You’ve gone through all sorts of adulting over the years. Maybe you’ve bought a car, gotten married, bought a house, had some kids, traded in your car for a minivan . . . you’ve even experienced a global pandemic at this point so you’re all grown up now. But have you ever gone through foundation repair? Probably not.
Most people don’t have much of an idea of what the foundation repair process actually looks like and how it works. That is why you are here now: to find out all about foundation repair. You’ve probably got a lot of questions.
- How do foundation problems happen?
- Could I have prevented it?
- What does foundation repair mean?
- How does foundation repair work?
- What is the best method for foundation repair?
- How much does foundation repair cost?
- How do I know for sure if I need foundation repair or not?
I could go on . . . but you’d probably rather get to the answers instead, right?
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we are qualified to give you all these answers because foundation repair is kind of our thing. It’s in our DNA in fact, with two generations in the industry and the community. We’ve been repairing foundations in Bryan, College Station, and the greater Brazos Valley area for over 35 years.
Although we only use one method of foundation repair (bell-bottom pier system), we can still give you a general rundown of the basic concepts, processes, and types of foundation repair methods available to you. Let’s get started!
1. How do foundation problems happen?
Before we even get to the repair part, let’s talk a little bit about how things got broken in the first place and are now requiring repairs. The backstory includes everything from the soil and weather conditions in the area, and then some ideas about prevention.
Expansive Clay Soil Conditions
Throughout central Texas where we live, expansive clay soils dominate the landscape east of I-35. We could write a whole article just on this topic but in a nutshell, expansive soils expand and contract based on moisture levels.
The molecules in the soil puff up when wet and deflate when dry. The molecules are packed closely together and push out all the way around (like inflating a ball), but because they are tightly packed they can’t push out very well on the sides so they push up instead (where there is less resistance) and with much more power on your home’s foundation during rainy seasons.
Then when it’s dry, they sink down and retract to a smaller molecule size and let your foundation fall back. Repeat this pushing and falling effect over and over again through the years.
Your home’s foundation will begin to weaken and sometimes break due to these strong forces and then it moves from its original position. This is what we call “settlement” in the industry.
The forces of expansive clay soils on your home are like daylight savings time on your foundation, springing forward (up) and falling back every year.
Now combine expansive clay soil with our delightful weather patterns. Sometimes we get a lot of rain for extended periods, and then we will get no rain. Like none . . . for a long time . . . welcome to Texas!
Since our rainy and drought seasons tend to be *kind of intense* (to put it nicely), our soil is a bit like manic depression. Sometimes it’s strongly lifting and powerful: getting lots of stuff done messing around with your foundation. Sometimes it’s just feeling depressed and sadly sinking down. It’s enough to make any foundation in our area well . . . crack up a bit.
If it were dry here all the time, the expansive soils wouldn’t expand. If it were wet here all the time, the expansive soils would stay expanded.
If there were consistency in the climate, this wouldn’t be such a problem for your foundation but . . . all I can say again is . . . welcome to Texas: where “inconsistent climate conditions” is our three-part middle name!
2. Could I have prevented these foundation problems?
Now you’re thinking that since we know that the soil and climate have this predictable-ish pattern, maybe we can control or prevent our foundations from settling, right? Well yes, maybe you could . . . but maybe not really.
Number one, we know we simply cannot change the soil in our area, it’s not going anywhere. Number two, we can’t control the weather either. It’s always going to get super rainy and then super dry. The only thing that you can control (maybe) is the moisture levels.
Some home care sources say you can “water your foundation” to keep the moisture levels consistent and you could try that (we can’t stop you). But it would still be very difficult to maintain a level of moisture equal to our wettest times throughout all the dry times. We’re talking swampy mess plus very high water bills. This technique could work better in other climate areas, but not very well here in Central Texas.
Our best suggestion here is to water your landscaping and grass around your home as normal to maintain their life, but don’t do more than that. This will give you some amount of moisture consistency, without running up your water usage to extremes.
