I started the other posting that dealt with the foundation on my home
being started too low, and now the builder wants to correct it. I met
with the foreman of the project today, and got his recommended
solution. I would be curious to hear some opinions on this solution,
and if there would be any concerns in doing this.
The backstory: I am building a new home. At this point, the
foundation and basement walls have been poured. The lot provides for a
fully exposed basement in the rear of the home, with evenly sloping
grade on either side. When starting to backfill around the walls, the
foreman noticed that the footer was poured too low and, as a result,
the top of the basement walls don't allow for proper slope on the
driveway. (The driveway would end up sloping down toward the garage...
the top of the concrete walls ended up being flush with the curb of
The proposed solution: The foreman's recommended solution is to
"raise" the home. They would do this by adding two layers of concrete
block on the top of the current poured concrete walls (equating to
"raising" the house approximately 16 inches). The basement floor would
then be raised accordingly, so that the height of the basement ceiling
would remain at 9 feet. (To raise the floor, they will be filling in
the basement with more stone.) Essentially, I will end up with a
poured concrete wall with approximately 16" of concrete block on top.
Does anyone see any problems or concerns with this solution? If I do
continue with this solution, are there any particular "problem-spots"
that I should look out for during the construction of the home?
Thanks again for any responses! Everyone's input is greatly
In a previous post email@example.com wrote...
See my previous post on the subject. Hire your own engineer, but have the
contractor pay for the engineer's services to design a fix for the problem
the contractor created. If the contractor won't do this then fire him and
get a new contractor.
BTW, the proposed CMU solution could work provided all the construction
details for tying the block to the concrete and the house to the block are
properly followed. That's why you need your own engineer.
Bob Morrison, PE, SE
R L Morrison Engineering Co
IMO it is never practical. The legalities of construction law are what they
A builder is responsible for his work, and doesn't want another builder's
work hanging over him. This will make it harder to find another builder.
Well, this is a place that people turn to to complain and learn, so you are
going to hear complaints here. And I agree with your point about "most good
builders" but I think at this point we are questioning if he is a good
builder. The plans call for the top of the foundation to be at a certain
elevation. IMO, this is something that makes someone a good builder or not
a good builder.
Shooting the right grade is definitely important for a builder, but how do
you know the grade written on the plan was right and not a mistake? Over the
past 15 yrs I have never seen a print that is 100% accurate. No matter the
architect or engineer, or if the plan was hand or CAD drawn. Marson was
right saying that contractors get a bad rep here. And when architects make
mistakes, try to get damages from them and see how far you get. They will
say that the contractor should have found the error. I think all the facts
should be clear before a judgment is made.
If the problem was a mistake in the plans, the GC should have said so. And
comparing architects mistakes with builders mistakes is comparing apples and
oranges. Sadly, a few bad apples reflect badly on everyone. So, I'll give
someone a good rep right now.
The contractor who fixed the collapsed roof where I work did a nice job.
We're very pleased with what he did and how he did it. Problems that came
up even 2 years later were fixed promptly, at no charge, and without
attitude. My cousin hired him to do repairs at her townhouse a couple of
years ago, and just hired him to remodel her place in Florida. She's
sending him and a crew down there, from Illinois, thats how much she trusts
And, we have a friend who custom built a house recently and their contractor
was very reliable, dealt with some real difficult flood zone issues, and two
years later comes to fix things as needed without any hassle.
So there, two good reps. But neither of these builders did anything that
would generate a question to this newsgroup either.
And as for suing an architect, well, if the plaintiff can demonstrate
damages, then he'll have to pay up. The plans for my home addition call for
the foundation to be built a certain way, for I-beams to be used in certain
places, etc. If my addition was built the way the plans call for and didn't
hold up, you better believe the architect will be liable.
So please don't whine about bad reps in this discussion. It reflects badly
on all builders, because this isn't some guy complaing that the stud wood
isn't furniture grade. He's building on a slope and the foundation wall
holding back that slope and all the water that comes down it will not be
from a single concrete form, but from some stacked workaround.
If a mistake were made on the part of the architect with regards to an
elevation from benchmark, e.g. T.O.F. 7.83' lower than hydrant halfway down
the block and it should have said T.O.F. 6.83' lower, it may not be noticed
right away depending on site conditions. Wall sections on the print would
show wall heights so they would be the same regardless of the benchmark.
