“Help!! Foundation Repair”

pain two

“Dear PoPville,

I just bought a rowhouse in Petworth that’s in need of some foundation work. Prior to purchase my inspector let me know that the right corner in the basement had some water damage, but nothing that could not be fixed. Over the last couple of weeks, I have received solutions/estimates from two different companies (looking to get two more). Both companies provided very different solutions and thus estimates. Below is a quick summary the problem and the two proposed solutions. Would love to get some thoughts from the PoP community and any recommendations from folks.

Problem: Right side of house settling more than left. Water intrusion in right side corner of basement. Mold in right corner. Cracks in bricks on the right side. Right side pier on porch sinking.

JES: To level house, put in 6 push piers. rebuild right porch pier. To stop water, install french drain inside and outside of the of house. Install sump pump. Remediate mold. Cost: $22,000

AquaGuard: Dig and underpin house to stop from settling further. House cannot be leveled without damaging neighbors houses(I have a middle row house). Would not recommend piers for old rowhouses (mine built in 1924) underpin and rebuild right porch pier. To stop water, install french drain inside and outside of the of house. Install sump pump. Remediate mold. Cost: $14,000″

18 Comment

  • Get more professional opinions…

  • This sounds like a pretty serious issue so I would not rely on four estimates. My general rule is to get five estimates for work on my house for big projects. I’d probably get 6-8 for this project. Also, is it just me or does 14k-20k for this work seem low? I mean I thought digging and underpinning a house was a big expense in itself.

  • Those solutions are almost identical to each other, the only difference being using piers instead of underpinning. Always, ALWAYS fix the problem with the water getting in first. French drains and sump pumps are just an acknowledgment that you can’t prevent the water from coming in (which may very well be the case, you can only do so much grading with the plot your house sits on). Then see if you need to do any structural repairs. Unless there is some dangerous structural damage or things have sunk so far you may not need to make any repairs to the structure. Yes, you’ll have a “wonky” house, but that just adds character 🙂 Jacking a house back up can sometimes cause more issues than it solves

  • maybe hiring an independent structural engineer just to assess the problem and provide recommendations. Then have a contractor price the recommendations.

    • Agreed, an independent structural engineer who will have no role in the cost of the repair itself should give you plenty of insight and some peace of mind.

    • 100% agree. We hired a structural engineer for a structural issue in our house and it was money well spent. They are independent (from your contractor), have no stake in who you hire or what the estimate is, and of course most contractors don’t have a degree in engineering. When you are talking about something structural, with estimates the cost of a new car, spending the extra $ on an engineer is a must.

    • This is sound advice. A structural engineer should provide an independent assessment, solution, and defined scope of work. Without narrowing the variables, it will be impossible to compare contractor cost estimates.

    • I agree with getting a structural engineer to look at it and then get bids from a contractor. Need a recommendation for a structural engineer?

    • My small condo building has foundation issues. It is saving us in the long run to get an independent assessment From ETC. It is going to save us in the number of piers that have to be put into place (they are about 5K a piece)

  • This is process advice rather than input on your actual question, but if one contractor explicitly recommended against piers on an old/middle row house, take that information back to the one who wants to do piers and see what they say. We did this with our solar panel bidders and company #1 readily admitted that they had overlooked a small, highly uncommon, very important difference between our house and 99% of DC row houses and they revised their estimate to match company #2’s installation plan.

    • I second this advice. I recently dug out my basement and the quotes were all over. I actually went with the one of the higher bids becuase he was very good at explaning what was missing in the other quotes (and why it was necessary).

      also, not sure if this is going to help, but to digout my 600sf basement, underpin, install new waterproofing, and a new slab cost about $46,000 for that part alone. That price, however, includes things like demolishing my front and back cement steps, installing new cement steps, and a new retaining wall.

      • I wish you people would stop paying these insane prices. You ruin the market for the rest of us. I dug out a basement and water proofed it for under 10 grand. My basement is about 900 sf. I dug down about 16 inches and filled about 80 yards worth of dirt. Ask your contractor to break down the cost. A truck of concrete cost about 1300 dollars. Dumpsters cost 350-425 for 10 yards of dirt. Your French drain material will cost about 600 dollars.

        • Did you underpin? Was it all done by hand? $40+ is a bit high, but $25-30K is a reasonable price for dig out + underpin (proper reinforced, dry-packed underpinning, not some of the amateur engineering crap that goes on in this town) + backfill + drainage/sump + concrete. Probably 80% of the cost is labor, it’s labor-intensive work (I know, I’ve done it!). If you can get a skid steer down there it makes it a LOT easier. Otherwise it’s shovels and buckets. Ours was $32 for 850 sq ft, down 20″, but that included some additional engineering work to shore up some foundation issues discovered when we got a look at the footers. It was 5 weeks of effort, 6 days a week. But everything had to be carried out of a narrow door and up a short flight of stairs.

        • “you people”? Really? Anyway, I went much deeper than 16 inches and, as I said, that quote included more than just the digout and foundation work. And underpinning is where the cost is. I received mutliple quotes and hired a renovation consultant to review the quotes. But yeah, you’re right, I’m probably the problem with the market .

  • As others have said, you need to get someone impartial out to tell you what is what and advise you on possible solutions. In your case, a structural engineer is no doubt the right person. A site visit will cost you between $300 and $500 and is well worth the expense (and peace of mind). We discovered huge structural issues after we purchased our house. We ultimately built an addition on helical piers (similar idea to push piers) and 5 years later underpinned our original basement area (to gain ceiling height). If you’re looking for straightforward advice and guidance with no BS, I highly recommend Robert Wixson at APAC Engineering in silver spring. Please feel free to reach out to PoP for my contact info if you want to chat more.

  • What evidence did the two companies provide for you needing foundation work. I would think if you needed foundation work you inspector would have mentioned that. Water damage usually does not mean bad foundation. Generally the biggest culprit for water damage is that water is collecting too close to your house. Next time it is raining hard, go outside and watch the corner of your house where the damage is. Try to figure out why a large amount of water would be collecting there. Maybe a downspout is leaking or discharging there, either from your house or your neighbors. Or water is flowing there from some other place. If either of those things is happening, fix that problem first. That means fix the downspouts or re-slope your yard.

    It could also be that the water is coming from an inside source (leaky pipe, AC, ect).

    If you don’t see water pooling at the surface level, then water would have to be coming up through the floor, or through the walls, as the ground becomes saturated. But unless you live at the bottom of a hill, this probably isn’t happening. French drains are only really necessary when water pooling at or under your house is otherwise unavoidable.

    Unless you have major cracks forming in your floors or walls, at all levels of your house, then you probably don’t have a foundation problem. At least I wouldn’t think so.

  • I wonder why no one here has typed about the requirement for building permits, is there a regulatory agency in DC or the Feds allow or permit just about anything?

  • Before you do anything, it is important to get a structural engineer to come out and take a look at it. Being in the industry and quoting against competitors, I’ve seen people being overcharged by a large margin. A structural engineer will tell you exactly what needs to be done and you can use that knowledge when getting quotes from foundation repair companies. I’ve got more tips on my website if you’d like to check it out. http://www.foundationrepairspringfield.com/