Cracked Block Foundation

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by barefoot gal, Aug 17, 2004.

  1. barefoot gal

    barefoot gal Member

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    We looked at a house today which appears to have potential - fix up, update and sell at a profit or stay and homestead on 1/2 acre. The problem is 3 of the concrete block basement walls have horizontal cracks in mortar joints. (4th wall is against garage) The cracks aren't straight around - they drop down 1 row as it goes around just about the freeze line. 1/4"+ in some places, but no obvious bowing.

    Our real estate agent (she is working for us) suggested asking the sellers to have a structural inspection done. She's already talked to the seller's agent and it sounds like the seller will not be inclined to go along - he never had a problem with the basement. In other words, he ignored the problem with the basement like he ignored alot of other maintenance. Gutters are full and falling off - which is part of the foundation problem. Our agent's next suggestion is to write an offer contingent on structural inspection with cost split between us and seller. But we don't want to risk losing something like $200 without a better idea of whether or not the problem can be truly fixed.

    Thoughts and experiences?
     
  2. gobug

    gobug Well-Known Member Supporter

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    How old is the house? There would be other signs of damage if the settling caused a problem. If the rooms are drywall and there are no cracks, then the settling has not affected the upper floor. It would be harder to see damage outside if the house has siding, but if it is brick and the outside mortar is good, then it may be ok. Are there signs of water in the basement?
     

  3. Ozarks_1

    Ozarks_1 Well-Known Member

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    Foundation cracks as you describe are generally signs of serious problems - especially if the seller has ignored a lot of maintenance. While structural integrity may or may not be a real issue with the cracked walls, it sounds like there's a significant water problem - in addition to other problems - that will need to be addressed.

    Since the seller is unlikely to have a structural inspection done, it sounds like he is well aware of the multitude of problems with the house.

    The place could easily be a "money pit".
    I've seen fixer-uppers that seemed to be real "bargains" sell for just barely more than the value of the land turn into major expenses. One place cost the buyer (my sister) three times more than what it would have cost to build a new one!
     
  4. deberosa

    deberosa SW Virginia Gourd Farmer!

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    I agree this could be a real problem. Many years ago when hurricane Agnes hit PA, it opened up an underground stream next to the concret block basement of my parents almost new home. The block cracked as you described the length of a wall from the pressure of water from outside the wall. Volunteers rushed in and shored it up with railroad ties to save the house, then my dad had to jackhammer a drain all around the outside walls of the basement and drain the water into a sump pump, then jacked the wall back into place and put in metal beams to hold it. That was a huge mess! I would imagine that bentonite soils would crack a basement wall in the same manner - huge pressure from the outside pushing in.
     
  5. Steve

    Steve Well-Known Member

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    Back in January 1997, we were looking for a home to buy in Iowa City. We went to an open house and discovered the exact same problem on the east basement wall. I found a straight board in the basement and held it up vertically to the concrete block wall. It indicated some significant bowing. A horizontal mortar crack doesn't get there by accident. In the summer when the ground isn't frozen, you may not see any bowing of the wall. You'll find it to be a different story in the winter though.

    Anyway, I brought the agent hosting the open house down to the basement and showed her what I found. She was dismayed. But to her credit, she told the owner. I drove by this home on the way to/from work. It was quickly pulled from the market and in April, contractors began to fix the problem. After they dug away the ground along the entire east side of the home I stopped to observe and ask questions.

    There were long anchor bolts running from the inside of the wall out through the wall. The outside ends were embedded into huge poured concrete anchors that were about eight feet out from the wall. The foreman told me the inside end of the anchor bolts held large steel plates up against the inside of the block wall. These would be tightened until the wall was plumb again. French drains and gravel backfill were later installed around the footing/foundation to carry away water and eliminate frost pressure on the wall. I asked the contractor how much this was costing the owner and he said $10,000.

    I never did say I was the one who found the problem.
     
