Foundation Problems

Hi, I hope someone there can offer some advice.
I have a concrete basement that was originally built in the 1960's. This is in Atlanta where the rain can be quite heavy.
Here are the symptoms:
Mildew & mold in the basement Water occasionally leaking in during heavy rains. Chimeny starting to lean away from the house. Doors and doorframes become slightly uneven
I had a structural engineer come out and say that I needed to improve my drainage by maybe adding another gutter and some grading. Then, I had a waterproofing company come out and say that I need to do a $10,000 reinforcement of the outside walls.
1. Is there anything I can look into to determine who is right? 2. Is there any way I can straigten everything? Even if I stop the leaking, I don't want to have crooked doors and a leaning chimeny.
Thanks,
Josh
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I'll try to answer your question as concisely as possible, given the limited amount of data available.
You need an engineer familiar with the soil conditions in your area to look at the home. DO NOT follow the waterproofer's recommendations. It sounds like you have one problem and several symptoms. If you have any areas of poor drainage, fix that first. If you are in an area with expansive clay soils (PI greater than about 15), then that is the most likely culprit for the doors/frames and other movement issues. Also could be settlement of fill or loss of bearing capacity due to increased water content.
However, you need the opinion of a geotechnical and/or forensic/facilities engineer. You will spend some money up front, maybe $500 to $3500, depending on size and scope, but it will be well worth it. Do not let a salesman tell you what you need to do. After all, you have to look at incentive and compensation - your engineer will be paid the same no matter what he tells you, while a waterproofer or foundation contractor will want to sell their products.
There is a good chance you will aggravate the problem by implementing on of these salesmen's "solutions." Also you will have to look at quality of construction and anticipated life span of the home. It's over 40 years old now, how long did the builder intend it to last? Some homes will last hundreds of years, while other last a decade or less.
In summarry, get a soils or forensic engineer who is familiar with your area and licensed in your state to help you. You can find them in the yellow pages under engineers - civil, tell them you have a water infiltration and structure movement problem. I spend all day fixing problems and evaluating buildings where the contractor "knew" what he was doing and had the perfect fix.
P.E. in Texas

is
leaking,
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On Wed, 08 Oct 2003 04:32:58 GMT, "Josh Kalish"

Okay, first of all one is an engineer and the other a salesman. Second, following the engineer's less expensive advice doesn't preclude following the salesman's. Third, how about a second opinion from a structural engineer, asking about straightening the walls/chimney/etc.?
I haven't seen the house, so any opinion I'd give on repair is worthless.
Jeff
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I would usually do the least invasive, least costly work first; give it some time and see what results. The drainage and water management approach is often helpful.
I would think that a structural engineer would have had something to say about the chimney leaning away from the house. It leads me to ask about his experience and what kind of contract you had with him.
TB Charleston SC
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On Wed, 08 Oct 2003 04:32:58 GMT, someone wrote:

And you can't figure out which one to do?
-v.
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On Wed, 08 Oct 2003 04:32:58 GMT, Josh Kalish

Oh, let me guess, you had Everdry come out, and they pointed out some cracks in the walls, some dead bugs in the basement, and told you that your house was in immediate danger of falling apart unless you spent $10K, right? For some reason, everyone I know who has talked to them gets exactly the same spiel, and price. :-)
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Thanks for all of the responses. I guess there is a consensus that I should first try the easy things like changing the grading and fixing up the gutters.
As far as the chimeny that is leaning, the structural engineer said to do the ground work and then wait and see.
But, here's my worry: If the chimeny is leaning and there are cracks in a doorframe or two, then doesn't that mean that the ground underneath the foundation itself is shifting? I have to assume that the foundation itself doesn't change shape. If that's so, then the problem is not at all related to dampness but instead to what's underneath the foundation. Now, the only solution that seems reliable is piering. But, how do I decide if I should pier it or not? I'd like to save the $$$ if I absolutely don't have to. How do I decide if I should just pier the chimeny?
Thanks,
Josh

is
leaking,
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On Thu, 09 Oct 2003 04:45:43 GMT, someone wrote:

