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Question DetailsAsked on 2/18/2016

Foundation repair questions?

I have 2 leaks in my basement and called 4 different companies for quotes. 2 of them said I needed to add wall braces because my wall is bowing. Plus I need an interior drain system.

The other 2 said my foundation looks good and should only do the drain system and maybe reroute the downspouts.

The wall doesn't look bad to me and no cracks in the blocks, only a few in the mortar joints. Big question is what to do now? Both sides are confident in their analysis. There is a pretty big price difference between them.

Also, how does this affect disclosure during a sale? We may sell in the next 5 years and I want to do this right. I don't want to pay for something I really don't need. And I don't want to pay for something that doesn't fix the problem.

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3 Answers


Below are a sampling of prior similar questions with responses to get you started. These and more including ones on infiltration, wall bowing, and drainage systems - as well as checklists on how to prevent water from getting to the foundation in the first place - can be found in the Home > Basement Waterproofing and Home > Foundation Repair links in Browse Projects, at lower left:

You have the classic case - ask 4 companies, you might get as many as 4 different answers - sometimes because they just tend to quote the type of fix they usually do, which may be suitable to the situation and may not be. Also, you have no way of knowing if they are quoting repairs because they want the work so may quote a repair even when no repairs are needed, or if there is really a problem and it may be you indeed have a structural rather than just water infiltration issue.

On the cracking - unless your wall was stagger-block laid (staggered horizontal as well as vertical joints as they technically should be for strength and crack resistance but almost never are because of greater cost), it will generally not crack through the blocks - almost always finds a weak path through the mortar joints until movement gets so great that it starts crushing the blocks.

You basically have three issues here:

1) have you done the appropriate measures to keep water away from the foundation in the first place. If this is sporadic leakage during and in the week or so after rainstorms or snowmelt, rather than the continuous or season-long leakage which might indicate high groundwater, then just getting and keeping significant amounts of water away from the house with appropriate sloping of compacted semi-impervioous soil around the house and proper driveway and roof runoff control, with swales or berms or french drains as necessary to keep surface water runoff from adjacent areas and neighboring properties away from the house, might be all it takes to solve the leakage issue.

2) if that does not handle the water issue, then depending on cause and quantity, it is usually best to stop it outside if possible - with french drain leading to surface drainage leading away from the house (or in adverse topography sometimes to a wet well with sump pump) located at the base of the foundation plus generally waterproofing on the outside of the wall itself. In other cases, commonly where seasonal water table level reaches the foundation and cannot be held down below foundation base with a french drain system due to flow quantity or upwelling or other reasons, it can be appropriate to retrofit a french drain system inside the basement to keep the water below slab level. Though generally this stops only free water intrusion - because water can wick commonly 3 feet or more and up to 10-20 feet in fine grained soils, unless the slab was poured with a watre barrier under it, it does not prevent significant moisture coming through the slab as water vapor, which can cause mold issues if the basement humidity get too high and basically prevents use of any but hard (concrete, stone, tile) surface flooring or very evaporative carpeting in the basement because of the risk (and probability) of mold formation.

3) then the bowing/cracking issue - a Structural Engineer, for probably about $150-300 for a site visit (plus additional if remedial design is needed), is the expert to tell you if your wall is in distress or not, and to advise on corrective measures - which can include structural bracing as the 2 contractors evidently advised, wall beams and tiebacks into the outside soil, excavation and replacement of exterior soil with structural fill, exterior drainage, wall replacement, or supplementing the wall with an additional concrete wall tied to it to basically carry the horizontal loads, depending on the cause and severity.