Ultimately the strong forces of expansive clay soils and our climate will win out over your small-scale efforts. So don’t try too hard to meet an unattainable ideal of perfectly consistent moisture at all times for the sake of your foundation. Just keep your plants and grass alive which is what you would normally do anyway.
3. What does foundation repair mean?
Now that we’ve covered why your foundation is damaged, we can talk about its repair. What does foundation repair mean exactly? In simple terms, a planned repair includes installing supports under the home and then raising the foundation back to its original position and securing it there. In other words, foundation raising and stabilization.
Sometimes, this process is also called “house leveling” or “foundation leveling” even, but really your home might not be level when the process is complete. It’s more about performance, restoring the proper functionality to the foundation, and bringing it back to its originally built elevation (which may or may not have been level in the first place).
4. How does foundation repair work?
There are a few steps to the process of foundation repair: plan development, support installation, and home raising and/or stabilization.
The first part of foundation repair is having a plan. When a foundation repair contractor comes to your home for an inspection, they will typically develop a basic plan for where your home needs extra support to hold it up and back in its original position.
The repair plan will identify the points where the support will be placed and how many support locations are needed. Most of the time, the supports are along a portion of the perimeter of the home (not usually the whole home).
Typically, support locations are 7 feet apart depending on the method and follow along the perimeter of the home. You might need supports under the middle area of the house as well, this is in about 10% of cases.
For more detailed information about this planning phase that happens during an on-site inspection, check out our article “Home Foundation Inspections: (Definition, Cost, Process).”
Support Installation (Two Types)
There are two main support system types that we talk about in this section because they are the main ones available in our Central Texas area. There are a few other methods around, but they are not widely used around here.
In engineering terms, the supports under your home are generally called “underpinning.” But depending on the method that is used for your foundation repair, you will more commonly hear them called “piers” or “pilings.”
These piers or pilings (or piles for short) basically look like columns on a fancy plantation-style home’s front porch, tall and cylindrical. Imagine stilts under your home holding it up, only the stilts are underground.
The supports are installed underground through digging and drilling, then pouring concrete in the case of piers, also known as bell-bottom piers. Or pre-formed concrete pieces are driven into the ground by hydraulic pressure if using pilings, also called pressed piles.
After installing the supports in the ground, next the foundation repair contractor will raise the sunken portions of the home and verify that the foundation has returned to its original elevation.
For the pressed pile method, the home is raised by the tension of the pile in the ground pushing up on the home. This is a little bit like when you put a battery into a device and it is held in place by a spring. The spring is the ground and the pressed pile is the battery.
The home is raised with the help of jacks, held in place by this spring-like tension, and shimmed to secure the proper elevation.
For the bell bottom pier method, the support pier serves as a starting point for raising the home. Hydraulic jacks are placed on the top of the pier and the home is lifted into the appropriate position using the jacks. Then shims are hammered in to secure the elevated position of the home.
Sometimes there’s no raising, just stabilization . . .
There are a few scenarios where the home is not raised back to its original position but only held with support in its current position. Stabilizing a home can prevent further movement, sinking, and damage but will not put the home back in place. Why in the world would this need to be done?
The top reason for stabilization over raising is when a home has already been remodeled with nice finishes that a homeowner wouldn’t want to damage. In a case of a remodeled home, the raising process would actually cause damage to the freshly redone walls, trim, cabinetry or built-ins, or countertops and backsplash areas.
This is because everything was put in when the home was not in the right position. So moving the house into position will then move all the finish-work and cause more problems/repairs for the homeowner.
In general, we would always recommend that a homeowner get any needed foundation repair done first before moving on to other remodeling projects. For more information on this subject, we have this article for you to reference, “Home Foundation Stabilization vs. Leveling: The Pros and Cons.”
5. What is the best method for foundation repair?
The installation and raising process of foundation repair described above has much more detail to the two methods, but those are the basic concepts. Each method of course has some pros and cons, here are the main positive aspects of each repair type primarily available in our area.
