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Question DetailsAsked on 5/17/2018

pros and cons on using steel beams or rhino strips on basement foundation walls

I have bulging walls in basement and I have gotten estimates from two companies, one is using steel beams and geo panels, and the other is using Rhino strips. which is the best for permanent fix.

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

Very simply - beam solution can reinforce a wall which is not too badly cracked or damaged, but they are visible (or detectable by inspector) so are a big drawback to a buyer - his inspector is likely to warn him that the foundation wall(s) have basically failed and are basically propped up by the beam system, and are likely to at least be leaky to outside water if not subject to further future deterioration as well. Of course, how bad the cracking is makes a difference - but generally if it needs a beam system things are not good.

Also - the geo panels (concealing the beams) if not properly vented can promote mold behind them - and of course you are losing at least 6 inches and commonly more like a foot in room dimension at EACH wall where that is done - so 12-24" commonly loss of both room width and length if being done all around the foundation.

The carbon fiber sound fine in theory in their advertising - and they fling out that they are "patented systems" and such - but my opinion is it is basically a scam when used on residential foundation walls. Even if it were pre-tensioned before the epoxy bonding to the wall, and if the epoxy could actually carry what the fiber can, and if it were put on over a large enough area to actually be able to hold substantial load (and a 3-6 inch wide strip every 5-10 feet does NOT add up to much strnegth), the whole concept is basically a structural fantasy when done to keep a failing wall from failing further.

Putting tension reinforcement (the fiber strips can only act in tension along their lengths) on the face of the wall to prevent it bending inward, unless done with serious post-tensioned rods or cables to the extent that the wall tends to bow back out under the load (which would fail a normal foundation wall not originally designed for post-tensioned reinforcing) cannot put a lateral restraining force on the face of the wall until the wall FURTHER bends substantially further in, and even then the load in the fibers is many, many times the lateral force it exerts on the wall - basically as normally done as the wall fails furthear and bends in more the strips just pop the epoxy bond or break the fibers, even if the fibers are fully restrained at the ends to be able to reach breaking strength, which is a rare thing).

What is needed (short of replacing the wall entirely, which is commonly the best solution) is a force pushing outward on or restraining the wall horizontally - all the force in the fiber reinforcing is vertical (parallel to the wall), not outward.

Plus it does nothing to waterproof the wall.

A couple of other less common fixes, depending on your specific conditions, is removing the outside soil and redoing the foundation support before properly structurally backfilling (sometimes with lightweight or foam backfill to reduce the load), tying back the wall with anchors through the wall in to the soil outside, or buttressing the wall with an additional inside or outside reinforced concrete wall to carry the load which the failing wall cannot. Rarely supporting the house on piling (like mini-piles or drilled piers) is the more economic solution if the foundation wall can otherwise carry the load.

In each of the options, cost needs to be looked at - because in many cases just supporting the house, tearing out the failing wall, and replacing it is the cheapest and most positive and permanent fix.

Probably the most important thing to remember is that most foundation repair companies slap these "solutions" on, but do zero actual design of the repair or use "ruyle of thumb" numbers with little or no actual strucural basis. And in almost all states this constitutes a structural repair which requires a remedial design by a Structural Engineer or Geotechnical (a soils and foundations specialty Civil Engineer) even to legally get a building permit. In almost all cases, ask these firms doing foundation repair work for "Sealed" (stamped and signed by professional engineer) structural remedial design drawings and if they are getting a building permit for the work, they will scurry away like cockroaches exposed to the light.

First get a proper evaluation and design from an engineer - addressing the wall problem causes and conditions, any resultant structural issues in the house above, and any water issues (outside water pressure and infiltration into the house) all at once - THEN (considering any recommendations he may give on vendors) talk to several contractors about doing the work TO THAT DESIGN, with the engineer providing inspection to see it is done right - otherwise you are likely throwing your money away. With rare exceptions, foundation repair and waterproofing companies do NOT have an engineer on staff or engineering competency - they are contractors who do the work, and are not competent not licensed to design a permanent fix.

And bear in mind - any fix which tries to just restrain the wall or push it back into place does not fix the source of the problem - defective wall construction or design (inability to carry the normal loads), deterioration, excess soil pressure, and/or water pressure that caused the current issue still need to be addressed - and very commonly infiltration prevention (best done by outside face wateproofing) is part of the remedy.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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