How much bowing is too much is a judgement call - but generally if cracks are not noticeably extending, do not go through the blocks, are not diagonal, and are basically hairline rather than large wide open cracks, the wall is not breaking or disconnecting fro the footer or the wall sill plates, and any bowing is gradual rather than concentrated and not more than about 1/16"/LF of wall (horizontal or vertical), then the wall is normally not in serious distress. Of course, whether or not it is a reinforced wall or filled-cell makes a difference too - because a significantly reinforced wall will resist loads better, but if it is showing significant cracking that is generally a more serious situation than is comparable cracking occurred on an unreinforced wall. And., of course, if a nice smooth gradual bowing you have the problem of guessing whether it has moved to that shape or was originally built out of line or moved during initial backfilling (especially if backfilled before the ground floor framing was in place) but has not moved since.
On the disclosure issue - you would have to check your local / state laws or talk to your favorite realtor about local laws, but commonly any adverse conditions revealed by inspections or condition surveys done in the past 5 to 10 years that you are aware of have to be disclosed to the buyers - though of course you can state that the problems were remedied. In some states, IF the condition was remedied, then the reports and conditions do not have to be reported as long as the condition and its symptoms of distress or problems are no longer in effect. It can get convoluted in some areas because of ambiguous laws or conflicts between state and local codes, and then you throw in VA or FHA or state housing agency disclosure requirements and it can become a mess. Of course, legally you are on the safer side disclosing what the condition was and what was done to repair it, though that can raise a red flag in some cases - especially if it was not done under the desgn and construction inspection and approval certification of an engineer (or plumber or HVAC contractor or whatever is appropriate depending on nature of disclosable condition).

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


I'm not saying this to be mean but with all you have on your plate ignore everything you read in the first answer posted. For some reason it's more important for him to provide answers to show everyone how brilliant he is without giving any thought as to the impact it may have on the person asking the question.

There are many homeowners that have been where you are. First off, the less research you do the better. No two homes are the same, there for, no two problems are the same. The more research homeowners do the more overwhelmed and confused they become.

Not all Foundation Repair Contractors are crooks. Be sure your dealing with a local Foundation Repair Contractor. They are fimiliar with the soil conditions and type of problems in your area.

There is a very simple way to identify the good guys from the bad guys. Any contractor who tries to sell you a repair before making sure all exterior maintenance related causes for your water concernes have been corrected and operating properly is a CROOK. Ignore everything they say.

Avoid at all costs any of the national companies that may be in your area. These are franchise organisations anyone can purchase. Most have a gimmic type solution someone came up with.

Answered 4 years ago by chuckster


Obviously Chuckster does not like me, based on a history of prior questions where we disagreed. But he did make a couple of good points that bear reinforcing:

1) the one I mentioned before about solving the SOURCE of the water OUTSIDE the house if at all possible, preferably above-ground if that is where it is coming from - before it can become an in-ground issue, before getting into and foundation drain or waterproofing system. And a contractor suggesting one of those systems before investigating and diverting the outside sources would be a red flag - though it sounds like a couple of the contractors you talked to did mention gutters as a possible source problem.

2) do watch out for gimmicks - there are outfits out there saying that basically a reinforced tape (which they commonly claim - sometimes as an outright lie - to be some miraculous super graphite or titanium reinforcing) can fix a bowing wall. I saw one contractor claiming this at a job I was called in to advise on - picked up a roll of his miracle cure product and it was plain 3M metal foil duct tape. Ditto to vertical pin piles or soil anchors put in alongside the foundation without other means of relieving the load on the wall which is actually causing any bowing. Those just don't cut it structurally. I think this is probably what his comment about nationwide franchise companies was directed at, because there are several franchise schemes out there claiming to solve bowing foundations with a purely surface treatment slapped onto the wall - one even claims a paint-on epoxy will solve badly bowing and cracking walls !

3) related to above - even if an interior reinforcing system (steel beams, tieback earth anchors, etc) is used and makes good structural sense, remember that if the costs are in the same ballpark as an "invisble" solution you should tend towards the one that does not look like a repair or bandaid job, because come resale time the presence of such items as beams or anchor ends sticking out of the wall in your basement will be a significant red flag for potential buyers. The realtor you bought your house from might be a good source to get a handle on how much effect this might have - but I have seen homes with damaged foundations or exposed interior drains (which also are generally a bad idea anyway) go years without sale at more than competitive prices, with literally a hundred or more potential buyers walking away as soon as they saw reinforcing on a basement foundation or wall. So, if in the ballpark, the invisible solution is commonly a better deal even if a bit more expensive initially.

Also - in many areas real estate disclosures require disclosure of any known historic issues with X number of years - BUT only those that were not remedied. So, if that is the case in your area (ask realtor again about this), then an exposed reinforcement or drain system demonstrates a significant problem existed and was repaired or handled by a "fix", as opposed to replaced as in a new wall construction or exterior buried drain system say, which would not be visible and hence not raise the red flag.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD

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