.
Sheesh will you take a couple of valiums or something.
The engineer says to try phase one and see what happens.
Everyone here agrees.
But you STILL insist on SPECULATING about what you imagine might be happening and what you will need to do.
Have you even fixed phase one yet?
Don't ask again until you have and (as the engineer stated) obeserved (for like a year) if there is any further movement.
Or, if it will make you feel better, go spend $10G with the contractor first. Then will you feel better waiting to see what's up?
Don't just do something, stand there (after you have corrected the drainage).
CALM DOWN.
-v.
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Having had a similar problem with my foundation, I can empathize with the anxiety that this problem can cause. My foundation moved, but for a different reason: in my case the soil was too dry. My decision was to wait it out initially and effect the necessary brick pointing and plaster repair. The repairs rarely lasted more than 6 months. After 3 years, the shifting started to affect other parts of the structure as well, such as the plumbing. That is when I decided to get piers installed.
In my case, I didn't mind waiting because the general state of the house before the foundation shift was that it need renovation anyways. As such, I didn't have much in property value to lose by waiting. My recommendtion would be to look at the general state of your house. If your bricks, as an example, haven't been pointed recently then I would wait since further cracking wouldn't really cost that much in lost value (or repair). However, if you've recently spent a lot of money on interior and exterior renovation, then you may want to shore up the foundation and protect the investment. Otherwise, patch up the areas and monitor as the engineer recommended.
Also one more suggestion: because my soil was too dry, I had to cut down a number of trees that were too close to my foundation. Trees absorb a lot of water. Since your case is the opposite, I wonder if planting some trees close to the house may alleviate the water retention in the soil.
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THIS IS HORRIBLE ADVICE, DO NOT FOLLOW IT!!!

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All the advice sounds okay to me EXCEPT planting trees near the house. The tree roots could harm the foundation. Its been known to happen.
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Yes, the trees are certainly a bad idea, but so too is the piering at this stage in the game - in many, many cases it does more harm than good. First and foremost, he is having a water-based problem, and many people are recommending actions that will hide the problem or fix the effects, but not the root cause. Get a forensic/geotech engineer and fix the root problm, then address the damage.

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Sorry but I don't agree with the forensic/geotech engineer. Usually they are called out when the cause is very difficult to assess and not usually for residential type failures. A structural engineer who does this type work as his business is better equipped to inspect this situation and if he thinks a geotech engineer or a soil report is necessary, he can order one.
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If anyone has the patience or curiosity, could you look at what the engineer said and tell me if that sounds good. I think he's a pretty sharp guy, but what do I know. Thanks, Josh:
He saw:
1.. There are various doors that are out of square possibly indicating structural settlement. There is a settlement crack above the header for the door leading from the kitchen into the dining area. There is a patched sheetrock crack at the left side of the door leading from the garage to the kitchen. Due to the amount of stored furniture, boxes and other items, against the walls of the main level and the basement level, it is not possible to properly examine for other symptomatic cracks. 2.. The exterior grade at the front of the structure directs water against the front foundation walls. There are low spots in the landscape areas adjacent to the front wall that show signs of soil settling. The settling is also evident at the front brick steps. The downspout in the front adjacent to the garage lets water out at the top of the basement wall. The gutters exhibit streaking which is usually a sign of overflow because of stopped up gutters and downspouts. 3.. The downspouts in the rear drain into landscape pipes. There is a considerable amount of erosion in the slope behind the house where the landscape pipes outlet the water. The brick patio slab under the screened-in porch has moved away from the house toward the downhill slope. The bottoms of the posts supporting the porch above are encased in the patio slab and have also moved downhill. The support posts are out of plumb. 4.. The brick-clad basement walls on the rear elevation show signs of past patching at each side of the door leading into the basement. Portions of the brick appear to have been replaced. There is a crack in the mortar joints in the order of " on the left side of the house where the brick under the kitchen patio begins and the back side of the house where the brick under the patio ends connects to the main structure. There is no apparent drain for the water that falls on the deck and into the space under the deck. 5.. There is a small vertical crack in the brick wainscot approximately 6 '-6" left of the chimney on the right elevation of the structure. The crack extends down to within 2 courses from the bottom. There is relative movement between the brick chimney structure and the main framed structure of the house. The total movement appears to be in the order of 3" at the roof peak, though it is difficult to tell due to previous repairs made in the area. There are virtually no cracks in the brick joints anywhere on the chimney, which is unusual for such a magnitude of deflection. There is a 1-1/2" separation of the brick from the backside elevated deck on the back right corner of the house. The direction of the movement is the same as the direction of the chimney movement. There is a wood spacer that has been placed at the left side of the exterior basement doorjamb that fills a 1-1/2" gap between the patched brick and the door. He recommended:
1.. All the grades around the house should be adjusted to direct surface water away from the foundations and footings. Ensure the gutters and downspouts are free of debris and are functioning properly. Additional downspouts may need to be added to the main structure gutters. I recommend you consult with a gutter and downspout contractor to verify the drainage capability of the existing system. The downspouts should drain into landscape piping that carry the water well away and down slope from the house. After the drainage is properly addressed you may not experience additional structural movement. All sheetrock and brick cracks should be patched with a non-shrink masonry grout and periodically visually monitored for further movement. If additional movement is detected, supports your foundations (particularly at the rear wall) may be designed under a separate scope of work. b.. It is my opinion that the chimney and portions of the right side brick faade are tilting away from the main structure. However, it is unusual for such a movement to occur without significant cracking in the brick joints. I recommend a two-step process to further identify and correct the settlement problem. The first step is to correct the drainage issues and to fill the gaps between the brick and the main level deck and the left side of the exterior basement door with a non-shrink masonry grout. This chimney/wall interface was being caulked at the time of my second visit to the address. These three areas should be periodically, visually monitored for further movement. If additional movement is detected within 6 months, foundation piers (Grip-Tite brand or approved equivalent) should be placed under the foundations at the right side of the structure to provide adequate support.
Does this make sense?
Thanks,
Josh

