MOST FOUNDATION REPAIR DOES NOT WORK!!
Homeowners should be well informed about what type of foundation repair system is being installed to lift or level a house. Don't be fooled by the sales pitch or the Life Time Foundation Repair Warranty. Get a second opinion from a structural engineer before you decide to invest thousands of dollars on foundation repair that is unjustified and unnecessary.
If you are getting foundation repair based on the premise that a foundation repair contractor is going to "stabilize" your foundation from moving any further, then you should call a structural engineer that can give you a non-biased opinion on whether or not you really need the repairs or if the repairs will work. Or you can call us after the repairs fail. Before you decide on getting the foundation lifted, be fully aware of what type of system is being installed, what it can do and what voids the warranty.
THE COMMON TYPE OF BAD PILE – THE CONCRETE PRESSED PILE
Concrete pressed piles are the most common type of pile installed throughout San Antonio and Austin. There are many type of piles to choose from and concrete pressed piles is the pile that is most likely to move and cause more damage to the building.
DEFINING FOUNDATION REPAIR (LEVELING)
To realize that foundation repair is really not a "repair", one must first understand that lifting a foundation (foundation repair) should be implemented as a tool to benefit the overall performance of the building and not just to level the floor.
Leveling the floor should not be considered a "repair". It is a leveling job. Leveling the floor by adding piers or piles is similar to major surgery on a foundation. Having major surgery by installing a poorly designed system (bad foundation repair) will only cause additional complications in the future. Complications such as: pier heaving (upward pushing of the piers), additional settlement, lack of support and breaks in the actual foundation slab cause major damages to the building and plumbing which is very expensive. Additional information on foundation repair inspections can be read at FREE Foundation Repair Inspections.
There are two schools of thought in foundation repair: one side sees foundation leveling as the solution to foundation problems and the other looks to problems that caused the movement and uses foundation repair as a method to improve the structural condition of the building.
Most foundation repair companies will evaluate your building's levelness and tell you if you are "out of code" or "within tolerance". Don't be fooled. There is no "code" requirement or "tolerance" to really base the justification to "repair" a foundation. Next time you hear it, ask for the specific code section or reference that states it. Typical answer is..."I have been doing this for 30+ years and that is the industry (foundation repair industry that is) standard....OR.....engineers that we work with say its the standard".
This is where THE FOUNDATION REPAIR SCAM comes into focus. What is the scam? Foundation repair companies will claim that your foundation has shifted and by letting them install their system, they will "stabilize" your foundation from additional movement. BUT READ THE FINE PRINT. They fail to tell you what might be causing the foundation movement or what impact foundation repair will really have on your foundation.
Let us think about it. If conditions exist that caused your current foundation to move, then you can bet that those same conditions still exist that will influence your new "foundation repair" system. $30,000 later in "stabilization" you will realize that you were not told the full story about to expect. They won't tell you. They can't tell you. Why? Because they have not gone through the exercise of designing an actual foundation to evaluate how foundations are expected to perform. Engineers that are trained to design and evaluate the foundation are better suited to provide an opinion on whether your foundation is performing as should be expected, conditions that may have caused the movement and what to expect if foundation repair is done.
FOUNDATION REPAIR WARRANTY LOOP HOLES
For starters, foundation repair companies have sent us tons of hate mail and comments for this next discussion. Most foundation repair warranties have extensive language that gets them out of the foundation repair warranty for servicing the piers that they install.
The stated exclusion conditions on the warranty typically already exists before and well after the foundation repair company installs the foundation repair piers. So.....if a foundation repair company installs their foundation repair piers within bad conditions that already caused foundation problems, they will SCAM you out of warranty work because they will claim that bad conditions exist as noted on their warranty declaration. Thousands of our clients that have been caught up in this have all echoed the same response.........."why didn't the foundation repair company tell me I had bad conditions and that their piers don't work under those bad conditions. Now they want me to do more 'foundation repair' to fix the problem".
The first issue is that foundation repair is being seen as the solution. This is where a structural engineer's evaluation come in. A-1 Engineering is an expert at assessing buildings to provide you with our non-bias and objective opinion on whether your building will benefit from foundation repair.
"FOUNDATION REPAIR TO STABILIZE MY FOUNDATION"?
