I have a hundred year old house in the midwest. I take really good care of the house and I have spent some money on improvements and energy efficiency upgrades. But my basement/foundation walls are really old terra cotta block and the foundation walls are bowing in, about an inch or inch and a half depending on the wall. Also, one corner appears to have settled about an inch to an inch and a half. I've had a few foundation contractors look at it and give me their opinions, which vary quite a bit. Contractor A says the settlement/bowing is not significant enough to worry about and that corrective steps (bracing, I beams will work just fine) and quotes me a price for their product to stop the movement of the walls. Contractor B. says that terra cotta foundations are terrible to try to fix (straighten, remortar) and that anything I try to do is probably just throwing good money at it ,and quotes me options for a partial or full foundation replacement. Everyone always seems to ask one question about this subject — how much money do you want to spend? I don't have a problem spending some money on this, but I want it to be a real fix and not just a temporary fix or band-aid. The benefits of replacing the entire foundation are that I can jack the house up a foot and go a foot deeper below and have a finishable, livable space that's cheap to heat and cool and that will double the square footage of my home. The risks are that process of replacing the foundation (jacking the house up, squaring and leveling the house) might cause serious damage to the framing, drywall, and windows. It's also very expensive. The risk with trying to brace the walls isn't as expensive but it seems more like a temporary fix and if it doesn't work it's just like wasting money. Another option I have asked about, more having to do with the uneven feeling of the main floor, is replacing the wood center beam of the house with a new steel beam and support jacks. This may take the pressure off the foundation walls enough to prevent further movement/damage. Do you have any thoughts or advice?
First and foremost, stop calling contractors! As you've learned, they're only trying to sell you whatever fix they specialize in.
The only way to properly address your problem is to contract with a structural engineer who will analyze the problem and then prepare a detailed report advising on how to fix it. That report should include specifiations for exactly how the job should be accomplished. Once you have that report, and only once you have that report, you can submit it to contractors to bid on.
The mistake is in expecting contractors to provide the expert advice you seek. They're not qualified to provide that advice - they're qualified to execute a repair. Only a structural engineer is qualified to give you that opinion.
Once the job is complete, have the engineer re-inspect it and provide an addendum to the report, approving the work executed by the contractor. This step is very important because when you sell your house, you'll want to prove an engineer was involved in diagnosing the problem, designing a repair, and approving the job's completion.