Not all it's cracked up to be.
March 10, 2008 3:52 PM   Subscribe

What is the best way to repair a home's foundation?

(posting for a friend, so ask if I've left out any relevant details)

Friend signed a contract on a home in Michigan pending inspection. The inspection revealed that the "north, south, and west basement walls are bowing inward and the walls are cracking at the corners. The structural integrity of these walls have been compromised."

Initial estimates from the inspector put this at a $20k problem. Friend informs sellers that they aren't going to purchase home unless the problem is fixed or money taken off the purchase price in the amount to fix the problem.

Seller counters with an offer to fix the foundation with 'grip tite' wall anchors, which anchor the wall to something and homeowners crank every once in a while to ensure basement walls stay plumb. (I am not a structural engineer, but this sounds a lot like wearing head gear from my orthodontic days.)

Friends are concerned that this wall anchoring system is not a long-term solution and maybe even building quackery. They like the home (and location), but are willing to either counter the counteroffer to require seller to fix the foundation correctly or walk away and find another home.

There doesn't seem to be much information online about wall anchoring as a valid structural repair option for homes vs. other structural repair systems.

Mefites, please advise. Should friend:
1) Walk away?
2) Counteroffer with another structural repair option? (Which option, and why is it better?)
3) Be content with the wall anchor system?

Friends are interested in staying in this home potentially 'forever,' so long term solutions are important here.

posted by batcrazy to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't buy a long term problem. Negotiate the repair recommended by the inspector, or walk away.
posted by flabdablet at 3:59 PM on March 10, 2008

Get a second opinion. When my parents were buying a house, the inspector found exactly this problem (cracked, bowed foundation) - in fact, he said the structural integrity was compromised and the house basically had 5 years before a complete foundation replacement. My parents called a local foundation specialist company they trusted and had dealt with before, and they estimated 20 years before repair was needed and offered a variety of much cheaper fixes.

IMO, a home inspector identifies the areas that a reputable specialist should give you a professional opinion on.
posted by pocams at 4:10 PM on March 10, 2008

Sorry, forgot to mention that the foundation specialists came out and inspected, of course; it wasn't an over-the-phone type of estimate.
posted by pocams at 4:11 PM on March 10, 2008

I would want to know why the walls are giving way. I would contact a civil engineer and ask for their recommendations. It costs a whole lot to support a house and demo/replace a foundation. It is not at undoable depending on the site conditions etc. though. There will be a high level of disruption however. I would want more then one price for more then one solution and plans with a engineering stamp.
posted by flummox at 4:38 PM on March 10, 2008

I am guessing that they really love this house, or they wouldn't be thinking about this at all. Sincerely, all those analogies about the importance of a "good foundation" exist for a reason. If I were in their shoes, I can assure you I wouldn't be taking any offer from the sellers without first getting 2 or 3 opinions from experienced foundation/water-in-the-basement experts (just because water in a basement is a very common issue with wonky basements).

Honestly, my wife and I have spent about 12K on our basement and it's walls ARE solid. Our problem was weird, non-code plumbing combined with old clay weeping tile that was filled with tree roots. Thing is though, we wouldn't even consider spending a dime on finishing the basement until we knew that we had a dry, solid foundation and weeping tile system. Sorry, I'm going off-point here a bit, but I can't stress enough that your friends need to get at least 2 or 3 more opinions, or they should start looking at other houses. It's just not worth it. Every purchased house, in my life experience anyway, has a few issues that you don't know about up front. This one has a HUGE issue that they DO know about. Tread carefully.
posted by Richat at 4:38 PM on March 10, 2008

I would walk away. It's a buyer's market and there's no sense buying a house that's always going to have that one thing that's wrong.
posted by jedrek at 4:40 PM on March 10, 2008

Please listen closely - the reason the walls are bowing is that there is hydrostatic pressure built up on the outside, likely due to a foundation drainage system that has become silted and inoperable, allowing saturated soil to build up pressure. The walls, in structural engineering parlance, are "rotating". The only authoritative fix is to excavate away from the exterior walls 4-6 feet, install a new drain line, drill into the upper cinder block and install rebar at least every other cell, and pump concrete/grout into the interior of the cinder block to stabilize the wall and prevent further rotation, followed by resealing the exterior walls to avoid moisture influx, and gravel with geo-textile fabric overlayment to slow down future silting.

I had to have this done, by a reputable firm following an engineer's evaluation, about nine years ago to our house, but only on the front wall of the house (~65 linear fit, including the driveway retaining wall, which faces up-hill). I got bids from $22,000 (from a scary guy with green teeth) up to $56,000, and went with the mid-level bid. We still have some residual issues with settling, but the house is structurally fine. The $20,000 you've been told won't cut it - especially for three walls, & you'll never really know whether your in a ticking time bomb.

WALK AWAY - and if you don't, don't accept the owner's fixes, unless they have a registered engineer's evaluation & a construction certification that repairs were made to his design. Forget the wall anchor B.S.
posted by Pressed Rat at 5:46 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Uh, linear "feet" that is. Seriously, your friends don't need this problem, no matter how much they like the house otherwise.
posted by Pressed Rat at 5:48 PM on March 10, 2008

I'm buyin' what Pressed Rat is selling. Especially the wall anchor thing. There is a time and place for that and it's not here. If it was an exceptional house on great property with historic value or something, I might consider doing the research. Otherwise, no.
posted by snsranch at 7:38 PM on March 10, 2008

I've seen wall anchors used in historic buildings in New Orleans. But the walls are usually tilting out, not bowing in and it is the upper floors of the building, not the foundation. I wouldn't risk it personally.
posted by JujuB at 7:52 PM on March 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the cogent advice! They've decided to walk away.
posted by batcrazy at 10:03 PM on March 10, 2008

From my home inspection rant:
When my Mom got her current house, the home inspector made [...] some trivial recommendations, like lengthening a downspout, which the previous owners addressed - addressed in exactly the way anyone might, if they knew they were never going to see the house again.
Don't let the sellers do the repair, it is completely pointless.
posted by Chuckles at 8:31 PM on March 11, 2008

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