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Question DetailsAsked on 6/20/2017

Horizontal Crack in Basement Wall & Exterior Wall Possibly Shifted Inwards

I'm considering buying a rambler built in late 1930s with 2 possibly related issues:
1. Basement wall issue: Large horizontal crack in 1 basement wall roughly 25 feet long. The 4 basement walls look exactly like the letter h all around. So, the top half portion of each wall looks normal (straight), and the bottom half of each wall looks like the curve on the letter h. Curve radius: roughly 1 foot. The crack is in the middle of the bottom part of the h. Basement wall is likely made of stone.
2. Exterior wall issue: a portion of the exterior wall (the one above the bulging basement wall) appears to have slightly shifted inwards in the same direction the basement wall is bulging in. The shifting is noticeable by eye, but not major. No shifting on the exterior wall section that extends beyond & not sitting on the bulging basement wall. The exterior wall is made of siding.
Method of repair?
Cost range?
Input greatly appreciated, especially from a structural engineer!
Many thanks!

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1 Answer


Can't diagnose from a distance of course, but sounds like either the stubwall (above the thicker base part) was added later to raise the house and give a full-depth basement and was not tied into the base with rebar properly, or the upper part was too thin and is pushing inward (as you noted) - though with the crack in the middle of the "h" base part could well be they raised the house and the greater height of soil backfill load against the foundation is causing the original base to fail. Might well be the crack is at a level where reinforcing for the upper stubwall terminates - causing the crack which would normally have appeared at the base of the stubwall to move down to the bottom of the reinforcing - a fairly common thing in this sort of situation. Either way, if a significant crack it is a "Structural Failure" though how serious it is to the house's stability would require close onsite inspection - probably in $500-1500 range engineer cost depending on whether the engineer needs soil samples or test excavation on outside to assess the issue and loads and come up with a reasonable fix.

One other consideration - any sign that this crack has been an infiltration point for groundwater ? That could raise a basement waterproofing issue as well - at additional $.

Repair cost - rarely less than $1000-2000 to reinforce a single wall, and for essentially invisible reinforcement (tieback anchors or external reinforcement rather than exposed beam(s) inside the basement) normally $2000 bare minimum for one wall only and commonly more like $3000 range. If the base is stone, that further complicates things because most stong foundations cannot handle concentrated tieback loads, so you need more tiebacks or beams or such - oir sometimes even an interior concrete overlay 4-5 inches thick, which stakes away interior space.

One thing to note - that sort of "bandaid" reinforcing rarely takes the sway out of the wall, if just holds it against further movement- so come resale time potential buyers commonly see pretty much what you are seeing, without the crack (which would be patched) but with viswible evidence of the reinforcing, so it can look as negative to future buyers as to you.

From your description, I would guess that excavating all the way around the foundation to inspect the outside (and repair as necessary), do waterproofing and/or french drain at same time as applicable, then doing structural fill compaction or lightweight fill (to reduce the load on the walls all around the house, or at least everywhere the fill height is high up on the foundation), may well be called for by the engineer to do the job "right" - likely pushing your total cost into the $10,000 ballpark or even more. Though of course the Seller is likely to be highly resistant to any work on walls not visibly showing major cracking. On this type of job, a good part of the problem with accepting a house with this type of condition (or having it fixed before closing) is no one knows how much it will actually cost until you are well into the job and have uncovered the exact cause and full extent of damage - so a potentially significant financial risk there as well as the risk it will not be done in time for closing (this type of job commonly drags on and on) or that the seller will refuse to do it as a contingency item, hoping that another buyer or buyer's inspector will not give any signficance to or even notice the crack.

My fairly strong feeling on this - unless you are really in love with this particular house, why assume that sort of issue, the out of pocket engineer and maybe lawyer costs related to a contingency item on it, the risk the fix will not actually solve the problem (especially if owner goes with the minimim cosat approach) and also the risk that other walls will do same thing over time ? Remember - if you buy it with the flaw your reduction in offering price may or may not actually cover the repair cost AND normally the repair will be visible to future buyers who may then shy away from a house with that issue, and even if it is fixed the money put into it does not necessarily improve the house value over what you pay for it - it just fixes (hopefully) the problem. Talk to your realtor about that resale value risk issue.

You could force the seller to fix it before closing (put a contingency in your offer) which is a lot safer for you in terms of $ risk (i.e.. that any estimate you would get might not cover the repair cost) but you would want to specify that your Structural Engineer has to concur with the repair design and execution and approve the final work - meaning he and you (wanting job done right and probably in clean, workmanlike manner by competent contractor) would be in opposition to the owner's desires (get it done quick and as cheap as possible so likely a less expert or competent job), so both parties are likely to be unhappy with the result, and any changes or rework required because it does not pass your engineer's inspection(s) would further delay closing - which if you need to be out of your existing place or into a new place by a certain date makes this a risky proposition. Plus this sort of repair commonly requires a delayed closing - not something that is normally done in a month or so or even sometimes two.

I would earnestly talk to your realtor about this (assuming he/she is not handling both sides of the deal) - and if it is required to be fixed as a contingency realize you should have an attorney look at the contingency agreement and have input from your structural engineer (who YOU would be paying for attorney and engineer's assessment and inspection work so figure those costs in too), but to me there are a lot of houses out there in a given price range in most areas - and rarely does it make sense, unless you are looking at flipping the house, to buy a house needing major repairs or ones where the cost of the repair cannot readily be known up-front ... and this is NOT such a case, in my opinion.

You can find a number of previous similar issue questions with answers in the Home > Foundation Repair and Home > Basement Waterproofing links under Browse Projects, at lower left.

Also - with that age house, I presume you have had (or will plan on having) a serious electrical, HVAC, plumbing, septic/well if applicable, roofing (including sheathing, viewed from inside attic), siding inspection - because unless it has been signficantly remodeled you may well be looking at potentially tens of thousands of $ in replacements/ repairs on those systems shortly down the road.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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