Foundation Problems

This house had serious cracking in it's subwall, and we designed a carbon fiber system to repair it. It was much cheaper and faster than traditional helical tie backs would have been.

We have been helping homeowners with foundation problems since 2001.  First off, we don’t actually do the repairs, we provide engineering.  This can confuse people, and the first question they ask is “why do I hire you if you don’t do the repair?”  The answer is because we don’t do the repair!  Let me explain.

When we evaluate your house for foundation damage, such as settlement or subwall failure, we apply years of experience and engineering knowledge to our evaluation.  We examine the damage, and come up with a recommended repair.  We will provide you a list of companies you can call for the repair.  You call the companies, hand them our report, and they give you a price on the repair, and you choose the one you want.  We don’t make any money from what the repair costs.

What if we did the repair?  Well, let me give an example.  Let’s say a corner of your house has settled.  I come out and find you need four foundation piers are needed for the repair.  That means you will pay about $4,500 for the repair.  I get my fee and you pay the repair company to do the repair.  If I did the work, there would be the temptation to add a few piers – six piers would generate me $2,200 more dollars, wouldn’t it?  This happens all the time in foundation repair, the salesperson generates a bit more commission and dollars for the company by overestimating what’s needed.  I suspect a lot of time the salesman isn’t even consciously doing it, but the judgement of a person can be affected by economic factors.  As a colleague of mine once told me “it’s hard for a person to be objective when a mortgage payment is due.”

I can tell you a couple stories of what really happened that are fortunately extreme examples.  A few years ago I went to a house where the homeowner had trouble with an unlevel floor over his garage.  I found that the left corner in front of the garage had foundation settlement, it need two piers – about $2,200.  However, when I went up above his garage, the issue with his floor was obviously not foundation settlement.  The floor sagged to the center, which indicates a structural issue.  The beam under the floor had no column in the center in the garage, and it was sagging.  So, he need a column in the center to support the beam, about $2,000 more dollars, so his repair was about $4,200 or so.  He had been quoted $30,000 by a foundation repair company to put piers all around his garage!  Not only would this have been ridiculously expensive, but it wouldn’t have fixed the problem.

I went to another house that had a sagging beam over the entry from the living room to the dining room.  A foundation company told the homeowner the problem was her crawl space needed encapsulation for some extreme amount (I think it was about $20,000).  It actually needed a new beam over the header, which cost about $2,000 if I remember right.  Again, a homeowner was quoted a high amount for a repair that wasn’t going to solve the problem.

One more story, which should make you cautious.  I am always looking for good foundation repair companies, so I went to company to examine what they did, and I was fairly impressed.  That was until their office called me.  They wanted to enroll me into their “Special Partner” program.  I would get $100 for the first referral to them, and 10% after that.  Think about it – if I found you needed four piers, but instead recommended six, I could get another $220.  I would see $660 from the contractor, so I could charge you next to nothing.  I would be acting as this company’s salesperson without your knowledge.  Of course this could get my license revoked, but I’d have to get caught first.  Think about this if an engineer quotes you a really low price on examining your foundation.  The engineer may be a “Special Partner” that is costing you a few thousand extra so you can save a few hundred on engineering fees.

Now, I explained to this illustrious company that this would be unethical.  They told me that “many of our engineers have us donate the money to their favorite charity.”  I’m sorry, but that’s like stealing and donating the money to your church.  It’s still stealing.  Also, we do about two foundation evaluations a week.  Figure each one resulted in $5,000 in repairs. My “favorite charity” would see $52,000 a year, which would make them whatever they call their extra high donors (“gold” donor or something). I’d get my hand shook by elected officials, the newspaper would write about what a great guy I am, and there would be banquets in my honor.  The value of that is extreme for exposure, it would multiply my business, all for taking money from you.  It’s wrong.

There is one way the “Special Partner” program is OK.  That’s if I come out to your house and say “Mr. (or Ms.) Smith, I am charging you a much reduced rate of $350 to investigate your foundation, but I get a 10% commission from whatever you pay the foundation company for the repairs I recommend.”  Would you still trust me?  I hope not.

So, I hope I’ve made my case for why you need to call us first if you have foundation problems.

George