Cracked slab -- Urgent problem, or can I ignore it for a year or two?
January 29, 2014 2:31 PM   Subscribe

I think my house has a cracked slab. We will be able to afford a repair of $20K or so (which sounds pretty standard for foundation repair from what I've read so far) in a month once my husband receives his bonus for this year. We had a lot of other plans for that money though, and I'm hesitant to postpone them unless absolutely necessary. How rapidly does a situation like this generally worsen? Is the repair likely to be much more expensive if we wait a year or more?

I live in Houston, and being that this is our first home, my husband and I didn't realize it was important to water our slab during the big drought Texas had a while back until after our house started showing symptoms of a foundation problem (about 8 months ago). We haven't had a structural engineer come out to officially diagnose our problem, partly because I'm just terrified to hear the estimate, and also because the evaluation itself runs about $400. Our house is 22 years old, and we lived in it for 5 years without issue. Within the last 8 months, several cracks in the drywall have appeared, an upstairs bedroom door stopped closing easily (I have to slam it with my hip to get it to close), and a 12 foot long crack in the grout between the kitchen tile appeared. (The crack in the grout is only about 1/16 of an inch wide, but it is quite visible.) Does this sound like a problem that needs to be addressed immediately?
posted by lmpatte2 to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's astronomically unlikely that this situation will improve on its own, or even stay the same. It's highly likely that it will continue to degrade at some rate. Waiting just means you're betting that the rate of degradation won't change and that you can live with it.

The answer is: pay the $400 to get the evaluation. Even with the evaluation, the safe thing to do is make the repair, because otherwise you're still playing the odds. The repair isn't going to get smaller next year. It might stay the same, but it could also get a lot bigger. Pay for the evaluation and you'll get maybe some idea what the odds are on those possibilities.
posted by gauche at 2:39 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does this sound like a problem that needs to be addressed immediately?

It sounds like a problem that needs to be assessed immediately. The assessor can tell you what the next step is, how much it will cost, and when it will need to be done. The assessor can also give you an idea of what will happen if you put off the repair.

Apart from the structural issues, a cracked slab can lead to crazy mold growth. You do not want a mold abatement job on top of the slab repair. Mold abatement is $$$.
posted by pie ninja at 2:51 PM on January 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yes, you can't put this off. Get it assessed.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:01 PM on January 29, 2014

Well, you may be able to put off the repair for a bit, but you definitely should not delay getting an expert in who can tell you what your options are and what the consequences of waiting are. Get a couple if the first one seems really pushy about it.
posted by wierdo at 3:34 PM on January 29, 2014

You can have a crack in your foundation without it needing repair, if it's not a wide crack. Our homes are built on sand and clay, which expands and contracts with moisture and dryness. Because of this, our foundations are built to be somewhat flexible.

You know it is cracked, so why am I telling you this? Because you need to get it looked at. Maybe it will be ok -- really! Lots (most?) of our homes have cracked foundations, and as long as it's not causing a structural problem (putting stress on parts of your house frame that are not intended to carry that much load) or interfering with other things (such as plumbing problems) it might very well just be a cosmetic issue, and most people don't have their foundation repaired for cosmetic issues.

Water your foundation and lawn in the summer, so that the grass and trees don't suck water away from your slab. Keep all plants away from the slab -- including the grass -- and make sure the ground is still somewhat graded away from your home.
posted by Houstonian at 4:18 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As Houstonian said, the Houston (and Dallas) areas are notorious for sandy clays and clayey sand mixtures. Slabs on grade, if built properly for the sub-surface conditions in your area, will flex as the moisture content changes. Superficial cracks are not that worrisome, i.e. small spider cracks with almost no gap is typical. If this is the case, it is more of a cosmetic issue.

The other assessment you can initially make is check your doors and windows. If they are sticking or don't open or close properly, your foundation is moving and causing shear through the structural frame. Also, are you seeing any cracking in the drywall, particularly at the door or window heads or in the ceiling? If so, this needs to be looked into by a professional. The problem will more than likely get worse and more expensive over time.

As stated earlier, hire a professional structural engineer and not one associated with a foundation repair company. A good place to start if you have trouble finding one is with a home inspector. They usually have contacts for assessing foundation or structural problems.
posted by Benway at 4:59 PM on January 29, 2014

Get the inspection. Then shop around for foundation estimates. I just had mine done for half my house and it was closer to $5000 than 20.
posted by CathyG at 5:40 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Also, are you seeing any cracking in the drywall, particularly at the door or window heads or in the ceiling?

Yep, we have one very sticky door, and a fairly large crack in the ceiling of the room that door leads to.

Thanks to everyone for the input. I've got my fingers crossed that this is just a cosmetic issue (or that it is at least closer to a $5K job like yours, CathyG), but I'll bite the bullet and get a structural engineer over here asap to make sure.
posted by lmpatte2 at 6:09 PM on January 29, 2014

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