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When is Steel the Best Structural Foundation Repair?

Feb 8, 2013 • By Matthew Stock with Barry Schilling.

When is Steel the Best Structural Foundation Repair?


Let me be blunt:  When your foundation is in trouble, it’s bad news.  Foundation damage, whether caused by a wall that has bowed or rotated inward or by one that has dropped due to soil shrinkage, can cause serious damage to the rest of your home.  When this kind of damage occurs, the question is not “Do I repair it?,” it’s “How do I repair it” and “How soon can you get it done?”

The “how soon” part we’ll leave between you and your foundation repair contactor but when it comes to “how,” there are several answers and the right one depends on the type and severity of the damage.  For example, we’ve written quite a bit in this blog on the various methods of underpinning a dropped foundation, such as hydraulic push piers, pressed concrete pilings, drilled concrete piers and other methods.

When it comes to bowed or tipped walls, we’ve made a case for carbon fiber as an effective repair method but we’ve also been candid in saying that it doesn’t work best in all situations.  Sometimes, when the damage is severe, a new twist on an old favorite is the best way to ensure a complete permanent repair.

Why Steel is the Best Repair Method for Severely Cracked, Bowed or Tipped Walls

In comparing steel to carbon fiber as the best material for repairing foundation walls, we came down mostly on the side of carbon fiber because it can be applied without major disruption, is very cost-effective and almost invisible when cured and painted over.  However, the one drawback to the use of carbon fiber is that it is only effective on poured concrete walls that have moved inward two inches or less or on masonry walls where the blocks, stones or bricks have not shifted out of line.  A more severely damaged wall will make it too difficult for the carbon fiber strip to adhere and will compromise its strength.

In such a situation, the answer is to use steel to stabilize the walls, especially a newer form of steel bracing that eliminates many of the complaints about the traditional method.

It used to be that the only way to stabilize a bowed or tipped wall was to install a boxy steel I-beam on the vertical, securing it to the foundation footings and to the structure above.  This was actually a very effective method but also an unsightly and inconvenient one that created a few problems for the homeowner — it made the basement difficult to finish because of its intrusive presence and it served as a major “red flag” when the home was put up for sale.

Today, when steel is required, the foundation repair contractor who wants to stabilize the wall in an unobtrusive way will use “channel steel,” a reconfigured steel beam that is has a much lower profile than the old I-beam but is every bit as strong.  To install channel steel, the end of the steel beam is fastened to the foundation footing below the basement floor; the other end is bolted to a bracket attached between the floor joists directly above.  A jackscrew device at the upper end applies tension and tightens the channel steel beam against the contour of the wall.  The wall is then permanently stabilized, requires no further adjustments or maintenance and the low-profile beams can be finished over with a traditional 2 x 4 stud wall.

So, if you catch your foundation wall damage early, carbon fiber will be the repair material of choice.  If, however, you don’t spot it until later or severe damage occurs all at once, channel steel offers a strong, permanent repair that won’t scream “foundation damage!!” at every visitor to your basement.  Either way, your foundation walls will be stabilized and you and your family will have full use of your basement.

At U.S. Waterproofing, our structural foundation repair experts are trained and experienced in the installation of channel steel and carbon fiber and will always recommend the best method of repair for your foundation, not just the one they have to offer.  Why not ask us for a free consultation on your foundation?

Tags: foundation repair, foundation repairs, house foundation repair, home foundation repair, structural foundation repair, carbon fiber foundation repair, steel foundation repair

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