is
leaking,
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You need to consult a geological engineer familiar with the ground conditions (soil and water) in your area. It seems to me the chimney is separating from the rest of the house because it is heavier and likely settling. Before spending lots of money fixing cracks and other cosmetics you need to have some idea if this movement is complete or is it just getting started or somewhere in between, and why. Then go treat the disease, not the symptoms.

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The engineer's opinion sounds reasonable.
From your symptoms I think you have 2 problems that have a common cause but require separate solutions. The first problem about the basement that leaks water needs to be addressed. It sounds reasonable to first get the ground water to drain elsewhere away from the basement and then caulk (water tight) the cracks (assuming they aren't too wide/deep; if the are then you should consult the engineer as to his opinion). The other problem is the past excess waters hitting the sides of the house saturating the soils under the foundation and causing extra settlement which is evident by the chimney and doors, etc.. . My guess is after waiting some time to see that the water no longer drains toward the house, you might not (???) see any more foundation settlement but you may need to repair the leaning chimney and interior cracks and you might still want to consider beefing up the foundation in the vicinity of the chimney (the engineer can be more exact on the locations).
Again, I think the structural engineer has a reasonable solution. I don't think consulting a soil engineer is necessary if this structural engineer does this type of consulting as his business. He should be aware of the local soil makeup / conditions.
I'm sure you can ask the structural engineer some follow up questions to clarify his report.
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Again, Thanks for all of the good advice.
I bought this house about seven years ago and then had to move about 1,100 miles away. The market at the time was too soft to sell it so I rented it instead. Now, the tenants (same ones for six years) are leaving and I'm finding out about all of the work that needs to be done. The good thing about the tenants was that they didn't complain too much about anything - the bad thing was that they didn't complain enough about some things. They lived for about two years with a broken garage door opener - I didn't realize it until I wanted to send an inspector over and the tenants mentioned that the garage was "difficult" to access.
So, my challenge, if anyone cares, is to try to rent or sell it while doing all of the work by remote control. I would love to sell it, but I couldn't imagine too many people being interested in buying a house with a leaning chimney and structural stresses. It sounds like there is a consensus that the foundation really will take 1/2-1 year to really judge as sound. I guess the only thing I hope for is to rent it for now...
Thanks,
Josh

is
leaking,
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The structural engineer is right. Divert the water away from the house. Water is very powerful and has to find somewhere to go. We had the same negative slope into/under the house that you describe and installed a french drain across the front, Ourselves.
Voila, no more water coming in. No waterproofing needed.
You can certainly sell the house with the front regraded and the engineers report referenced in the seller's disclosure.
In a soft market, you can do a lease purchase that is set to close in 2 years, the "owners-to-be" will do maintenance for "their" house and you can take their upfront money to pay for any repairs. Since they are living in the house, they'll know its condition when they buy it.
:-)
Paula
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This is probably a dumb question, but what exactly is a french drain?
Thanks,
Josh

This is

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A french drain is a trench dug on the outside along and at the bottom of the foundation with a perforated pipe and crushed stone installed. The pipe has to go to some low lying area or to storm drains to drain water that gets to it. You can also install a French drain on the inside of your basement by cutting the floor out digging down installing the pipe and crushed stone and having the pipe lead to a sump pump. Either is an easy task.
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