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Is Steel Still Practical for Chicago Foundation Repair?

Nov 8, 2013 • By Matthew Stock.

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Repairing or improving one’s home is like many other human endeavors – it has changed and evolved and generally become easier and more convenient, thanks mainly to developments in product technology.

Painting a room, for example, used to be a lengthy, smelly ordeal.  Oil-based paints took a long time to dry and stunk up the whole house for days.  Paints often needed to be thinned with linseed oil and cleaning up brushes, rollers and other tools required paint thinner or mineral spirits — another messy, smelly process.

Today, water-based paints have simplified and sped up the painting process.  Paints go on easily right out of the can, dry quickly and generate little if any odor.  Painting implements are cleaned up quickly with water.  Although some still swear by the quality of the older product, the vast majority love the ease and convenience of working with water-based paints.

The evolution has been similar in the foundation repair industry.  Steel used to be the go-to material for repairing bowed, bulging or tipping foundation walls but it was cumbersome, intrusive and costly.   Today, the majority of such repairs can be done with carbon fiber strips, which are easier and faster to apply, reveal only a very low profile once completed and cost less.

But, steel isn’t completely a thing of the past in modern foundation repair.

Steel is Still Practical (Sometimes) for Chicago Foundation Repair

Carbon fiber, the modern alternative to steel for foundation repair, is pretty great stuff.  It’s light in weight, incredibly strong and relatively inexpensive.  Once the engineering is complete, it can be installed in a day or two.  It cures quickly, requires no maintenance and nearly disappears when painted over.  It presents no obstacle at all to finishing the basement.

However, carbon fiber has its limits, literally.  When a wall moves in some fashion, caused either by lateral pressure from over-saturated soil outside the foundation or from downward settlement, the amount of inward movement is called “deflection.”  Deflection is rarely traumatic, that is, it happens incrementally rather than abruptly.  In the early stages of deflection is where carbon fiber does its best work.

Once a wall has deflected beyond the two-inch mark or masonry units, such as concrete blocks, have begun to shift out of line, carbon fiber is out of the picture.  Once the damage has progressed to this point (or beyond) steel becomes the preferred method of repair.  Even this old standby, however, has made progress and is now a less obtrusive repair than in the past.

Formerly, repairing a deflected foundation wall was done with the standard steel I-beam, a 4- or 6- inch monster that ate up a lot of space.  Also, since the beam was completely rigid, it fully stabilized the wall only at its most intrusive point and still allowed movement above and below.

Today, the technologically up-to-date contractor will use channel steel, a lower-profile beam that has sufficient flexibility to contour to the wall in its present condition, stabilizing it completely – no more movement.  Secured to the footing below the floor and to the floor joist above, the channel steel repair locks the wall in position and presents only a two-inch profile above the wall surface.  Although it would still be visible if painted over, channel steel is easily covered by the standard 2” x 4” stud wall that is the staple of basement remodeling.  Since it requires no maintenance, there’s no need for access doors or panels.

So, steel definitely still has a place in Chicago foundation repair and a good contractor will make it part of his or her portfolio.  At U.S. Waterproofing, our foundation repair experts know how to make use of both carbon fiber and steel and, more importantly, when to recommend one over the other to effect a permanent, cost-effective repair.  Why not ask us for a free consultation?

Tags: chicago foundation repair, foundation repair chicago

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