If you ask most homeowners what holds their houses up, the most likely answer will be “the foundation.”
This is a logical answer because all of the exterior walls of the home sit directly on foundation walls that in turn sit on poured concrete footings to help spread the load. These foundation walls may be made of either poured concrete or masonry (most often concrete block) and can be as deep in the earth as ten or even twelve feet.
A foundation does support the outer perimeter and some of the interior load of a house but foundation walls alone are not enough to support the internal weight of even single-story houses. Some internal structure is needed in the basement to hold up the house and its contents.
Most often, this internal load is carried by a main support beam that runs across the foundation, usually at or near the top of the wall. Both ends of the beam sit in specially made pockets in the foundation wall and are supported across their span by one or several support posts, known in various parts of the U.S. as “jackposts” or “lally columns.”
In older construction, wooden beams were sometimes hewn in one piece from a single tree but most wood beams were laminated from a number of pieces of lumber. Properly supported, wooden beams worked pretty well but were subject to cracking and rot.
Steel I-beams began to replace wooden beams and are the standard in most parts of the country today, although engineered laminated beams are used as well.
For various reasons, beams may need to be replaced and many homeowners, faced with this situation, want to know what a basement beam replacement project will cost.
There are various reasons why basement beams could need replacement:
Wooden beams can crack under pressure and are subject to rot, especially when the basement environment is consistently damp due to a leak in the foundation;
Steel beams, although impervious to cracking and rot, can rust badly if located in a damp area and not maintained;
Often, though, beams are replaced when the homeowner wants to make aboveground renovations that require additional support from below; or,
The homeowner wants to make use of basement space for a large room that requires a clear space without support posts. In this case, a larger, stronger beam can be substituted to bear weight across a longer span.
Replacing a beam is a highly specialized form of structural foundation repair and generally requires an inspection and design by a structural engineer. His or her considerations will include the condition of the foundation, the number and placement of support columns (and footings to support them) that will be required and, of course, the length of the new beam.
Key to the design and installation is the process of shoring up the house, usually done by constructing temporary load-bearing walls in the basement to hold the structure in place while the old beam is removed and the new one installed.
All of these factors will impact the cost of the project, as will the load-bearing structure of the house above the foundation and the need to relocate any mechanical systems, typically HVAC ductwork, that runs alongside the beam.
Given these variables, a basement beam replacement job may cost as little as $7- 8,000 for a simple installation to $20-25,000 for a complex job with long spans and numerous load-bearing walls. An experienced foundation repair contractor will be able to give an accurate estimate and explain the project’s timeline and why it is necessary to meet the homeowner’s expectations.
At U.S. Waterproofing, our foundation repair experts use the latest in engineering systems to design basement beam replacement projects that are the most cost-effective and least disruptive to homeowners’ lives. Why not ask for our free advice on replacing your basement beam?
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