Home sunk a little - who do I talk to for advice
December 7, 2014 5:15 PM   Subscribe

Bought a home in rainy Washington 5 months ago, 70 yrs old, we knew there was some settling in one bedroom at the corner of house, of 4 inches, and the inspector cited settling from a cracked foundation (which was patched with a little patchy concrete) and possibly settling from water pooling from clogged downspouts, but said the settling should be over now. But we now doubt that...

In that sinking corner, on left side, outside there is a newer drainage pipe from the gutter downspout which goes underground away from the house. So maybe the settling was fixed when that was replaced, or so we thought. However, we now suspect its continuing, because on same corner, but to the right side, where there is no gutter, there seems to be more slant on that side of the house, even in bathroom to right of the sinking bedroom. Slanting the same way, to the right. But its hard to say... one question I have is how does one even test these things to be sure its not my imagination? (What if it was like that in July but i didn't notice, but now I'm getting used to the house? I kind of doubt that though).
I checked under the house during rainfall and there is pure clay and its dry even under that suspect bedroom and bathroom. But the sinking corner gets a ton of rain down from the downspout to underground and I haven't had that checked to see if it really goes away from house or is clogged.

To me the possibilities are:

1 Downspout is blocked on that corner and water is pooling under the corner where I can't see, and soil is eroding there, sinking the foundation (but no evidence water is pooling there that much yet in visible way - no standing water during rain, none under house during rain).
2 We are on a small hill the size of 4 houses. Maybe the hill is sinking itself regardless in downward direction.

(I know, (2) is unlikely, but one of the neighbors said one owner was denied 2nd story build permit due to soft soil). Is there a govt agency I can talk to - like the ones for build permits? Or a geologist? I'd love to have an independent opinion. I can and likely will call foundation repair companies, but they all probably have a vested interest in getting a contract to do the agenda they want... the answer they come up with may be only to get money based off repairs.
posted by uni verse to Home & Garden (4 answers total)
A structural engineer could give you that independent opinion, but they would first do some testing. You can probably rig up your own test to see if there is more settling going on. It's a little hard to prescribe based on your description, but I would put two nails, say 20 feet apart, into the part of the house you think is stable. Run a taut string along those two nails all the way out to the sagging corner, and put another nail along that line into the sagging corner. (A laser pointer or level would help make this more precise.) Wait three months, and run the string or laser again, and see if the suspect corner has moved.

As for remediation, that's where you really need a structural engineer. Probably they'd recommend some pilings or a retaining wall on the sagging side to help hold back the natural flow.
posted by beagle at 5:29 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

You need a structural engineer or maybe a geotechnical engineer for the soil conditions. A lot of engineering firms have both on staff or at least someone they work with regularly. You want a firm that is primarily local and deals with residential development so they are familiar with your situation.

Also you can hire a plumber, or as I recently discovered, you can buy inexpensive cameras on the end of a 25' usb cable that you can feed down the downspout and see where it goes. The surface can be dry but underneath the soil can be damp/wet and cause settling, and if you are on expansive clays it can swell in the wet season and then shrink in the dry and make house go both ways...this can get complicated. Good luck, foundation problems are always scary.
posted by bartonlong at 5:34 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: ... we knew there was some settling in one bedroom at the corner of house, of 4 inches, and the inspector cited settling from a cracked foundation (which was patched with a little patchy concrete)...

A cracked foundation is fixed by putting a concrete pier under the house and jacking it up until the crack closes, not by filling the crack.

As mentioned above, you need to have an engineer with residential foundation experience.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 6:14 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Good points all you guys - especially to hire an engineer and of course the other possibility is the cracked foundation wasn't fixed properly. That is a very likely possibility now that I think of it.
posted by uni verse at 6:52 PM on December 7, 2014

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