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Can I Sell my Home with Foundation Damage?

Aug 17, 2014 • By Matthew Stock.

Structural Crack

Selling a home is never easy and economic events of the past few years have made it even more difficult in many parts of the country.

The climate for home sales has improved some, but it’s still a buyer’s market and home sellers have to do everything possible to make their home stand out in a crowded field of real estate listings.   Even the best-maintained home still needs sprucing up when it goes on the market if it’s to compete with the 10 other homes a potential buyer may consider.

When there’s a problem with the home, even a relatively minor one, most listing agents will suggest strongly that the seller fix it before selling the house as even the smallest of imperfections can cause a buyer to take a pass when there are so many other options.

Of course some problems are more likely than others to scare off a potential buyer.  Most buyers can look past a bad paint job, for example, because it’s an easy and inexpensive thing to fix and something they’d probably change anyway.  Landscaping not completely to their liking, no big deal.  Antiquated washer and dryer?  A turn-off for some buyers but not for everybody.

However, when a potential buyer sees signs of a major problem with a home, only those who are otherwise head-over-heels in love with the place are likely to proceed because the expense and inconvenience of repairing the problem are outweighed by the home’s other appeals.  A leaking roof is a perfect example because reroofing a large, two-story house can run well into five figures.  Remodeling a badly dated and equipped kitchen can incur astronomical costs and replacing a rotting or sagging deck is expensive and time-consuming.

And then there’s the basement.

The most common basement problem that can scare away buyers is water seepage.  Signs of a wet basement are usually pretty obvious, from a musty smell to mold and mildew to water-damaged flooring or stored goods.  Even if the buyer doesn’t spot signs of water, most states, including Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, require that the seller provide a disclosure statement regarding the property that specifically addresses water in the basement.

A well-prepared homebuyer will have researched basement water problems and the method and cost of their repair before embarking on a house-hunting venture.  Knowing what causes water in the basement and how (and for how much) it can be fixed can set a potential buyer’s mind at ease when determining whether to make an offer on a home or keep looking.

When it comes to structural foundation damage, however, the seriousness of the situation quickly takes a turn for the worse (for the seller, anyway.)  Foundation damage sounds scary to most people and it is quite often a costly, inconvenient and time-consuming thing to repair.  Just as with water in the basement, knowledge of how structural foundation damage occurs and how it can be repaired can be helpful to both seller and buyer.

How does Structural Foundation Damage Occur?

There are two basic kinds of structural foundation damage: settling or sinking and inward wall movement.  Both are serious and can destabilize the entire home.

The culprits in either situation are soil and water, in one case too much of them; in the other not enough.

The “too much” scenario occurs when soil surrounding a home’s foundation becomes oversaturated.  The water that saturates the soil can come from direct rainfall or, more likely, from overflowing clogged rain gutters or downspouts that discharge directly below the eaves.

The soil that surrounds the foundation, at least in a ten-foot-wide strip, is particularly vulnerable to oversaturation because it is the area that was originally excavated to build the home.  The excavator dug what was essentially a big bowl in the earth for the foundation contractor to work in and, after the foundation was finished, backfilled the soil up against the foundation walls.

Even though this soil is compacted manually after backfilling, it remains less dense than the undisturbed soil around it and leaves more room for water between the soil particles.  When you add in the clay soil common in the Chicago area, its absorbent qualities mean that the soil expands significantly when saturated and this creates pressure on the foundation walls.

When this pressure is sufficiently strong, the walls can begin to move inward.  A monolithic concrete wall, fixed at the bottom, will start to separate from the adjoining walls and tip inward from the top, a process known as rotation.  A masonry wall will begin to crack along the mortar joints and will bow or bulge in the center, even going so far as to have concrete blocks or stone shift out of the plane of the wall.

A lack of water and soil usually happens when drought conditions are in place for a period of time.  During normal weather periods, soil under the foundation is hydrated by ground water and by water that seeps down to the water table after being absorbed on the surface.  Chances are, the foundation was built on soil at that level originally.

When drought conditions occur, plants on the surface begin to extend their root systems wider and deeper in search of the water that is necessary for survival.  For smaller plants, that’s not very deep and many of them wither and die during extended droughts.  Larger shrubs and trees, however, can send roots very far into the ground and can actually draw water from the soil under the foundation, especially when they’re planted close to the house.

Once the moisture has been drawn from this soil it becomes desiccated and compresses, creating a gap under the foundation.  The weight of the foundation and the home it supports will cause the foundation to settle or drop into this gap, destabilizing the house and causing cracks to form in foundation and aboveground walls, windows and doors to stick and building elements, such as chimneys, to separate from the rest of the structure.

So, that’s how structural foundation damage occurs.  Now, how do you fix it?

Fixing Structural Foundation Damage Before You Sell

Structural foundation repair has been around for a long time and historically relied on traditional building materials like steel and concrete to repair and stabilize residential foundations.  Today, new engineering technology and the availability of lighter, stronger materials has made structural foundation repair easier and more convenient as well as more reliable and cost-effective.

When repairing a displaced, rotated wall, there are two options using different materials.  The proper choice depends on the extent of the damage.

If the wall has moved two inches or less, it can be stabilized by applying carbon fiber strips in a number and placement determined by engineering data.  An installer grinds the wall smooth at the point of application to improve adherence then uses industrial strength epoxy to apply the woven carbon fiber strip to the wall.  The carbon fiber strip is affixed to the floor joist above with steel angle iron and the wall has been completely stabilized.

Carbon fiber can be painted over and is barely visible once completed.

If the wall has moved more than two inches, carbon fiber is not recommended.  The old repair technique was to install a standard four- or six-inch steel I-beam against the wall which would stop further movement but was obtrusive and screamed ”damage” to anyone who saw it.  Today, low-profile steel channels are used that can be covered completely with a 2 x 4 stud wall.

The channels are bolted to the foundation footings and attached to the floor joists above where they are tensioned to hold the wall in place.

For a foundation that has dropped or sunken due to desiccated soil, an entirely different approach is require to stabilize the foundation and the home.

A skilled foundation repair contractor will use hydraulic steel push piers to raise a foundation back to level and stabilize it there.  The number and placement of piers is determined by analyzing engineering data and by the size and construction of the home.

To install hydraulic push piers, a small-diameter hole is dug at the site of each pier, exposing the footing.  A notch is cut into the footing and a steel bracket is attached permanently there.

A hydraulic ram is mounted on the bracket and used to drive sections of a steel column into the earth until it reaches a load-bearing stratum.  After the piers have been driven, a hydraulic pump is attached to all of them and used to lift the house back to level.  The brackets on the footings are bolted to the piers and the house is now stabilized.

After the hydraulic system is removed and the holes are backfilled the repair is completely invisible.

So, can you sell your house with foundation damage?  Probably, all other things being equal, but you will have to disclose the damage and will probably end up giving a large credit to the buyer for repairs.  A better approach may be to complete the repairs before putting the house on the market to eliminate the problem from potential buyers’ minds.

To stabilize that foundation, you’ll need the advice and services of a professional foundation repair contractor who can fix the problem quickly, permanently and cost-effectively.  At U.S. Waterproofing our foundation repair experts rely on engineering data and years of experience and employ the latest techniques and materials to ensure that your home is safe and stable.  Why not ask for our free advice?

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