You think you have a foundation problem with your home but you’re not sure. You want to get it looked at, but should you call an engineer or a foundation repair contractor? Do these professionals determine foundation problems the same way or will they each say something different about your home?
It’s hard to know where to start and who to consult with to figure out if you have a foundation issue . . .
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we offer fair and impartial assessments, empowering education, and a fully transparent repair process. After 35+ years in business, we want you to know as much about assessing foundation problems as we do and we’ve got no secrets to hide from the Brazos Valley community.
This article will review common methods that engineers and foundation repair contractors use to determine if your home has a foundation problem. We will discuss any pitfalls you should look out for and reveal who is the best person to decide if you have a foundation issue that needs to be fixed. *Spoiler Alert* the answer might surprise you. . .
How Engineers Determine Foundation Problems
Just to be clear, we are not engineers here at Anchor Foundation Repair. But we are familiar with some ways that civil and structural engineers commonly assess foundation issues. Often, engineers are acting in a *reporting mode* and documenting the current condition of a foundation at the time of an evaluation.
There are also lengthy documents like the Texas Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) “Guidelines for the Evaluation and Repair of Residential Foundations.”
Home inspectors operate in a similar manner to engineers, documenting the state of things using guides and set parameters.
As discussed in Evaluation Guidelines for the Performance of Slab-on-Ground Foundations, engineers look for two D’s to assess your foundation’s condition: deflection and distress. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but this is a mega-simplified interpretation for you.
Deflection in a Home Foundation
Civil engineers use words like *deflection* and *tilt* to describe the deviation from a perfect state of things like foundations. Deflection refers to movement, bending, or rotation due to load bearing. Any amount measured in degrees that a horizontal plane deviates from perfectly horizontal (0 degrees) is its tilt.
Now that’s a lot of math/geometry/engineering language that starts to get confusing.
So the best I can describe it in *regular people* language is this: deflection and tilt have to do with how many degrees something is *off* from the ideal. In the case of a home foundation, we’re looking at the horizontal ideal of perfectly level throughout the surface: a 0-degree flat plane that does not bend, tilt, or distort one way or another.
An engineer will look for deflection in your foundation using perhaps a laser level, a Zip Level, or some other measurement device where they can calculate deflection angles and elevations.
It should be noted that there is an “acceptable” range of deviation for foundations. It is generally acknowledged in the construction industry that slab foundations (or any type of foundation) are very often not perfectly level.
Per the evaluation guidelines cited above for slab foundations, “normal construction tolerances for levelness are plus or minus 3/4 inch which means there may be a 1-1/2 inch difference in elevation due to original construction, and if within this value then the original construction is within acceptable tolerance.”
Deflection in a foundation by itself does not automatically indicate a foundation problem. Structural engineers look for evidence of deflection outside the “acceptable” ranges coupled with distress as we will learn about in the next section.
Distress Caused by Deflection in a Home Foundation
Not only does an engineer need to see deflection in your foundation but there also has to be distress being caused by the deflection. This is where the common signs of foundation issues come into play.
When an engineer finds both deflection outside the acceptable range AND visual signs of foundation settlement resulting in distress, they will determine that there is a foundation problem in the home. Home inspectors and some foundation repair professionals also use similar methods with an emphasis on deflection.
How Foundation Repair Contractors Determine Foundation Issues
When I say *foundation repair contractors* I really mean Anchor Foundation Repair in this case. We use a few different gauges to determine foundation problems. Instead of the two D’s of deflection and distress, we use the two F’s: functionality and feelings.
*Please Note* neither the D’s nor the F’s have anything to do with traditional school grading systems. So, don’t freak out and think that your foundation is nearly failing with D’s and F’s.
Functionality of Home to Assess Foundation Condition
Homes are supposed to work right, look nice, and offer safety, security, and happiness to their residents. If any of those things are not happening, your home is not functioning properly.
By *work right* we mean that your doors should open, close, latch, and lock correctly to make you safe and secure. Your walls should be smooth and free of cracks. Your cabinets should all be attached to the walls without gapping or issues.
Your under-slab plumbing should not be leaking due to foundation issues. Your trim, brick, and backsplashes should be without gaps or cracks.
Functionality issues, whether visual or operational, tell us that your home used to be at a certain elevation when the home was built and it has since moved. If any finishes are visually or functionally affected, then something is wrong. Your home is sunken from its original position due to foundation settlement.
