We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.
On Freestyle Fridays, we talk about whatever happens to pop into my head—or any suggestion you may have made for a topic.
If you’re a homeowner, I hope you’re smarter than my wife and I. Apparently we both have targets on our backs that say “Sucker” in the bull’s-eye. A few years back we hired a painter—recommended by neighbors—to do several hundred dollars worth of work on our home. Since he came recommended, when he asked for half-payment up front to help him buy the paint, we wrote him a check. We never saw him again.
That’s not really what prompted this column, though. We live in an area where the soil has a large clay content. When it rains, the ground swells, and when we have a dry spell, it contracts. Over a period of years, this began to produce cracks in our ceilings and walls and separation of our front porch from the wall of the house.
Five or six years ago, these problems began to bother us enough we called a foundation company out to the house. The man measured elevations all over the house and told us the back of the house had settled below the level of the front and that we needed a bunch of piers installed.
The price was high enough we told him we wanted to have an independent structural engineer come out and study it and make recommendations. He immediately offered the name and phone number of an engineer for us to call.
Don’t ask me why we didn’t question the engineer’s independence when a man seeking business from us made the recommendation. Anyhow, the engineer came out and did his survey and impressed us with his independence by telling us the foundation man had misinterpreted the data. We didn’t need piers to raise the back. We needed a French drain to keep the soil in front from getting so wet, thus lowering the front.
It just happened that the foundation company we’d called also installed French drains. Heh, heh, heh.
A couple of years after we spent thousands of dollars on that project, cracking in our walls and ceilings got worse. We decided to call a different foundation company out since the first one hadn’t eliminated the problem. We’ve had this second company out several different times and added a bunch of new piers to stop this or that. Spent some $12,000 trying to eliminate the problems, but each new bit of work seemed to bring up more problems.
Finally, we called an engineer who was recommended by a Realtor friend—a neutral party with nothing to gain from the engineer’s proposals. This man came out and showed us impeccable credentials, so we had him do a new study.
He told us several things I want to pass along to you, in case you ever find yourself needing to deal with problems such as this. First, he told us there was nothing structurally wrong with the house. Although it’s fifty-eight years old, it’s in excellent condition.
Secondly, he told us that none of the piers we’ve had installed were necessary. Fortunately, he also said they had done no damage to the integrity of our structure.
Thirdly, he told us the cracks we see are a natural result of the age of the house and the constant shifting of the soil. He reminded us several times, since my wife tends to get a little emotional about such things, that these cracks were cosmetic only and did not indicate any structural problem.
Much like our planet goes through eras of global warming and global cooling, the house goes through eras of ground expansion and contracting. Like global warming and cooling, it’s nothing to worry about. Just the nature of things. He told us if we wanted to improve the cosmetic appearance we could buy a flexible sealant to fill the cracks and then paint over them.
Does your house need additional piers? I don’t know. It’s possible. But bear in mind, if you call a foundation company out to make recommendations, that company makes its money installing piers. What do you think they’ll recommend? Call an independent structural engineer for an unbiased assessment of your situation.
For more information about his books, click on “Books” above.
Contact him at dnwalkertx (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet him at @davidnwalkertx.