  6. If you're serious about the property, get the inspection done. $200 is a small price to pay for knowing what it will cost to repair in the long run. As others have mentioned... "fixer upper" often translates to "money pit".

    cheers,
     
  7. barefoot gal

    barefoot gal Member

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    House is '50's ranch with steel siding. Near to of a hill with nice view of open land. Drywall isn't cracked and original stained woodwork doesn't look like it's been pulled out and put back in as it would if it drywall had been replaced or covered with another 1/4" layer. Basement has been wet - expected with a block foundation. Thorocrete makes a product to parge the inside and seal normal cracks (co-worker used it b4 '93 flood - stayed dry til he filled it to prevent it from collapsing or floating - flood got within inches of his main floor.). That and dealing with gutters (clean, replace sections, pipe downspouts to street and/or back of lot) should solve wet basement. And I'm going to call excavators about cost of foundation drain. Guess I better call a structural engineer about the big crack - get a price on inspection and maybe info on possible solutions.

    Ozark, I hear what you saying about money pits. We'll have to be careful with what we do and spent on any house. It helps that I work for a small home center = discounts and first dibs on slight damage, discontinued, special orders not picked up, etc... Bad part is they don't pay especially well and any loan will be based on my income. (Sweetie has many wonderful attributes. But money and great credit? I love him anyway.) We've been in a apartment and looking for a house for 2 years. Compared to some of what is in our price range - this one is a palace.

    Thanks for you input. Please keep it coming and I'll keep you posted.
     
  8. gobug

    gobug Well-Known Member Supporter

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    1/4 inch cracks without any wall bow doesn't sound significant to me. But then, an engineer would look at it and put his reputation on the line in his report. If you are serious about buying the property, pay the fee for a pro to inspect it. Demand a report for the fee and follow him around when he does the inspection.
     
  9. countrygrrrl

    countrygrrrl PITA

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    I actually met with a structural engineer yesterday, for my sister's house (she was sitting in an emergency room getting some stitches for an *oops* she had).

    The price for him to do an inspection was very reasonable --- $100 --- and the solutions (she needs some piers) much cheaper than even I expected ($400 per pier, discounted if she gets 3 or more). In addition, he confirmed there was no damage to the interior, which is always good news.

    Gobug is right (as is everyone else) --- ask around and find a good structural engineer. You might be surprised that the fixes you need will be much less expensive than you think --- or you may discover this is a place to not just walk away from, but run!!!
     
  10. barefoot gal

    barefoot gal Member

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    LATEST UPDATE Talked to an engineer today. Cost of his inspecting would be $250 to maybe $350 depending on actual time inspecting and any additional research. I asked flat out if I should run or proceed with caution - it's proceed with caution. Interesting and educational conversation. He says footing drains covered with clay soil don't ever work properly - backfill with gravel all the way up. I haven't been able to reach an excavator about cost of digging out for footing drain. If the cost of footing drain won't break the bank, I'll make an offer and see what happens.

    Thanks for you input.
     
  11. What you are describing to me sounds like 'ladder cracks.' As long as the crack follows the mortar joints - ie does not cut though any of the blocks - this is not necessarily a huge problem. Yes, bowing would be a serious problem to look out for.

    I bought my own house last year with a few ladder cracks. I had a very good inspector who advised me that they were nothing to worry about. Despite heavy rains almost every day all Summer and Spring, the now-finished basement is bone-dry.

    There is really not a need to get a structural engineer in there over a couple of ladder cracks. As a seller, I wouldn't pay for it. At best I would agree to deduct the cost of the structural inspection from the price of the house at closing. I definitely wouldn't put my own cash out on the line when the buyer might just pass on the house anyway for other reasons.

    If you buy the house, make any drainage issues your top priority. That will reduce the chances of having any water infiltration through the cracks (which probably do not extend all the way through the thickness of the wall anyway).

    -Jack_Cville



     
  12. barefoot gal

    barefoot gal Member

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    Apparently, another potential buyer had a foundation repair company look at it - they came up with a repair estimate of $8000. Maybe it does need what the repair company is proposing (I'm getting info 3rd or 4th hand) or maybe they want/need the work. I did talk with an excavator and found out the footing drain should be well under $2000.

    So we went back and put a level against the basement walls. Yup, the walls bow in centering on the cracks. The question is still - how fixable is this? Will digging out for drains take the pressure off and let the wall shift back into place by themselves? Could I use a whole series of screw jackets between wall to wall timbers to push them back out? Could I take out the furnace and water heater and flood the basement til the water pressure push them back out? (I must have gotten a glazed look as those 2 ideas went through my head - both our agent and Sweetie firmly told me this in NOT do-it-yourself.) At any rate, there is so much right about the place, we decided to risk a maximum of $200 and made an offer contingent upon our satisfaction with the findings of an engineering inspection. We didn't get overly generous with the price we offered and have left ourselves a way to renegotiate or walk away if the engineer sees the need for costly repairs. Now is waiting to see if the seller will accept or offer. Should know before the weekend is over.
     
