You might have some issues with your home’s foundation and you don’t know quite where to start. Is it with a foundation repair company or a structural engineer or does it matter?
Some structural engineers will tell you to always use one (hmmm . . . I wonder why?). Some foundation repair companies will tell you that you don’t really need them (also wondering why). You are feeling skeptical about asking a salesperson if you need repairs. You have heard about others’ bad foundation experiences. You’re just not sure what to do here. . .
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have been evaluating and repairing Brazos Valley foundations for 35+ years. We understand the role that structural engineers serve in the foundation repair industry and can tell you about it.
We don’t believe that it’s one or the other in all cases. We recognize that there are good times and good reasons to call in the expertise and evaluations of a structural engineer. But it’s not always necessary either.
This article will go over the top situations when structural engineers are the first and best call to make when it comes to your home’s foundation and why. Let’s take a look . . .
Are Structural Engineer Reports Required for Foundation Repairs?
In most areas of Texas, a structural engineering report is not required in advance of foundation repairs. Two known exceptions to this are the metropolitan areas of DFW and Houston. Anywhere else you would not be expected to hire a structural engineer.
This will save you money because you do have to pay out of pocket for these reports.
If you don’t live in Texas, you will need to do some investigating with your municipality to find out your local requirements.
Most foundation repair companies do not have a licensed structural engineer on staff but should be able to recommend a few choices in their service area.
Structural Engineer Reports vs. Foundation Repair Plans
Structural engineering reports and foundation repair plans are not the same. Each has different information, focus, and result for the homeowner. In quick summary, an engineering report records the current state of a foundation, and a repair plan outlines a specific plan to raise and level a foundation.
About Structural Engineering Reports
An engineer’s report will basically assess and document the position and appearance of a foundation at the moment of the inspection. Here’s the kind of stuff you might find in a structural engineer report.
What You Might Find in a Structural Engineering Report
An engineer will take and record measurements, and present diagrams of the findings. They might call this a “foundation position evaluation” and present an elevation survey of your home using contour lines.
Structural engineers can also use observational info, reference established engineering guidelines, and original design plans as part of their report.
There are various levels of structural engineering reports. You will get different amounts of information and detail ranging from a mostly verbal discussion to a full elevation and pictorial report. Costs to the homeowner can be from $500 for a mostly verbal report to $900 for a more full evaluation including the elevations.
You might see photos of issues around your home and explanations of their cause. Comments are made about whether an issue is within “acceptable” ranges of performance. Recommendations might be offered to fix situations and make improvements to any issues noted in the report.
About the Engineering Definition of the Word Acceptable
You might have noticed that I put the word “acceptable” in quotation marks up there. Nothing gets by you, does it? The meaning of the term “acceptable” in engineering language is important. There are thorough guidelines written out that engineers follow about how to calculate and identify what they deem acceptable or not.
The Texas Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has created lengthy documents like the “Guidelines for the Evaluation and Repair of Residential Foundations,” and even, “Recommended Practice for the Design of Residential Foundations,” that they must reference and follow.
Like the above guideline documents of the ASCE, engineering reports tend to be technical and include industry terms and higher-level engineering language that make them a bit challenging for the layperson to understand. Pay attention though to any stated limitations of the report if you have something in writing.
About Foundation Repair Plans
We have covered that the focus of a structural engineering report is to document and explain the current state of a foundation. These reports also explain possible causes and make recommendations. A foundation repair plan is different than structural engineer reports.
Foundation repair plans outline the specific work to be done by a foundation repair contractor to fix a settled, tilting, or uneven foundation causing problems for your home. Plans will also include a bid or quote for the cost of the foundation repairs.
What You Might Find In a Foundation Repair Plan
The diagram for a foundation repair plan will show locations for support to be added under the home. It doesn’t focus much on the current state of things but looks to the future at how to improve the functionality and performance of the foundation by raising and leveling the home.
Some foundation repair plans are just pencil and paper drawings. Some are drawn using computer software. Some might even include elevation measurements but not all companies do this.
