The house foundation is cracked. It's winter. What to do?
February 11, 2019 12:24 PM   Subscribe

I noticed water damage on a basement wall yesterday and, sure enough, the foundation is cracked right on the other side of it. I've got requests for inspection/quotes in with the only two (really?) foundation repair companies I could find in the area, but is there anything I can/should do myself in the meanwhile? Photos.

The basement wall seems a bit soggier today, which is not encouraging. However, it won't be anywhere near sustained temperatures >40F for months, so none of the usual diy options seem viable. Should I dig out near the crack and try to create some kind of barrier? Tear down the internal paneling/insulation since that'll need to happen anyway? Run a dehumidifier and/or heater?

If anyone has Madison, WI-ish repair recommendations besides Badger Basement Systems and Tri-State, I'd gladly accept some additional options on that front too.

Thank you!
posted by teremala to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Before tearing out stuff, I think talking to your homeowner's insurance agent might be in order. This is a BFD.
posted by Glomar response at 12:57 PM on February 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

Yes, please get on the phone with your home insurance. Don't delay in starting a claim. The remediation process may be a long one and the adjuster will want to come and take photos of the damage as well as the entire basement.
posted by Calzephyr at 1:04 PM on February 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

The most effective thing you can do is to make sure that water near that crack can drain away from it. If the ground is frozen you can still chop a trench that will carry the water away from the house. If there is a roof above it without a working gutter you can just lean a piece of plywood against the wall so that any drips from the roof don't pool near the crack. When things warm up you can do more comprehensive grading. I had a house with basement cracks for 30 years. There were leaks when I moved in, but simply grading soil so that it sloped down away from the house, plus having good gutters, kept the water out 100%.

And yes, I would removed the damaged interior paneling so you can see what the crack is doing from inside, as well. That will let you monitor better whether the above strategy is working.
posted by beagle at 1:05 PM on February 11, 2019 [8 favorites]

It doesn't look to me like that crack is new, are you sure it is? There's a bunch of spalling at the top of the crack (exposing the gray) and a couple of what looks like attempted repair jobs (caulk? concrete? at the bottom). I'm not trying to minimize that it's a serious crack, but it doesn't look especially new. Is it possible that the hole at the bottom / slope of the soil has gotten worse recently, increasing the amount of water that's dumped inside?

In any event, I 100% agree with beagle's suggestions. Don't worry about the top part of the crack for now; just try to get the water to flow away and not pool at the bottom / drain into the house. A tiny bit of water may get in horizontally through the top of the crack, but if you've removed the paneling inside (which you should do anyway) it should evaporate extremely quickly in the low humidity of a winter indoor house.
posted by true at 1:54 PM on February 11, 2019

After taking pictures and calling the home owners insurance folks I would do the following - it may or may not be covered and they may or may not want you doing anything if it is covered.

Regardless - I would build a small wall of sandbags around the perimeter of the crack in a radius about 2 feet from it, and then cover that with a sloping piece of plywood to keep any falling water out of it.

I tend to open things up as long as I think it's likely to be something I can repair and to get a better look at what is going on, but I'm more aggressive with this. For any tearing things out go with what you hear from the homeowners insurance. As you note it's gonna need to be replaced no matter what especially if it's damp and soggy.
posted by iamabot at 2:16 PM on February 11, 2019

Homeowner's insurance said "lol nope," so I proceeded with ripping out that fakest of fake paneling, which turned out to be mounted to an insulation-pink block wall, not actually insulated. So it's much less of a water-logged mess than I feared, but there is one spot where I could literally see a glimmer of sky if I turned my head just right. The crack does indeed appear to be old and previously-repaired, which I hope means things are less-bad than they could be? On the other hand, it runs almost all the way to the basement floor. The wood frame of the house itself above looks okay, I think, though I don't have a great view at this point. Dust and spiderwebs and old old paint, mostly. Tomorrow I'll build the dam outside before the sun is high enough to melt anything. Thank you for your thoughts and advice!
posted by teremala at 4:03 PM on February 11, 2019

That second pic is a beaut. You are correct that it's age does mean it's less bad, because foundation movement is very bad - old cracks are generally just a settled house. And that crack looks old - to me that the crack is older than the brown paint, and older than the green below it. On the right side something happened recently (likely a freeze thaw cycle) that caused a fresh piece to pop off. The white bits appear to be where someone attempted to use a calk style sealant/repair which has also failed - and will always eventually fail because this crack is too big.

You can patch this back up. What you need is Hydraulic/Water Stop Cement. You don't have to wait- it's purpose built for your situation. It's like 8 bucks a tub and I would get two tubs. There are a variety of brands, just don't get the pre mix stuff.

The hard part is how far you want to get on digging down outside. I have patched similar cracks, and I dug down about halfway outside and was very aggressive in cleaning out the crack inside and out. Like hammer and safety glasses aggressive. A wire brush and a vacuum helped. Follow the instructions but know that when it says the old cement should be wet you should be thinking pool deck wet, not a light misting. Youtube will help in showing you the proper consistency for the cement. When I filled the outside back in I put down some plastic about 10 inches from the surface to prevent future water ingress.
posted by zenon at 6:54 AM on February 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

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