When the builder for the O.P. saw it, he didn't try to hide it like some
I don't think I was whining. The point I was trying to make is that this
builder seems to being judged as incompetent without knowing all the facts.
And as far as the foundation not being from a single form, foundations are
not always poured monolithic. About 6 years ago we poured 26' tall walls
for a house basement. Owner wanted a raquetball court in his basement. We
poured in 2 tiers. Proper coating, drainage, and site grading and still no
leaks. Properly pinned and reinforced, another pour on top of O.P.'s wall
should be just fine. But by all means get the fix stamped by an engineer.
That's why they make telephones. If a contractor notices an error, then he
should pick the phone and ask a question. I've seen too many instances
where the solution could have been resolved in a 5 minute telephone
conversation, but the contractor didn't make the call. The remedy is then
to design an expensive fix to what could have been resolved simply and
I NEVER have a problem with contractors who ask questions. And I will
ALWAYS give credit to contractors who are conscientious and do their best
to do a good job. Mistakes happen -- even in setting the proper grade.
The question is how does the contractor approach getting the problem
resolved? If in a professional manner that makes the homeowner feel
confident in the solution, the contractor is a pro who should be
Bob Morrison, PE, SE
R L Morrison Engineering Co
Maybe so. I've been doing structural engineering for 35+ years, so I guess
that makes me an "old-timer". But, I do have a few contractors in my area
that I will recommend without hesitation. They are a pleasure to work
with. They do what they say they will do and if they don't quite
understand something or if they think I've made an error (hey it happens),
then we work out a solution BEFORE it becomes a major issue.
Rico, I suspect you could easily be included in that list. I enjoy your
repartee and have long felt that the answers you give are practical and to
Bob Morrison, PE, SE
R L Morrison Engineering Co
Yes Bob, you are 100% right about the builder needing to make contact right
after finding a problem. Hiding and covering up problems usually makes the
situation go from bad to worse. However, it seems that this builder notified
the homeowner right away and did not try to hide the mistake by whomever.
Someone else posted this,
"This is your warning sign. Your builder messed up. He can't hide it and
he knows it. Now he's trying to get you to give him permission to take the
easy way out. This will be the first of many things he'll screw up and put
in your lap to deal with. One day, he'll be gone and you'll be stuck with
The point I've been trying to make is don't hang the guy without a fair
trial. Everyone makes mistakes but it's how you deal with them that really
matters. That other poster is ready to throw the builder to the wolves for
making a mistake. They had a bad experience with a contractor, so one
mistake and you're an asshole that's going to be a thorn in their side for
the next thirty years. People like that need to have a wee bit more
information than what was posted before letting the arrows fly.
I agree wholeheartedly. My original response was perhaps a bit too harsh,
but I was in the middle of designing fixes for contractors' mistakes and
was not in a very forgiving mood. In both cases a simple telephone call
BEFORE the contractors went ahead with the work could have resolved the
issues quickly and at almost no cost. The fixes will be expensive and
The point of my original response was to get an engineer involved. This
will make the homeowner feel better and more confident about the
resolution of the problem. The cost of this service should be in the $500
range or so. It seems like a small price to pay to keep (and perhaps
enhance) one's reputation for professional conduct once an error is
discovered. Mistakes happen. The way the builder or any member of the
building team (including the engineer) responds to them is what separates
the professionals from the those who don't care.
In this particular case, the builder was proposing a solution without any
sort of engineering backup. There a many issues that can affect the
design of a basement wall. Simply adding a couple of layers of concrete
block on top without adequate instructions as to how to attach the block
to the concrete, how to reinforce the block, and how to grout it, etc. is
simply not being responsible.
In my mind, the correct thing for the builder to have done was say, "We
screwed up. The top of the foundation is too low. I will contact my
engineer and have him design a fix for the situation. His fee and my work
to correct the error will be done at no extra charge to you, Mr. Owner."
99 times out of 100 that will solve the problem. The Owner can see that
the builder is willing to admit that mistakes happen and is willing to
take responsibility to see that they are corrected in a satisfactory
manner -- not simply propose a solution in the hope that the Owner will
accept it without some sort of technical backup.
As for the builder paying the engineer -- the engineer's first
responsibility under the law is for safety of the public. Any engineer
who works on a problem like this one should immediately recognize that his
primary duty is the safety of the building's occupants regardless of who
is paying the bill. The "professional" builder will recognize this too
and will do the work accordingly. Does this mean that there can't be a
bit of "give and take" between the builder and the engineer? No, any
engineer worth his salt will always listen to alternate ideas of how a
thing can be done.
