**We got an update on this house recently…
Scroll to the end to read The Rest of the Story!**
Changing a building’s foundation will cause structural problems if done incorrectly. If you don’t know the signs of poor work, like exposed footers and corner cracks, you could end up paying thousands of dollars in repair costs to prevent major settlement or even collapse.
The weight of a house
rests on its foundation.
On a recent inspection, we found significant cracking in one area of the basement. This property had an original build date of 1930, but had been added onto several times (with questionable permitting). The concrete block foundation walls had multiple stair-step cracks, which can be indicators of foundation movement. When we reached the attached garage, we saw what looked like a project that was started but not completed.
Those horizontal concrete slabs are the footers. These should not be visible, and should certainly not have the soil under them disturbed like this.
What is a Footer?
The weight of a house rests on its foundation. Without this support, the force of gravity would cause the house to sink into the ground. Foundation walls themselves are too thin to distribute the weight of a house evenly, so they rest on footers, which are wide strips of concrete that spread out the load to the ground below.
An important thing about footers is that they need more than just the ground directly beneath them to be solid. As shown in the diagram, the lines of force, called the Load Path, extend outward at a 45 degree angle.
If this load path around the footer is cut away, like they were in that garage, this is called “undercutting” or “undermining” and is a serious structural hazard. The longer it stays like this, the more damage it will cause to all of the walls above it. We saw a lot of cracks that could be due to the undercutting, but it will require a structural engineer to determine how extensive the damage is, and how it should be repaired.
According to the agent, the property owner had done much of the work in the house himself, but passed away nearly four years ago, so this project has been untouched ever since. The longer it remains like this, the more this section of the building will settle, and the costlier the repair will be.
Your Home Inspector Should Know
Although most home inspectors are not licensed structural engineers, they should have training and experience to recognize major defects like undercut foundations. Structural alterations to a building always require permits, as well as drawings from an architect or engineer to show the changes will not negatively impact the stability. Our client had noticed this unfinished project during his initial walk through, but we were able to tell him the implications of this improper work, and is now working with his agent to negotiate a price reduction that will likely far exceed the cost of the inspection.
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We heard from the buyer’s agent that, based on our home inspection findings, the seller agreed to perform $50,000 in repairs for the exposed footer and other foundation issues, as well as taking an additional $25,000 off the sale price. Not a bad return on his $500 investment!