Pros of Pressed Pile Method
- Quicker installation time
- Lower cost
Pros of Bell-Bottom Pier Method
- Higher quality: verified depth and vertical, wider base and cap, rebar reinforced
- Longest lasting repair
If you are looking for a deeper explanation of these two “underpinning” types, look to our article, “Bell-Bottom vs. Pressed Pile Foundation Repair Methods: What’s the Difference?” You will also find a more thorough outline of the full pros and cons for each repair type.
6. How much does foundation repair cost?
That is always the biggest question and most difficult to answer in a general sense, due to every home being different. But we will try and lay it out for you here. There are a few factors that will determine the cost of a repair.
Amount of Damaged Area
The more sections of a home that need to be supported, the more supports will be needed for the repair. Most contractors will begin their base charges with the number of piers/supports/piles needed under the foundation.
A very average job size would be about 15 to 20 supports needed on the home.
Accessibility of the Repair Points
Per support/pier/pile cost can go up depending on how easy it is for a contractor to reach the location. For example, if there is a sidewalk, porch, or other paved areas in the way of access to the support point, then it might cost more. A deck is another item around your home that might cause accessibility issues, but it can be worked with.
A repair team would have more work to do, breaking up and removing concrete or a deck section (and then replacing it) to complete the repair. Supports needed in more difficult to access areas will cost maybe 6 to 8% more per location.
Chosen Repair Method
As mentioned above when listing the pros of each method, the pressed pile method comes with a lower price tag. By comparison, the bell-bottom pier method has a higher cost per pier due to higher quality and longer-lasting repair.
The cost for one pressed pile might be within the range of $500 to $600 per pile.
The price for one bell-bottom pier is in the $700 to $900 range in this area of the state.
Extra Services or Fees
Contractors all have their own way of setting up their charges and fees. Some may have extra fees for how far away your home is to their shop or available materials. Some may charge more if your job is more difficult or takes longer.
Extra finishing services or clean-up costs may add to the pricing structure as well. So in addition to any per support pricing, there may be other line items on your invoice for an overall service total.
General Price Ranges
So in taking all of these factors into account . . . here’s the moment you have been waiting for. On a very average foundation repair job of 15 to 20 supports, an estimated price range between $9,000 and $18,000 would cover all the pricing factors of accessibility challenges, repair methods, and additional service costs. Keep in mind again that this is general pricing for our area of Texas.
7. How do I know for sure if I need foundation repair or not?
The prospect of foundation repair can be a confusing and overwhelming situation. You’ve got many factors to consider about methods and costs, as well as when you should do it and how you can pay for it. One question we haven’t answered for you yet is about making sure you really have a problem. How do you know for sure if foundation repair is needed or not?
The best way to judge whether you need foundation repair is by reading the signs around your home and getting in touch with your feelings . . . yes, I said that . . .
There are signals around your home that may or may not be the results of foundation movement. You want to be sure of both the true and false signs of foundation issues.
So, you’ve got some of these things going on in your home, but how do you feel about them really? Are they bugging you incessantly? Do you feel anxious or embarrassed by these visual cues? Does your OCD get triggered every time to pass by that wall crack? If the answer is “yes” to any of those questions, then it might be time to get started.
Should I get started with foundation repair right now?
You’ve reviewed the general causes, process, methods, and the cost of foundation repair and then confirmed some signs around your home. Do you feel ready to move forward?
Oh I see . . . you have more questions? Like how fast should you move to get things done? Are there reasons to wait or not wait?
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we serve as the voice of trust for all your foundation repair questions and needs. We have repaired 4,000+ homes and inspected at least triple that number in the Brazos Valley area and are ready to help you through this time of uncertainty.
We place the highest importance on your comfort level and want you to feel great and be knowledgeable about your foundation repair decisions. Foundation damage occurs over long periods of time, so there’s no emergency in most cases.
The way we would answer your next questions is to answer one question at a time for these. So yes, there are some reasons not to wait on your foundation repair work to consider before you decide what is right for you and your home.