At times, foundation repair is sold to owners with the promise of giving the owner a "preventative measure" or a method of "stabilization" before a foundation problem happens. What healthy person gets hip replacement or a kidney transplant as a preventative measure to staying healthy. Most would agree that to stay healthy you should create a better condition for the body. That is the same for a foundation and a building. Getting an evaluation from a structural engineer will help you get a better understanding on when conditions justify foundation repair and the risks associated with it.
In our experience, foundations go bad (i.e. need re-leveling) as soon as 6 months after the repair and as late as 10 years - the reason being that foundation repair companies don't understand how foundations are designed and expected to perform. Foundation repair companies will tell you that foundation movement is "foundation failure". A structural engineer that is familiar with the impacts of foundation repair will educate you in how foundations are designed, expected to perform and discuss conditions to improve the performance of the foundation.
Don't let foundation repair companies scare you or confuse you into lifting a building without a clear objective. The following article is meant to educate the general public and assist in making better choices. Foundation repair is very expensive major surgery to a house so it would be in your best interest to get a second opinion.
Here are some great questions to ask the foundation repair companies:
1) How many projects did you honor a warranty on this past summer?
2) Can you provide a reference for one of the clients that you honored the warranty work on?
3) Can you revise your warranty agreement to cover the piles or piers in case of swelling or heaving soils?
4) Explain how your pile or pier is expected to perform when soils heave or swell? Will your pile fail and is that covered in your warranty?
5) Its not a bad idea to tie payment for the work with proof that permits have been obtained for the work. The first payment can be tied with proof that the permit has been obtained and the final payment should be tied with proof that the permit has been closed. Red flags should come up if a contractor cannot get a permit OR if they say that the home owner is required to get the permit. The person that gets the permit is responsible for managing it.
6) If you get convinced to get the work done, be sure to get a copy of the elevation readings before and after the work is done. Its a great idea to retain the final payment until both documents are provided. Also, be sure to that you can read the numbers. Getting a paper with numbers that are hard to read does you no good in case you want to get the numbers checked.
USELESS FOUNDATION REPAIR
By far, the most common type of foundation repair used in San Antonio and Austin is the concrete press pile or push or forced pile. Unfortunately, this is, for the most part, also one of the most useless and ineffective types of foundation repairs or foundation stabilization that you can get. This is not just our opinion, but also the opinion of many, if not the vast majority of, independent engineers (structural engineers and geotechnical engineers).
A concrete pressed pile or push pile foundation repair consists of cylindrical concrete pieces, usually 6" in diameter x 12" in length, which are pushed or pressed down into the soil and below the existing foundation beams through the use of a hydraulic jack using the weight of the house. Sometimes these piles might be called piers, but strictly speaking that?s not the correct terminology. These cylinders are considered precast concrete driven piles, which the building code says would need to be at least 8? in diameter in order to meet code (yes, without even going into calculations and formulas and complicated Engineering stuff, this system is code non-compliant already).
The intended purpose of this repair system is that as you push down these round concrete sections eventually you will reach soil that is very hard or stiff, not necessarily rock (actually, most of the times it is not rock, especially in San Antonio). Usually this is known as driving until refusal. Once you have reached this very stiff stratum of soil (supposedly), the hydraulic jack won't be able to keep on pushing the sections of concrete down because the force required to push the piles down is more than the proportional weight of the house; at this point, the hydraulic jack will start lifting (leveling) the existing foundation of the house. We ought to say that even this very stiff stratum of soil may in fact not be a very stiff stratum of soil but instead the very same bad soil; it may just be that the friction of the soil, or the accidental tilting of the sections creates a bigger bearing area, or whatever other reason, are preventing the concrete sections from being pushed any further.
DIFFERENT CONCRETE PRESSED PILES = SAME COMMON FLAW
There are different types of systems but all they are is mainly a slight variation of the same push pile or press pile foundation leveling repair system. Some companies put a cable through the different cylindrical sections, other companies put a steel pipe at the bottom and then put the typical push piles on top. Another system uses a combination of steel pipes with concrete push piles, while others use 100% concrete sections and inject water or some chemical by hand in to the surface of the soil.
