Creating the fourth wall
April 7, 2011 12:21 PM   Subscribe

How much money and work would you estimate it would take to fix this basement?

My partner and I are considering putting an offer on a 100-year-old house in Portland, OR, but it has an odd foundation/basement. It's a three-sided concrete foundation. The fourth side (which extends under the front porch) appears to be just dirt. The current owners have it covered with a moisture barrier, which I peeked under when I first looked at the house. The rest of the basement/foundation looks to be in good shape. We'd like to get an idea of what it might take to make the fourth wall of the basement be concrete. This is something we'd take to a contractor. Have you had this done? What was the ballpark cost (i.e., was it more like $10,000 or more like $50,000)? Did you have to have the house lifted to do it? Anything else we should be thinking about?
posted by linettasky to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
How deep is it? Do you want a finished basement or just another wall?
posted by bq at 12:28 PM on April 7, 2011

It's hard to understand what you're describing. Are you saying that there's no wall on one side of the basement? If there isn't, then what's the house sitting on?
posted by jon1270 at 12:29 PM on April 7, 2011

Seems you should hire a contractor or inspector to go take a look ...might have to make a offer first, contingent on the outcome of that inpection/estimate. Not sure about the laws of you state...worth finding out.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:35 PM on April 7, 2011

Best answer: The cost of something like this will vary hugely based on the level of mitigation needed for moisture issues. You really should have a contractor look at it and give you an estimate. Generally, real estate offers in Oregon are contingent on an inspection-- that's pretty standard. Your realtor should be able to assist you in making an offer that's contingent on both an inspection and getting a contractor's estimate on the basement work.

There probably is a complete concrete foundation under the house, in any case-- it's not that unusual for older homes to have a portion of the foundation still filled with dirt, especially under a porch. Getting it dealt with may be more of an aesthetic issue than anything else-- and if that's the case, the willingness of the current owners to cut you a deal based on your estimate will really depend on how badly they want to sell the house.

If it's an actual code violation that's been cited, the owners are (I believe) required to disclose that to potential buyers. You can also check for information on past code issues, sale-price data, property taxes, etc etc. (Portland Maps is a great resource!)
posted by Kpele at 1:16 PM on April 7, 2011

I would talk to a mason before buying. Friends of mine did this and got an estimate for $10K before deciding not to buy.
posted by mkb at 1:21 PM on April 7, 2011

We really can't answer this question with the information you have provided. Such factors as the length of the wall you want built, its height, the bearing value of the soil (in order to design the footing) and the work access to the basement area will all have a significant impact upon the cost. You need to get permission from the sellers to allow you to bring in at least two (three is better) contractors who are experienced in retro-fitting foundations. They may have suggestions that you have not even considered and will better be able to give you a handle on the cost.
posted by Old Geezer at 1:44 PM on April 7, 2011

It's more of a 10K problem than a 50k problem, IMO. (I've done an awful lot of stuff, but I am not a builder nor a structural engineer... just a lowly electrical engineer and inventor.) The 12 houses I have owned have all required some work, of every conceivable type.

If you have a missing wall, it seems to me that you are not facing a foundation problem so much as a retaining wall that fits into a foundation that now has only three sides of four. Any house lifting that will have to be done can be done with jacks from inside and will be less than an inch... probably 1/2 inch or so, if you plan to use the new wall to provide any structural enhancement. If it's just fascia (i.e., for looks, it won't be necessary to lift anything.

If the mental pix of it I have is valid, it seems that the material to build this wall can be carried into the existing basement, and the wall built from the inside. Seems like mostly cinderblock, a little concrete for a footing, and the usual labor/mortar to build it. A good mason should be able to build it for you, and while it would never hurt to have a PE (professional engineer) peek at it, the house is obviously not falling in or in likely danger of doing so.

Were it my house, I wouldn't buy it without a housing inspection (from a PE). Here, I pay about $300 for a visit and a report (Vermont.) Ask about the wall issue, specifically. If it's a show stopper, make providing it a requirement of the sale on the part of the seller. The way this is usually done, incidentally, is to make an offer, but have it contingent on the inspection (very common) and you can further restrict the terms to a specific wall cost.

Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 5:51 PM on April 7, 2011

Ditto everyone else. Just get bids backed up by engineering advice. Budget for the highest (of 3, or the second highest of 4) even if you don't hire the most expensive firm. Don't forget the cost of plans and permits. Be sure to find out whether, structurally, you can just do one wall. I had two walls to replace, and multiple people told me to do the whole thing for best result.

None of us can give you a good estimate, but here are the RS Means Contractors Pricing Guide 2009 costs:

Stem wall two story: material and labor to install stem wall 24" above and 18" below grade typical for a two story structure, including 18" wide x 10" deep footing -- demolish existing stem wall and install new stem wall = $230/l.f.

But don't take that too seriously. Due to drainage needs, costs of jacking, additional problems discovered... the estimates I got were pretty different from RS Means. The real answer is, talk to an engineer, then get bids.
posted by slidell at 10:48 PM on April 7, 2011

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