What Lies Beneath

Foundation problems can be costly to fix.

By Stacy Downs

Even a small crack inside or outside a house can signal foundation problems, such as buckling and settling. Fixing the damage now, rather than later, could save lots of money.

“There are smaller repairs you can make that cost hundreds of dollars as opposed to several thousand dollars,” says Don Derry, owner of a foundation-repair service.

“But when you don’t make these repairs, the damage grows each year.”
Options that cost less than $1,000 include adding downspout extensions and using carbon-fiber stabilizing braces.

A professional is usually needed to evaluate and install these items.

But, when the walls are pushing in more than an inch, it’s time to call in the even bigger guns, which are expensive…and invasive.
Workers with digging equipment excavate around the house, ripping out landscaping.

They use a jack to remove the weight of the house from the foundation and hydraulic rams to reposition the walls. They use different methods to stabilize the foundation, including steel anchors 15 to 25 feet into the soil.

The work takes about two days, and the cost ranges between $5,000 and $8,000.
An ailing foundation can lead to:

• A wet basement. Moisture seeping through cracks can harm furnishings and stored items.

• Termite trouble. The wood-eating insects can get inside the house through cracks.

• Mold. If moisture keeps seeping inside, mold can grow, aggravating allergies and other health problems.

Water causes most foundation problems: Too much causes the soil to swell, while not enough causes it to shrink.

If the soil shrinks or swells uniformly, there won’t be a problem. But, when part of the foundation heaves or settles, that’s when damage begins.

Trees also can wreck a foundation when growing roots cause upheaval in the beams.

If disaster strikes, finding the right repair company is crucial because fixing the damage is more difficult than do-it-yourself work. At the same time, the business is a buyer-beware industry. Scams are common, so get several estimates and ask for references before you hire.