How do I fix what foundation repair broke?
December 29, 2009 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Foundation work has caused a number of problems, how do I triage? Issues include cracked/buckled drywall in walls and ceilings, misaligned doorframes, gaps in shower stall tile, and cracked/separated bathroom floor tiles.

I'm looking for a) what must I fix now to prevent further issues, b) what can I fix myself/cheaply, and c) what will I need to call a professional on before listing the condo for sale. (I'm not planning to sell any time soon, but I will eventually.)

I'm planning to recaulk the shower stall this week. The drywall cracks seem to be cosmetic, although I'm a little worried about full-depth cracks on exterior walls. The thing that I don't really know how to cope with is the damage to the bathroom floor. The large ceramic tiles have hairline cracks in a couple of places, and most of them have pulled slightly away from the grout. I'm on a concrete slab, and this is a condo building, if that matters. Will those cracks cause erosion or mold when moisture gets into them?
posted by restless_nomad to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Wow, that sounds like a lot of damage. What sort of foundation work was done? Can you post some pictures of these various cracks and misalignments?

The drywall itself is primarily cosmetic and no big deal to fix, but buckling sounds severe enough to suggest hidden structural problems.
posted by jon1270 at 9:25 AM on December 29, 2009

You better have a professional building inspector take a look at the place in the first place. The place may be unsafe if you have sudden visible cracks. The inspector will let you know if you need to call your insurance now or later.
posted by JJ86 at 9:47 AM on December 29, 2009

Competent foundation repair shouldn't have triggered these issues, and will likely require a professional to fix them. Document the damage and contact the condo board, and start investigating how much of the damage will be covered by the vendor's insurance, how much will be covered by the building's insurance, and how much you might have to bring in a lawyer to recoup.
posted by davejay at 9:52 AM on December 29, 2009

Response by poster: The foundation work was overseen by a structural engineer who wasn't alarmed by any of the cracks, which is somewhat reassuring. (I ran out and dragged him in mid-repair when I saw some of them, but he pretty much just said "Yeah, that's drywall doing it's thing.") The building was raised over an inch in some spots and closer to two in others - it was in really bad shape and it definitely needed to be done.

The reason all of these cracks appeared when the repairs were done is that the condo was refinished, drywall and all, while it was still un-level. (How that happened, and got past my inspector when I bought the place, is a rant for another time.) People whose work was done earlier had cracks appear as the building settled. I got less of that and more of the post-leveling cracks. So I figure it's kind of a wash.

Pictures are up here - I'm afraid my description sounded a bit alarmist. It's really not *that* bad, it's just going to be something of a pain in the ass.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:24 AM on December 29, 2009

While I can understand the need to stabilize a foundation, re-leveling it probably isn't a good idea unless there are extreme problems. Especially if the settlement is something that has been going on for many years. The problem of re-leveling is as you have discovered, that all changes which have been made to doors, windows, etc. need to be redone at new and sometimes costly expense. One or two inches isn't much and probably wasn't noticeable after the previous work was done but it could now reveal many other problems. Water and gas supply pipes may now become strained and if you start to get leaks from those, it could become dangerous and costly. While drywall cracks can be repaired inexpensively, too much stress on water pipes is a recipe for disaster. The picture of the pipe you show is very scary. Get a building inspector to check all gas, water and sewer pipes.
posted by JJ86 at 11:27 AM on December 29, 2009

Response by poster: JJ86, please understand that the condo association has already addressed all of your concerns and yes, this work really was necessary for reasons which aren't germane to my actual question.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:54 AM on December 29, 2009

I have had the same issues with foundation work. The walls cracked, the tile cracked, the doors shifted. If your condo is now set and stable, you can deal with each of your issues as you have the time and money.

Your first priority should be the shower, since water that gets though the tile may cause mold and rot in the frame behind it and the floor underneath. I had enough issues with my shower that I tore it out and replaced it. Just caulking is a short term solution. You may need to talk to a tile man about the best long term fixes.

Doors can be trimmed, sanded, and planed to fit the frames. The door strikers can be moved to where the latches and locks are now hitting. Later on you can caulk and paint the doors and frames. With luck and a bit of skill they won't look like they have been fixed.

Good home inspectors should be able tell when wall cracks have been fixed, even when done by a professional painter. However, a good patch and paint job will help a lot.

Following my foundation work I had sewer line issues. I hope that you don't. The gas company inspected and repaired the pipe leading to my meter, for free. I don't know if they will do the same for you.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 11:56 AM on December 29, 2009

restless_nomad, although your condo association may have checked everything coming into the building, I doubt they checked for problems in any utility connections inside your unit. The pictures you show of the cracked wall in your shower could also indicate some pulling that may have happened to the water supplies to your shower head, for example. Granted you may not have gas lines in your unit but if you do, then it is again doubtful that the condo association would have checked the conditions of those in your unit hidden behind walls. Most utility pipes which are going to need checking are hidden behind walls and those are not easy to check. It is never a good idea to ignore those because they are guaranteed to cause future problems

I guess I should repeat again, that prior to fixing anything yourself to get a building inspector to check everything in your unit ASAP. Following that, you probably will need to hire a qualified builder to fix everything that the inspector finds wrong. While it may seem easy to fix a hairline crack in drywall, it is most likely a bigger problem than that.
posted by JJ86 at 12:16 PM on December 29, 2009

What was the nature of the foundation repair? Are you sure that all soil movement/settlement is finished? Was new concrete poured? Are you sure that it has finished setting/shrinking?

You need to be confident that all foundation settlement and shrinkage is complete before doing ANY repairs to the interior finishes; otherwise you will just end up doing this work sequentially.

Cracked tiles will certainly allow moisture to collect between the tile and subfloor. Replace them and regrout, then reseal. If you have done this before or are confident in your home improvement skills, you can do this yourself. Otherwise, call a pro.
posted by minimii at 12:53 PM on December 29, 2009

Response by poster: It's a pier-and-beam building - a set of new piers were added and some old ones were replaced. I will definitely inquire about whether we're expecting much addition movement.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:51 PM on December 29, 2009

Best answer: Assuming that someone has already seen to JJ86's pipe stress concerns, caulking the shower should be job 1. Those cracks in the corners are no big deal; they appear to have been grouted, which is common but incorrect. Corners at plane changes should always be caulked. Trouble is, there's grout in those joints, which gets in the way of the caulk doing its job. Unless you want to live with a fat filllet of caulk in each corner, the grout should be sawn out of each joint with a grout saw, then replaced with appropriate caulk.

On the floor, cracked and/or loose tiles must be replaced. Cracked grout can be sawn out and replaced, but the chances of a good color match are slim. If the floor damage is widespread, replace the whole floor.

The doors can be adjusted in various ways. If the interference is minor, the hinge jambs are still plumb and the door swings freely, you may be able to get away with minor trimming and repainting. If the problems are more severe, you'll be pulling off the trim, rehanging the door and reinstalling trim.

The drywall is not structurally important, but you need to be sure that the stresses in it are completely relieved before you patch, or you'll find yourself doing it again and again.

Whether you should do this stuff yourself depends on your skill level and the value of your time. Since you've asked this question, I assume you don't have much experience doing this sort of work. If that's right, then it's probably better that you seek out a good handyman and put your feet up while he works.
posted by jon1270 at 1:58 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks! That was pretty much what I was expecting/dreading. I think maybe I'll see if I can remodel the bathroom a bit anyway.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:46 PM on December 30, 2009

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