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Residential cracked basement wall

Residential cracked basement wall

Residential cracked basement wall

Summer is coming and a lot of houses are being sold. I have been doing my solo practice for a year and my name is getting passed around. I also get good hits on the google map. Now sellers/buyers/realtors are contacting me. It is usually cracks on foundation and they want me to basically inspect and write a letter and say the foundation is good as is. Usually the house inspector saw horizontal cracks and put "consult a structural engineer" on their report. How do you guys usually do it? Just say no? I have no idea what reinforcement is in the wall. My guess, usually it was caused by a poor drainage. I can't just write a letter and say it is good? Too much liability for a small fee. Making them dig up the wall and put perforated pipe seems not doable because it wont daylight anywhere. Patching the crack with epoxy does not solve the problem of why the wall cracked the first time. Dig up the wall the install a counterfort? What do you guys usually do?

RE: Residential cracked basement wall

Without getting into the concrete basement question, regarding real estate transactions these have been largely a waste of my time. Most people have never hired a engineer and think they are going to get a letter for a couple hundred bucks and then they can go buy/sell the building. But I actually read the fine print in my liability insurance, and they prohibited any engineering work directly related to a real estate transaction. Which is pretty easy to figure out why, homeowners inherit lots of problems with new houses, and going after the sellers is difficult, but suing the engineer who said "Yeah it is fine" is a lot easier.

But if this is an area of business you want to pursue, my advice would be to make sure you are covered for liaiblity. Have a good signed contract with lien language, where if you don't get paid you can tie up the property. Find a good local GPR company, don't do any assuming. Be very up front on the costs of all this when they first contact you, or you will be wasting your time a LOT in my experience.

RE: Residential cracked basement wall

I did a lot of these my first year - they kept the lights on and food on the table while I built up my client list with architects. I don't do them anymore. Fees are low, and as a2mfk mentioned liability can be a lot higher. They need you there now, because closing is tomorrow (or this afternoon!) and you have zero time to consider or determine if additional testing or invasive work is needed. You just have to give an answer. And you want how much?

Some people love these. And they can be fun if you have enough time and fee. It's similar to forensics...all about solving a structural puzzle. And not a code puzzle. It's a what-is-the-structure-actually-doing puzzle. Those can be incredibly educational and give good insights into design decisions and building your judgment. I'm glad I did them. I don't want to do them again.

RE: Residential cracked basement wall

phamENG, do you ever feel comfortable and say it is good as is without doing any additional work?

RE: Residential cracked basement wall

Depends on what it is. Sometimes it's clear that it's just thermal - a 50' long CMU wall that's 4' tall, for instance. Sometimes it's obvious differential settlement. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the foundation and I can see the framing error that took 30 years to become noticeable (and the 3 'foundation fixes' that attempted to do something about it). Sometimes, I have no clue.

I break my report out into three segments:

- Observations (just raw facts and photos)
- Opinions (Based on observation 1, the issue appears to be...)
- Recommendations (Because the house appears to be settling, you should...)

If it's settlement or soil related, I will advise that a single inspection is inadequate to properly assess the situation. To do so would require a geotechnical engineer and long term observation. I'll also put in a short paragraph explaining that wood framed houses move continuously, and you will get drywall cracks and nail pops somewhere eventually.

RE: Residential cracked basement wall

I love basement wall cracks. That is the easiest job in the world. $700-$1000 a pop, quick site visits, easy copy and paste letters & details. If I could be Mr. BasementWallGuy I would be.

In NJ most houses are built in the 50s,60s, & 70s, they all have unreinforced 8" CMU (or 12" to 8" step) and they all have horizontal cracks at the midpoint. Truly unlimited work.

My standard letter talks about the forces and how it needs reinforcement. I have a few different details between adding new bars or carbon fiber straps (super popular these days) and the designs are all the same.

If I'm working for the seller as opposed to the buyer I word my letter slightly different, but if I see a horizontal crack I still say it will need reinforcement. Maybe there's paint in the crack and they painted 10 years ago so we know the crack has been here for some time with little change. Stuff like that.

Unfortunately (fortunately) I moved to the shore area so it's 90% crawlspaces, which are also all disasters and have unlimited work potential, but a lot dirtier.

RE: Residential cracked basement wall

I did a few of these when I first started. I didn't find them "fun" and mainly they were someone looking for a low-cost letter to help support their sell price or buy offer. If the problem is really noticeable (as @phamENG alludes to) these can be an okay business stream. But, I often dealt with really short timelines (...think, a buyer put in an offer with conditions and has 72 hours) or the conundrum of the old house: do you really want me to tell you everything that's wrong with this house?

The advice I have is:
1. Take the work if you need to eat, but don't count on it as a reasonable business stream.
2. Take the work if it's a new buyer that is looking to do work. I much preferred that situation.
3. Take the work if you have enough time to do the "testing" that you want to see.
4. Have boilerplate templates that are air-tight in terms of observations, opinions, limited scope, etc.

RE: Residential cracked basement wall

I know many people don't like getting involved with these projects just because of how they usually arrive, but I treat them like any other small job. I don't compromise my engineering judgement and say everything is fine just because that's what my client wants to hear. Real estate transaction or not, I approach them like any other inspection. There are PE's out there that will write anything for a price, but we can't worry about those clowns.

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