  13. ajoys

    ajoys Well-Known Member

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    Your doing the right thing. Get it all checked out, get all the facts, bids for work needed etc.. Once you are completely informed then go from there. anything can be fixed, it is just a question of money. Depending on the cost of the house and repairs vs. market price when fixed it could be a good deal.

    If the house is in the right location, right type of property, etc.... it would be worth at least paying the money for the inspection.

    It will also be a good reason to lower your price when you make an offer.
     
  14. Beeman

    Beeman Well-Known Member

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    If you cannot afford to spend or lose $200 you should not be investing in a fixer upper investment house.
     
  15. From what you've described, the basement wall is caving in (horizontal cracks & lack of level). The dirt / clay is settling, pressing inward on the wall. Add water and freezing, and the wall literally heaves inward a little more each winter.

    Piers are a temporary solution. You cannot push the wall back out against TONS of dirt - forget it. We tried it, the whole pier slid away from the wall a little bit each winter as the ground froze & heaved it inward a little bit.

    Eventually, you'll probably need to excavate the entire wall down to the footing, waterproof it, add drainage tiles at the base and possibly 1/2 way up the wall, to either a sump or somewhere else - the water needs to go somewhere else. Back fill the trench/wall with GRAVEL, after you're either pushed it back out, or in a really bad case, replaced the entire wall. (which was our case.)

    $8000 isn't out of line for someone that will guarentee the work.
     
  16. If you aren't getting an amazing deal on this place I would run like hell in light of the bowed wall. I am hard pressed to think of anything more troublesome than foundation problems. Maybe an advanced termite infestation.

    Everything else about the house might be totally right. But foundation trouble like this has the potential to fairly consume your life for a long time. That outweighs a lot. Also, have you looked into the consequences of this on your loan? Assuming that you are not buying this with cash, many lenders will not be willing to give you money for a house with an inspection report indicating something like a bowed wall.

    This is not DIY stuff. At the very least, I would subtract the $8,000 from my offer if I were in your shoes.

    -Jack_Cville
     
  17. barefoot gal

    barefoot gal Member

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    WE HAVE A CONTRACT! Seller can back with a counter-offer which we find workable. I'll call and make an ASAP appointment with the engineer this morning. Because the contract is contingent on our being satisfied with what the engineer has to say, it's still a long way from a done deal.

    Thanks for you input. I'll try to post more details at a later date.
     
  18. is the soil heavy clay? A foundation problem is one of the worst problems to have often it is not realy cured by repair but crutched and will be back again. in heavy clay the shrink and swell of the soil will do that and even if it gets fixed it will probably fail again a few years down the road. an engineer is definately in order and can evaluate the situation much better than any of us out here in cybersapce but odds are the best cure would be to toally dig it up install the proper drainage around the footings to a sump pump then backfill with imported soils or sand that is apropriate as most likely the existing soils have some poor qualities for engineering use. It is also kind of like a wrecked car once the original concrete work is damged it is not easily restored to original or undamaged condition. i would run like the wind from foundation problems or flood and drainage type problems.
     
  19. ajoys

    ajoys Well-Known Member

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    It all depends. He said that the house might be a candidate for a potential flip. If he gets it cheap enough, then he can fix it, sell it and make some money. If he fixes the foundation he will not have to disclose it because it will no longer be a problem. Just make sure you take all expenses into account, make sure you will be making enough profit for your time and effort and if the numbers just don't work, then walk away.

    When it comes to an investment, let the dollars do the talking.

    Let the engineer come up with the fix but when it comes to actually figuring out how much that fix will cost, bring in a qualified contractor. I have been in a similiar situation and the enigneers number was way off, 40% less then actual cost. Design engineers aren't always the best when it comes to building/costing.

    Good luck.
     
  20. I would not advise concealing covering up and dumping on an unwary sucker that is not only unethical it could even be ilegal. most states have laws regarding concealing known problems. rather than do something unscrupulous that can come back and bite you, i would simply walk away. is a quick buck worth looking over your shoulder for?