They don’t so much lift it up off the foundation as sort of take the pressure off the foundation. And then once it’s completely supported, then the foundation can be disassembled and rebuilt and put back together in that area.
It’s a pretty specialized work. It’s not the kind of thing that the average general contractor would do. And it is also probably something that you ought to have a structural engineer or an architect involved in. Because whenever you do major structural work like that, if you don’t have a licensed professional in it, it becomes a bit of a question mark – a big concern for people that are buying your house in the future. So if you get an engineer to design the repair and then have them inspect it after the fact, then you’ll know that it’s done right and you can present that documentation to any potential buyer in the future.
BRITNEY: Now, since we bought this home under a rural-development loan, which is obviously an FHA loan, there was an FHA inspector that came out. We received all the pictures with that. They have – pictures of the crawlspace were never included. So, she did not inspect the crawlspace. I don’t know – I don’t think that would’ve ever passed. There’s literally just a landscape rock under the middle main beam of the back half of the house and that was literally all that was supporting it.
I had been given an idea that one thing to maybe temporarily, at least, stop it from sinking any farther would be to build almost like if you were to rip up the floor and set almost footers – cement footers, if you will – under each joist in almost a grid pattern.
TOM: Yeah. Listen, I see a lot of that. I spent 20 years as a professional home inspector. I’ve seen a lot of that. And all that DIY stuff is fine. Usually, it doesn’t cause any harm but it’s not the answer to your problem.
The least that you should do is get professional advice, even if you don’t fix everything right now – is get professional advice by somebody that can do a real inspection of that area and tell you exactly what’s going to be required. And then, potentially, you could break up parts of that project and do it in stages. But I wouldn’t wing it on some advice from maybe some contractors that passed through or something you looked up online.
You really need to have a professional look at this to make sure you’re doing it right. You want to do it once, do it right and not do it again. And you’re just kind of swinging in the wind right now if you do it without that kind of advice.
BRITNEY: I had heard that possibly there were recommendations that you could maybe give for people.
TOM: Well, sure. The other option, if you can’t find an architect or an engineer and you just want to get another opinion – and it would probably be a little less expensive, although it’s not the kind of professional that could actually design this for you.
But what you could do is hire a professional home inspector, a very experienced one at that, which you’ll find if you go to the American Society of Home Inspectors’ website, which is ASHI – A-S-H-I. – I think it’s .com or .org. And there’s a Find an Inspector tool there. So you could pop in your local zip code and find certified home inspectors there. And they should be ASHI-certified.
And perhaps one of those you could hire to do a partial inspection of this structure and maybe that pro could give you some sense of direction on what really needs to be done here. But I think, ultimately, you’re going to end up talking to an engineer, OK?
BRITNEY: Yep. I’m just still floored that the inspector …
TOM: Yeah. Let me talk to you about that. Don’t feel too bad. What happened to you is pretty typical. FHA inspections are not the same as professional home inspectors. They are very cursory, more like an appraiser inspection than one that will really comment on the structural integrity of the building.
Those inspectors typically don’t have the same kind of training or experience. They use checklists: the light switch works, the light switch doesn’t work. They’ll never open up a panel to see if there’s burned wires in it. They’re probably not even going to fire up heating systems and cooling systems. They may not even open every window and door in the house.
So, those types of inspections, although people think that they’re really thorough, they’re really not. They’re extremely cursory. And it doesn’t surprise me in the least that that inspector would not go in a crawlspace. I’m sure they would also not go in an attic and even not go on a roof. But those are things that a professional home inspector would do.
BRITNEY: So then that would’ve been on us to get a professional home inspector.
TOM: That would’ve been on you. That would’ve been your choice. That’s right. Mm-hmm. Yeah, your expense and your choice.
So, I would start now if you haven’t had a good thorough inspection of that house. Maybe just have one done and see where you’re at. And it would include the foundation issues, as well. And you can really come up with a priorities list of to-dos that you could plan for moving forward, OK?
TOM: Alright. Good luck. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.