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Fix Foundation Damage Before Finishing Your Basement

Aug 31, 2013 • By Matthew Stock.

Cracked Foundation Wall

Finished basements are great.

They’re a relatively inexpensive way to add living space to a home.  There’s no need to add on above ground if there’s an unused basement equal to all or a significant portion of the home’s footprint.

They’re versatile, too.  A finished basement can be a family room, bedroom, home office, exercise room, hobby area or “man cave” – or even several of those.  It all depends on available space, budget and creativity.

Whether a finished basement is the work of a contractor or a Do-It-Yourself project, one thing is true – nobody wants to do it twice.  Surprisingly, though, more than one homeowner has put up walls and laid carpet without making repairs to the foundation that resulted in all or part of the finished space being torn up and rebuilt.

Worse, erecting finish walls and installing flooring can cover up the evidence of foundation damage and allow it to get worse before it is discovered.

Sound like a nightmare?  It is, but it is easily avoided.

Fix Foundation Damage First, then Renovate Basement

Most homeowners who are planning to finish all or part of their basement know that they have to look for signs of water seepage before doing any renovations.  Water is pretty easy to spot, whether it’s coming through a wall crack, leaking through the cove joint or seeping through porous concrete block.  Also, water’s ability to cause damage is pretty evident as most people know that it can foster mold growth and damage building materials and furnishings.

Foundation damage, on the other hand, may not be so obvious to the inexperienced eye but its consequences can be far worse.  A tipped wall or out-of-level floor might just be chalked up to bad construction by a DIYer or a careless contractor and, once finish walls are erected and new flooring laid, those anomalies become, as the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.”

Even those who recognize those signs for what they are may still choose to proceed with renovations because they think it’s “just settling” and that repairs would cost a fortune and accomplish little.

Take that tipped wall as an example of how things really work.  Typically, a tipped or rotated foundation wall is caused by lateral pressure from over-saturated soil surrounding it, although it can also be caused by a foundation sinking or dropping.  Left unrepaired, the wall will continue to move inward, separating from the aboveground structure and causing further damage throughout the home.

Caught in its early stages, however, that wall can be stabilized by applying carbon fiber strips to the wall at calculated intervals.  Carbon fiber repair is cost-effective and can be done quickly with little disruption.  Best of all for would-be renovators, carbon fiber strips leave only a slight elevation on the wall that can be easily covered by a normal stud wall.

Leaving repairs until the wall has moved 2 inches or more requires the use of low-profile steel beams to stabilize the wall, which can still be finished over but is a more involved and costly repair process.

Not making the repairs at all and covering up the problem with a finished wall?  That’s asking for big trouble, as would ignoring other signs of foundation damage, especially the cracked drywall and brickwork and stuck windows and doors that indicate a sinking foundation.  Take that risk and a homeowner may end up tearing out that family room and having an entire foundation wall demolished and reconstructed.  The cost?  Don’t ask.

So, if you’re planning to finish your basement, spend some time with a carpenter’s level making sure you won’t be covering up foundation damage that will cause you to regret your decision.  Better yet, add a few hundred dollars to your basement budget and have your home checked out by a professional engineer.

If a problem is discovered, you’ll need the help of an experienced foundation repair contractor to make it right.  At U.S. Waterproofing, our foundation experts make use of engineering data and the most current repair methods to ensure that your foundation is stabilized permanently and cost-effectively – before you finish your basement.  Why not ask for a free consultation?

Tags: fix foundation damage, fixing foundation damage

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