Bob Morrison, PE, SE
R L Morrison Engineering Co
In spirit I agree but having been thru a construction defect case there
are caveats that need to be added.
I also replied in the other thread with my personal experience with a
"foundation too low," and the response of builders to two different
foundation mistakes on two different houses. I hope the OP will go
read what I wrote there.
On Bob's comment I'd like to say that if the homeowner pays for the
engineer then the engineer works for the homeowner. Getting the
builder to hire an engineer may or may not result in an honest report
since the engineer is working for the builder. In my case both sides
hired engineers and thankfully all agreed on the builder's defects, but
that's not always how it comes out. If you mean get the builder to pay
you back for the engineer, that's different, sort of...but a person may
have to sue to get it back, unfortunately. An engineer in my area, and
in most areas from what i've learned, will cost a minimum of $300 and
up to several hundred. They should not have to do any soil testing or
core samples so it shouldn't be more than a few hundred. Do not by
pass getting a good engineer who's working on your side to save a few
hundred bucks or to try and make the builder pay for it. False
economy. The important thing is get a qualified opinion on what the
proper fix is before you go further.
Also, firing a contractor for substandard work is not as easy as it
sounds. Though that wasn't part of my own case, I networked with many
homeowners in similar situations during our case, and people were
getting sued for firing a contractor. I am not saying the contractor
is always right in this issue, but it happens. You have to have a
contract that protects you to begin with, and most builder contracts
only protect the builder. Wording about quality is usually vague or
missing, so the homeowner who fires a contractor can actually be in
breach. Then it's up to the court to decide, and the court is not
always fair. But it's always expensive.
It's not really out of line here to suggest consulting with an
attorney, either. You may not find one willing to take the case unless
you just pay them hourly, though. Hopefully you won't need a lawyer
but if you do, you don't want to go into it misinformed about your
rights/responsibilites under your state law, concerning the building
trades. Usually people find out the deck's stacked against them there,
This solution is absolutely fine. There are plenty of homes with entire
foundations made of brick or block that are well over 100 years old.
They're not leaking or falling over and yours won't either. You can hire an
engineer or a nuclear physicist to figure it out if it will help you sleep
but you've got alot more work to do and your efforts are better spent
understanding what got you into this problem in the first place. Was your
foreman asleep at the wheel ? Is this an isolated incident that won't
happen again ? Is he going to sub more jobs to incompetents ? Maybe there
is something wrong with your selection process.
This really is a goof. When you back the truck up and tell the driver to
pour tons of cement over your hard work you had better get it right. At
that point it is pretty much written in stone.
What is the advantage and disadvantage of concrete block?
If its OK to have concrete block below grade (even on the one wall), why
wasn't the entire foundation made of block?
What is the advantage and disadvantage of pouring another foot of concrete?
In short, you need him to tell you why the "fix" wasn't good enough for the
initial construction, and if its really so great, why wasn't it done that
way in the first place. Make him tell you all the bad things. And do your
own checking, and question him about anything he "neglected" to tell you.
After that you can make a decision.
BTW, this ALL has to go past your building inspector first.
I can only go from my own experience. My builder has tried to get so many
things past the inspectors that I've lost track. He stopped show up for
inspections because it was too embarrasing for him, either I have to be
there or one of his workers.
The inspectors where I live are definitely on my side. They don't want to
deal with aesthetic issues, but in this case (like mine) there is a question
as to whether or not it even meets code. It seems that the inspectors where
I live are not the kind most people have to deal with, thankfully.
As far as the driveway sloping down toward the home (it seems that this is
your main concern), the builder can put a drain across the driveway and run
the water thru 4" PVC pipearound to the sloped side of the home and downhill
to a drain sump. Just make sure that the last foot or two of the D/way goes
back up from the drain level to the garage floor level Most of the homes
around here have similar drains in their D/Ways as we' re all built on a ~30
degree slope and many are below the grade of the road.
I've been watching the responses but I haven't seen the most
obvious one. It is poured, right? Steel or aluminum forms can be
slid down over the existing. Use 24" high forms, let the first
form tie lay on the existing wall. I assume there are 1/2" anchor
bolts there. Weld 1/2" rebar to them or bolt straps to them and
put in a couple rods and pour the darned thing. Simple fast and
gives you what you want. Sure, blocks would work but I lean to
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