The reason there are different systems that are basically slight variations of the original system has to do mainly with competition. Foundation repair companies need to differentiate themselves from each other because after all there are literally dozens and dozens of foundation repair companies in Austin and San Antonio, so they need to claim their system is better than their competitors. But also, foundation repair companies are interested in getting patents for each system they come up with, thus presumably giving them the upper hand against their competitors.
Mostly all of these systems do not effectively repair or level a foundation because they mainly share the same flaw. This flaw is that the piles themselves are not deep enough and do not act monolithically (i.e. don not act as one piece), and because they are surrounded by bad soil, then the piles will be subjected to the same heaving and settlement that the original slab is subjected to.
As long as concrete push piles (in sections) are used, the foundation repair system will almost always be temporary.
WHY LEVELING A HOME WITH CONCRETE PRESSED PILES DOES NOT WORK
There is a zone in the soil known by geotechnical and Structural Engineers as the active zone. This zone is simply a certain depth of soil in which variations in moisture content (i.e. water) varies as the environmental conditions change (e.g. change in temperature, rain, exposure to sun, etc.). As long as a foundation is bearing within this zone, then a foundation will move depending on the moisture content in the soil. If the soil is dry then the soil (clay) will shrink and the foundation will settle; if the soil is wet the soil (clay) will expand and the foundation will heave.
But the problem of bad soil in the active region also affects piers and pile foundations, regardless whether they bear below the active soil. The reason is the changes in water content in the soil creates suction in the surface of the pile or pier (i.e. swelling of the soil pushes on the pile through skin friction), thus making the pile or pier heave up. Yes, you read right, the pile or pier will move up! The problem also with press piles is that although the piles are pushed into much harder soil (or so they claim), this soil is still bad soil within the active zone and therefore, will move up or down as moisture in the soil changes.
A way to prevent heaving or settling of a press pile foundation repair system is by ensuring that the entire pile works as one unit, monolithically, and extending to a sufficient depth so that it stays away from the soil active zone and it prevents uplift of the pile? This is just almost impossible for a press pile, even for those foundation systems where the post tensioned cables run through the middle of the pile! This is because the cable goes through what is called relaxation and the force on the cable might be too small (sometimes too large and it breaks the cylinders embedded into the ground without the installer knowing it) or not effective since the pile is usually not straight when it is pushed into the ground. The cable is also not protected from rusting. Eventually clay soil will get in between the sections and keep on pulling the pile apart (again, most of the times the piles will not reach below the active region anyway, so it does not matter even if you are able to install a full monolithic section, the pile will still eventually move). Don't be misled by companies who claim they have been around for 20, 30, or even 50 years. If you have been painting for 50 years it does not make you Picasso, neither having 50 years of experience doing a repair mostly the wrong way make the foundation repair installed any better. Coincidentally, we learned recently (2011) that one of these biggest and most famous major foundation repair companies who provide a similar system had to file for bankruptcy protection after many homeowners decided to get together an get a lawyer involved.
Interestingly enough, many foundation repair companies will tell you that they pushed the concrete press piles down to 10ft or 12ft in San Antonio, for example. They are in fact telling you that, if the piles were pushed exactly straight (highly unlikely) they have not gone well past the generally accepted depth of the active zone, which by definition means that the piles will eventually move even for those systems that claim to positively connect the cylindrical pieces to each other. In other words, many foundation repair companies are telling you and admitting from the beginning (without them knowing) that what they are installing will likely make your foundation move again.
NEGATIVE SIDE EFFECTS FROM BAD FOUNDATION REPAIR
There are many negative side effects to foundation leveling repair through concrete press piles. The first negative side effect is that you will likely develop more cracks in the walls and slab than you did not have prior to any foundation repair. Ideally, when you push up on the foundation the cracks should close, but in actuality the way the lifting operations are done will result in additional cracks. Be prepared to add the cost of more repairs to project costs.
Another negative side effect of leveling the foundation through press piles is that you may damage plumbing that goes underneath the slab and thus creating even a bigger problem than you had before doing the foundation repair.
You may also distort the roof and therefore create leaks which you may not have had before. Do you have floor tiles? They will likely crack too.
Eventually, many of these piles will move and re-create the damages you had before.