Home Foundation Repair: The Basics

Green builders and home preservationists have a common goal: conservation. If you’re looking to bring an older home up to modern standards of green building, you’ll need to understand the basics of fixing a home’s foundation, and what can cause foundation failure.


| October 14, 2010


The following is an excerpt from Green Restorations by Aaron Lubeck (New Society Publishers, 2010). Room by room and system by system, Lubeck discusses the steps for restoring historic buildings using sustainable practices and green building techniques, including the massive financial incentives of residential historic tax credits. This excerpt is from Chapter 9, “Structural.” 

Old homes were designed with structural logic much different from today’s. New homes are designed with strict adherence to the lumber sizing and spans listed in the building code. Old homes were built with common sense, logic and feel. Most homes built between 1880 and 1930 were built on inferior footing. These old footings offer foundation walls little support, which then may support often overspanned joists and girders. Historic home foundations were subject to improper load calculation, inferior footings and substandard mortar. Old framing systems can be vastly over- or under-built. Each is a potential point of failure. It is crucial to understand such risks during a rehabilitation.

Structural failure is a phrase that scares the average Joe. Unfortunately, most structures subject to a century of seasonal expansions, water, humans, animals, deferred maintenance, improper storage and poor footings are destined to have some structural issues that need to be addressed. Combine construction flaws, time and the dreadful soil of central North Carolina, and it’s rare that I see an old home that doesn’t have some sort of structural problem. Structural issues can all be addressed, however, and most are simple (but laborious) fixes.

The structure of a building is formed by foundation and framing. The foundation is a structure that transfers loads to earth. It keeps earth and wood apart. The concept is simple: A house is heavy, so a foundation spreads that load over an area suitable for the earth to handle. The average two-story Queen Anne Victorian weighs between 30 and 60 tons, enough for three 20-ton jacks to support the whole thing (theoretically, but don’t try it at home).

The framing forms the structure, defines separate rooms and carries the floor, wall and roof loads to the foundation.

I’ll discuss the most common foundation and framing techniques, common problems and how each is typically fixed. I’ll also discuss basic preservation and sustainability issues related to the structure.

JonathanAP
1/14/2011 10:14:07 AM

Water does cause a lot of problems with foundations, but many problems result in poorly compacted fill materials. It is possible to raise a foundation for repair by using helical or resistance piers. www.atlaspiers.com


larry Henley
10/18/2010 3:44:06 PM

The Road Home Foundation The combination of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 caused billions of dollars in damage and cost more than a thousand lives in Louisiana alone. Five years later, as residents of Louisiana continue to rebuild, it’s become clear that there is a small silver lining to the experience – residents have been given the opportunity for a second chance – the chance to rebuild stronger and smarter so that next time the damage won’t be as bad. Companies like Elevations Shoring(www.elevationsshoring.com)are committed to helping residents stay in their communities and to rebuild not just their homes but the economy as well. Many residents can’t cover the cost of rebuilding, so Elevations Shoring ( www.elevationsshoring.com ) and the Better Business Bureau, in association with FEMA, the Home Builders Association of Louisiana, and the Disaster Recovery Unit, created The Road Home Foundation to provide grants to homeowners to offset the costs of rebuilding, providing jobs to construction workers and allowing residents to stay in their homes. Eligible applicants can receive up to $30,000 toward the cost of elevating their homes to meet Base Flood Elevations or Advisory Base Flood Elevation levels for their communities. For homes that require major construction to raise them above flood levels, they can be reimbursed for up to $100,000 by the foundation.


larry Henley
10/18/2010 3:39:22 PM

House Leveling New Orleans is a city that sits below sea level, more specifically it is a region classified as a low coastal plain. As a result the soil is poorly to very poorly draining and consists mostly of sand, loam, muck and clay. While this is a fertile ground for a beautiful and diverse range of plants and animals, it can create a challenge for residential or commercial construction. Often what happens with homes that have been built in the low coastal plains is that after a few years, and especially after a major storm season, the foundations of the buildings will begin to shift. The most obvious signs that the foundation has begun to shift, or settle as its commonly known, are cracks appearing along basement walls, cracked sheetrock, wrinkled wallpaper, doors that begin to swing open or become hard to close, cracks in the walls surrounding windows, windows that suddenly stick, or sloping floors (often evidenced through sliding furniture). But this doesn’t have to mean the destruction of your home. Companies like Elevations Shoring(www.elevationsshoring.com)have the technology to not only level out your foundation, but also protect against further settling. Settling occurs because the pilings underneath the foundation don’t go all the way down to solid soil. Since the soil between the surface and solid rock is made up of poorly draining sandy loam, it is prone to shift under the weight of a house, or even to wash away after several heavy storm seasons






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