Fixing Home Foundations

Buck Purlin shares some basic advice on fixing home foundations, including foundation problems to watch for, finding repairs the homeowner can make, when to call in a professional and foundation tools for repairs.
By Buck Purlin
July/August 1987
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The object is to find out—and fix—what caused the problem to begin with. If the source isn't obvious, consider calling in a contractor for advice.

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Buck Purlin shares home foundation repair advice for homeowners who want to save money by fixing home foundations on their own . 

Fixing Home Foundations

There's no getting around it—the footing and foundation of your house are essential to its structural well-being. Even so, footings are sometimes insufficient and foundations poorly laid or out of level. Soil settlement, caused by construction over uncompacted earth or lowering of the water table, can damage even good work, as can excessive moisture brought on by poor drainage. And mortar joints in older brick foundations can succumb to age, freezing, chemical assault or any number of exposure-related miseries when it comes to home foundations.

Support posts beneath the home's interior are even more likely to fail over the years. They may warp, then bend under pressure. Often, wooden posts are set on a dirt floor with no footing to transmit loads. If the weight doesn't sink them, rot and insects usually will. A thin basement slab is no substitute for a sound footing, either... especially if it's constantly moist.

The object is to find out—and fix—what caused the problem to begin with. If the source isn't obvious, consider calling in a contractor for advice. Never leave the question unsettled, or you may be back making the same repairs in a couple of years. By then, things will probably be worse.

Before you can start, you need to acquire a few tools of the trade. Professional house movers can use high-tech hydraulic jacks to coax any home to whatever level they please. But one-time housewrights have to get by on the bare minimum to keep costs in check. Borrow, if you can, two 10- or 12-ton hydraulic pump jacks, each with a threaded cap shaft and a 6 inch stroke. For a single-story house, 6-ton units should be sufficient. Heavy-duty screw jacks, operated by rotating a handle, aren't as convenient but will function just fine. For light work in tight places, you might also consider locating a small scissors jack like the kind used for imported cars.

If you're working in a basement, you'll probably need one or two temporary jack posts, or "red-heads," to support a beam that requires several columns. They're generally rated at 7 to 9 tons capacity and are adjustable from 6 feet to 8½ feet in height. The best ones have a threaded cradle at the top for fine tuning, yet shouldn't cost more than $30 or so.

Finally, don't go house-jacking without a 5 foot or 6 foot pinch bar, a crowbar and some kind of flat pry bar. And even the most meticulous individuals would be surprised at how often healthy determination and a hefty sledgehammer come in handy.

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