Feelings of Homeowner Help Determine Foundation Problems
As foundation repair contractors, we also listen to homeowners’ feelings to determine if you have a foundation problem. Not only do the functional and visual signs of foundation problems mean your home isn’t working right, but it might also be causing you upset.
If your home and its signs of foundation issues make you angry, annoyed, embarrassed, worried, or stressed, then we say that’s a foundation problem that you should fix.
Yes, this is a rather subjective way to determine foundation problems. But if something is upsetting you on a daily basis, don’t you think that’s a darn good reason to get your foundation repaired?
This could mean that the same home condition might cause one homeowner to want foundation repairs and another homeowner to not really care about it that much. Ultimately, it’s your house and if you don’t like what’s happening, then it’s your prerogative to get it fixed or not.
Sometimes people like to take emotions out of a decision like foundation repairs, but we think they are important because your home needs to make you happy regardless.
On the flip side – In 1 in 5 (or about 18%) of the homes we look at, we don’t recommend any work, even if an engineer might say otherwise. Using feelings to assess the situation changes things because either the issues are not bothering the homeowner enough or it’s not worth it due to the future use of the home.
Do Foundation Contractors or Engineers Know Better?
There are pitfalls in the methodology used by both engineers and by us as a foundation repair company. So who’s right? Who knows better? First, let’s discuss the pitfalls that we both have and then try to find some common ground.
Pitfall of Using Deflection to Determine Foundation Issues
An out-of-acceptable-range deflection measurement doesn’t mean that much when you have no original measurements to compare it to. Foundation settlement means that your foundation has moved from its original position. If you don’t know what the original position was, then it’s hard to make an accurate assessment of the current deflection if you have no numbers for the original deflection.
What if it was out of acceptable ranges at the time it was built?
We think that structural engineers, home inspectors, and some other foundation repair companies over-emphasize deflection and can make people think that it means something on its own. Deflection all by itself means less if you don’t have a starting point for comparison.
It’s really the distress and signs of foundation issues that back up deflection numbers that matter. So our thought is, why care about deflection at all if you don’t have starting number to compare? Deflection doesn’t tell you enough and can be misleading or confuse matters.
Pitfall of Using Feelings to Determine Foundation Issues
Engineers rely on numbers so they would likely say that our methodology of taking into account people’s feelings is the wrong way to go about determining foundation problems. Numbers are objective and feelings are subjective.
Some people, especially engineers, tend to want the numbers to tell them if there is a real foundation problem or not. Much time and consideration is spent establishing acceptable vs. unacceptable ranges. We understand that particular folks might think that feelings shouldn’t matter in deciding if you have a foundation problem and that only numbers reveal the truth.
We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this matter, but we totally get the rationale. Feelings aren’t always rational and we admit that could be a faulty way to determine a true foundation issue.
Common Ground Between Engineers and Foundation Repair Guys
Instead of looking at the pitfalls and how we do things differently, it’s probably better to focus on what we have in common because that’s usually where the truth lies. Both engineers and foundation repair companies are looking for distress, damage, signs of foundation settlement, and functional issues.
The D in “distress” and the F in “functionality” pretty much mean the same thing here.
The biggest determinant of a settled foundation and foundation problems is when things are broken, damaged, not working properly, and looking bad. These issues are the ultimate evidence that your foundation has moved from its original elevation, regardless of any deflection numbers and also regardless of anyone’s feelings.
In other words, focus on the signs and symptoms and you’re going to be on the right track.
Who Should You Trust to Determine Foundation Problems?
Now you’re probably thinking that I’m going to say you should trust Anchor Foundation Repair to determine your foundation problems. *Wrong* Surprisingly, we think you should trust yourself by taking in all the information from both engineers and foundation repair contractors if you like. Get second opinions if needed and trust your gut.
It’s the house you love and you deserve to be 100% on board with your home repair decisions. At Anchor Foundation Repair, we offer fair and impartial assessments, empowering education, and a fully transparent repair process. After 35+ years in business, we want you to know as much about foundation repair as we do and we’ve got no secrets to hide from the Brazos Valley community.
Check out the Ultimate Picture Guide to Foundation Problems which includes both real and misleading signs. The guide will help you in determining if the distress and functional issues seen in your home are foundation-related or something else.