Foundation repair plans will look different depending on what foundation repair contractor is used, as well as what method of slab foundation repair they employ. Some companies charge a fee for a foundation inspection and the resulting foundation repair plans. Other companies offer “free quotes” as part of the complete foundation repair service.
Pay attention to any written terms and conditions of a foundation repair plan.
Acceptable vs. Functional
Foundation repair contractors shouldn’t singularly focus on what is deemed “acceptable” by engineering standards. Foundation repair seeks to make things work right for the homeowner.
For example, the angle of tilt of a foundation might fall within the ASCE standards. But if your front door still doesn’t open, latch, and lock right, then that’s not really *acceptable* to YOU, is it? For more on functionality and deciding when the time is right to repair your foundation, check out this article, “Foundation Settlement Confirmed: When is the Time Right for Repairs?”
In our Central Texas/Brazos Valley area, we don’t need a structural engineer report to validate a repair plan. So it will save you some time and money not having to get one. But any foundation repair company that is not happy to have you submit their plans for evaluation by a structural engineer is a red flag.
Top 5 Reasons to Hire a Structural Engineer for Your Foundation
You now know the difference between a structural report and a foundation repair plan. Next, we outline reasons to consider hiring a structural engineer first, before moving forward with a foundation repair plan. Here are the 5 best reasons:
- Documentation for a brand new home
- Documentation for an old home that has been recently and thoroughly remodeled
- You don’t trust your foundation repair company options
- Existing settlement in your foundation is not bad, but you want to monitor for the future
- You are planning legal action with a home warranty issue or builder
Numbers 1, 2, and 5 are about the documentation of a foundation’s current state. This can be just for your own information and peace of mind. You might also want evidence because of an issue with a newer home or to contest a denied home warranty claim.
Monitoring for movement (no. 4) is a way to see how things are now and then check again to see how they are looking later. You will have actual measurements from a professional to assess changes. This might help you decide if you need foundation repairs before doing some extensive remodeling or selling the home in the future.
If for some reason you don’t trust a foundation repair company (as in item No. 3) telling you that you need repairs, a structural engineering report offers an unbiased opinion. Since the engineer will not make money from completing the repairs, they have no reason to inflate the cost or suggest that repairs are needed if they are not.
Separating the “problem finder” from the “problem fixer” is a way to instill homeowner confidence. It helps you to feel you are getting an honest assessment of your foundation problem and not paying for things you don’t need. In other words, sometimes it makes people feel better.
We mentioned earlier that you should avoid any foundation repair contractor that’s displeased or questions your desire to get the opinion of a structural engineer or anyone else. But you should also think about what is acceptable to you with your home and not just what an engineer says you should find “acceptable.”
4 Best Times for a Structural Engineer to Look at Your Foundation
So now that you have good reasons to contact a structural engineer, let’s just make sure you also contact them at the right time. Here’s a list of the best times to hire one:
- BEFORE building a custom home on top of questionable soil
- WHILE pursuing legal action against a builder for a warranty claim
- WHEN buying a home with noted settlement and minor issues
- ANYTIME you want to document something but not take immediate action
So those are good times and situations to call in a structural engineer for your foundation. Mainly, a structural engineer’s report is great for documenting the condition of a foundation for planning proposes, gathering evidence and condition information, and establishing a baseline for monitoring for changes.
But if you know you want or need your foundation fixed and aren’t concerned with any of these above issues, then it’s okay to “take action” now. You can skip the engineer and move forward with contacting a foundation repair company to get things handled.
Getting a bid or a quote from a foundation repair contractor will tell you more about how the foundation will be repaired and most importantly to you, how much it will cost.
Can You Recommend a Structural Engineer in the Brazos Valley?
We live in a smaller community and don’t have a ton of structural engineers in town, but we do have a few that are located in the area or serve this area.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we will be the first to tell you if a structural engineer sounds like a good idea to address your needs and concerns. We have suggested structural engineers many times and are happy to recommend one when it makes sense for the homeowner.
Here’s an article we put together listing engineering firms that serve the Bryan, College Station, and other Brazos Valley communities, “Structural Engineering Firms Serving the Brazos Valley Area.”